Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Monday 15th April 2024

(3 days, 12 hours ago)

Written Corrections
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Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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There is a very long list of qualifying documentation for voter ID, and at least 96% of all electors have at least one form of acceptable ID, and many have more. There is also the Voter Authority Certificate, which is free and which does not expire. That meets the needs of the small proportion of the population who do not have an acceptable form of ID.

Building Safety

The following extract is from the statement on Building Safety on 26 March 2024.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Yet already, almost 60,000 homeowners have peace of mind that remediation is complete, and a further 300,000 dwellings are well on the way to the same.

[Official Report, 26 March 2024; Vol. 747, c. 1415.]

Written correction submitted by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley):

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Yet already, almost 60,000 homeowners have peace of mind that remediation is complete, and a further 180,000 dwellings are well on the way to the same.

Building Safety

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the continuing work to fix buildings with unsafe cladding across England, and the Government’s increasing determination to enforce against those who fail to take responsibility.

Since the beginning of 2023, there has been a step change in all aspects of remediation in England, from a limited programme to full coverage of all residential buildings over 11 metres; from developers not taking responsibility to their now being responsible for £3 billion of remediation across more than 1,500 buildings; from just over 1,600 buildings in remediation programmes last year to over 4,000 now; from 783 buildings having started or completed work in February 2023 to over 1,800 now; and from only 461 having completed last February to 863 now. Every month more buildings are identified, and more are beginning and completing works. That means that for some, albeit not all, the end is in sight.

From the start, we have prioritised the remediation of the highest risk buildings. Ninety-eight per cent of high-rise buildings with the most dangerous Grenfell-style aluminium composite material cladding have either started or completed work. Of the 10 occupied buildings remaining, two will start work this month and enforcement is being taken against a further six. Substantial progress can also be seen for buildings over 18 metres, with over half of known buildings having either started or completed work. The much more extensive work required for buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres is well under way. Since the full launch of the cladding safety scheme last July, over 400 buildings in the scheme have live applications. Grant funding agreements have been completed or are being signed for 152 buildings, and works have started on site for the first building. A further 4,000 buildings are being investigated and, where necessary, will be invited to apply to the scheme in the months ahead.

Further transparency is being brought to the social housing sector. Registered providers report that work has started on 525 buildings as of the end of November 2023, up from 394 at the end of August 2023. A further 200 have now been completed. For the first time, last Thursday we published detailed information on a provider-by-provider basis, which will be updated quarterly to ensure that residents can track what their individual provider is doing on remediation. While many buildings are being fixed or, better still, have completed remediation, there remains a reducing core of building owners who continue to hold up remediation. That is unacceptable. The Government continue to do whatever is necessary to change that.

All building owners must step up, do the right thing and fix their buildings without delay, or face the consequences of their inaction. The Government are leading the way on enforcement, with strategic interventions by our recovery strategy unit targeting the most egregious actors who are unwilling to make their buildings safe. The RSU was key to forcing Wallace Estates to agree to four remediation orders, ensuring that 400 leaseholders will be safe in their homes. Our legal action forced Grey GR, a subsidiary of Railpen, to fix building safety defects at Galbraith House within three weeks. The first trial against Grey GR for Vista Tower in Stevenage is imminent. Nine remediation contribution orders were taken out against three further organisations last week, including developers, to recover funds paid out by both taxpayers and leaseholders to fix buildings. We will continue to take action against those who do not step up to their responsibilities.

Colleagues in the fire and rescue services and local councils are critical to the fight to ensure that residents are safe, and we are working with them to increase action. Many councils and fire and rescue services are doing a good job, but some need to do more. Over the last year, the additional funding that we have provided for councils has meant that the pace of enforcement has stepped up markedly. Councils are informing us of enforcement action at a rate of four per week, compared with one per month in 2022, and we expect that to accelerate further. To support that, today we are publishing our first league table, outlining where enforcement is being taken so that residents can see exactly what is happening and where. We will regularly update the league table to ensure that the public remains sighted on their authorities’ enforcement activity.

Our focus now is on more, and more consistent, enforcement. Last week, I met the Building Safety Regulator and sector leaders to discuss how we can build a shared plan to increase the pace of remediation further. Today, I am announcing a number of initiatives to boost enforcement: a further £6 million to council enforcement teams, the development of a new regulatory protocol for greater consistency and a new fund that partners can access for legal support in complex cases.

For a task as big as this, remediation of buildings with issues was always going to take time. There is no doubt that in some parts of the sector it is still taking far too long. Yet already, almost 60,000 homeowners have peace of mind that remediation is complete, and a further 300,000 dwellings are well on the way to the same. Every week that goes by, more is done: there are more starts and more completions and, vitally, more of those who are unwilling to do the right thing are being exposed. We will not stop until we have fixed cladding issues. Today, I hope the House can see the real and accelerating progress that is being made.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the shadow Minister.

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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I welcome the elements of his remarks that confirm that we are making progress. I will comment on some of the others in a moment. I take it from his reference to the statement being just a “rehashing” of stats that he is pretty content that the stats are moving in the right direction. Indeed, part of the point of today’s statement is to highlight that we have made significant progress in recent months and over the past year, while still recognising, as I did in my opening remarks, that there is much more to do. There are clearly actors who are not doing the right thing, and we are trying to take systematic, consistent and coherent action against them.

I just caution the hon. Gentleman that I did not indicate that the end of the building safety issues is near, despite both of us sharing the desire for that to come as soon as possible. I did, however, say that progress was being made. To get to the end point, we must make progress. I think what the statement demonstrates, just like the written ministerial statement in October, is that we continue as a Government and as a country to make progress.

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights that this has taken time, but if we look at individual funds, we can see that those that were open the earliest are now coming to a conclusion. For the ACM fund, 98% of known buildings are remediated or on the way to being remediated. That was opened in 2018-19. For the building safety fund for buildings over 18 metres, over half are either completed or on the way to being completed. That was opened in 2020. So, again, there is progress. These things take time. They are often very complicated. Unfortunately, we often have to drag freeholders to do the right thing, for example to encourage owners of buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres to get involved in the fund. We are doing that as actively as we can. There is work to do, but further progress is being made.

The hon. Gentleman raises the specific question of second staircases. The statement is an update on building safety, but I will extend the scope slightly. We have committed, having already provided some information in recent months, to providing further information on second staircases by the end of the month. I can confirm that that will occur this week.

On enforcement, I gently say that it is absolutely incorrect to talk about reactive, piecemeal announcements. If we go down the list of what is being announced in the league table today, we can see clear evidence of progress being made all across the country: London Fire Brigade, 94 statutory enforcement notices; Greater Manchester, 32; East Sussex, 26; West Yorkshire, 14; and Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, 11. I could go on and on and on. There are multiple pages here where we can see progress. The Government are making the information as transparent as possible, so that residents who are impacted can understand where their individual local bodies are and hold them to account where necessary.

Finally, on insurance premiums, the hon. Gentleman and I share a great deal of focus on trying to make things move as quickly as possible. I completely agree with him that progress needs to be made. I am pleased that the industry has announced the launch of its industry-led insurance premium scheme, from 1 April next week. Bluntly, it has taken too long. I have spent an awful lot of time over the past few months encouraging the sector to do that. From the moment it opens, we will monitor extremely carefully what the impact will be on the most affected buildings. I hope we will be able to say more about that in the coming months. I encourage colleagues who have insurance concerns—many Members in the Chamber have already raised them with me—to continue to raise them. Where remediation is under way or has concluded, we would expect some form of accommodation to be made against the premiums in those buildings unless there was a good reason not to do so. If hon. Members have individual examples of where that has not occurred, I would be very grateful to receive them.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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It is some years since our late colleague, David Amess, led a few of us who were interested in fire safety even before Grenfell.

We must remember that in the months after Grenfell, everyone backed away thinking that residential leaseholders would be the only people who would have to bear the £10 billion to £15 billion cost of remediation—and that was before we knew all about the other fire defects, which our building control standards and inspections had allowed to accumulate over the decades. We should all hang our heads.

The Minister rightly talked about needing more transparency. I say in passing, although it is a very serious point, that anyone who looks at page 3 of the Financial Times today, on the possible future policy on ground rents, will see an indication that people who own such buildings—the pension funds, the Long Harbours of this world, the Tchenguizes’ interests and others—ought to be looking at their own social and environmental responsibilities, getting rid of ground rents and spending their money on making buildings safe for everyone to live in.

Cladding groups and leaseholders’ groups deserve praise, as do the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the present chair of the Government’s Leasehold Advisory Service, who can point out some of the things that have not yet been done. This is an interim statement and we look forward to hearing more, whether by written or oral statements, but may I say to the Minister that the one group that seems to have been let off is the insurance companies who backed the developers, architects, surveyors, builders and component suppliers?

The Government should find a way to take together the potential claims of all the residents, tenants, leaseholders and owners of properties, and have a roundtable with insurance companies and get the billions of pounds out of them that they would have to pay if it went to court, without paying the lawyers half the money.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He has had a long-standing interest in this issue and in leasehold on a broader basis. He is absolutely right to highlight the tireless work of so many people across the country, including the groups and organisations that came together, both on the leasehold side, which he is involved in, and on the cladding side. They did not want to have to come together and spend so much time to make progress and end our cladding scandal, but they work incredibly hard to ensure that we make progress. I am grateful for all their constructive work with us. It is absolutely the case that more needs to be done, but as the statement outlined, week by week and month by month, we are making progress. I hope we can do more in the months ahead.

Finally, my hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on leasehold and highlights his thoughts very clearly. No decisions have been taken. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been clear about his own personal views. I know my hon. Friend’s views will have been heard as a part of the discussion.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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One of my priorities in Battersea is to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent and affordable home. However, seven years on from the devastation of the Grenfell fire, many of my constituents are still living in unsafe buildings. Government support has so far been available for buildings 11 metres or over. It beggars belief that that is the case. Can the Minister be clear about what the Government are doing to ensure that prioritisation for funding is allocated according to risk, so that all households are protected, including the many in my constituency that are below 11 metres?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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With the greatest respect, I do not think it does beggar belief that a line has been drawn at 11 metres. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is chuntering from a sedentary position; I had hoped that she would listen to my answer in the first instance before making comments on it.

This is a relatively recognised and relatively long-standing position. Following the commitment given by my predecessors back in 2022, when we have received concerns about buildings under 11 metres we have taken action. We have looked at those buildings and have commissioned reports when that has been necessary, and in the overwhelming majority of cases it has subsequently been confirmed that they do not require remediation. If any Members have outstanding concerns about buildings less than 11 metres high, I encourage them to get in touch and we will happily look at them in more detail, because if the trajectory that we have seen in the cases that have been raised with us so far already is followed, it is highly likely that life-critical safety concerns will not be visible once we have done so.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)
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There is a complex interplay between what the Minister has said today about building safety, cladding and remediation and the agenda relating to the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which, of course, many of us in the Chamber are still right behind. Will the Minister please reassure us that the Government as a whole remain committed to this vital transformative and conservative agenda?

As the Minister himself has said from that Dispatch Box, there is no prouder word in the English language than “freeholder”. We want to see more freeholders liberated from the tyranny of the ground rent grazers and some of the deep-pocketed people in this so-called sector who are now trying to make out, if the reporting is accurate, that if we press ahead with our reforms to reduce ground rent to a peppercorn, the whole sector will be destabilised and the Minister’s vital work of remediation will somehow be affected. I, like many others, do not accept that assertion in any shape or form—it is, of course, complete nonsense—but will the Minister please reassure me, and many others, that we will continue to reform this sector and liberate the leaseholders so that they can own their properties, while also continuing to make them safe?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend is right to say that the work that has been put into the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, and the measures that we have introduced in it, will be transformative for leaseholders. I know that, and I know she knows that, because she was the person who put in the work in the first place, and I pay tribute to what she did in this role previously.

My hon. Friend is also right to draw attention to the link between those who have been impacted by cladding and leaseholders in general. It is through reforms such as those in the Bill that we will be able to bring even more transparency, including on insurance, which the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) rightly raised. That applies not just to leaseholders who are impacted by cladding remediation, but to leaseholders in general. We will ensure that they know what they are paying for and can fully recognise whether the arrangement is fair or not.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for meeting leaseholders from Barrier Point in my constituency last week.

During a Zoom call last night, leaseholders from Waterside Park made it clear that although the original builders and the current freeholder had agreed on the specification of the work to be carried out, the work itself was being held up by quibbling between their respective lawyers over details. Is there anything that the Minister or his Department can do to knock heads together and get this long-awaited work under way?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the inherent challenges that may feature in processes that involve a lot of actors, a lot of complexity and often a lot of money, but it is absolutely the Government’s view that they must proceed as expeditiously as possible and that the organisations and actors involved in them should not hold them up unnecessarily. There must be a reasonable accommodation for reasonable discussions, but the overarching objective to ensure that buildings are remediated, and to allow leaseholders to get on with their lives even more than they are able to do at present, is paramount. If there are particular concerns or particular issues from which the right hon. Gentleman, or any other Member, thinks we can learn in order to improve the policy, I shall be keen to hear about them.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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The cladding safety scheme is meeting the cost of addressing fire safety risks associated with cladding on residential buildings over 11 metres high, but that does not include low-rise buildings. The Minister has been contacted by Barnet Council following an investigation of a fire at a low-rise residential property last year, which established that 459 properties in my constituency constituted a category 1 hazard as defined by the Housing Act 2004. The council says that the remedial works will cost each homeowner £23,000, an unaffordable amount for many of my constituents. While low-rise buildings pose less of an escape hazard than high-rise buildings in the event of a fire, the widespread existence of cladding defects is a result of regulatory and industry failure and was not caused by actions taken by my constituents. Does the Minister agree that that is simply not fair, and will he draw up proposals as a matter of urgency to assist my constituents in this endeavour?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter of low-rise blocks. According to the evidence that the Department has seen when looking at properties less than 11 metres high, it remains the case that the overwhelming majority do not require fire safety remediation, but I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about that in more detail. It is important that we continue to highlight the lower likelihood of a problem such as we are discussing today, but it is also important that there are routes to redress. The extension of the Defective Premises Act 1972 provides an opportunity in that regard. It is important for residents, leaseholders and others to be aware of such avenues, and I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those further as well.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
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I thank the Minister for his statement, and for the meeting I had with him and his staff recently about an issue facing my constituents. It concerns Galliard Homes and residents of Drayton Park in my constituency, who have been denied access to necessary information. Galliard Homes claims that the fire safety regulations have been adhered to, but that is hotly disputed by just about everybody else. As a result the residents are paying vastly enhanced insurance rates and are unable to move, unable to sell their homes, and unable to move on with their lives in any way. That is causing unbelievable levels of stress, of which many Members are well aware from events in their own constituencies.

The Minister is engaged with the issue and fully understands it. May I ask him to do two things? First, will he release all the information about the fire safety assessment so that an air of transparency surrounds all this? Secondly, will he ensure that the developer, Galliard Homes, steps up to the plate and does the remedial work that is necessary to bring down insurance costs and enable the residents to move on and get on with their lives?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting this issue, and I am also grateful for the meeting that he arranged with the representative of the leaseholders and the time that he gave for us to go through it. It is very useful to work through individual cases: although they are often the trickiest, the knottiest and the most challenging, it is important for us to understand the policy implications.

Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman—without going into the details of the individual property, which I should be happy to discuss with him separately—that in general we seek to be as transparent as we possibly can, hence the publication of some of the additional data today. We remain committed to making progress on both individual buildings and properties as a whole, and I hope that both the property and the developer that the right hon. Gentleman has highlighted will make progress as soon as possible.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for his update, but it appears from his statement that there are still two tall buildings with ACM cladding on which no work is going on and on which the Government have taken no action; I should be grateful if he could clarify that. Another issue that arises directly from his statement is that there are now 4,000 homes between 11 and 18 metres high whose residents will probably not be able to get a mortgage, insure their properties or sell them. Will he speed up the process of assessing those blocks so that the residents can feel safe, and if work is required on them will he ensure that it is carried out speedily, so that homes are made safe for the residents and for whoever they sell them to?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful for the question. On my hon. Friend’s first point, there are 11 buildings that have not started or finished their ACM remediation. One is not occupied. Of the remaining 10, work will commence on two in the next few weeks. Eight buildings will be remediated at a further date, and the remaining two have enforcement action being taken by the relevant authorities. Although I would like the number to go down to zero at the earliest possible opportunity, the situation is better than it was when we provided the update in October, and I expect the number to continue to move on a positive trajectory in the months and weeks ahead.

On my hon. Friend’s point about the 4,000 buildings that are being reviewed, we provided a further 1,000 potential leads to Homes England, which is leading on the cladding safety scheme, a number of months ago. A significant number were found to not require any remediation. Although I cannot comment on where the 4,000 will land, it is likely that a large number of them will not require remediation in the end, so I encourage residents not to worry about the number, but to see what comes out of the process.

Since December 2022, we have also taken action to make sure that we are starting to separate the need for remediation on properties from people’s ability to get on with their lives. The mortgage sector has been freed up to allow people to take mortgages, to remortgage and to move properties when big life events happen, and we hope that that will continue. I am monitoring, on a month-by-month basis, the large banks and building societies that are providing mortgages, and I can see that progress is being made.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Master Gunner Place in my constituency is in need of remedial work, and the residents have been supplied with a letter of comfort from the developer to say that it will cover the costs. My constituent has written to me to say that his service charge has gone up by 360% in the last eight years. In the last year alone, it has gone up by 107%. He is now paying a £6,000-a-year service charge, even though Hamptons says that the average cost in London for a similar-sized property is £1,700. My constituent says that the additional costs are building safety-related. What does the Minister have to say about that? Can anything be done to stop developers recouping their costs in this way?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The first thing we need to do is bring greater transparency to service charges, which is what we are trying to do through the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill. Assuming that progress is made in the other place, I hope that it will be on the statute book as quickly as possible, and then it will be clear exactly where such costs come from.

The second thing that is that our colleagues in the Financial Conduct Authority are bringing in the fair charging regime to make sure there are no inappropriate commissions and that, from an insurance perspective, exchanges are not under way with brokers, which will hopefully reduce the costs.

The third thing is the industry-led insurance scheme, which should hopefully bring down insurance costs for those who are most exposed. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we need greater transparency and a greater understanding of where these costs are going, and we need to make sure that freeholders and managing agents are following the law, which is very clear about the kinds of costs that can and cannot be allocated. If there is something specific about the building he mentions that the Government can look at, I will happily talk to him separately.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I thank the Opposition Front Bencher and the Minister for their participation in the statement.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Thursday 7th March 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Written Statements
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Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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Building the next generation of road, rail and energy projects will be the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s future success. New infrastructure transforms communities, cuts congestion, and improves the resilience of our country for the long-term.

Over a decade ago, the Government turbocharged the delivery of new infrastructure by introducing nationally significant infrastructure projects consenting process for projects in England and Wales, and in some limited circumstances, Scotland. This has served Great Britain well for more than a decade and created a planning and consenting process that acknowledged the unique importance of a number of key projects across energy, transport and water. Since then, over 120 projects, from major offshore wind projects like Hornsea 2 to vital nuclear power generation such as Hinkley Point C, have successfully been approved, with many others constructed and operational, such as the East Northants Resource Management Facility and the Heysham to M6 Link Road —all for the benefit of Great Britain.

Building on the “National Infrastructure Strategy” of November 2020, and in recognition of changing circumstances, we launched a major programme of reform and improvement to our NSIP processes. While much is still being built successfully, the speed at which decisions are made has slowed and demands on the system are intensifying. Change is needed if we are to meet the growing demands on our country’s infrastructure.

Last year we acted by publishing an action plan, setting out our plans to reform the way in which our major infrastructure is consented and we promised consultation on key elements of those reforms before implementation, following feedback from industry and interested parties.

Today, following the conclusion of that consultation, I am pleased to confirm the following major improvements to our nationally significant infrastructure projects consenting process in the future:

A major increase to the capacity within the planning system by better resourcing public bodies through costs recovery for the advice and services they give to applicants – with additional resources in place already and cost recovery being introduced from 1 April;

New secondary legislation to make vital changes to the legislative framework under which the system operates covering the way in which examinations are conducted – to support faster and more proportionate examinations for all projects – in force by the end of April;

Improvements to and strengthening of national infrastructure planning guidance to provide clarity for applicants and ensure that all users of the system are provided with the guidance they need to maximise the benefits of the system changes, and to help navigate applications more efficiently – live by the end of April.

A new pre-application process, designed to allow applicants to work with the Planning Inspectorate to speed up decision making and ensure that consultation is effective and proportionate, which will be available for any project which requests it from this Autumn, on a cost recovery basis;

A new fast-track route to consent, to enable projects which meet a quality standard to progress through the process in one year—available from autumn;

We have provided £3.5 million of taxpayer funds to support innovation and capacity in local authorities that are working, right now.

