Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is a Labour and Cooperative peer and shadow minister of communities, housing and local government.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 is undoubtedly a candidate for one of the worst pieces of legislation brought into law by any government in recent years. Most of the measures have either been dropped or quietly forgotten about. Only recently, we were rushing a bill through parliament to correct the mistakes made in the legislation regarding the loss of secure tenancies for victims of domestic violence living in social housing.
Yesterday, the House of Lords debated my regret motion on the failure of the government to allow tenant’s access to the rouge landlords and property agent’s database. The database is one of the very few good things to come about as a consequence of the act but even here a good idea fails to live up to its promise. As the very people it should benefit – tenants living in the private rented sector – are denied access to it.
Instead the rogue landlords and property agent’s database will only be available to the government and local authorities, as made clear by the regulation being discussed today.
More people than ever are living in the private rented sector, which in England amounts to 4.7 million people and 20 per cent of all households.
The vast majority of landlords in the private rented sector are good landlords who act responsibly and they are as keen as anyone else to see rouge landlords and property agent held to account.
The database is all about dealing with the small number of people who flout their obligations and rent out substandard accommodation to often very vulnerable tenants. By allowing prospective tenants access to the database they could check to see who they were dealing with, had not been banned or convicted of relevant offences and make an informed choice and avoid taking unnecessary risks.
The government are in an absolute shambles on this as outlined in the recent letter sent to all member of the House of Lords in response to my motion. The penultimate paragraph said that the government were committed to tenant choice and were exploring a range of options to make the database publicly available, but that it may require primary legislation. But back when we debated the bill amendments that would do just that the government resisted, claiming that making the database publicly available could breech the human rights of rouge landlords. The government maintained this position until the letter was sent to all peers last week.
It is not only the Labour party and tenants who support calls for wider access to the database, but also organisations such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents, the National Landlords Association.
The chance of getting parliamentary time to change the law and enable access is very unlikely in the foreseeable future but my regret motion is an opportunity to highlight the shambolic contradictory position of the government on this issue and to shine a light on a mess all made in 10 Downing Street under David Cameron. It is also about pressing the government to do what it says it wants to do and could have done had it listened to the calls from politicians of all parties when the act itself was going through parliament.