As we have said, clear policy is the foundation of a successful consenting system. We are close to fulfilling our commitment to updating our key national policy statements, with five revised energy NPSs now designated and an NPS for national networks published and laid before Parliament yesterday for intended designation next month. This is in addition to the new water resources NPS designated last year.

A copy of the consultation response on operational reforms to the nationally significant infrastructure projects consenting process will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS321]

Oral Answers to Questions

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)
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10. Whether he has had recent discussions with local authorities on adopting private roads on new estates.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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The adoption of roads is largely an issue for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who leads on that policy, but I know—because we have spoken about this in the Committee considering the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill—that the hon. Gentleman has a significant interest in this matter. We understand the strength of feeling about it, and we are considering it further.

Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern
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Across the country, homeowners in a state of adoption limbo are being left exposed to exploitative and often unaccountable management companies. Despite their warm words, sadly the Government did not take any of the actions that the Competition and Markets Authority urged them to take in order to end the issue of fleecehold once and for all. Given that the Secretary of State is rumoured to be on the lookout for legacy accomplishments, will the Minister urge his colleagues to finally act on this issue during the current Parliament, or will fleecehold be yet another issue left for the next Government to tackle?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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With the best will in the world, the CMA report was published a few days ago, and the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill had been progressing through the House for a number of months before that. As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I hope he will accept, as other Members, including his colleagues, have done, that the Bill is a significant improvement for estate management, providing the right of redress to a tribunal, further information and the right to absolute clarity on service charges. All those changes have been rightly demanded by residents, and we are considering carefully whether there is anything further than we can do.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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11. What steps his Department is taking to support the delivery of town deals.

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Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)
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The Government are to be commended for taking through the first leasehold reforms for 20 years, but as the Bill now goes to the Lords, will Ministers go further and agree: first, to empower the 3 million to 4 million people trapped on fleecehold estates; and, secondly, to fundamentally end this scammy, dodgy, corrupt model once and for all?

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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My hon. Friend makes an important point about making sure that we strike the right balance. We have brought forward significant reforms in the Bill, but I am happy to continue to talk to him and other Members who are interested. The Government continue to look at what more can be done.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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T7. Last week we saw, for a second year running, rough sleeping numbers up by more than a quarter—that is a lot of people to criminalise if the Criminal Justice Bill remains unamended. More than 100,000 households, including 140,000 children, find themselves stuck in temporary accommodation, yet the mere mention of temporary accommodation sees Ministers pivot away from the subject entirely. This should be a source of shame for this Government. So where is the national plan to end all forms of homelessness? I sincerely hope it is not in the same place as the Government’s plan for ending section 21 evictions.

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Will the Minister advise me how many people took up the offer of the former help to buy ISA scheme? Has another such scheme been considered to allow young people to get on the seemingly impossible first rung of the property ladder?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As a Government, we continue to bring forward as many interventions as we can to support young people to get on the housing ladder. Some 800,000 first-time buyers have managed to do that since 2010. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk more about the points he has made.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Today, the Charity Commission issued new guidance for charities that refuse to accept donations. That comes after the Royal National Lifeboat Institution turned down a donation from Dungarvan Foxhounds Supporters Club in the Republic of Ireland. Declining a donation from a lawful source may not be consistent with the legal duty of trustees to “further their charity’s purpose”. Will my right hon. Friend support the right of communities throughout the British Isles to donate to charities of their choice?

Leasehold Reform and New Homes

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Wednesday 28th February 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I thank all the Members who have contributed to the debate and those who are listening to it. The fact that we are talking about this issue for the second time in two days shows how important it is. It is clear, as we discussed yesterday, that Members on both sides of the House recognise that this area badly needs attention and reform. Thankfully, the general consensus across the House is that we have to move in that direction, so I hope the Bill, which went to the other place yesterday, will make fast progress there.

To be clear, the Government absolutely acknowledge this issue. We did so on Report yesterday, in Committee, on Second Reading and before that. Hon. Members have made very important points today, and have raised similar issues previously, about the iniquities in the system. They have spoken about the historical problems on the leasehold side and, more recently, but just as iniquitously, on the estate management side. Even those of us who believe that the Government should be very temperate in intervening in markets know it is right that when markets are not working, we should take action to straighten them out and remove the distortions within them. That is exactly why we introduced the Bill and are trying to ensure that it makes progress in the months ahead. We welcome the Opposition’s commitment to getting it on to the statute book at the earliest opportunity.

There are problems within the leasehold part of the discussion. The estate management issues have come into much sharper relief over the past couple of decades, particularly for those of us who have had significant amounts of new building in our areas. We can see, on a day-to-day basis, that a set of issues with individual estates clearly needs to be resolved.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather) outlined, there is a particular issue with new homes, which I will talk about in a moment. Without rehearsing some of the previous arguments and discussions, I want to read into the record, for about a minute, the real progress that the Bill makes. It is important that the House and the other place do not forget that, as a baseline, we are making the biggest and most significant change to property law in this country in a generation; we absolutely need to acknowledge that.

We are making it cheaper and easier for leaseholders in houses and flats to extend their lease or buy their freehold. That is a significant intervention. We are increasing the standard lease extension term from just 90 years to 990 years, with ground rent reduced to zero. That is an extremely significant intervention. We are removing the requirement for a new leaseholder to have owned their house or flat for two years before they can benefit from these changes. We are changing the thresholds and non-residential limits within properties, and for the first time allowing leaseholders in buildings with up to 50% non-residential floor space to buy their freehold and take over its management.

Yesterday on Report, we added protections on top of the Building Safety Act 2022 to make the purchase and sale of leasehold and freehold estate properties quicker and easier by proving a maximum time and fee for the provision of information. Vitally, we are requiring transparency over leasehold service charges, which hon. Members talked about a moment ago. We are replacing building insurance commissions for managing agents, landlords and freeholders so that we get away from the frankly outrageous situation whereby there is little clarity about what is being paid for, who pays for it and whether there are kickbacks in the background.

We are scrapping the presumption that leaseholders will pay the freeholder’s legal costs when challenging poor practice. That is another absolutely outrageous historical iniquity that needs resolution. We are rightly extending redress schemes to managed estates. I know that some hon. Members would prefer them to be abolished, but it is absolutely right that there is a redress scheme in place.

As hon. Members know, yesterday we banned the creation of new leasehold houses. I do not like to ban anything at all because I think we have banned far too much in the United Kingdom over the past generation, but sadly, I am absolutely convinced of the necessity of a preclusion on leasehold houses, given the horror stories that have been outlined during the passage of the Bill and in the years leading up to it.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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Will the Minister give way?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman; I hope he is about to agree with me about the necessity of banning only very proportionately.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that I am going to have to disappoint the Minister, because I disagree that the Government banned new leasehold houses yesterday. He did not address this in his wind-up speech yesterday, because he did not have a huge amount of time, but I want him to respond to my concerns about new schedule 2 providing for exemptions that are potentially so wide that they could allow for the creation of significant numbers of new leasehold homes over the coming years. Will the Government review their position on new schedule 2? Are they convinced that it provides for only very limited exceptions in unusual circumstances, as the Minister said yesterday?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He and I have an active discussion about this, and possibly a slight difference of opinion about the potential impact of what we introduced. I do not wish to misrepresent him, but I think he accepts that some elements of what we brought forward yesterday, possibly those regarding the National Trust, are not controversial or contentious. There is a question about whether the measures should apply if, historically, organisations, entities or companies have agreements in certain ways. It is clear that this will be swept away; we are effectively discussing whether existing permissions on a particular type of prospectus, other than the small number of things such as the National Trust, should be swept away as well. I am sure that we will continue to talk about that, but we think that this proposition is a major intervention that honours the spirit of banning leasehold houses. Others may take a different view, but the Government’s view is that this is a significant step forward that adheres to the spirit of a ban or preclusion, and that will allow us to move forward.

I have highlighted the progress that has been and is being made, subject to what the other place does. I know, however, that hon. Members are very keen that we go further in certain areas, so I want to spend a few moments going through some of their suggestions. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough made a powerful speech—again, he is the reason why we are speaking about this matter today, and it is important that we continue to have this conversation. We have heard some of the examples, both named and referred to, of the realities created by the system. No system is perfect—we can never design it such that there will not be some attempt to prang it in some way, shape or form—but large holes in the system have clearly built up and been exploited. Those have resulted in, for instance, the removal of trees from a tree-lined street. Unless there is some other reality behind that, there is absolutely no reason for it to happen. We have to move to a place where that does not occur, and we hope that that will be achieved in part by the changes made by the Bill. We recognise that there are further concerns, and we are considering those, but we all agree that some of the examples mentioned are not where we want to be. I hope that we may be able to say more on that going forward.

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I also recognise this issue personally. I am not speaking today as a constituency MP, but only in the last month I have been in meetings with constituents who raised concerns about a Persimmon development and the clarity of information about service charges. So in my part of the world, I see issues similar to those raised by hon. Members, including my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend also raised an important point about GP provision. I have been in this job for only four months, but I recognise the importance of this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) is particularly concerned about that, and I have spoken about it with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson). It is another clear iniquity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough says, people are doing the right thing, have worked hard all their lives and are buying properties, and although the sales particulars of those properties state that new GP provision will be on or near the site, suddenly that provision disappears into thin air between the point when the ink goes on the contract and the point when they move in, or within a few years.

We have already held a meeting on that issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), who is a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, and we are committed to trying to make further progress. A detailed discussion is needed, because a number of different issues on GP provision need to be unpacked.

First, there is the physical ability to provide bricks—places for people to operate out of—which is obviously the responsibility of the planning system or associated with it. The second issue is whether there could be some provision, but for whatever reason, the configurations, the preferred designs and so on make that cost higher than it otherwise should be. If that is the case, that needs to be looked into again, because there is no reason for making perfect the enemy of the good. Thirdly, we may have the bricks or provisions to provide the bricks, but if we do not have the people to provide the services, it does not help in any instance the people who have been sold the promise in the first place. A number of different issues will need to be unpicked, and I am working with my right hon. Friend from the Department of Health and Social Care on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough talked passionately and importantly about new homes and the related issues. As he indicated, when someone has done the right thing, it is absolutely incredible and unacceptable that there are the kind of problems that he has highlighted around sewage, snagging and the amount of time people have to take to get their homes up to the standard they thought they were buying in the first place, or to solve the problems they did not think there would be. It is also fair to say that, as MPs, we only hear about the difficult issues, and there are many thousands of homeowners who move into homes on a monthly and annual basis who do not have those issues. That is absolutely great, but we can all see in our postbags that there are significant challenges with regards to new homes. As my hon. Friend indicates, I hope that the new homes ombudsman will make progress, and the New Homes Quality Board is currently seeking to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) is no longer in his place, but he raises an important point about conveyancing. The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty made a similar point about people being encouraged to use a particular conveyancer, or a particular set of solicitors, and it may be that the output of that process, however it happened, meant they did not get all the information or certain things were not as clear as they could be. That is unacceptable. I recognise that we have to work through that issue. There is a very complicated interaction between standards, regulation and whether people are doing the right thing, even within a regulated industry. I think I should pick that up with my Ministry of Justice colleagues to see whether there is anything that we may be able to take forward.

The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty made an important and eloquent case relating to some challenges that he and his constituents have experienced. I was campaigning on one of his new estates just a few months ago, possibly for a different candidate. I will make two points. He raised an issue with regards to Harron Homes. I say this not to make any particular point, other than that I had a similar personal and constituency issue with Harron Homes on the Regents Green estate in Grassmoor in my constituency a number of years ago. It took quite a bit of pushing, but in the end, Harron Homes moved and we got hundreds of snags unsnagged. I hope he has similar success on that.

I know the hon. Member’s point was not about seeking advice on how to approach Harron Homes; it was more broadly about the reality that this should not happen in the first place, and he is absolutely right. I hope that some of the work in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, and some of the things that the New Homes Quality Board is doing on a voluntary basis and the new homes ombudsman will do in the coming years will help to address some of those problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) is not just the Father of the House but the father of many of the innovations and suggestions in the Bill, given how long he has campaigned on this issue. He raised the specific issue of rentcharges, and I would say to him that I am always happy to hold roundtables, but we must make sure they have utility. We are clearly making progress with the Bill, and I hope hon. Members accept that that includes progress on rentcharges. Both I and the Secretary of State continue to be keen to have the discussion around rentcharges to see what might be possible in the future.

It is important to note that there is a complicated interaction, as there always is in such difficult areas of law, between the clear problems we see with rentcharges and the overall structure of how rentcharges are used on a broader basis—rentcharges are, for example, part of the estate management system. That is something we have to try and work through in the round, but I am always happy to talk more and to hold roundtables. We do understand that there continues to be a challenge there.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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I should have said that I am a leaseholder. Let us say that one of my grandchildren was buying a freehold property where there was a requirement to pay charges. The idea that the rentcharge holder can, if there is a slip in paying the charge, turn a freehold property into a 99-year lease, which may knock hundreds of thousands of pounds off the value of a London property, is absurd. The sooner we can please have the roundtable, followed by action, the better.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend makes an important point about the current system, and I look forward to continuing to discuss that with him and those who are interested in this area and who wish to see further progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford made a clear point about the importance of clarity of information for leaseholders. Given the preclusion that we are bringing forward, I hope she has seen that we have added clauses to the Bill to make it imperative that there is explicit clarity about whether leasehold houses are still being sold, in the limited instances where we think it is proportionate to do so. From a house perspective, there will be no ability for people not to know what they are buying because others choose not to make that clear.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich—we have rehearsed many of these points already, so I will not seek to detain hon. Members—raised the issue of forfeiture. As I have said, and as I will happily repeat here again, we are working through the detail of that issue. We are very serious, and we recognise that it is an important issue and one on which the House has already indicated that it has a very strong view. We hope to be able to say something more on it shortly.

After we had had a number of Divisions yesterday, I saw on Twitter—I do read Twitter—that there was quite a lot of disappointment about the choice on forfeiture. I want to assure people who may be reading the Hansard of this debate or watching online that the Government are absolutely serious about this issue. We have been clear that we are looking at it seriously, and I hope we will be able to say something more. Many of us who have been in this place for a number of years now will know that there is some arcanity—if that is a word—or an arcaneness to some of the procedures. Sometimes things do not appear in exactly the linear sequence or sequential order that people would like, but I can assure those who are interested in this issue that the Government are looking at it seriously, and I hope to be able to report back to the House on it shortly.

Finally, I thank the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), who is no longer in her place, but who raised important points about leasehold. I also thank, as ever, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who highlighted the importance of reform in general. That is one of the reasons why we are bringing the Bill forward and seeking to make as strong progress as possible.

I recognise the useful contributions today, which build on Report stage yesterday and on the progress that the Bill has made in the House already. I hope that hon. Members who have been in today’s debate or been part of the process so far recognise that this is a strong proposition that the Government have brought forward. It is the biggest change to property law in a generation.

The Government and I recognise the desire of Members here, and of the House in general, to go further. We have said very clearly that we are looking at a number of areas, and my Secretary of State—my boss and the person who ultimately makes the choice—has indicated very clearly that he is keen to improve the Bill further. As I said in Committee, we will not be able to do everything, and there is always a discussion and a decision about how we prioritise the limited time of this House and the other place. However, we think that the Bill is a strong start, and we hope we will be able to improve it further. We look forward to being able to make real progress in this important area, which has needed reform for so long. Finally, after 20 years, we will be able to deliver that as part of this Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 27—Part 4: Crown application.

Government new clause 28—Redress schemes: no Crown status.

Government new clause 29—Part 5: amendments to other Acts.

Government new clause 30—Steps relating to remediation of defects.

Government new clause 31—Remediation orders.

Government new clause 32—Remediation contribution orders.

Government new clause 33—Recovery of legal costs etc through service charge.

Government new clause 34—Repeal of section 125 of the BSA 2022.

Government new clause 35—Higher-risk and relevant buildings: notifications in connection with insolvency.

Government new clause 42—Ban on grant or assignment of certain long residential leases of houses.

Government new clause 43—Long residential leases of houses.

Government new clause 44—Leases which have a long term.

Government new clause 45—Series of leases whose term would extend beyond 21 years.

Government new clause 46—Houses.

Government new clause 47—Residential leases.

Government new clause 48—Permitted leases.

Government new clause 49—Permitted leases: certification by the appropriate tribunal.

Government new clause 50—Permitted leases: marketing restrictions.

Government new clause 51—Permitted leases: transaction warning conditions.

Government new clause 52—Prescribed statements in new long leases.

Government new clause 53—Restriction on title.

Government new clause 54—Redress: right to acquire a freehold or superior leasehold estate.

Government new clause 55—Redress: application of the right to acquire.

Government new clause 56—Redress: general provision.

Government new clause 57—Redress regulations: exercising and giving effect to the right to acquire.

Government new clause 58—Enforcement by trading standards authorities.

Government new clause 59—Financial penalties.

Government new clause 60—Financial penalties: cross-border enforcement.

Government new clause 61—Lead enforcement authority.

Government new clause 62—General duties of lead enforcement authority.

Government new clause 63—Enforcement by lead enforcement authority.

Government new clause 64—Further powers and duties of enforcement authorities.

Government new clause 65—Power to amend: permitted leases and definitions.

Government new clause 66—Interpretation of Part A1.

New clause 1—Estate management services—

“(1) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulation provide for residents of managed dwellings to take ownership, at nominal cost, of—

(a) an estate management company, or

(b) the assets of an estate management company, or other company or business connected with the development or management of the dwellings, which are used to provide services to managed dwellings

if the estate management company or connected company or business does not—

(i) provide the residents of the managed dwellings with a copy of its budget for the forthcoming year and accounts for the past year;

(ii) give sufficient notice to enable residents to attend its annual meeting;

(iii) acknowledge correspondence sent by registered post to its registered office within a reasonable length of time.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may amend primary legislation.”

New clause 2—Estate management: compensation—

“(1) This section applies where the first and second condition are met.

(2) The first condition is that it would not be reasonable for the residents of a property to continue to occupy that property as their primary residence due to a defect which the estate manager—

(a) is responsible for remedying, or

(b) could reasonably have foreseen would arise.

(3) The second condition is that—

(a) the defect is the direct result of actions taken or not taken by the estate manager, or

(b) the estate manager has failed to remedy the defect within a reasonable period of time.

(4) The estate manager must—

(a) provide compensation to the residents of the property equal to any reasonable financial loss they incurred as a result of the defect, or

(b) provide suitable alternative accommodation for the duration of the period for which this section applies.

(5) No cost incurred by an estate manager as a consequence of this section may be recouped from the estate in question through an estate management charge.”

This new clause would allow estate residents to claim compensation or alternative accommodation where it is not reasonable for them to remain in their homes due to defects caused, or left unremedied for an unreasonable length of time, by an estate manager.

New clause 3—Prohibition on landlords claiming litigation costs from tenants—

“(1) Any term of a long lease of a dwelling which provides a right for a landlord to demand litigation costs from a leaseholder (whether as a service charge, administration charge or otherwise) is of no effect.

(2) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, specify classes of landlord to which or prescribed circumstances in which subsection (1) does not apply.

(3) In this section—

“administration charge” has the meaning given by Schedule 11 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2022;

“dwelling” means a building or part of a building occupied or intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling, together with any yard, garden, or outhouses and appurtenances belonging to it or usually enjoyed with it;

“long lease” has the meaning given by sections 76 and 77 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002;

“service charge” has the meaning given by section 18 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985;

“landlord” has the meaning given by section 30 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.”

This new clause would prohibit landlords from claiming litigation costs from tenants other than under limited circumstances determined by the Secretary of State.

New clause 4—Remedies for the recovery of annual sums charged on land

“(1) Section 121 of the Law of Property Act 1925 is omitted.

(2) The amendment made by subsection (1) has effect in relation to arrears arising before or after the coming into force of this section.”

This new clause, which is intended to replace clause 59, would remove the provision of existing law which, among other things, allows a rentcharge owner to take possession of a freehold property in instances where a freehold homeowner failed to pay a rentcharge.

New clause 5—Abolition of forfeiture of a long lease

“(1) This section applies to any right of forfeiture or re-entry in relation to a dwelling held on a long lease which arises either—

(a) under the terms of that lease; or

(b) under or in consequence of section 146(1) of the Law of Property Act 1925.

(2) The rights referred to in subsection (1) are abolished.

(3) In this section—

“dwelling” means a building or part of a building occupied or intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling, together with any yard, garden, or outhouses and appurtenances belonging to it or usually enjoyed with it;

“lease” means a lease at law or in equity and includes a sub-lease, but does not include a mortgage term;

“long lease” has the meaning given by sections 76 and 77 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002.”

This new clause would abolish the right of forfeiture in relation to residential long leases in instances where the leaseholder is in breach of covenant.

New clause 6—Requirement to establish and operate a management company under leaseholder control

“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—

(a) requiring any long lease of a dwelling to include a residents management company (“RMC”) as a party to that lease, and

(b) for that company to discharge under the long lease such management functions as may be prescribed by the regulations.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must provide—

(a) for the RMC to be a company limited by share (with each share to have a value not to exceed £1), and

(b) for such shares to be allocated (for no consideration) to the leaseholder of the dwelling for the time being.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) must prescribe the content and form of the articles of association of an RMC.

(4) The content and form of articles prescribed in accordance with subsection (3) have effect in relation to an RMC whether or not such articles are adopted by the company.

(5) A provision of the articles of an RMC has no effect to the extent that it is inconsistent with the content or form of articles prescribed in accordance with subsection (3).

(6) Section 20 of the Companies Act 2006 (default application of model articles) does not apply to an RMC.

(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as the Secretary of State sees fit for the enforcement of regulations made under subsection (1), and such provision may (among other things) include provision—

(a) conferring power on the First-Tier Tribunal to order that leases be varied to give effect to this section;

(b) providing for terms to be implied into leases without the need for any order of any court or tribunal.

(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe descriptions of buildings in respect of which regulations may be made under subsection (1).

(9) In this section—

“dwelling” means a building or part of a building occupied or intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling, together with any yard, garden, or outhouses and appurtenances belonging to it or usually enjoyed with it;

“long lease” has the meaning given by sections 76 and 77 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002;

“management function” has the meaning given by section 96(5) of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002.

(10) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the definition of “management function” for the purposes of this section.”

This new clause would ensure that leases on new flats include a requirement to establish and operate a residents’ management company responsible for all service charge matters, with each leaseholder given a share.

New clause 7—Power to establish a Right to Manage regime for freeholders on private or mixed-use estates

“In Section 71 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, after subsection (2) insert—

“(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision to enable freeholder owners of dwellings to exercise a right to manage in a way which corresponds with or is similar to this Part.

(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (3) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.””

This new clause would permit the Secretary of State to establish a Right to Manage regime for freeholders of residential property on private or mixed-use estates.

New clause 8—Regulation of property agents

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for implementing the proposals of the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group final report of July 2019 as far as they relate to—

(a) estate management;

(b) sale of leasehold properties; and

(c) sale of freehold properties subject to estate management or service charges.

(2) Regulations under this section—

(a) must be laid within 24 months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act,

(b) shall be made by statutory instrument, and

(c) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(3) If, at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the power in subsection (1) is yet to be exercised, the Secretary of State must publish a report setting out the progress that has been made towards doing so.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to implement the proposals of the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group final report within 24 months of the Act coming into force and to report on progress to that end at the end of the period of 12 months.

New clause 9—Qualifying leases for the purposes of the remediation of building defects

“Section 119 of the Building Safety Act 2022 is amended by the insertion after subsection (4) of the following —

“(5) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, amend subsection (2) so as to bring additional descriptions of lease within the definition of “qualifying lease”.””

This new clause would give the Secretary of State the power to bring “non qualifying” leaseholders within the scope of the protections of the Building Safety Act 2022.

New clause 10—Meaning of “relevant building” for the purposes of the remediation of building defects

“Section 117 of the Building Safety Act 2022 is amended by the insertion after subsection (6) of the following—

“(7) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, amend subsection (2) so as to bring additional descriptions of building within the definition of “relevant building”.””

This new clause would give the Secretary of State the power to bring buildings which are under 11m in height or have fewer than four storeys within the scope of the protections of the Building Safety Act 2022.

New clause 11—Report on providing leaseholders in flats with a share of the freehold

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish a report outlining legislative options to ensure that all qualifying tenants in newly-constructed residential properties containing two or more flats have a proportionate share of the freehold of their property.

(2) The report must be laid before Parliament within three months of the commencement of this Act.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish a report outlining legislative options to provide leaseholders in flats with a share of the freehold.

New clause 12—Proportion of qualifying tenants required for a notice of claim to acquire right to manage

“Section 79 of the CLRA 2002 is amended, in subsection (5), by leaving out “one-half” and inserting “35%”.”

This new clause would reduce the proportion of qualifying tenants who must be members of a proposed Right to Manage company for a claim to be made from one-half to 35%.

New clause 13—Prohibition on new leasehold homes

“(1) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations prohibit the sale of any new leasehold home.

(2) Regulations under this section—

(a) shall be made by statutory instrument,

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament; and

(c) may amend primary legislation.”

New clause 14—Premises to which leasehold right to manage applies

“Section 72 of the CLRA 2002 is amended in subsection (1)(a), by the addition at the end of the words “or of any other building or part of a building which is reasonably capable of being managed independently.””

This new clause which is an amendment to the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 adopts the Law Commission’s Recommendation 5 in its Right to Manage report which would allow leaseholders in mixed-use buildings with shared services or underground car park to exercise the Right to Manage.

New clause 15—Meaning of “accountable person” for the purposes of the Building Safety Act 2022

“(1) Section 72 of the Building Safety Act 2022 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).

(2) After subsection (2)(b), insert—

“(c) all repairing obligations relating to the relevant common parts which would otherwise be obligations of the estate owner are functions of a manager appointed under section 24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 in relation to the building or any part of the building.”

(3) In subsection (6), in the definition of “relevant repairing obligation”, after “enactment”, insert “or by virtue of an order appointing a manager made under section 24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987”.

(4) Section 24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 is amended in accordance with subsection (5).

(5) Omit subsection (2E).”

This new clause would provide for a manager appointed under section 24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 to be the “accountable person” for a higher-risk building.

New clause 16—Commencement of section 156 of the CLRA 2002

“(1) Section 181 of the CLRA 2002 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), after “104” insert “, section 156”.

(3) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Section 156 comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act 2024 is passed.””

This new clause would bring into force a requirement of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act 2024 that service charge contributions be held in designated accounts.

New clause 17—Eligibility for enfranchisement

“(1) The LHRUDA 1993 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 3—

(a) in subsection (2)(a), after third “building”, insert “, or could be separated out by way of the granting of a mandatory leaseback on the non-residential premises to the outgoing freeholder”;

(b) after sub-paragraph (2)(b)(ii), insert “or

(iii) are reasonably capable of being managed independently or are already subject to separate management arrangements;”

(3) In section 4(1)(a)(ii), after “premises;”, insert “nor

(iii) reasonably capable of being separated out by way of the granting of a mandatory leaseback and reasonably capable of being managed independently from the residential premises;””

This new clause would ensure that leaseholders in mixed-use blocks with shared services with commercial occupiers would qualify to buy their freehold.

New clause 18—Right to manage: procedure following an application to the appropriate tribunal

“(1) The CLRA 2002 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 84, insert—

“84A Procedure following an application to the appropriate tribunal

(1) Where an application is made to the appropriate tribunal under section 84(3) for a determination that an RTM company was on the relevant date entitled to acquire the right to manage the premises, the Tribunal may, if satisfied that it is reasonable to do so, dispense with—

(a) service of any notice inviting participation;

(b) service of any notice of claim;

(c) any of the requirements in the provisions set out in subsection (2); or

(d) any requirement of any regulations made under this part of this Act.

(2) Subsection (1)(c) applies to the following provisions of this Act—

(a) section 73;

(b) section 74;

(c) section 78;

(d) section 79;

(e) section 80;

(f) section 81.””

This new clause would provide the appropriate tribunal with the discretion to dispense with certain procedural requirements where it is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so. It is designed to deal with cases where a landlord attempts to frustrate an RTM claim by procedural means.

New clause 19—Service charges: consultation requirements

“(1) The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 20ZA, after subsection (1), insert—

“(1A) “Reasonable” for the purpose of subsection (1) is a matter of fact for the tribunal, which—

(a) may or may not consider the matter of relevant prejudice to the tenant. If prejudice is to be considered the burden is on the landlord to demonstrate a lack of prejudice or to prove the degree of prejudice;

(b) must include consideration of the objectives of increasing transparency and accountability, and the promotion of professional estate management, as well as of ensuring that leaseholders are protected from paying for inappropriate works or paying more than would be appropriate;

(c) must consider the dignity and investment of the tenant, who should be treated as a core participant in the process of service charge decisions;

(d) must have regard to the tenant’s legitimate interest in a meaningful consultation process, bearing in mind that minor or technical breaches may not impinge on the tenant’s interest, nor prejudice the tenant;

(e) at its discretion may or may not consider a reconstruction of the ‘what if’ situation, analysing what would have happened had the consultation been followed properly. The landlord is liable for the costs of such a reconstruction.””

This new clause would set matters for the tribunal to consider when deciding whether to dispense with all or any of the requirements for landlords to consult tenants in relation to any major works.

New clause 20—Building insurance and section 39 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000

“A landlord may not manage or arrange insurance for their building under the protections of section 39 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.”

This new clause precludes a landlord from operating as an appointed representative under the licence of Broker, where the landlord has no such licence themselves.

New clause 21—Collective enfranchisement: removal of prohibition on participation

“(1) Section 5 of the LRHUDA 1993 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).

(2) Omit subsections (5) and (6).”

This new clause would implement recommendation 41 of the Law Commission’s report on enfranchisement, that the prohibition on leaseholders of three or more flats in a building being qualifying tenants for the purposes of a collective enfranchisement claim should be abolished.

New clause 22—Leases for new dwellings: default length

“(1) Where a lease is a regulated lease, it must be issued with a lease term of at least 990 years.

(2) In this section—

“regulated lease” means a lease which meets the following conditions—

(a) it is a long lease of a single dwelling;

(b) it is granted for a premium;

(c) it is granted on or after the relevant commencement day but not in pursuance of a contract made before that day; and

(d) when it is granted, it is not an excepted lease.

the “relevant commencement day” is 1 January 2025.”

This new clause would ensure that all leases created for new flats following 1 January 2025 come with a default length of 990-years, bringing the position of future private sector leases into line with the existing requirements under Home England’s new model shared ownership lease

New clause 23—Report on disadvantage suffered by existing leaseholders

“(1) Within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must commission an independent evaluation of the matter set out in subsection (2) and must lay the report of the evaluation before Parliament.

(2) The matter is the extent to which a tenant who has extended their lease or purchased the freehold of their property after 27 November 2023 but prior to this Act receiving Royal Assent (Tenant A) is disadvantaged in comparison to a tenant who has extended their lease or purchased the freehold of their property after this Act received Royal Assent (Tenant B).

(3) The report must take account of the following factors—

(a) marriage value;

(b) the legal costs likely to be incurred by the freeholder; and

(c) any charge for which Tenant A would be liable but Tenant B would not.

(4) The report must make recommendations to redress any significant disparities between the costs for which Tenant A would be liable but Tenant B would not.

(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations give effect to any recommendations made in the evaluation.

(6) Regulations under this section—

(a) shall be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent evaluation of any disadvantages faced by a tenant who has extended their lease or purchased the freehold of their property after the introduction of this Bill but prior to it receiving Royal Assent.

New clause 24—Asbestos remediation

“(1) The Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 37B, insert—

“37C Asbestos remediation

(1) This section applies where a claim to exercise the right to collective enfranchisement in respect of any premises is made by tenants of dwellings contained in the premises and the claim is effective.

(2) Not less than 3 months before the effective date of the enfranchisement, the landlord must cause a structural survey of the premises to be undertaken by an accredited professional to ascertain whether asbestos is, or is liable to be, present in those parts of the premises which the landlord is responsible for maintaining.

(3) Where the survey required by subsection (2) reveals the presence of asbestos, the landlord must, at the landlord’s cost, arrange for its safe removal.

(4) If the removal of asbestos required by subsection (3) is not carried out before the responsibility for maintaining the affected parts transfers to another person under the claim to exercise the right of collective enfranchisement, the landlord is liable for the costs of its removal.””

New clause 25—Right to statutory compensation when landlord alters premises

“(1) This section applies when both of the following conditions are satisfied—

(a) the first condition is that there are premises in which at least one dwelling is let on a long lease to a person (“T”); and

(b) the second condition is that the landlord or any superior landlord (“L”) under T’s long lease undertakes substantial development to the premises containing T’s dwelling.

(2) When both of the conditions mentioned in subsection (1) are satisfied, L must pay to T compensation reflecting the disruption caused by the substantial development.

(3) The compensation due from L to T under subsection (2) is to be calculated and paid by L to T at a time and in a manner according to regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(4) Notwithstanding any term of any agreement to the contrary, whether the agreement is made before or after the coming into force of this section—

(a) T may set-off any part of any compensation due from L but not paid by L in accordance with this section against any service charges demanded by L; and

(b) L may not exercise or omit to exercise any right, or otherwise take any step, to prejudice T as a result of any set-off exercised by T in accordance with this section.

(5) The County Court has jurisdiction to determine any dispute regarding compensation payable under this section.

(6) Regulations under this section—

(a) are to be made by statutory instrument;

(b) may make provision generally or only in relation to specific cases;

(c) may make different provision for different purposes;

(d) may include supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provision.

(7) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to the negative procedure.

(8) In this section—

“long lease” has the same meaning has the same meaning as in Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (see sections 76 and 77 of that Act);

“service charge” has the same meaning as in section 18 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (as amended by this Act);

“substantial development” means demolishing, reconstructing or carrying out substantial works of construction on, the whole or a substantial part of the premises.”

This new clause is proposed after clause 21. It would require landlords who extend or alter buildings to pay statutory compensation to residential leaseholders in that building, for example when adding new storeys under permitted development rights. Residential leaseholders would have the right to set-off this compensation against service charges if landlords did not pay.

New clause 36—Codes of management practice: requirement to adhere

“In section 87 of the LRHUDA 1993 (codes of management practice)—

(a) after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) If—

(a) the Secretary of State has not approved a code or codes of practice which appear to him to promote desirable practices in relation to all necessary matters concerned with the management of residential property by relevant persons within three months of the passage of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act 2024, or

(b) as a consequence of the withdrawal of his approval of a code or modifications under subsection (1)(c) it appears to him that codes of practice in relation to all necessary matters are no longer in place,

he must draw up a code or modifications in relation to such matters as he considers necessary and treat that code, or those modifications, as if submitted to him under subsection (1)(a)(ii).”

(b) in subsection (7)—

(i) omit the words “not of itself”, and

(ii) for “but”, substitute “and”.”

This new clause would amend section 87 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 so as to make the codes of practice allowed for under that section mandatory (paragraph (b)), and to require the Secretary of State to ensure that such codes of practice are in place (paragraph (a)).

New clause 37—Qualification in property management

“In section 87 of the LRHUDA 1993 (codes of management practice), after subsection (6), insert—

“(6A) A code of practice approved under this section must require a person who discharges management functions in respect of residential property to hold a relevant qualification in property management.””

This new clause, together with NC36, would require any person who discharges management functions in respect of residential property to hold a relevant qualification in property management.

New clause 38—Information to be given to prospective purchasers of leasehold residential property

“In the LTA 1985, after section 30P (as inserted by section 40) insert—

Information to be given to prospective purchasers of leasehold residential property

30Q Information to be given to prospective purchasers of leasehold residential property

(1) The landlord must ensure that any person purchasing the lease of a dwelling is provided at the point of purchase with a copy of the Government guidance entitled “How to Lease”, as it may be updated from time to time.

(2) For the purposes of this section, “landlord” has the same meaning as in sections 30K to 30N (see section 30P).””

New clause 39—Rights of first refusal on disposal of freehold homes

“(1) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations provide for the rights of first refusal granted to qualifying tenants of flats by Part 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 to be extended to tenants of freehold houses.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) may amend primary legislation;

(b) are subject to the affirmative procedure (but see subsection (3)).

(3) If before approving a draft of regulations under subsection (1) both Houses of Parliament have agreed amendments to that draft, the Secretary of State must make the regulations in the form of the draft as so amended.”

New clause 40—Failure of landlords to respond to requests for enfranchisement

“(1) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must conduct a review of the problems faced by tenants wishing to exercise their right to enfranchisement whose landlords do not respond to enfranchisement requests.

(2) A report of the review must be laid before Parliament as soon as it has been completed.

(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations implement any recommendation of the review.

(4) Regulations under subsection (3) may amend primary legislation.”

New clause 41—Report on disadvantage due to payment of marriage value

“(1) Within 12 months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must commission an independent evaluation of the matter set out in subsection (2) and must lay the report of the evaluation before Parliament.

(2) The matter is the extent to which a tenant who has been required to pay marriage value when extending their lease (Tenant A) is disadvantaged in comparison to a tenant who has extended their lease after the passage of this Act (Tenant B).

(3) The report must—

(a) make recommendations to redress any significant disparities between the marriage value costs for which Tenant A would be liable but Tenant B would not; and

(b) recommend the date after which Tenant A must have extended their lease in order to be eligible for any financial redress.

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations give effect to any recommendations made in the evaluation.

(5) Regulations under this section—

(a) are to be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent evaluation of any disadvantages faced by a tenant who has been required to pay marriage value when extending their lease in comparison to a tenant who has extended their lease after the passage of this Act and therefore not been required to pay marriage value.

New clause 67—Liability of freeholders for central heating failures

“(1) Within 12 months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must commission an independent evaluation of the matters set out in subsection (2) and must lay the report of the evaluation before Parliament.

(2) The matters are, where there is a failure of a communal central heating system for which a freeholder is responsible which lasts for a minimum of 24 hours—

(a) the extent to which a freeholder should be liable; and

(b) whether, if the freeholder is considered to some extent to be liable, financial penalties should be imposed on the freeholder.

(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations give effect to any recommendations made in the evaluation.

(4) Regulations under this section—

(a) are to be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent evaluation of the matter of holding freeholders financially liable for long-lasting central communal heating failures where the freeholder has a responsibility for upkeep.

“New clause 68—Shared ownership

(1) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations create certain rights and obligations for leaseholders and freeholders on all leasehold properties which are subject to a shared ownership model created after 1967.

(2) The rights referred to in subsection (1) are that any leaseholder has the right to increase their share of the freehold in the property in increments of either ten percent or 25 percent on giving formal notice in writing to the freeholder.

(3) The obligation referred to in subsection (1) is that the freeholder may not charge a rent on their freehold share of the property which is greater than 2.75% of the market value of the share of the property which they hold.

(4) Rights and obligations created by regulations under this section are to apply notwithstanding any legal agreement previously entered into between the leaseholder and the freeholder.”

Amendment 3, in clause 3, page 2, line 19, at end insert—

“(2) After section 4(5) of the LRHUDA 1993, insert—

“(6) The Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers may by regulations amend this section to provide for a different description of premises falling within section 3(1) to which this Chapter does not apply.

(7) Regulations may not be made under subsection (6) unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of—

(a) in the case of regulations made by the Secretary of State, both Houses of Parliament;

(b) in the case of regulations made by the Welsh Ministers, Senedd Cymru.”

(3) In section 100 of the LRHUDA 1993—

(a) in subsection (2), after “making”, insert “provision under section 4(6) or”;

(b) in subsection (3), after “making”, insert “provision under section 4(6) or”.”

This amendment would enable the Secretary of State or (in the case of Wales) the Welsh Ministers to change the description of premises which are excluded from collective enfranchisement rights. Such a change would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Government amendments 24 to 31.

Amendment 6, in clause 12, page 16, leave out from line 27 to line 20 on page 17.

This amendment would leave out the proposed new section 19C of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, and so ensure that leaseholders are not liable to pay their landlord’s non-litigation costs in cases where a low value enfranchisement or extension claim is successful.

Government amendments 32 to 34.

Amendment 7, in clause 13, page 22, leave out lines 1 to 29.

This amendment would leave out the proposed new section 89C of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, and so ensure that leaseholders are not liable to pay their landlord’s non-litigation costs in cases where a low value enfranchisement or extension claim is successful.

Amendment 2, in clause 14, page 26, line 40, at end insert—

“(ja) any matter arising under Clause [Estate management: compensation] of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act 2024.”

This is a paving amendment for NC2.

Amendment 1, page 28, line 11, at end insert—

“(8A) When considering any matter under this section, the appropriate tribunal must have regard to previous decisions made by an appropriate tribunal in matters which appear, to it, to be materially similar to the matter under consideration under this section.”

This amendment would require tribunals considering cases related to leasehold to have regard to precedent set by previous decisions of tribunals in similar cases.

Government amendments 35 and 36.

Amendment 17, in clause 22, page 39, line 14, leave out “50%” and insert “75%”.

This amendment would allow leaseholders with a higher proportion of commercial or non-residential space in their building to claim the Right to Manage.

Amendment 9, in clause 23, page 40, leave out from the beginning of line 27 to the end of line 27 on page 41.

This amendment would leave out the proposed new section 87B of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 and so ensure that RTM companies cannot incur costs in instances where claims cease.

Amendment 19, in clause 29, page 46, line 26, at end insert—

“(iii) a statement of all transactions relating to any sinking fund or reserve fund.”

This amendment would require the written statement of account which the landlord will be required to provide to a tenant to include a statement of all transactions relating to any sinking fund or reserve fund in which their monies are held.

Amendment 12, page 47, line 16, at end insert—

“(8) Where a landlord of any such premises fails to comply with the terms implied into a lease by subsection (2), any rent, service charge or administration charge otherwise due from the tenant to the landlord shall be treated for all purposes as not being due from the tenant to the landlord at any time before the landlord does comply with those subsections.”

This amendment would require courts and tribunals to treat the landlord’s compliance with the implied term requirement for annual accounts and certification as a condition precedent to the lessee’s obligation to pay their service charges.

Amendment 13, page 48, line 11, at end insert—

“(9) Where a landlord fails to comply with subsection (1), any rent, service charge or administration charge otherwise due from the tenant to the landlord shall be treated for all purposes as not being due from the tenant to the landlord at any time before the landlord does comply with that subsection.”

This amendment would require courts and tribunals to treat the landlord’s compliance with the implied term requirement for annual accounts and certification as a condition precedent to the lessee’s obligation to pay their service charges.

Amendment 14, in clause 30, page 50, leave out lines 12 to 19 and insert—

“(4) P may not charge R any sum in excess of the prescribed amount in respect of the costs incurred by P in doing anything required under section 21F or this section.

(5) The prescribed amount means an amount specified in regulations by the appropriate authority; and such regulations may prescribe different amounts for different activities.

(6) If P is a landlord, P may not charge the tenant for the costs of allowing the tenant access to premises to inspect information (but may charge for the making of copies).”

This amendment would make the appropriate authority (i.e. the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers) responsible for setting a prescribed amount for the costs of providing information to leaseholders. That prescribed amount would be the maximum amount that freeholders and managing agents employed by them could seek to recover through a service charge.

Amendment 15, in clause 31, page 51, line 35, leave out “£5,000” and insert “£30,000”.

This amendment would raise the cap on damages under this section for a failure to comply with duties relating to service charges to £30,000.

Amendment 16, page 51, line 35, at end insert—

“(5A) Damages under this section must be at least £1,000.”

This amendment would insert a floor on damages under this section of £1,000.

Amendment 20, in clause 32, page 52, line 32, leave out from beginning to end of line 33 and insert—

“(a) exceed the net rate charged by the insurance underwriter for the insurance cover, and”.

This amendment would define an excluded insurance cost as any cost in excess of the actual charge made by the underwriter for placing the risk, where such cost is not a permitted insurance payment.

Amendment 21, page 52, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 53.

This amendment, to leave out subsection (3) of the proposed new section 20G of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, is consequential on Amendment 20.

Amendment 22, page 53, line 18, at end insert—

“(5A) The regulations must specify a broker’s reasonable remuneration at market rates as a permitted insurance payment.

(5B) The regulations must exclude any payment which arises, directly or indirectly, from any breach of trust, fiduciary obligation or failure to act in the best interests of the tenant.”

This amendment would require “permitted insurance payment” to include payment of a reasonable sum to a broker at market rates for placing the cover, and to exclude any payments which have arisen from wrongdoing.

Amendment 10, page 60, line 2, leave out clause 35.

Government amendments 37 to 41.

Amendment 18, in clause 46, page 75, line 23, at end insert—

“(c) only where they are incurred in the provision of services or the carrying out of works that would not ordinarily be provided by local authorities.”

This amendment would mean that services or works that would ordinarily be provided by local authorities are not relevant costs for the purposes of estate management charges.

Government amendment 42.

Amendment 83, in clause 74, page 97, line 37, at end insert—

“(2) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish guidance on the circumstances in which the Secretary of State will give financial assistance or make other payments under this section.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the circumstances in which financial assistance would be made available for the establishment or maintenance of estate management redress schemes.

Government amendments 43 to 48.

Amendment 11, in page 104, line 30, leave out clause 83.

See explanatory statement to NC4.

Government amendments 85 and 49.

Government new schedule 1—Part 5: Amendments to other Acts.

Government new schedule 2—Categories of permitted lease.

Government new schedule 3—Leasehold houses: financial penalties.

Government amendments 50 to 53.

Amendment 4, in schedule 2, page 136, line 40, at end insert—

“(9) In setting the deferment rate the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to acquire their freehold at the lowest possible cost.”

This amendment would ensure that when determining the applicable deferment rate, the Secretary of State would have to have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to acquire their freehold at the lowest possible cost.

Amendment 5, page 138, line 6, at end insert—

“(7A) In setting the deferment rate the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to extend their lease at the lowest possible cost.”

This amendment would ensure that when determining the applicable deferment rate, the Secretary of State would have to have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to extend their lease at the lowest possible cost.

Government amendments 54 to 67.

Amendment 8, in schedule 7, page 168, line 15, leave out sub-sub-paragraph (a).

This amendment would ensure that all leaseholders, not just those with residential leases of 150 years or over, have the right to vary their lease to replace rent with peppercorn rent.

Government amendments 68 to 82, 84 and 23.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Let me begin by thanking Members in all parts of the House for their valuable contributions to the Bill. It is good to see that so many who have been involved so far are present; a number of them have been campaigning for these changes for years. I will not be able to name everyone, but I pay tribute to, in particular, my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sir Sajid Javid), and for Newark (Robert Jenrick), my late right hon. Friend the former Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, James Brokenshire, and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), all of whom have played such important roles in preparing the ground for many of the measures before us today. They have all been invaluable in helping us to reach the point at which we deliver on the commitment that we made to reform a system that clearly needs change, and give millions the freedom, security and control over their life that comes with home ownership in its truest, fullest sense.

At a stroke, the Bill will provide that greater control for young people and many others. It will help to reduce unnecessary stress, uncertainty and wasted time by reforming a labyrinthine system and making it better. Buying a home, especially a first home, must be a moment of pride and celebration—a just reward for years of hard work, careful saving, sacrifices made, and doing the right thing. For some, however, the dream of home ownership is realised in soaring service charges, rip-off insurance commissions and escalating ground rents. Overall, and most infuriatingly, there is a sense of being left in the dark, and of a system that is working against, rather than for, the homeowner. That is bad for everyone, but it is notable that first-time buyers constitute nearly 50% of leaseholders; 15% of owner-occupiers are aged under 35. They are the future of our property-owning democracy, and they rightly expect and deserve to put down roots and have the same stake in society as previous generations.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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I would welcome my hon. Friend’s views on that point. What he has said is entirely correct. I have met so many first-time buyers in my constituency who are trapped, because they are stuck in a cycle of increasing service charges. Even worse, facilities companies are not maintaining properties when there are serious problems. I am meeting representatives of one of them, FirstPort, at the weekend, but a great many other examples have been cited in the House. We are deeply concerned, because our constituents have sacrificed so much. They have put all their investments and savings into their property, but there is clearly no accountability or transparency, and we hope that the Bill will change that.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, Hear.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the support that has just been expressed for her comments demonstrates that many of us see these issues in our constituency. As she says, it is vital that we give people who have made such sacrifices in order to achieve first-time home ownership the right to, and the greatest control over, that ownership.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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In my constituency, Victoria Avenue (Harvest Grove) Management Company seems to be extorting money from leaseholders and not providing any of the works that it says it is providing. It is taking them to court and charging them for the benefit of having letters sent to them with invoices. Through this Bill, we desperately need to redress the balance between freeholders and leaseholders. Will the Minister see that that is the case?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He makes a very important point about transparency, which is at the heart of the service charge changes in the Bill. He makes an extremely important point about fairness. Not all companies will be doing things that are incorrect, but where they have been found to be incorrect, it is important that they shoulder their own costs.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his generosity with his time. It is not only companies that are exploiting leaseholders; the St Mary Magdalene and Holy Jesus Trust in my constituency refuses to allow its leaseholders to extend their lease or buy their freehold. The charitable exception is very complex, and nobody wants historic houses to be sold, but these are ordinary terraced houses and the charity used to sell the freehold and, indeed, extend leaseholds in the past. Is it possible for the Minister to meet me or my constituents to look at how this issue can be addressed in the future?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for outlining that issue; I know she has raised it in this place before. As she indicates, this is a complex area of law, but I am happy to talk with her separately on that matter in the coming weeks, if it is helpful.

How are we doing this? We are giving leaseholders more security over the future of their homes by increasing the standard lease extension term to 990 years, by making it cheaper and easier for leaseholders to buy their freehold, and by tackling unfair charges, exploitative practices and poor management. In doing so, we are overturning centuries of iniquity.

The Bill will also give leaseholders the control they deserve over the buildings they live in. At present, management companies are too often unaccountable to those who pay for them, meaning that they are able to charge excessive fees for poor-quality service. The Bill gives more leaseholders the opportunity to manage the buildings themselves, so that works get done properly and they have more of a say.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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The Minister might anticipate the question I am going to ask, because I have asked it before. It is fine giving leaseholders easier ways to buy their freehold, until we come across companies such as Coppen Estates, which we have debated before. It just does not reply to letters. I think that we are now on our third recorded delivery letter to the company about the residents on the Flockton estate, who have just been sent enhanced bills for their ground rent charges, with no justification. They face threats if they do not comply. Where in the Bill is there any measure to make sure that Coppen Estates and the like respond properly in future or face consequences if they do not?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, we have debated the iniquities of Coppen Estates extensively, and I repeat that it is treating my constituents in a way that is inappropriate, in the same way that it is doing with his constituents over the border. Given that we are extending the opportunity for charges to go to tribunal, I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Flockton will be able to go to tribunal and hold that company or other companies to account, should that be helpful.

Through the reforms, we will scrap the presumption that leaseholders must pay their freeholder’s legal costs, even when they win at tribunal, correcting another historical and unfair imbalance. Someone would not be expected to pay legal costs if they were successful in their claim in other cases, so leaseholders should not be treated any differently.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
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The Minister was most accommodating throughout the proceedings in Committee, and we are all grateful to him for the way in which he has listened.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Minister will know that many developers have located themselves extrajudicially in places such as the Cayman Islands. Wembley Central Apartments Ltd in my constituency has finally ended up there, as have many others. What in this Bill will enable us to extend our reach and force such companies to respond, reply and do what the Building Safety Act 2022 already says they ought to do?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I know we debated in Committee. He correctly highlights the challenges in certain areas of enforcement. If I may, I will come back to that later in the debate.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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I join my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) in recognising that this is not a partisan issue, because so many of us see the problems. The Minister talked about people not paying the costs when they win, but many will be shocked to discover that no precedent is set at a leasehold tribunal. We see companies exploit our constituents time and again, and it creates no precedent on which the courts and the tribunal courts could draw. Will he look at my amendment 1? It seeks to set that precedent and give people the protection of knowing that a freehold manager who has mistreated people will not be able to do it with impunity, because the courts will be able to take that into consideration if a tribunal has found that to be the case.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I know that she feels strongly about this matter and has raised it previously. I am always happy to talk outside the Chamber, but the advice I have received is that, at the higher tier of the tribunal, there is the ability to give an indication of the direction of travel and a precedent can be set there. As I say, I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady separately.

In Committee, we made efforts to further improve and expand the Bill. We moved 119 amendments, including on expanding leaseholder rights of redress and providing new guarantees that leaseholders will receive sales information, and tabled a number of technical amendments to improve it. Today we are proposing further improvements, and I will now turn to the Government amendments on Report. I will first speak to new clauses 30 to 35, and amendments 23 and 49.

Building on the Building Safety Act 2022, the Government have tabled a number of amendments to clarify and extend protections in specific areas to further prevent freeholders and developers from escaping their liabilities to fund building remediation work. The Building Safety Act provided leaseholders with a range of protections to ensure that those responsible for building safety defects were made to carry out the works or pay for them to be carried out. However, before and during the process of remediation, relevant steps may be required to keep the building and the residents safe. Relevant steps include such measures as providing waking watches, fire sprinklers or simultaneous alarms. Unfortunately, there have been cases where the landlord has failed to put those in place or to pay for the relevant steps. That has caused the leaseholder to bear the financial burden or required the local authority to step in.

New clause 30 would place beyond doubt that the first-tier tribunal can order that the costs of the relevant steps are met when making a remediation contribution order or a remediation order. It is often the case that doing surveys or investigative works to discover the full extent of remediation required on a building takes time, money and effort, and those assessments can be invasive. New clause 31 would place it beyond doubt that the first-tier tribunal has the power to order that a respondent must arrange and pay for evaluations, surveys or expert reports to establish the full extent of a building’s defects.

On new clause 32, we know that in some instances, landlords of buildings that are 11 metres high or above are failing to provide alternative accommodation for leaseholders when they are decanted from their homes. This new clause would place it beyond doubt that, in addition to relevant steps and expert reports, the costs of alternative accommodation for leaseholders and other residents who are decanted from their homes can be recovered through remediation contribution orders.

On new clause 33, resident management companies and right-to-manage companies allow leaseholders to have more control over their buildings. However, such management companies are unable to fund litigation against non-compliant landlords, as they are unable to recover the costs for doing so from leaseholders in their buildings. This new clause would allow such management companies, where the relevant lease allows, to raise funds for remediation contribution orders, making sure that we continue to hold those responsible for life-threatening defects to account.

New clause 34 would repeal section 125 of the Building Safety Act, which was intended to allow for the recovery of remediation costs relating to residential buildings that are 11 metres high or above in an insolvency, and for these funds to be used to remediate the building. However, there is a conflict with insolvency law and a risk that, instead of being used for remediation, any sums recovered under section 125 could be directed to pay down the debt. This problem cannot easily be remedied, so we are seeking to repeal the section at this time.

New clause 35 proposes that regulators need to be made aware if those responsible for relevant buildings—that is, responsible persons—become insolvent. This new clause introduces a duty on insolvency practitioners to notify local fire and rescue authorities, local authorities and, where necessary, the building safety regulator.

I also want to speak to new clauses 42 to 66, new schedules 2 and 3 and amendment 84. We know that there is little justification for selling houses on a leasehold basis. For years, developers have exploited the sale of houses on a leasehold basis for the sole purpose of generating an income stream from ground rents and fees. This has been done at the expense of consumers, who receive little or no benefit in return. We promised to shut down this abusive practice by banning the sale of houses on a leasehold basis, and today we are doing so. Other than in narrow circumstances where a lease can still be justified, all new houses will need to be sold on a freehold basis.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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I am really grateful for this news from the Minister. It certainly goes a long way towards addressing my new clause 13. He speaks specifically about banning leasehold sales of new houses, but what consideration will he give to extending that ban to leasehold flats? I know that that is a concern for a number of us on both sides of the House.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I know that my right hon. Friend has campaigned extensively for the ban on leasehold houses, as many in this Chamber have done, and she has spoken up in this place on the issue before. I am grateful for her support for it. She also rightly talks about the extensive debate about the potential extension of the ban to flats. The Secretary of State has said at this Dispatch Box on numerous occasions that the Government remain keen to make progress on finding an alternative workable solution to leasehold flats—most people in this place recognise that that will probably be commonhold—and work will continue on that. We hope to make further progress on that in the future—

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Commonhold has clearly created a significant amount of interest.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and for what he is saying. There are certain building companies in this country—Bellway Homes, for example—whose policy is to sell the leasehold to leaseholders and sell the freehold to a company that then exploits every aspect of the freehold, without even informing the leaseholder that they have done this. Surely we can close this loophole—we could close it this afternoon—by ensuring that the freeholder must give the leaseholder the first right of refusal to purchase the freehold.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that it is covered in an amendment put down by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), and I will come to it later in the debate.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
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On the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), Bellway is certainly a company that has done this. Indeed, many people did not even realise that they had a leasehold house and only found out quite a while afterwards when all the costs started to come down the road. I welcome what the Government have done, but we must try to find a good solution for everybody who now finds themselves in this position, because in the years to come those houses could become very difficult to sell.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need to ensure that this regime works. We recognise that there are challenges, which is why we are bringing forward a number of measures.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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On the point about existing contracts that have been signed by people purchasing a leasehold property, is it the Government’s view that those were legitimate contracts and that there is therefore a risk in trying retrospectively to reverse the conditions of those contracts? Or is it the Government’s view that those were abusive contracts and that there is therefore a public policy interest in retrospectively eliminating the leasehold element of them?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I hope that I will be able to answer my hon. Friends’ questions in a moment when I run quickly through our amendments. We are banning the sale of leasehold houses in all but unusual circumstances, but for those that are out there at the moment, there must be an ability to ensure that they can buy the freehold and move from the leasehold challenges to a freehold. Let me deal with some specifics that I hope will answer some of the questions that have been raised.

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Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami
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I thank the Minister for giving way again. One problem is that many of these companies encouraged buyers to use their lawyers, who did not point out some of the pitfalls of leasehold properties.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which is why I hope that measures such as new clause 51 go some way towards making it crystal clear that there is no way to get around this, and towards providing clarity to those who seek to buy a new property.

New clause 52 will require a statement on the front of all new leases declaring that it is a permitted lease and is not a long residential lease of a house. Should a developer make a dishonest declaration to His Majesty’s Land Registry, the homeowner may be able to exercise the redress right contained in new clause 54, which will allow them to acquire the freehold from the developer free of charge.

Under new clause 53, if a lease does not include the prescribed statements, His Majesty’s Land Registry will have the power to restrict the resale of the property until the right information and declarations have been provided.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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The Minister is talking about the information on houses. Will it also apply to flats so that, before anyone buys a property, it must be explained to them that they are buying a lease and what that entails? I tabled new clause 38, which says that everyone buying a lease should be presented with a copy of the Government’s “How to Lease” document. Everyone in this situation should be given independent advice.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am focusing on homes, and we have been emphatic and clear that the sale of leasehold homes will be precluded other than in exceptional circumstances. I am happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman both later in the debate and outside the Chamber about whether further consumer protections for those purchasing a flat may be proportionate and reasonable.

New clause 54 grants homeowners who have been mis-sold a new lease of a house the right to acquire the freehold from the landlord, as well as any superior leasehold interest in the property, for zero cost. New clauses 55 and 56 set out protections and reasonable limitations on this requirement, and new clause 57 provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out further details on how redress can be obtained.

We understand that granting homeowners the right to redress alone may not be enough to prevent bad actors from attempting to breach the ban on the sale of leases on houses, which is why we are introducing a system of financial penalties where there is a breach. These penalties will start at £500 for a minor breach, rising to £30,000 for the most serious breaches. To enforce this system of fines, as set out in new clause 58, we are asking all local weights and measures authorities to play a part where they see infractions in their area. We will also set out how they need to work through new clause 60.

The chief responsibility for investigating and taking action will lie with the lead enforcement authority. Through new clause 61, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint the right authority to fulfil this important role, while new clause 62 details the duties. By amending the Consumer Rights Act 2015, clauses 63 and 64 also vest the appropriate investigatory and enforcement powers essential for both the lead authority and local authorities to carry out the job.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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Can the Minister assist me with a relatively unusual issue in my constituency? I have listened very carefully to his helpful speech. In the Loddon Park development on the edge of Woodley in my constituency, residents were sold properties only to discover in the small print of their contract, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said, that they were expected to pay a standing charge to upkeep open space on this large development, even though they are freeholders of their own houses. Will the Minister look into this matter and write to me about what redress might be open to them?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about the specifics.

In addition to the building safety measures and the ban on new leasehold houses, the Government have tabled a number of consequential amendments to refine and improve the Bill.

With the leave of the House, I will mention three key issues among the many that were brought to our attention in Committee. I understand these issues will be subject to further debate today, but I want to acknowledge that they are: capping existing ground rents, which has already been raised; leaseholder forfeiture, which I know will be raised; and support for the residents of freehold estates, which has already been extensively addressed.

I know that Members will have questions about the Government’s plan to address ground rents, and we have consulted on introducing a cap on ground rents in the Bill. We extended the consultation on request and, as a result, we are still considering our next steps. We will say more shortly.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton
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The Minister is generous in giving way. Can he give us an indication of the timescale? Many Members will be interested to know the answer. And does he anticipate being able to introduce something when the Bill reaches the other place?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Although I cannot give the specific assurances that my right hon. Friend seeks, we are trying to work through this at speed. We recognise that it is an important issue, and we recognise that it is vital to today’s discussion. I know that hon. and right hon. Members will recognise that this is a hugely contested area in which there has already been significant discussion. People have very different views, so we want to make sure that, while we are moving at speed, we take our time so that we reach a conclusive decision through the right methodology and process.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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My constituent is in a flat with a ground rent of £454 a year. As that is over the £250 threshold, it means that their property can be taken away from them if they fail to pay their ground rent. As a result, my constituent has failed to sell their property six times, even though they have had buyers. They are stuck in this flat, and they cannot get on with their life. Will the Minister please look at this threshold, which is causing real problems?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My right hon. Friend moves me on to my second point. We also recognise the strength of feeling on the vexed issue of forfeiture. The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) made a clear case on this in Committee, as did other Members, and I also heard a passionate and eloquent case in Committee from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes).

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
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Will the Minister simply remove any opportunity for forfeiture? It is arcane and has no place in our system. I strongly suspect that would get support on both sides of the House.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The House sees my hon. Friend’s passion, which he demonstrated in Committee and is demonstrating again today. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch made passionate cases in Committee.

I recognise that this is a real and significant problem, and there is a huge iniquity at stake. I have heard from colleagues, both today and previously, about why we should act, and we are currently working through the detail of the issue. We will report back to the House with more details shortly.

Finally, a comprehensive debate in Committee on freehold estates was led by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). He is a committed campaigner on this issue, and I know that many other Members also have very strong views. I have also been involved in this in places such as Alderman Park and Hunloke Grove in my constituency. We understand the strength of feeling on this issue, and we are considering it further.

Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)
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Residents of estates across my constituency are trapped in extortive relationships with unaccountable private management companies while their estates go unadopted. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State expressed his willingness to bring forward and consider measures to make sure that residents have the right to manage on such estates, at a bare minimum, before considering wider action. Is there any reason why the Government would not accept new clause 7 in the name of the shadow Minister to finally give the residents of these estates the right to manage and to get out of these extortive relationships?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The hon. Gentleman made that case in Committee, and I am grateful to him for that and for repeating it today. As I say, we understand the strength of feeling on the issue and are considering it further.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I will give way one final time and then I will conclude, so that others can get in.

Gareth Johnson Portrait Gareth Johnson
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These management companies that the Minister alluded to have a literal monopoly over the residents they are meant to serve—in effect, they control the residents, rather than the other way round—so I welcome the amendments made in Committee to ensure that residents can change their management companies. Will he give a commitment to this House that he will ensure that those amendments stay in the Bill, both here and in the other place, and that they will become law?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend has been a campaigner for many years on the importance of this matter, and I know how strongly he feels and how much he acts on it on behalf of his constituents. We are absolutely committed to making progress on estate management. The Bill demonstrates a significant step forward in doing that, and we will see what else we can do in the future.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am going to wind up so as to give others the opportunity to speak. To sum up, property ownership has been described as one of the bulwarks of individual freedom, and the measures I have described today are designed to give all homeowners, particularly the younger generation, the chance to gain a proper stake in our democracy. The Bill seeks to bring greater fairness, transparency and accountability to the system, and to give millions of people across the country a more secure foundation to get on in life, a stronger stake in our society and a solid platform for the future. I am grateful for all Members’ efforts to improve the Bill and for the scrutiny and debate it has received so far, and I look forward to hearing the further discussions to that effect this afternoon.

--- Later in debate ---
My amendment would provide a safer passage for this Bill on its way to becoming law. It would ensure that any lease below 80 years at the time the Act is passed would continue to have marriage value, but any lease that goes below 80 years after the Act has passed would not. I ask the Minister to consider that as the Bill moves to its next stage.
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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With the leave of the House, let me start by thanking all Members for their contributions to the debate. The breadth of discussion across the House has shown that while we can discuss precisely how far we should go, there is a general consensus that progress needs to be made, and I think all Members will accept that it has been and is being made in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) tabled new clause 25, and he is right to say that it deals with an important issue. As he said, a consultation is open, and we will review the responses very seriously. I urge anyone whose views are as strong as those expressed by my hon. Friend to contribute to the consultation, so that we can consider the issue in the round.

The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) spoke passionately about his new clauses 39 and 40, and I understood the points that he was making. I hope that some of the changes introduced in the Bill will make the acquisition of freeholds much easier. We have discussed regularly the need for a disincentive for freeholders not to respond or to “go slow”, which should mean that the right to first refusal falls away to the extent that it is no longer necessary.

I was sorry to hear about the problems experienced by the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). He was kind enough to mention them to me earlier, but I would be happy to meet him as he requested, because I recognise that the specific matter that he raised is important to his constituents, and we need to look into it in more detail.

The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who served on the Bill Committee, made many useful points. I cannot do justice to all of them, but I am happy to continue the discussion about Daejan Holdings and building safety to ensure that, if there is an issue that the Government have not worked through fully, we understand the details better.

The hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) highlighted the huge inequity that is affecting individuals in individual blocks in their constituencies. That inequity is exactly the reason why we must make progress, and I hope that the Bill is a good proposition for that to happen.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) was kind enough to give me more details about the background to her new clause in a separate discussion. What I have heard about from her, and also from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy)—who is not in the Chamber, but who has a similar concern—is absolutely unacceptable. I entirely appreciate the individual concerns that are felt, and I am keen to continue our discussion so that we can learn from it for the broader good of the building safety sector in general.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) tabled an important new clause about leasehold houses. I am glad she recognised that the Government have now introduced measures to deal with the issue that she raised. She also raised two important points about reports, and I am keen to meet her so that we can discuss those further and, in particular, discuss the impact involved.

I can tell the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) that we are looking into the issue of the Building Safety Regulator, and I will be happy to talk to him about that when we meet to discuss Barrier Point. Since his speech I have checked the position on asbestos. We do not believe that that right is extinguished, but if we are not correct I would be keen to talk to him further to ensure that we understand exactly how that regime will work in practice, and to try to assuage his concerns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) exhorted us to move at this watershed moment. I am keen to talk to her further about the participation thresholds. She has made a powerful case, both to me in the House today and more broadly, about the importance of ensuring that this is workable, particularly in the circumstances that are faced in the centre of London.

While I entirely understand the point made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) about some of these changes, I worry about her new clause, and I ask her not to push it to a vote. While her intentions are clearly noble, the new clause would put us into a position in which assets were being expropriated for the purpose of something that could be as insufficient as notice of an annual general meeting. I hope that she will reflect on that during the time we have left before the votes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) made a strong point about the need to consider estate management further, and I have given a commitment to do so. FirstPort was raised by a number of Members, including my right hon. Friend. It may interest the House to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) will lead a Westminster Hall debate on that tomorrow—so same time, same place, same discussion, but an opportunity to consider further the people and organisations that are not doing the right thing in this regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) has been an absolutely doughty champion of progress on estate management, and he is absolutely right to do that. His speech demonstrates again the strength of feeling about this issue and, as I said at the Dispatch Box a moment ago, we are considering it further and recognise the importance of doing that.

I turn to the contribution from the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who speaks for the Opposition. He has tabled a new clause on forfeiture. I hope that the Government have indicated very clearly that we recognise the significant problems in this area and are working through the detail. Although I understand what he is trying to do with amendments 4 and 8, we think it is proportionate to retain the current position that we have set out from the Front Bench, for the same reasons as in Committee.

My hon. Friends the Members for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Harborough made a very clear case about the importance of those on the Government Benches leaning into reform. In the time I have left, knowing that other parties and other traditions represented in this House will make similar cases—it is a shared endeavour in this area—I want again to make the Conservative case for leasehold reform. Building on our proud heritage of reform, it is a Conservative Government who are bringing forward the most transformational proposals for improving the lives of millions of leaseholders. It is a Conservative Government who are building the case for change to deal with the iniquities present on new estates, and who are committed to setting ordinary families free from unnecessary burdens. It is a Conservative Government who have brought forward one of the most comprehensive changes to property in a generation.

Why have we come forward with these proposals? It is precisely because it is a Conservative thing to do. We are cautious about interfering in the markets, for fear of unintended consequences or the creation of barriers. We know that no Government can ever fix every problem, but when we are convinced about the case for reform, we will fight for it with every sinew. At the heart of being a Conservative is the desire to smash monopolies and remove bad practice. We will celebrate where things work well, but we will joyfully remove distortions that are exploited by chancers and rogues. We will constrain rent seekers and middlemen, who add little to the basic economic exchange of goods and services that is at the heart of our economy.

Fundamentally, we are committed to making our markets more perfect and, as a consequence, to setting people free to make their own choices, live their lives and build their own future. Leasehold has been exploited for far too long by those who have no interest in the good functioning of capitalism. The lack of transparency, clarity and redress in freehold estate charges causes frustration up and down the land, and it does nothing for the efficient functioning of markets. That is why we are reforming.

Adam Smith talked of ground rents as monopolistic in 1776, Hayek reminded us in 1944 of the importance of making competition work and of not accepting institutions as they stand and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough indicated, Margaret Thatcher asserted in 1982 that there is no prouder word in our history as Conservatives than “freeholder”. That is the centuries-long call as to why we have to make further improvements to our property system. With this Bill, in the true spirit of thousands of Conservative reforms that have made this country better, we are sending a clear signal that change for the better is coming and will benefit millions of people for the long term. That is only possible because of all the hard work of all the officials, all the people in the Law Commission and my opposite number, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, who has been extremely constructive on this Bill.

I give huge thanks to Professor Nick Hopkins; Tom Nicholls and Chris Pulman at the Law Commission; officials in the Department, led by Robin Froggatt-Smith; my private office, including Grace Doody; and Members from across the House for their valuable input. Although I have just made the Conservative case for reform, we know that this is a shared endeavour among us all, which is why there is an unusual amount of unanimity in this place. It demonstrates the importance of our continuing to make progress on this issue.

As the Bill moves to the other place, I hope that those sat in the other place take note of the consensus and keenness here to ensure that progress is made. I hope they also take note of the importance of ensuring that the Bill continues and of the very many great reforms that are in it already. This demonstrates that together, as a broad group all across this House, we are committed to ensuring that leasehold reform happens, that leaseholders get a better deal and that the estate managers, estate management and freehold estates get clearer transparency, clearer information and a clear understanding of how they can live their lives and set themselves free in the future.

Local Government Finance

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Wednesday 7th February 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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I beg to move,

That the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2024–25 (HC 318), which was laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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With this we shall consider the following motions:

That the Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases (Principles) (England) Report 2024–25 (HC 319), which was laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.

That the Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases (Alternative Notional Amounts) (England) Report 2024–25 (HC 320), which was laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Today, we are confirming the major parts of the settlement announced in December, as well as reiterating the £600 million additional funding boost announced in January. Local government has welcomed the extra money as important in offering the ability to provide further support to children, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities, while also being mindful of the increased demand for social care. Governments always need to take tough decisions, and despite the suggestions of some in this place, there is always a balance to be struck: infinite worthy demands, but finite resources. None the less, we recognise that it is important to support local government in the face of increasing demands for services and the rising inflation and costs that are the legacy of the war in Ukraine and instability in the middle east. That is exactly what we are seeking to do.

In recognition of those challenges, I am pleased to announce a settlement totalling nearly £65 billion for local authorities in England for the next financial year. The settlement includes an increase in core spending power of up to £4.5 billion compared with 2023-24; a £1.2 billion uplift to the social care grant, which can be used for children’s or adult services subject to individual local priorities; an increase in the funding guarantee, which will ensure that all authorities see a minimum increase in core spending power of 4% before any local decisions are made on council tax rates; additional support for rural councils through a £15 million increase to the rural service delivery grant; funding worth £3 million to support authorities experiencing significant difficulties because of internal drainage board levy costs; and additional funding for the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly, in recognition of their circumstances and their physical separation from the mainland. As a result, available funding for local government in England will rise by 7.5% in cash terms for 2024-25.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I am most grateful for the Minister’s statement, and I am also grateful for the uplift in funding for the Island. As I understand it, that is higher than average—we are most grateful—and that took place after meetings between me and Ministers. I am also grateful that they have specifically mentioned and accepted the additional costs that the Isle of Wight faces by dint of being an island, and that we are in effect now catching up with other parts of or other islands in the UK. I am very keen for this uplift to be seen as permanent, and then to be built on. Will Ministers meet me to discuss ways in which we can ensure that the uplift for the Island and the recognition of island status are now fixed?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for, while I have been in post looking at this portfolio specifically, his invite to the Isle of Wight, his support in facilitating that and his continued work on behalf of the Island. The change, which has been brought forward today by the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and the Secretary of State, is in direct recognition of the work he has done, and I am grateful for it. I know that the Under-Secretary will meet my hon. Friend to continue that discussion.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very briefly, is the Minister comfortable with our persisting in protecting our constituents from the local councils they elect with the referendum threshold? When are we going to allow local authorities to govern, and to suffer the consequences if the electorate disagrees with what they have done?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising a very philosophical important point, which is about the balance between local and national Government, and he is absolutely right to raise it. It is a long-standing principle of our local government settlement that we allow local councils the flexibility to be able to make decisions about the finances in their local areas, while also taking a general view that there are caps in place on how far they can go. I will come on to say more about that in my speech, but he raises an important point, and I know it will have been noted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

With available funding for local government in England rising by 7.5% in cash terms for the coming financial year, that significant increase will allow councils to continue to deliver local services. Thanks to the funding guarantee, all authorities will see an increase of at least 4%, before any council tax increases are taken into account.

We continue to monitor the financial health of all councils on a regular basis, using a range of data as well as extensive direct engagement. Examples of significant financial failure in local government remain low, but we will take action where necessary. We will always be ready to speak to councils should that be necessary, and should any have concerns about their ability to manage their finances or pressures that they have not planned for.

We do not just provide funding through the settlement. Separately, we are proud that there is £15 billion of taxpayer funding in a suite of complementary levelling-up projects that will help grow local economies, create local jobs, improve local transport, provide local skills training and support local businesses, making real differences to real people’s lives in communities all across the country.

Since 2021, the levelling-up fund has been changing communities across the United Kingdom, with £4.8 billion of taxpayer funds allocated to 271 projects, kick-starting regeneration and funding vital projects across the UK. Our levelling-up partnerships are delivering regeneration, and 12 investment zones are driving innovation all across the country. In addition, there is £1.1 billion for 55 left-behind towns through the long-term plan for towns, which is reviving high streets and tackling antisocial behaviour, and more than 250 venues are to be saved through the community ownership fund.

I know I speak for the whole ministerial team when I say that we cherish our close working relationship with local government partners. Every year, we have the opportunity, through consultation on the provisional settlement, to listen to them even more keenly, along with the public and right hon. and hon. Members, on the funding proposals for the coming financial year. The number of responses was particularly high this year at 267. The Under-Secretary, who is the Minister for local government—he is sitting beside me—engaged personally with over 90 Members and local government leaders. We are grateful to all who responded, and I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend did in listening.

It was after listening to these views that the Secretary of State announced in January an additional £500 million to bolster social care budgets, which are a key concern for councils. We have heard about and listened to councils in relation to pressures on social care services, particularly for children, which we know have increased. The £500 million uplift to the social care grant, announced on 24 January, can be used for children’s or adult services, subject to local priorities. That is on top of the £1 billion in additional grant funding for social care in 2024-25 confirmed at the provisional settlement in December.

Overall, this means that, in the next financial year, local authorities with social care responsibilities will receive £5 billion through the social care grant, £1.1 billion through the market sustainability and improvement fund, £500 million through the discharge fund and £2.1 billion through the improved better care fund, and that is on top of their local decisions about funding for social care in their area. We recognise that some councils can generate more income from council tax to fund social care, so we have equalised against the adult social care precept since it was introduced, and we will continue to do that in the coming financial year.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) indicated, we have heard through the consultation—we know this from our constant contact with local government partners—that the sector is keen for progress across the board, not just in authorities with social care responsibilities. We will support all tiers of government, so we have announced an uplift of the funding guarantee proposed at the provisional settlement. This means that every council will see a 4% increase in its core spending power before any local decisions are made about council tax.

We have also heard about the particular impacts in rural areas, which is why we have announced a £15 million increase to the rural services delivery grant. That is making available a total of £110 million of taxpayers’ money, in the second successive year of above inflation increases. In recognition of the unique circumstances facing our island authorities and their physical separation from the mainland, we are increasing funding to the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly.

However, we are clear—I do not hesitate to repeat it today—that this money is for the frontline services on which our communities rely. It is not to be put aside for later use, nor wasted on myriad council hobby-horses and schemes. Taxpayers deserve value for money. So many of those involved in the settlement—so many parts of the community and so many parts of the local government sector—do that brilliantly already. The small number that do not are on clear notice this afternoon that they must do so. To ensure that, we are asking all local authorities to produce productivity plans, which will encourage them to set out how they will improve service performance and reduce wasteful expenditure.

Turning to council tax, we continue to strike the balance between giving councils flexibility to make local decisions, to meet local pressures and support the most vulnerable, and continuing to seek to protect council tax payers from excessive increases. In any constitutional settlement that divides responsibilities between central and local government, it must follow that local government has the ability and the responsibility to raise some of its own funds, and that it is held to account for the decisions it makes to do that. So this year, as in previous years, we have set core referendum principles of up to 3%, plus 2% for the adult social care precept.

At the same time, it remains the case that some council reserves are significantly higher than prior to the pandemic. For some, that will be for good reasons, but a number of councils have reserves well in excess of 100% of their core spending power, and the latest data shows that about half of all local authorities have seen their unallocated reserves grow since the 2019-20 financial year. It is for those councils to decide the appropriate balance between council tax increases and the use of reserves to fund services, depending on their local context. However, I very much hope that they will consider their unallocated reserves, and I hope that appropriate questions are asked in each locality where that applies by those who are interested.

At the provisional local government finance settlement, in consideration of the significant failures of a number of councils—Thurrock Council, Slough Borough Council and Woking Borough Council historically—and their need for ongoing exceptional financing support, the Government proposed that bespoke council tax referendum principles should apply. We are today confirming those principles, with a core council tax referendum of 8% for Thurrock and Slough and of 10% for Woking. As councils with adult social care responsibilities, Thurrock and Slough will also be able to use the 2% adult social care precept, and the councils can make use of the additional flexibilities provided to support their financial recovery.

At the provisional local government finance settlement, the Department set out that councils could seek additional support from the Government via the exceptional support framework. As part of that process, the Government were prepared to consider representations from councils on council tax provision. In recognition of the scale and nature of the council’s failings, and its precarious financial situation, the Government have decided not to oppose a request from Birmingham City Council for the flexibility to increase council tax by an additional 5% above referendum principles, to start paying for the historic failures of the Labour council.

We have heard requests from devolved authorities about the benefits of tax being retained in the area where it is raised. The trailblazer deals with Greater Manchester and the west midlands are unprecedented in their reach, and include a significant transfer of fiscal power. Sixty per cent of England is now covered by a devolution deal, which is up 20% since the levelling-up White Paper was published. We will continue to expand and deepen local devolution in England through the devolution framework and the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young).

Finally, I wish to make a general point about how local government is financed. Many right hon. and hon. Members, as well as colleagues in the sector, have emphasised the need for reform in the system—I heard that when I was covering this brief—particularly of the funding formula. We have heard those concerns loud and clear. Today we continue to restate our commitment to reform and modernise the local government finance settlement and system in the next Parliament, to deliver the most effective financial settlements for councils—[Laughter.] I hear noises from the Opposition Benches. If Opposition Members had wanted to say that at the beginning of this Parliament, when covid started and when we asked our local authorities to do the most extraordinary things, that would have been an interesting position for the Labour party had it been in government at the time. We took decisions that were necessary at the time. We are restating our commitment to reform. That is what a sensible, proportionate and reasonable Government do, and it demonstrates yet again the difference between a Labour party that is seeking to play at being a Government and will be unsuccessful, and the actual difficult decisions that are being taken every day on the Government Benches.

In a year that has seen unprecedented increases in demand for social care, housing and other vital local government services, the Government have listened and are providing more support. The above-inflation funding increase will allow councils to carry on delivering the local services on which we all depend. Because local authorities must be accountable to local people, we are putting in place ways to ensure that they are working effectively and efficiently. We have a long-term economic plan that is working. We are supporting local councils with what is needed, and ensuring that they spend wisely. That is exactly what the Conservatives have done throughout this time and what we will continue to do, and I commend the settlement to the House.

Draft Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024 Draft Combined Authorities (Mayors) Filling of Vacancies Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

General Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Combined Authorities (Mayors) Filling of Vacancies Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The draft regulations were laid before the House on 11 December 2023. If approved and made, they will provide the rules for the conduct of elections for directly elected mayors of combined county authorities, the rules by which mayoral vacancies in such authorities are to be declared and the procedure for filling them through by-elections.

The draft mayoral elections regulations are essential for the first election of the east midlands combined county authority mayor. Subject to Parliament approving the secondary legislation to establish that mayoralty, the election is planned for May 2024. The regulations will pave the way for further mayoral combined county authority elections. They make detailed provision about the conduct of elections for mayors of combined county authorities by extending the application of the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 to elections for combined county authority mayors. They also apply the Voter Identification Regulations 2022 to combined county authority mayoral elections, to maintain consistency with other local government elections.

The regulations ensure that transitional provisions for EU citizens who stand as candidates in other local elections in May 2024 apply to combined county authority mayoral candidates. The Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 itself largely replicated the rules for elections of local authority mayors and police and crime commissioners. Procedural consistency is the hallmark of local government electoral law and seeks to ensure the smooth running of polls, particularly where they are held in combination.

Let me mention certain specific provisions that we are making for combined county authority mayors, to reflect the constitutional arrangements for such authorities. We are creating a new role—the combined county authority returning officer—to oversee the whole of the election of a combined county authority mayor. This important role mirrors the role of the combined authority returning officer. The regulations clarify that the returning officer for a district council in a two-tier area of a combined county authority is to be responsible for running the mayoral election within that council’s area. That follows the approach generally taken in other polls, such as county council and police and crime commissioner elections.

In addition, the regulations contain two provisions that apply to both combined authority and combined county authority mayoral elections. They enable the appointment of a combined authority returning officer, or a combined county authority returning officer, before the respective authority is established. That will help to ensure the smooth running of the first mayoral election if the statutory instrument that establishes the new authority is delayed.

We have set the figures in the formula for the calculation of candidate spending limits at combined county authority mayoral elections at £3,040 per constituent council and 8p per elector. We have consulted the Electoral Commission, as statute requires, and, on the basis that the figures align with the candidate spending limits for combined authority mayors, the commission recommended this approach. The regulations establish new spending limits for combined authority mayors by uprating in line with inflation the limits that were set in 2017. We have used the powers given by Parliament to the Secretary of State to make such upratings in line with inflation, so no further recommendation is required from the Electoral Commission. Parity is therefore maintained between combined county authority elections and combined authority elections.

The filling of vacancies regulations also extend the scope of the existing provision for combined authorities to include combined county authorities. They are necessary to establish the rules by which vacancies are to be declared in the office of combined county authority mayor and the procedure for filling such vacancies through by-elections. The provisions need to be in place in advance of any combined county authority mayor being elected to ensure that any subsequent vacancy can be appropriately and consistently dealt with.

The Government undertook extensive consultation ahead of the 2017 electoral provisions for combined authorities. The regulations apply the 2017 provisions to combined county authorities, reflecting the parity between the two types of authority. We have undertaken statutory consultation with the Electoral Commission on the provision in the draft mayoral elections regulations about expense limits for candidates for combined county authority mayoral elections and combined authority elections. The regulations reflect the commission’s recommendation on setting a new combined county authority mayoral spending limit.

In addition, we shared informally with the commission a draft of the filling of vacancies regulations. We have also engaged with officers of constituent councils of the east midlands, and we are grateful for their input as we have developed drafts.

In conclusion, the draft regulations set out a robust legal framework for the election of combined county authority mayors. They provide the necessary clarity to those tasked with running those elections and ensure that local electors can have confidence in their fair conduct.

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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I will not detain the Committee for more than a few moments. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton for confirming that the official Opposition will not seek to divide today, and I welcome their broad willingness to support the change.

In response to the hon. Member’s points, I understand that there is a broad and valid debate to be had about the composition of combined authorities. That has been discussed previously by my colleagues and others in this place and beyond. Other people will take different views about the decision and its end point, but it will be incumbent on the elected mayor, whether it be Claire Ward or, more likely and hopefully, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), in a few months’ time, to make sure that he or she—I say this as an east midlands Member of Parliament—rightly engages both of our counties and all our district councils to ensure that they bring together the broadest range of voices so that the east midlands can speak even louder.

With that answer, and the confirmation from the Government that we are looking forward to working closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield when he is successful in May, I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Draft Combined authorities (Mayors) Filling of Vacancies Order 2017 (Amendment) regulations 2024

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Combined Authorities (Mayors) Filling of Vacancies Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024. —(Lee Rowley.)

Social Housing

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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Social housing is a finite resource and in any compassionate society it is incumbent upon the Government of the day to ensure it is utilised in the most effective way to support those who truly need it and those who play by the rules. This is not least because those fortunate enough to get a social home benefit from paying below market rents and almost all will have the security of that social home for life.

Over 1 million households are on the social housing waiting list and around a quarter-of-million new tenancies are agreed each year. It is therefore important that social housing is fairly allocated. The British public want to know that decent and hard-working people who have contributed to this country can secure a home in their local community. People already living in social homes want to know that anyone moving near them will be respectful of their neighbours. That is why the Government are going to make sure that all applicants and tenants benefit from a system that rewards responsible behaviour and protects local households, while supporting the most vulnerable and those in priority need.

Today we are launching a consultation on our proposed reforms regarding who is eligible and who qualifies for social housing, and how local housing authorities decide to allocate social housing stock where demand exceeds supply. The changes seek to prevent people who abuse the system from benefiting at the expense of those who have played by the rules.

The reforms would apply both to new applicants in England and those who are already on a social housing waiting list. The introduction of a UK connection test and new qualification tests—local connection test, terrorism and antisocial behaviour tests, false statement test and income test—will apply to new social housing applicants and those on a waiting list, meaning those currently living in social housing would not be subject to these new tests. The new ground for eviction for unspent terrorism convictions, as well as the “three strikes and you’re out” policy for antisocial behaviour, would apply to those currently living in social housing as well as future tenants.

When drawing up qualification tests, local housing authorities decide on matters including when to prioritise those newly arrived in the country or a local area over local families; and under which circumstances they should allocate a social home to a high-income household over a lower income one, or to grant social housing to those who commit antisocial behaviour. Our proposals seek to set a national minimum standard for qualification tests while still allowing for local flexibility.

Social housing waiting lists have stabilised at around 1.2 million after rising from 1 million in 1997 to 1.7 million in 2010 under the last Labour Government. The waiting list remains too high, but it is also essential that local housing authorities do not disproportionately allocate social housing to those newly arrived in the country or local area while local families are left on waiting lists. In Labour-run Brent, 40% of new social lets in 2021-22 were to non-British citizens. In Labour-run Oxford the figure was 25% and in Labour-run Haringey the figure was 24%.

The Government believe that everyone has the right to a safe, decent and warm home that meets their needs. We have made significant progress both to increase the quality and quantity of social housing, and at the same time to hold negligent landlords to account.

Under the affordable homes programme, the Government are spending over £11.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to deliver more than 100,000 affordable homes, among them tens of thousands specifically for social rent. This will unlock a further £38 billion in public and private spending in affordable housing. It builds on the Government’s record since 2010—with over 696,000 new affordable homes delivered, including over 172,000 for social rent. Through the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, we have strengthened the powers of the Regulator of Social Housing, and improved residents’ ability to seek redress by granting new powers to the Housing Ombudsman.

Overview of proposals



The new set of tests on which we are seeking views are as follows:

UK connection testrequiring people to be a British citizen, Irish citizen, Commonwealth citizen with a right of abode, or EEA or Swiss citizen with equal treatment rights in matters of housing under the withdrawal agreement, the EEA-EFTA separation agreement or the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement, or otherwise to have been lawfully resident in the UK for 10 years, in order to be eligible for social housing. We are consulting on an exemption for those arriving via safe and legal resettlement routes and the Ukrainian temporary visa schemes. This will allow for the allocation of more social homes to those with the strongest connection to the UK, while enabling the Government to continue to deliver their commitments to provide urgent humanitarian support.

Local connection testpreventing individuals from being allocated social housing if they have not had links to the local authority area for two years—for example, through residence or work. This will ensure greater consistency across the country and ensure more local people can access social housing in the area they call home where they need it, supporting people to put down roots and maintain links to family and community.

Income testhouseholds earning above a maximum threshold —to be defined following responses to the consultation—would not qualify for social housing. This would only apply to new tenants and existing tenants would be unaffected.

Antisocial behaviour testdisqualifying people who have unspent convictions for certain criminal antisocial behaviour offences, as well as certain civil orders, from social housing for a defined period.

Terrorism testwe propose that people who have unspent terrorism convictions should be disqualified from social housing unless excluding them would increase the risk to public safety.

False statement testmandating a period of disqualification for those who knowingly or recklessly make false statements when applying for social housing.

The Government do not believe that those who repeatedly commit acts of antisocial behaviour or have unspent terrorism offences should continue to access social homes while law-abiding individuals remain on waiting lists. We are keen that all social landlords should be able to evict those who have unspent convictions for terrorist offences; we are also committed to a “three strikes and you’re out” expectation of social housing landlords, as set out in the “Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan” published last year. This means that they will be expected to evict tenants whose behaviour is disruptive to neighbours and jeopardises community cohesion.

To ensure that the reforms are informed by the expertise of local housing authorities, social landlords, tenants and the wider public, the full consultation launched today will run for eight weeks. Reforms based on the consultation responses will ensure that waiting lists are managed effectively and that more social housing is allocated to those with the closest connection to the UK and their local area. Changes will be delivered by secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity.

The proposals will help to fulfil the Government’s pledge to tackle antisocial behaviour, and ensure we preserve and protect the country’s social housing.

A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and published on www.gov.uk.

[HCWS225]

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill (Ninth sitting)

Lee Rowley Excerpts
Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
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The Minister will recall that in response to a Government consultation in 2018, the Government committed to introducing a section 24 right for freeholders on housing estates, but that has not appeared in the Bill. It would have given those freeholders the right to go to a first-tier tribunal and appoint a court protective manager. The Minister and his officials may wish to reflect on and remedy that failing in the Bill. However, even that would be an imperfect measure, because it would not ensure that leaseholders in homes on estates had the same rights as leaseholders in a development block, for whom the Bill seeks to facilitate the right to manage. Will the Minister look at that issue and ensure that that provision is realised?

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark, and it is good to continue debating these issues this morning. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have raised such important points. I do not think that the disagreement between Members on any of the Benches is about whether there are issues; the question is rather about the technicalities of how to approach them, what to do and what is proportionate.

I will talk briefly about the amendments. Although the Government cannot accept them now, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and the shadow Minister will listen to the points that I make; the broader point is that I am listening carefully and have a lot of sympathy for the underlying point, which we are all trying to solve. The question is about how we do it and whether we need to go further.

There was an extended debate between my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. I will not try to repeat that, but not because I do not want to give due regard to everything that my hon. Friend put on record or to his underlying point. He is absolutely right that there is a problem; we all see it in our constituencies. The challenge, as I see in my constituency of North East Derbyshire, is that there is now a move towards greater estate management outside the demise of the local representation of the state. It works in some areas and for some elements, but there are specific areas and specific estates in which it clearly does not work. We have all heard the stories about the issues that are visible.

In the past, it would have been typical for local authorities to have adopted estates, but that is moving further and further away from reality. There is a question about whether there are some elements of estate management where it is reasonable to have some kind of arrangement outside the aegis of the state, but equally I accept the argument that that has gone too far in certain areas.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened carefully to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire for his reference to the work that we did together.

I want to ask the Minister to expand a bit more on his comments, as I am sure he will. The argument has often been made that if we make clear to the people who are buying those homes what they are actually getting into, and if we give them a schedule of charges, the regime will be more acceptable. That is the heart of the issue: if customers know what they are buying, presumably they can freely choose whether to buy that property or a different type of property.

I think we all agree that there should be freedom of choice and that the buyer should take responsibility for their choices. However, does the Minister think that the current regime and framework are adequate to provide choice? My personal view is that we do not have that, and that that is at the heart of the problem. But even if we provide that choice, a fundamental philosophical problem remains. I am interested in his view on the balance of those two issues.

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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a huge amount of knowledge, expertise and background in the subject. She is right to highlight the tension with agency. As long as there is sufficient knowledge in the decision being made, the logical extension is that the decision was made on the basis on the preponderance of the facts, and people should therefore be willing to accept the consequences of their choices.

Equally, through colleagues and in our postbags, we have all seen the reality that this does not work in all instances, and it is not necessarily clear where it works. We have examples of where an indication was given about some of these things, but the reality is very different from what may have been said during the sales process. A different estate manager may take over, the developer may disappear or things may change. The reality of what happens on the ground with estate management charges can be very different from what has been talked about.

The question is therefore not whether there is an issue, but how we drive up standards. Clause 41, which I will address in a moment, seeks to drive up standards through transparency. There is a perfectly legitimate question—it has been correctly posed via the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, and has been outlined by the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire and others—as to whether that is sufficient or whether additionality is needed. Although I cannot accept the amendments today, because I think that there are genuine questions about whether they would work, the Department wants to continue looking at the issue. I would be happy to talk about it at a future stage.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening carefully to the debate. Warrington is a new town. Over the past 60 years, about 100,000 homes have been built in total. From looking carefully at the borough council’s own details on estate adoption, it is clear that there are currently 13 estates that are not adopted, where there have been agreements in place with the council but, for all kinds of reasons, developers are not doing anything. One problem seems to be that in many cases the estates are built out over many years and things change. Some estates have been building for 13 years. The builders have changed, the involvement of council officers has changed and the structure of how things are built out has changed.

There seems to be no redress for householders so that what was promised in the first place can be delivered. That is a real problem. When the Minister is looking carefully at the issue, can he bear in mind that it is not a straightforward case of “The developer promised to do this, but they haven’t”? Things can change dramatically over time, and there is a complicated path. I think that that is what the Minister is saying; it is certainly my experience in Warrington.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the Committee will indulge me, I have personal experience of examples of this in North East Derbyshire, and I know the complexity involved in getting this correct. I have an estate by an unnamed developer in the south of the constituency, near Wingerworth, where this discussion is going on already. Before Christmas, I spent two hours talking to representatives of owners on the estate and to the estate management company itself. I recognise the complexities on an estate that was being managed relatively adequately from afar but clearly still had issues.

The second example—this is why we have to be so careful to get this right—is from the other side. Fenton Street in Eckington has been unadopted for more than a century. The residents recognise that it is unadopted and have bought their houses understanding and acknowledging that. Possibly it was been adopted many decades ago, but there is no record.

We have to make sure that this works for everybody. In an ideal world, everybody would be scooped up and this would all be fixed in one fell swoop with whatever a benevolent Government could do, but that is not the reality of the choices that we face. Nor is it often the reality of what happens when a Government try to do things that work in the way that we all intend. Although I understand the intention behind the two amendments, I encourage hon. Members to withdraw them.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has not responded to the point about a section 24 court-appointed manager. Would that not give a power enabling redress for residents in situations such as the one he outlines, where there has been a complete failure to adopt and maintain? Will he commit to considering that point as part of the mix?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

We may touch on some of those elements under later clauses. The hon. Gentleman’s core point is about whether the Government are willing—without providing any guarantees in this place—to look at additionality. Of course we are. There are the usual caveats, which I have explained in previous sittings, about what we can do, how we do it, and the priorities, but this is an area in which we are listening carefully.

In conclusion, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich to consider withdrawing their amendments. I hope that they have heard that I am serious and willing to look at the issue again, although I cannot offer guarantees at this stage.

I will turn briefly to clause 41, to put on the record exactly what the clause contains and what we are voting for. Freehold homeowners on private and mixed-tenure estates who pay estate management charges have fewer protections than leaseholders paying the service charges that we have spoken about. Clause 41 will introduce limitations on what estate management companies can charge homeowners through estate management charges. Subsection (1) states:

“Costs incurred by an estate manager are relevant costs…only to the extent that they are reasonably incurred.”

Clause 41 will ensure that where these costs are incurred in the provision of services or the carrying out of works, they will be relevant costs only if the services or works are of a reasonable standard.

Subsection (2) makes it clear that when an estate management charge is payable in advance, only reasonable costs are payable. Furthermore, after reasonable costs have been incurred, any necessary adjustment must be made to the charge by repayment, reduction of subsequent charges or any other method. Those new rules are equivalent to requirements in the leasehold regime and provide homeowners with more confidence that they will not be overcharged. We seek to provide increased protections for homeowners through the clause. I commend it to the Committee.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendment 150 was a probing amendment. I take on board the Minister’s statement that the Government are looking at the issue and that they do not believe that this legislation is the appropriate vehicle to deal with it.

If the Minister is willing to respond again, I would like a bit more clarity on precisely why in many cases amenities on estates are not being built to an adoptable standard. I think we all agree that we would like to see such a system. The Minister introduced a different problem, namely circumstances in which residents might not want their amenities adopted; I think that that would be a relatively small number of estates, but we would have to account for them. In general, we want to reduce the prevalence of arrangements and see adoption becoming mandatory in most circumstances.

Will the Minister expand on why the Government think the common amenable standards are not being met across the board? In a previous debate, the then Minister stated:

“The local authority has powers to ensure that developers build and maintain communal facilities to the standards and quality set out in the planning permission.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 132WH.]

Is something going wrong with the standards that most local authorities require at the planning permission stage? Is the section 106 agreement breaking down in some way? What is the reason? That might give us an insight into the solution that the Government have in mind and into why common adoptable standards are not currently the norm.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are a variety of scenarios. I am not sure that residents of Fenton Street would not take the opportunity to adopt if they were given the opportunity; it is more about the broader challenges of getting a single coherent answer to a very complicated set of questions that have come about in the past few decades or over a longer period.

The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point about the outcome of the planning system. Everybody, irrespective of party, would want the planning system to work to a point where there are common standards for roads and public spaces. There is an interesting question as to why that is not the case. It is an area that as a Minister I intend to look into in more detail.

The question is whether is it a systemic problem or a matter of individual circumstances, where it is working okay in some areas but not in others. Anecdote leads to bad policy and bad law, but in my experience as a constituency MP it has worked in a number of areas and not in others. That suggests that there is variability and that it is therefore not a systemic issue, but that might be different elsewhere in the country. It is an area that I think we should look at more; I am not sure whether it needs legislation. That is an open question, but it is definitely something that I am keen to understand more.

--- Later in debate ---
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 42 introduces new obligations on estate managers where the costs they wish to charge a homeowner exceed an appropriate amount. It mirrors sections 20 and 20ZA of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Subsection (1) places an obligation on estate managers to consult homeowners where the costs for works or services exceed a given threshold. Subsections (2) to (4) confer a power to allow the Secretary of State to determine the appropriate threshold in regulations; the Secretary of State may also determine whether the threshold is to be a total sum or if the costs for individual homeowners exceed an appropriate amount.

Subsections (6) and (7) confer a power on the Secretary of State to set out in regulations the consultation require-ments and the provisions that may be included in the consultation process. Issues that may be in regulations are not exhaustive, but may include matters of relevance, including details of the proposed works, the provision of estimates, and requirements to have regard to homeowner observations and to specify reasons for carrying out the works if they proceed. We recognise that there are occasions where it may not be appropriate or possible for estate managers to consult homeowners—for example, where urgent or emergency works need to be carried out. Subsections (5) and (8) to (10) therefore allow estate managers to seek dispensation from the relevant tribunal of the need to consult. However, should estate managers fail to obtain dispensation or follow the consultation requirements, individual homeowner contributions are capped at the appropriate amount. The Government will engage extensively with stakeholders to determine the appropriate threshold for consultation and what the detail of the consultation arrangements should be. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish to probe the Minister a little further on the clause. As he said, it introduces requirements for estate managers to consult managed owners if the costs of any works to be charged as an estate management charge exceed an appropriate amount, which will be set out in regulations. Overall, the Government’s aim in this part of the Bill is clearly to introduce statutory protections for residential freeholders equivalent to those enjoyed by long leaseholders with regard to service charges.

If I understood the Minister correctly, he has confirmed that the Government’s intention with the clause is to establish for residential freeholders an equivalent to section 20 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. If that is the intention, can the Minister confirm that the new requirements provided for by the clause will include requiring estate managers to have regard to written observations from residential freeholders on charges in excess of the to-be-determined appropriate amount, and where necessary to justify in writing the reasons why they awarded a contract to a tenderer that neither submitted the lowest estimate nor was nominated by a resident?

Furthermore, if the clause is indeed intended to mirror the operation of the existing section 20 consultation process, I urge the Minister to consider what might be done to address the known deficiencies of the process, including the fact that a leaseholder’s sole means of redress if they take issue with the landlord’s decision is the tribunal, and that there is no statutory meaning of what “have regard to” means in the context of the consultation. While he does so, I encourage him to take the opportunity to overturn, or at least modify, the decision of the Supreme Court in the 2013 Daejan Investments Limited v. Benson case, which has proved so detrimental to the consultation rights of leaseholders. I make this series of points because the Homeowners Rights Network, among others, has questioned the logic of extending to privately managed estates a regime that is not always effective in protecting residential leaseholders from unreasonable charges associated with major works.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich encourages me to seek to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court! That could start a whole heap of discussion early on a Tuesday morning, but I will withhold further comment for now.

The hon. Member is absolutely right that clause 42 is intended to mirror section 20 of the 1985 Act. He is correct that the intention is to consider written responses as well; I hope that that reassures him. We will need to go through a consultation process: although we have said that our intention is to mirror section 20 of the 1985 Act to give confidence about the direction of travel, what is appropriate for these individual circumstances will need to be discussed, and I hope that we can pick up that discussion within the consultation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 42 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 43

Limitation of estate management charges: time limits

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 53, in clause 43, page 68, line 7, leave out from “not” to end of line 12 and insert

“given a future demand notice in respect of the costs before the end of the period of 18 months beginning with the date on which the costs were incurred.

(2) A ‘future demand notice’ is a notice in writing that—

(a) relevant costs have been incurred, and

(b) the owner will subsequently be required to contribute to the costs by the payment of an estate management charge.

(3) A future demand notice must—

(a) be in the specified form,

(b) contain the specified information, and

(c) be given in a specified manner.

‘Specified’ means specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(4) The regulations may, among other things, specify as information to be contained in a future demand notice—

(a) an amount estimated as the amount of the costs incurred (an ‘estimated costs amount’);

(b) an amount which the owner is expected to be required to contribute to the costs (an ‘expected contribution’);

(c) a date on or before which it is expected that payment of the estate management charge will be demanded (an ‘expected demand date’).

(5) Regulations that include provision by virtue of subsection (4) may also provide for a relevant rule to apply in a case where—

(a) the owner has been given a future demand notice in respect of relevant costs, and

(b) a demand for payment of an estate management charge as a contribution to those costs is served on the owner more than 18 months after the costs were incurred.

(6) The relevant rules are—

(a) in a case where a future demand notice is required to contain an estimated costs amount, that the owner is liable to pay the charge only to the extent it reflects relevant costs that do not exceed the estimated costs amount;

(b) in a case where a future demand notice is required to contain an expected contribution, that the owner is liable to pay the charge only to the extent it does not exceed the expected contribution;

(c) in a case where a future demand notice is required to contain an expected demand date, that, if the demand is served after the expected demand date, the owner is not liable to pay the charge to the extent it reflects any of the costs.

(7) Regulations that provide for the relevant rule in subsection (6)(c) to apply may also provide that, in a case set out in the regulations, the rule is to apply as if, for the expected demand date, there were substituted a later date determined in accordance with the regulations.

(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to the negative procedure.”

This amendment would require notice of future service charge demands (as envisaged in clause 43(b)) to be given in accordance with regulations.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

We are aware that there is no clear limit on when homeowners on private and mixed-tenure estates can be charged for works and services, regardless of when the costs were incurred. Homeowners could therefore be subjected to unexpected estate management charge demands, making it difficult for them to plan for and finance those costs. That could be the case if in future there are long-term works that take some time to complete.

Clause 43 introduces a new 18-month time limit for estate management companies to demand payment for works that have been carried out. If they fail to issue a demand within this period, the costs will not be recoverable and homeowners will not be required to pay them. Paragraph (b) sets out arrangements making it clear when the homeowner will not receive a demand for payment within the 18-month period. It requires the estate manager to notify in writing before the end of the period that the costs have been incurred and that the homeowner will be required to contribute through their estate management charge. If the estate manager does not notify, the homeowner is not liable to pay. The clause seeks to provide greater certainty for homeowners; I commend it to the Committee.

Currently, when works are undertaken estate managers may require a homeowner to pay the costs up front or pass on costs to the homeowner once the work has been carried out. Clause 43 will require estate managers to charge homeowners for works within 18 months. Amendment 53 introduces new subsections (2) to (9), which require estate managers to specify the costs incurred, the expected contribution of homeowners and the date by when the demand will be served. The intention is to give homeowners certainty about the costs that have been incurred by the manager, their own individual liability, and when they are likely to receive the demand. The amendment requires estate managers to issue a future demand notice if they will be passing on costs more than 18 months after works are carried out. Subsection (2) defines a future demand notice as a notice in writing that the relevant costs have been incurred and the homeowner is required to contribute.

New subsection (3) sets out that the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers can, by regulations, specify the form, the information to be included and the manner in which the future demand notice must be given to the homeowner. Subsection (4) details that regulations made by the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers may specify as information to be included in the future demand notice an estimated amount of the costs incurred, an amount that the homeowner is expected to contribute, and a date by which it is expected that the service charge will be demanded. We will work with estate managers, managing agents and homeowners to set out what a future demand notice may contain, to ensure that notices have the right level of information.

New subsection (5) lays out that regulations may provide for a relevant rule to apply where the homeowner has been given a future demand notice and the demand for payment is served more than 18 months after costs were incurred. New subsection (6) details the relevant rules and the homeowner’s liability to pay the estate management charge where a future demand notice contains estimated costs, an expected contribution or an expected demand date. New subsection (7) allows estate managers to extend the expected demand date in cases specified by regulations, for example because of unexpected delays in completing the work.

Through these measures, we seek to provide homeowners with more certainty about costs. I commend amendment 53 to the Committee.

Amendment 53 agreed to.

Clause 43, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 44

Determination of tribunal as to estate management charges

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 139, in clause 44, page 68, line 31, at end insert—

“(3A) Where the appropriate tribunal has made a determination on an application under subsection (1) or (3) that an estate management charge is not payable because the costs incurred by an estate manager are not relevant costs under section 41(1)(b) (services or works to be of a reasonable standard), the tribunal may impose a penalty on the estate manager which is payable to the residents of affected managed dwellings; and the tribunal may determine how much of the penalty is to be paid to the residents of each affected managed dwelling.”

This amendment would enable the tribunal to impose a financial penalty, payable to residents of affected managed dwellings, where estate management work has not been completed to a reasonable standard.

The clause is an excellent step forward in ensuring that freeholders will have rights to access a tribunal when there are errors and poor provision of services on their estate, so I very much welcome it. Through the amendment, I seek to probe the Minister about whether we have got the balance right to enable effective use of the tribunal. The amendment essentially says that in addition to requiring that poor-standard, poorly provided services are brought up to standard, the tribunal could impose a financial penalty on the management company.

It requires a tremendous effort for people to take cases to a tribunal: they often have to make a collective effort and gather evidence about what has gone wrong, and they may have to go through weeks, months or potentially years to get to the point where they can take a case successfully to tribunal. If the only remedy at the end of that is that those services have to be brought up to standard, where is the incentive not to provide defective services in the first place? By enabling the tribunal to impose financial penalties, the amendment would redress the balance, with the bias more towards those suffering from poor service in the first place.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling this probing amendment. I agree that where works and services are provided and charged for on freehold estates, their costs should be charged to residents only if they are of a reasonable standard. As he indicated, clause 41 makes progress in that regard. Clause 44 allows for the appropriate tribunal to determine whether an estate management charge is payable. Should the tribunal find that services or works charged for have not been carried out to a reasonable standard, it will determine the amount that the homeowner is liable to pay. That is equivalent to the leasehold regime, and I do think that tribunals are the best placed to make that decision.

On whether additionality is required, the appropriate tribunal is not an enforcement body; it is not a weights and measures authority or a district council. If a financial penalty were applied for works not completed to a reasonable standard, the appropriate tribunal would need to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that that was the case. My hon. Friend may say—I have some sympathy with the point—that people would probably not go to tribunal, given its complexity. In addition, if people want to sue for defective works and such things, they can do so through other parts of the legal system; that form of redress is available if necessary.

If we were to introduce penalties for works or services not completed to a reasonable standard on freehold estates, the challenge would be in the implications for the tribunal and the equivalent leasehold regime. Therefore, while I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point, I hope that he will consider withdrawing the amendment it on the basis that it would probably move the tribunal too much in one direction and create a whole heap of other consequences that we would need to think carefully about, and which I do not think we can accept at the current time.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support the amendment. We discussed litigation costs in relation to clause 34; we strongly argued for a general prohibition with very limited exceptions. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact, which applies to part 4 as a whole, that we should not replicate the flaws of the leasehold system in the newer system of estate management charges. Our arguments in relation to the leasehold regime therefore apply equally here, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the point.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I will try directly to address the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, to which we are sympathetic. It is important that litigation costs are not passed on. On the leasehold side, there is clear evidence that that is happening, but the question is whether there is clear evidence of it happening in the area of estate management. From speaking to officials, we do not see that clear evidence at the moment. However, if any members of the Committee or others have such evidence, I would welcome it. If it is happening, I am sure that we would be happy to consider the issue as the Bill progresses.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With the Minister’s assurance that he will keep a watching brief on the issue, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 44 grants homeowners a new right to apply to the appropriate tribunal for a determination on whether their estate management charge is payable, and if it is, how it should be paid, by whom and to whom it should be paid, and the date by which the payment should be made. Under this provision, the tribunal will enforce the newly established reasonableness principle set out by clause 41, which requires estate management services to be reasonable, and any works or services to be of a reasonable standard.

The clause requires estate management companies to charge the correct fees from the outset, thereby reducing the number of homeowners being overcharged for works and services on their estate or being at risk of legal action. The clause also sets out the circumstances in which an application cannot be made, including when the homeowner has already agreed to, but not paid, the charge, or in which the issue has already been subject to a decision by a court. That will prevent homeowners from bringing unjustified or vexatious claims, which can lead to delays in the payment of valid estate management charges and negatively impact the upkeep and good management of the estate. The clause delivers on a Government commitment to increase protections for existing homeowners, and I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 44 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45

Demands for payment

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Where homeowners on a managed estate pay an estate management charge, it is essential that they have transparency about what they are paying for. Currently, there is no universal approach for demanding payment of such a charge, so there can be inconsistencies between estates and potential confusion for homeowners. Clause 45 mirrors the obligations that we introduce for leaseholders elsewhere in the Bill. Subsection (1) enables the Secretary of State to prescribe a standard form for demanding payment and the information that it should contain. We will work closely with the sector to ensure that that is the right level of information and detail. Subsection (2) makes it clear that failure to provide information in the new standard format means that homeowners do not have to pay the charge, and any provisions in the deed, lease or any other contractual document for non-payment will not apply. The Secretary of State will also have the power to create any exemptions if our work with stakeholders demonstrates a good case for them both now and in the future. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46

Annual reports

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 46 introduces a new obligation for estate management companies to provide homeowners on their estates with an annual report, which might cover issues such as budgets for the year ahead and details of planned works.

Subsections (2) and (5) require that the report must be provided within one month of the end of the 12-month accounting period, although it may be provided earlier if it is practical and expedient to do so. Subsection (4) defines the 12-month accounting period as starting either on a date agreed between the company and homeowner or, if no period is agreed, on 1 April. Subsection (3) allows the Secretary of State to prescribe the detailed contents of the report, while subsection (6) allows the Secretary of State to provide exceptions from the duty to provide a report.

The detail will be set out in secondary legislation and allows the Secretary of State to respond effectively to changing market circumstances. We will work closely with the sector and relevant parties to ensure that we have the right level of detail and consider the case for any exceptions.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Briefly, when we discussed the regulation of service charges in clauses 26 to 30, we made a number of specific arguments about how those clauses might be tightened and strengthened. Can the Minister give us a commitment that if the Government determine to amend those clauses in any way, they will seek to read across the equivalent changes to this part of the Bill or, if they do not think that they apply, to justify where wider deviations between the two regimes are necessary? As I said, we are mirroring broadly the statutory protections in place for long leaseholders here, but where they differ, the Committee would certainly welcome clarification as to why.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He tempts me into hypotheticals, but I hope that we are demonstrating our willingness to try to work constructively to see where areas can be improved. I must caveat that with clarity that we will not be able to improve every area; of necessity, prioritisations will need to be made. Of course there will be disagreements in this place and elsewhere about what is possible, but we shall see; if there is read-over, we shall see.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 46 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 47

Right to request information

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 48 stand part.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

As part of our reforms to drive up transparency, clause 47 introduces new provisions to enable freehold homeowners of managed dwellings to request information from their estate manager.

Subsections (1) and (3) give owners of a managed dwelling the right to require an estate manager to provide information. As per subsection (2), that information may relate to estate management. One example of such information might be a health and safety assessment of communal areas. The estate manager will be required to provide relevant information that they have in their possession.

We know that, sometimes, the estate manager will not have that information to hand, so subsections (4) and (5) introduce an obligation for the estate manager to request the information from a third party and, if they hold it, that the third party is required to provide it. Subsections (6) and (7) create an obligation where the other person under subsection (4) does not have it, but knows who does. This person must make the request to the person who does have it, who in turn must provide the information, and—presumably—so on and so on.

Subsections (1) and (8) allow the Secretary of State to prescribe further details of these requirements in secondary legislation, such as the type of information to be provided, how a request can be made and when the request can be denied. We will consult on that to make sure that it works effectively. I commend the clause to the Committee.

--- Later in debate ---
Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 50

Meaning of “administration charge”

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Currently, freehold homeowners on managed estates have very few protections relating to the cost of administration charges they may be liable to pay. This can leave homeowners paying excessively high administration charges that they are unable to challenge. We will address this issue and give homeowners greater protection. We intend to do that by mirroring the existing framework in place to protect leaseholders.

Clause 50 provides a definition of an administration charge. It is

“an amount payable…by an owner of a dwelling”.

That amount must be in connection with applications or approvals in connection with a relevant obligation, the provision of documents, the sale or transfer of land, a failure to make a payment by the owner, or a breach of a relevant obligation. Subsections (2) and (3) allow the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to amend the definition of an administration charge by regulations, which must be done using the affirmative procedure. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 50 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 51

Duty of estate managers to publish administration charge schedules

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 143, in clause 52, page 74, line 10, leave out “£1,000” and insert “£10,000”.

This amendment would increase from £1,000 to £10,000 the maximum amount of damages which may be awarded for a failure on the part of an estate manager to comply with the provisions of clause 51 (duty of estate managers to publish administration charge schedules).

Amendment 144, in clause 52, page 74, line 13, at end insert—

“(5) An estate manager may not for any purpose set off damages payable by the estate manager to the owner under subsection (2)(b) against any present or future liability of the owner to the estate manager.”

This amendment would prevent estate managers from recouping damages from residents through subsequent charges.

Clause 52 stand part.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Homeowners on managed estates can be subject to high and unreasonable administration charges, as I indicated. Part of the problem is the lack of clarity or transparency surrounding them. Clause 51 introduces a duty for an estate manager to publish an administration charge schedule if they expect to impose an administration charge.

Subsection (2) requires that the schedule should include the detail of administration charges that the estate manager considers to be payable and their associated costs. Where the cost cannot be confirmed before a charge is payable, the method of determining the cost should be included. Subsection (3) requires a revised schedule to be published if an estate manger revises the administration charges. Subsection (5) allows the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to prescribe in regulations the form and content of the administration charge schedule and how it is to be provided to homeowners. We will work with all relevant partners to ensure that we obtain the right level of detail in regulations.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire for his amendment 143, which would increase the maximum amount of damages from £1,000 to £10,000. I hope that, potentially, our discussion on the previous clause would apply here, and I repeat that the Government intend to write to all Committee members about this issue in the days ahead.

Amendment 144 seeks to ensure that any damages that the tribunal orders payable under Clause 52 (2)(b) cannot be recouped from residents through subsequent charges. I agree with my hon. Friend that residents should be protected from future charges. An estate manager can only recover costs incurred in estate management. A tribunal order to pay damages would not be regarded as falling within the definition of costs of estate management.

The transparency measures included in clauses 46 and 47, in the form of the annual report and the right to obtain information upon request, would also deter estate managers from attempting to recoup these costs. That is because it would become obviously visible and it would be clear that it was not related to estate management. I note, however, my hon. Friend’s concerns and I am listening carefully on this matter. I hope that he might see fit to withdraw his amendment, having heard the Government’s response.

Finally, clause 52 sets out the enforcement provisions that reinforce the new duty in clause 51 to publish a schedule. A freehold homeowner on a managed estate may make an application to the appropriate tribunal if an estate manager has not published a schedule, or has done so but contrary to any provisions determined by the relevant Ministers.

The appropriate tribunal may order that the estate manager provides a correct schedule within 14 days of the order being made, and it may also order that the estate manager pays damages not exceeding £1,000 to the homeowner. We believe that this is a proportionate and effective enforcement mechanism where an estate manager fails to comply with its obligations. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many thanks to the Minister, again, for proposing further changes to help homeowners who are affected by estate management charges. I am pleased to hear him reiterate that he will consider the issues raised in my amendment 143 about the appropriateness of charges. The shadow Minister raised similar concerns about those being set at an effective level.

On amendment 144, will the Minister consider writing to the Committee about how, in practice, not passing on damages, fees or charges to residents will work? Great Denham is a new part of my constituency, and in an estate of a few thousand houses, there may be 50, 60, 70 or more property management companies. All of them are discrete limited companies and all were set up as subsidiaries of one or more parent company. We need to be sure, from the Government’s point of view—given that some of these limited companies could go bust—about where the trail leads to. Under corporate law, as I understand it, there is no requirement for a parent company to be liable for the losses of a subsidiary that goes bust, and we want to ensure that liabilities flow upwards to the ultimate holding company.

Presumably, the payment of administration fees or dividends may go from subsidiary companies to the very large companies that are the ultimate parents. Is the Minister able to explain how he sees that working in practice? If not, or if it is too detailed to talk about now, perhaps he could agree to write to give some examples to the Committee in due course.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend highlights an important point. I think it is better that I write, but in principle, the transparency we seek to bring and the requirement to clearly articulate the charges that have been made, either in the annual report or elsewhere, aim to provide the sunlight that means that it is clear who is paying for what, and, if it is not a reasonable charge, there is a process that can be followed. But I will write to him with more on that, if that is helpful, because we all want to get this right.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise briefly to support the argument made by the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire. There is a specific problem on privately managed estates, which I referred to when speaking to clause 41, relating to the fragmentation of multiple estate management companies. I share his concern, which partly speaks to whether the penalties are appropriate in terms of enforcement. On some estates, residential leaseholders will face a situation where, yes, there may be a requirement for an annual report and there may be a degree of transparency, but the onus will be on them to go through six or seven sets of accounts from the different subsidiaries. We need to look at how we can simplify some of the management structures that companies use, which could cause huge amounts of confusion for residential leaseholders, and, as I say, put the onus on them to try to work through different sets of accounts in a way that they might find difficult to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 51 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 53

Limitation of administration charges

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I hope that some of the comments I am about to make will reassure my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire that we are keen to get this right.

Homeowners on managed estates can be subject to excessive administration charges, with little understanding of what fees they may be liable to pay. Subsection (1) puts a stop to that by introducing a requirement for all administration charges to be reasonable. Subsections (2) and (3) require that an administration charge is payable only if the amount or the description of how the amount is to be calculated has been published on an administration charge schedule for 28 days. Subsection (4) sets out other conditions under which an administration charge is not payable to the estate manager. They include circumstances where the estate manager is charging homeowners on the same estate different amounts for carrying out similar tasks, and therefore prevents them from being charged at different rates. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 53 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 54

Determination of tribunal as to administration charges

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 54 introduces a new right for homeowners on managed estates to challenge the reasonableness of administration charges they are liable to pay. This approach delivers on a Government commitment to give freehold homeowners the equivalent right as leaseholders with regards to the charges they pay, and allows homeowners to get an independent assessment of whether the charge they are being asked to pay is justified and appropriate.

Subsection (1) sets out the basis on which homeowners may make an application to the appropriate tribunal and describes those issues on which the tribunal is able to be determined. They include: whether the administration charge is payable and, if so, by whom and to whom it is payable; the amount that is payable, as well as the date by, or on which, it is payable; and the manner in which it is payable. Subsection (2) is clear that this application can be made whether or not any payment has been made. Subsection (4) confirms that any payment made by the homeowner does not mean that they have agreed or admitted to its reasonableness. Subsection (3) sets out instances when an application may not be made to the tribunal. These measures mirror those provisions that apply to leaseholders under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

This clause, alongside clauses 50 to 53, brings the rights of homeowners on managed estates in line with those of leaseholders with regard to administration charges. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 54 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 55

Codes of management practice: extension to estate managers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 55 amends section 87 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. It enables the Secretary of State to approve or publish a code of practice in relation to managed estates. The effect of this clause mirrors the position in leasehold, for which the Government have approved two codes of practice. These codes outline best practice for managing agents, landlords or other relevant parties in relation to residential leasehold property management. An approved code of practice may be taken into account as evidence of a breach of an estate manager’s obligation at a tribunal or a court. I commend this clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 55 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 56

Part 4: application to government departments

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 56 deals with the issue of Crown land, and makes it clear that the measures in part 4 should apply in circumstances where estate management functions are carried out by or on behalf of Government Departments. We consider that there are no grounds to exclude homeowners who live on land owned by Government Departments where they pay a contribution. They have as much right to hold the estate manager accountable for the charges it spends. There may be a very small number of locations where land that could now or in the future be built on is owned by His Majesty or other parts of the Crown Estate. In such circumstances, the Crown will act by analogy—in other words, it will ensure homeowners on such estates have access to equivalent rights. Prior to Second Reading, the King and the Prince of Wales granted consent in writing. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 56 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 57

Interpretation of Part 4

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 57 provides a comprehensive definition of terms used in part 4 of the Bill. For key terms used in the Bill, such as “estate manager” or “relevant costs”, it points to other parts of the Bill where they are defined. Subsection (2) sets out the definition of an “owner” of a dwelling as being either the person who owns the freehold land that comprises a dwelling, or the person who is a leaseholder of a dwelling under a long lease. This ensures that all homeowners who pay a contribution can enjoy the new protections in this part. It also makes it clear that, where homeowners rent out their property or let it out under an assured tenancy, they—not the occupants of the dwellings—are entitled to these protections. This clause provides the more comprehensive definition of relevant measures that inform the regulatory framework in part 4. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 57 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 58

Meaning of “estate rentcharge”

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Part 5 of the Bill addresses issues relating to rentcharges. Since the Rentcharges Act 1977, the creation of most types of rentcharge has been prohibited. The main class of rentcharge excepted from the general prohibition is known as an estate rentcharge. Estate rentcharges are usually mechanisms for a management company to obtain contributions towards the costs of maintaining communal areas.

Part 4 of the Bill creates new protections for homeowners who pay an estate rentcharge to an estate manager for the provision of estate management services. Clause 58 makes a minor amendment to the Rentcharges Act 1977 to amend the definition of “estate rentcharge” in section 2 of the Act. The effect of the amendment is to ensure that payments may be made to cover improvements to communal areas as well as maintenance and repairs. This ensures that it aligns with the definition of the service charges that leaseholders must pay, and allows estate managers to pass on costs of any improvements to the areas they look after, and will ensure that they meet their legal obligations as well as having sufficient funds to carry out such works. The sums paid for improvement will still be subject to the protections in part 4—for example, the requirement to be reasonable. This is a clarificatory amendment, and I commend clause 58 to the Committee.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a clarificatory amendment, and we do not take issue with it. I will speak on our concerns about rentcharges in relation to clause 59.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 58 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 59

Regulation of remedies for arrears of rentcharges

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 4—Remedies for the recovery of annual sums charged on land

“(1) Section 121 of the Law of Property Act 1925 is omitted.

(2) The amendment made by subsection (1) has effect in relation to arrears arising before or after the coming into force of this section.”

This new clause, which is intended to replace clause 59, would remove the provision of existing law which, among other things, allows a rentcharge owner to take possession of a freehold property in instances where a freehold homeowner failed to pay a rentcharge.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

An income-supporting rentcharge is an annual sum paid by a freehold homeowner to a third party who normally has no other interest in the property. Under the 1977 Act, no new rentcharges of this type may be created, and all existing ones will be extinguished in 2037. Most income-supporting rentcharges can be for relatively small amounts—typically between £1 and £25 per annum—and the majority of freehold properties affected by these rentcharges are located in the north-west and the south-west of England.

However, a loophole remains. Failure to pay a rentcharge within 40 days of its due date means that, under section 121 of the Law of Property Act 1925, the recipient of the rentcharge may take possession of the subject premises until the arrears and all costs and expenses are paid. The rentcharge owner may alternatively grant a lease of the subject premises to a trustee that the rentcharge owner may set up themselves. The Government believe that that law is unfair and can have a grossly dispro-portionate consequence for a very small amount of money not being paid. This clause seeks to address that and ensure that freeholders cannot be subject to a possession order or the granting of a lease for rentcharge arrears.

Subsection (2) introduces new sections into the 1925 Act. Proposed new section 120B details that no action to recover or require payment of regulated rentcharge arrears may be taken unless notice has been served and the demand for payment complies with the new requirements. Those requirements set out what information the notice must include. The section also sets out that the homeowner does not have to pay the rentcharge owner any administrative fee.

Proposed new section 120C sets out various requirements relating to the serving of notice under proposed new section 120B, aimed at ensuring that freeholders receive the demand of payment at the address of the charged land. Proposed new section 120D confers powers on the Secretary of State to set out in regulations a limit on the amounts payable by landowners, indirectly or directly, in relation to the action of recovering or requiring payment of regulated rentcharge arrears. That provision seeks to avoid abuse of administration costs charged when simply accepting payment of arrears, and the process of removing any restriction on the freehold title at the Land Registry. The charge does not affect the cost that is paid directly to the Land Registry itself.

Clause 59 (3) and (4) to clause 59 seek to disapply rentcharge owners from using the provisions set out in sections 121 and 122 of the 1925 Act. In doing so, they provide additional protection to avoid rentcharge owners rushing to invoke those provisions. The effect of those subsections is to make any action to reclaim arrears using the 1925 Act void retrospectively once the provisions are introduced. Subsection (5) ensures that the provisions of the clause apply to rentcharge arrears that have arisen before and after the changes come into force. Subsection (6) inserts new section 122A into the 1925 Act, which details that an instrument creating a rentcharge, contract or any other arrangement is of no effect to the extent that it makes provision contrary to the provisions in this clause. Clause 59 delivers on a Government commitment to protect freehold homeowners from the disproportionate effects of falling into arrears in the payment of their rentcharge.

I turn to new clause 4, for which I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. It seeks to abolish section 121 of the 1925 Act. The effect of the new clause would be that a failure to pay any form of rentcharge would prevent the owner of the rentcharge from granting a lease on the property, or from taking possession of it until the fee was paid. We are sympathetic to the issue raised by the shadow Minister, and we have recognised that forfeiture is an extreme measure and should only be used as a last resort. Although in practice it is already rarely used, I recognise that the potential consequences may feel disproportionate. That is why we have included clause 59, which disapplies this remedy for income-supporting rentcharges where we know that homeowners pay nominal sums for very little in return.

As with leasehold forfeiture, any changes will require a careful balancing of the rights and responsibilities of interested parties. We are concerned as to what this new clause could mean where a homeowner pays estate rentcharges that are essential for the management of their estate, or any other form of legitimate rentcharge. The Government want to ensure that where they are required to be paid, these charges are paid in a timely manner so that the smooth running of the estate can continue. If estate management companies are unable to recover these sums, there is the potential that the costs will fall to other homeowners or that the upkeep of the estate will worsen. We are keen to understand any unintended consequences before abolishing section 121 of the 1925 Act all together. We need to weigh up the needs of the estate with the stress and uncertainty that we know this law can cause for some homeowners and lenders. We are listening carefully to the arguments, and I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. I hope that, with those reassurances, he may consider not moving his new clause.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was slightly surprised, in a welcome way, by the Minister’s response, in that he seemed to indicate that the Government are open to considering the abolition of section 121 of the 1925 Act all together, notwithstanding the need to ensure that there are no unintended consequences, but we are debating clause 59 as it stands, which does not propose that, so I hope to convert the Minister’s sympathy into agreement with our position if I can.

Part 5 of the Bill concerns rentcharges, which in general terms can be understood as an indefinite, periodic payment made in respect of freehold land by the current freeholder to a third party or “rent owner” who has no reversionary interest in the charged land in question. In some cases, the charge relates to the provision of a service; in others it is, in effect, simply a profit stream for the interested third party. All rentcharges, as the Minister made clear, are covered by the Rentcharges Act 1977, which prohibited the creation of new so-called income-only rentcharges and provided that all such rentcharges will be extinguished in 2037.

The 1977 Act does not detail the remedies available to a rentcharge holder whose rentcharge is not paid, although any can simply sue for a money judgment. It is section 121 of the Law of Property Act 1925 that creates two additional remedies for rentcharge non-payment. First, unless excluded by the terms of the rentcharge itself, there is a right for the rentcharge holder to take possession of the charged land in question and retain any income associated with it so long as the money owed, whether demanded or not, is unpaid for 40 days. Secondly, unless prohibited by the terms of the rentcharge, and assuming that the money owed is outstanding for at least 40 days, there is a power to demise the land to a trustee by way of a lease in order to raise the funds necessary to pay the arrears and costs.

In short, the 1925 Act provides for the power to seize freehold houses for non-payment of a rentcharge, even if the arrears are merely a few pounds, and allows the rentcharge holder to retain possession or render it in effect worthless by means of maintaining a 99-year lease over it, even if, as demonstrated by the 2016 case of Roberts v. Lawton, the rentcharge is redeemed or the underlying debt cleared. In our view, the remedies provided for by the 1925 Act are a wholly disproportionate and draconian legacy of Victorian-era property law. As I have said, the 1977 Act prohibited the creation of new rentcharges and provided for existing rentcharges to be abolished in 2037, but 13 years from now is still a long time away and any lease granted prior to the abolition will remain in force. Rentcharges are therefore an area of law in respect of which legislative reform is long overdue, and the need to protect rent payers from what amounts, essentially, to a particularly severe form of freehold forfeiture as a result of the relevant remedies provided for by the 1925 Act is pressing.

With clause 58 having amended the definition of estate rentcharge, clause 59 seeks to provide for revised remedies for arrears by amending the 1925 Act. As the Minister has set out, clause 59, in place of the existing two remedies for rentcharge non-payment under the Act, proposes requiring the third party or rent owner to issue an appropriate demand before they can seek to recover or compel payment, and gives the Secretary of State the power by regulation to limit the amount payable by the freehold homeowner in respect of rentcharge arrears or to provide that no amount is repayable. Although we appreciate that the intent of the clause is to better protect freehold homeowners from the existing disproportionate remedies that are available to rentcharge holders when rentcharges go unpaid, we believe it is an overly complicated and onerous attempt to make more palatable the methods of enforcing rentcharges provided for by the 1925 Act that are simply not justifiable in any form.

No one disputes that there might be a need for legitimate and reasonable rentcharges. Indeed, if and when the Government finally deliver on the pledge to require all new houses in England and Wales to be sold as freehold properties, such charges will become even more important as a means to ensure that freehold houses contribute towards communal estate services. However, the threat of their being enforced by means of the draconian remedies in section 121 of the 1925 Act must, in our view, be removed.

--- Later in debate ---
If accepted, the effect of replacing the existing clause 59 with new clause 4 would be that the rentcharge holder would have to seek to recover any rentcharge arrears like anyone else seeking to recover a contractual debt —namely, by suing for it. We think that that is a far more reasonable and appropriate way to deal with the contraventions that we are talking about. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He makes a strong case for his arguments. As I have indicated, although I will not accept new clause 4, we do think there is an argument that is reasonable to be had here, while recognising that we need to consider the consequential potential of any change. I am happy to discuss that further with him separately to see whether we can make further progress at a later stage of the Bill.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am tempted to not move the new clause, but I can only deal with the piece of legislation in front of me. What is in front of me is not a placeholder clause that says, “We will review the 1925 Act”; it is a clause that puts in place an amended version of the remedies. We feel so strongly about this point that we will vote against clause stand part, but I will take the Minister up on his offer to discuss a more sensible way of dealing with the types of contraventions that we have discussed.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

--- Later in debate ---
Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 60 sets out the meaning of references throughout the Bill to other Acts. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 60, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 61

Power to make consequential provision

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 61 gives the Secretary of State the power to make provision that is consequential on the Bill through regulations, including provision amending an Act of Parliament. We do not take such a power lightly and, in drafting this legislation, we have sought to identify necessary consequential amendments on the face of the Bill. Long residential leasehold is, however, a complex and interdependent area of law. Therefore we consider it prudent to take the power in Clause 61 in order to ensure that, should any further interdependencies be identified at a later date, those can be addressed appropriately.

There are various precedents for such provisions, including section 92 of the Immigration Act 2016, section 213 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, section 42 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017, and section 20 of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 61 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62

Regulations

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 55, in clause 62, page 80, line 33, at end insert—

“(1A) A power to make regulations under Part 4A also includes power to make different provision for different areas.”

This amendment would expressly provide that a power to make regulations under the new Part to be inserted after Part 4 includes the power to make different provision for different areas.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 56.

Government new clause 9—Appointment of manager: breach of redress scheme requirements.

Government new clause 15—Leasehold and estate management: redress schemes.

Government new clause 16—Redress schemes: voluntary jurisdiction.

Government new clause 17—Financial assistance for establishment or maintenance of redress schemes.

Government new clause 18—Approval and designation of redress schemes.

Government new clause 19—Financial penalties.

Government new clause 20—Financial penalties: maximum amounts.

Government new clause 21—Decision under a redress scheme may be made enforceable as if it were a court order.

Government new clause 22—Lead enforcement authority: further provision.

Government new clause 23—Guidance for enforcement authorities and scheme administrators.

Government new clause 24—Interpretation of Part 4A.

Government new schedule 1—Redress schemes: financial penalties.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Turning first to new clause 15, some leaseholders and homeowners on freehold estates do not currently have access to redress outside of the tribunal or the courts. I should note that part 4 of the Bill will give comprehensive rights and protections to homeowners on freehold estates, including access to the relevant tribunal. Though property managing agents are required by law to join a Government-approved redress scheme, there is no such requirement for leasehold landlords and freehold estate managers who manage their property or estate themselves. This means that for issues that fall outside the court or tribunal’s jurisdiction, such as poor communication or behavioural issues, those leaseholders and homeowners on freehold estates can make a complaint only through their landlord or estate manager’s own complaints process. If there is no complaints procedure, or once the leaseholder or homeowner has exhausted it, their access to redress is exhausted.

New clause 15 will fill this gap by providing that leasehold landlords and freehold estate managing agents who manage their property or estate can be required to join a redress scheme. The redress scheme will independently investigate and determine complaints made by a current or former owner. A redress scheme will need to be approved by, and administered by or on behalf of, the “lead enforcement authority”—the Secretary of State or other designated body. The Government have taken powers that will allow us to make exemptions to the requirement in specific circumstances and also a power to amend the definitions in this section. New clause 15 will fill gaps that leaseholders and homeowners on freehold estates currently experience in access to redress. I commend the clause to the Committee.

New clause 16 makes it clear that the redress scheme provided for under this part may act under a voluntary jurisdiction. That means they may allow for members to join the scheme who are not required to join under new clause 15. The scheme may also investigate and determine complaints outside their jurisdiction at their discretion, including complaints by people who are not current or former owners of a relevant dwelling. The scheme may offer voluntary mediation services and allow for certain complaints or circumstances to be excluded from their remit. The voluntary jurisdiction may be subject to the approval conditions that the redress scheme must comply with under new clause 18, which I will come to in a moment.

New clause 17 gives the Secretary of State the power to make payments, including loans, or give financial assistance to establish or maintain a redress scheme. The Government expect the costs of the redress scheme to be funded by the scheme themselves—for example, through charging membership fees. However, there may be some circumstances where the provision of funding is needed. The clause offers flexibility in that instance.

New clause 18 makes provision for the approval and designation of redress schemes. The approval conditions will apply to the future redress scheme and must be satisfied before the redress scheme is approved or designated. The approval conditions will be set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State and will include, but are not limited to, those conditions set out in subsection (3). In addition, new clause 18 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for the process for making applications for the approval of a redress scheme, the time the approval or designation remains valid, and the process for approval or designation to be withdrawn or revoked. It also allows for a scheme to set membership fees to cover the cost of providing the service.

I will now turn to new clauses 19, 20 and 9, and new schedule 1. To ensure compliance from landlords and freehold estate managers who are required to join a redress scheme, we need to ensure that robust enforcement mechanisms are in place. New clause 19 does that by allowing an enforcement authority to impose financial penalties where breaches of regulations by not joining a redress scheme occur. It also allows for the Secretary of State to make regulations to allow for the investigation of suspected breaches, and for co-operation and information sharing between enforcement authorities for the purposes of investigation.

New clause 20 sets out the amounts of the financial penalty that enforcement authorities may impose on landlords and freehold estate managers who do not comply with the requirement to join a redress scheme. An initial penalty for breaching the requirement may be up to £5,000. However, repeated breaches could lead to a penalty of up to £30,000. The new clause also allows the Secretary of State to amend the amount of financial penalty in regulations to reflect changes in the value of money.

New clause 9 provides a route for leaseholders to apply to the tribunal for an order to appoint a manager in place of their landlord if their landlord has failed to join the redress scheme. As with other “reasons”, leaseholders can apply for an order that a manager be appointed, and the tribunal will make one if

“it is just and convenient to make the order in all the circumstances of the case”.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will be aware of concerns about the practical application of this provision when it is put into practice, and the pressures on the tribunal. Under new clause 9, as I best understand it, homeowners will have the right to go to the first-tier tribunal to ask to change from company A to company B as their estate manager. If that is the case, why does it have to go through a tribunal? Why is it not feasible for people to determine that themselves without referring to a tribunal?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I recognise the significant body of views in this place and elsewhere about the ability to appoint a right to manage company or a representative directly, and I have certainly heard those concerns. In this case, working within the framework of the proposed legislation, we wanted to ensure that there is a route to allow a manager to be appointed if a landlord refuses to comply. Of course, we would hope that a landlord would not refuse in the first instance.

The Government have also provided in new clause 13 that homeowners on freehold estates can apply to the tribunal for an order to appoint a new manager for the estate if a relevant estate manager has breached the requirement to join a redress scheme. New schedule 1 sets out further provisions relating to the penalties set out in new clause 19. It will require an enforcement authority to give a landlord or freehold estate manager whom they suspect of breaching the requirement to join a scheme a notice of its intention to issue a financial penalty before issuing a final notice. Those who are given a notice by the enforcement authority may make representations. The schedule sets out that where an enforcement authority imposes a financial penalty, it may apply the proceeds towards meeting the costs and expenses incurred in carrying out its functions. Any proceeds that are not so applied will be paid to the Secretary of State.

New clause 21 gives the Secretary of State the power to provide that a future redress scheme provider may apply to a court or tribunal for an order that a decision made under the scheme be enforced as if it were an order of the court. That may be necessary if there is an issue with landlords or freehold estate managers not complying with the redress scheme’s decisions.

New clause 22 makes the necessary provisions for the role of the lead enforcement authority. That is defined by new clause 15 as the Secretary of State, or another person designated by the Secretary of State. New clause 22 provides that the lead enforcement authority will have necessary oversight of the scheme. It also provides that if the Secretary of State decides to designate the role of the lead enforcement authority to another person, the Secretary of State will still have the appropriate power to direct the lead enforcement authority. That includes provisions to make payments and to bring the arrangement to an end.

New clause 23 provides for the Secretary of State to issue or approve guidance for enforcement authorities and the administrator of the future redress scheme about co-operation. It makes clear that the Secretary of State will exercise powers under new clause 18 to ensure that the administrator of the redress scheme has regard to guidance issued or approved under the section. Importantly, the amendment also requires the enforcement authority to have regard to the same guidance. New clause 24 makes necessary provision for the interpretation of this part of the Bill, including the definitions used. I commend the clauses to the Committee.

--- Later in debate ---
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 63 states the territorial extent of the Bill. It applies to England and Wales. We have worked closely with the Welsh Government to develop the reforms, and we will continue to engage with them. That will ensure that the legislation operates effectively to deliver long-term improvements to home ownership across both England and Wales. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 64

Commencement

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 64 makes provision for the commencement of the Bill. The substantive provisions of the Bill will come into force on a day appointed by the Secretary of State by regulation. For a number of policy areas, regulations need to be drafted and laid before Parliament before the provisions in the Bill can commence. Hon. Members should be assured that we are not intending to have any unnecessary delay in implementation, and the Department is working hard to plan and carry out the associated programme of secondary legislation. Subsection (2) sets out that the provisions for section 59, namely the regulation of remedies for rent charge arrears, come into force two days after the Act is passed. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have two brief points. On the general commencement provisions, the Minister just made it perfectly clear that there are no firm dates for commencement on all the issues that require regulations. I take on board what he said about not seeking any unnecessary delay, and that is welcome. However, I push him to go slightly further to give us a sense of the timetabling of some of the more important provisions in the Bill, because leaseholders watching our proceedings will want to know when the rights provided for by the Bill can be enjoyed.

I have a point specifically on subsection (2), which specifies that clause 59 comes into force at the end of a period of two months, as I understand it—the Minister said “two days”, and I think it is two months. Given that some of the provisions in clause 59—I am thinking particularly of new subsection 120D(4)—bring the relevant provision into force on First Reading on 27 November 2023, why is there a two-month delay after Royal Assent? Why not bring the measures into force on Royal Assent?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. Obviously, as he will know, I do not need to push too heavily the point that we need to get the Bill through this place. We are trying to move it as quickly as we possibly can, but the other place may have other ideas, although I hope that it will not. I hope I can provide assurances that we will try to get these things moving as quickly as possible.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about subsection (2), I thank him for correcting me; it is two months. As I understand it—I am happy to go away and review it—there is a relative convention in these instances. However, given the desire and intention of all parties, including the Secretary of State, to move as quickly as possible, we will see whether we can speed it up.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 64 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 65

Short Title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - -

Clause 65 sets out that the short title of the legislation is to be the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 65 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Mohindra.)