Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

HOUSING BILL: REFORMS WILL HELP THE VULNERABLE

  • Comment
The Housing Bill ...
The Housing Bill will help not only the most vulnerable

in the private sector, but will also strengthen the housing market

and the government's drive to meet its 2010 decent homes target.

The Bill comprises a wide-ranging reform package and includes:

- Selective Licensing - to help councils improve local communities by

ensuring bad landlords take greater responsibility for the

management of their property and deal with anti-social tenants.

- Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation - to improve controls on

HMOs, including a mandatory national licensing scheme to raise the

standards of some of the highest risk properties with some of the

most vulnerable people, whilst maintaining an adequate supply of

rented accommodation.

- Housing Health and Safety - to replace the current housing fitness

standard with an evidence-based Housing Health and Safety Rating

System. This will improve the condition of the housing stock and

help to meet the commitment to improve the worst housing conditions

for the most vulnerable people.

- Home Information Packs - to require anyone marketing a home to

provide key information up-front at the start of selling a home.

This will ensure the home buying and selling process becomes more

certain, transparent and consumer-friendly, whilst reducing stress

and the number of failed transactions.

- Right to Buy changes - to clamp down on companies and individuals

exploiting the rules and profiting at the expense of those in need

of affordable housing.

- Social housing ombudsman for Wales - to introduce a new office of

Social housing ombudsman for Wales for the purpose of investigating

complaints against social landlords in Wales.

- Grants for Social Housing - to provide for the Housing Corporation

and the National Assembly for Wales (in England and Wales

respectively) to pay grant to bodies other than Reg istered Social

Landlords.

As a result of a public consultation exercise on the draft Bill, the

recommendations by the ODPM Select Committee into the draft Bill, and

the report of the Home Ownership Task Force, the following provisions

have been added to the Bill:

- Further changes to the Right to Buy scheme

- Additional measures to help social landlords tackle anti-social

behaviour

- Giving unmarried different sex partners and same sex partners who

do not enter into a civil partnership the same rights in relation

to tenancy succession

- Extending eligibility for disabled facilities grant to all those

occupying caravans

Notes

1. The Housing Bill has been introduced into the House of Commons

today. It is accompanied by explanatory notes and a Regulatory Impact

Assessment on each of the main provisions.

2. Our approach to legislation is informed by extensive research and

earlier consultation exercises. Housing Bill - draft legislation for

consultation was published in March and consultation ended on 9 June.

The ODPM Select Committee also carried out pre-legislative scrutiny

of the draft Bill. The government's response is published here.

Health and Safety Rating System for Housing

3. Part 1 of the Bill provides for the replacement of the housing

fitness standard with the evidence-based Housing Health and Safety

Rating System. The existing housing fitness standard is a set of

basic requirements that homes should meet to be considered

acceptable places to live. Previous consultations have shown that

there is a broad consensus in favour of switching to an

evidence-based approach to housing.

4. The Bill therefore allows the secretary of state in relation to

England and the National Assembly for Wales in relation to Wales to

prescribe the Housing Health and Safety Rating System . This system

enables hazards to be assessed according to the risk of harm to

potential or actual occupants of the building.

5. The Bill enables local authorities to tailor their enforcement

actions to the severity of the health and safety hazards in the home.

6. The government has consulted on these proposals in the past. In

March 2001, the government published Housing Health and Safety -

Replacement of the Housing Fitness Standard by the Housing Health and

Safety Rating System, which set out the principles of the system and

proposals for modernising LHAs' enforcement powers.

Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation

7. Parts 2, 4 and 7 of the draft Bill set out provisions for a

mandatory licensing scheme for HMOs. The mandatory scheme will focus

on the larger, higher risk properties. It also provides discretionary

powers to licence smaller multiply- occupied properties where there

is a particular problem with this type of accommodation in an area,

for example, smaller shared student properties.

8. Its aim is that HMOs should provide a safe and acceptable form of

accommodation for their occupants. At present property management and

condition is worse and associated risks higher in this type of

property. Operators of HMOs should also benefit from a simpler, more

consistent, risk-based control regime.

9. Although local housing authorities already have a wide range of

powers they can use to control standards in HMOs, these powers have

not always been used fully or effectively. Some local authorities

already operate a registration scheme for HMO properties, however,

others do not - this Bill will make it a requirement for all local

authorities to operate a licensing scheme. Also the existing

legislation, devised over a number of years, needs updating. Some of

its provisions are inflexible in their detailed prescriptive

requirements. Others are ambiguous - the definition of HMO has been

the subject of much litigation.

10. In March 1999, the government published a consultation paper

Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation - England. A parallel

paper was issued in Wales. These consultation papers proposed the

introduction of a compulsory licensing scheme.

Selective licensing of private landlords

11. The proposed discretionary powers will allow local authorities to

introduce a licensing scheme for private landlords in their area.

Licensing schemes will be targeted at communities within an authority

area experiencing problems in the private rented sector arising from

low housing demand or anti-social behaviour.

12. All private landlords where licensing operates will be required

to obtain a licence to rent out their property. Licences will relate

to whether the landlord is a fit and proper person to let property

and require certain minimum management standards are met. This will

help local authorities to stop bad landlords and anti-social tenants

from undermining other measures they had in hand to help

neighbourhoods in decline. Better management of rented properties and

recognition for responsible landlords would benefit good tenants,

responsible landlords and the community as a whole.

13. Areas of low housing demand suffer from the linked problems of

falling prices and rents, empty properties and, above all, crime and

anti-social behaviour. As owner-occupiers have left unpopular and

hard to sell properties, the private rented sector has grown and bad,

sometimes criminal, landlords have proliferated - forcing out

responsible tenants and owner occupiers, with the help of anti-social

tenants, and, thereby, contributing to the spiral of decline.

14. The aim is to ensure that landlords play their part in a

comprehensive local strategy to tackle low demand. This additional

regulation is justified by the pervasive and acute problems of low

demand areas. To keep the focus on better management and exclusio n of

criminal landlords, unsatisfactory housing would be tackled

separately, through the future housing condition regime.

15. Areas outside of low housing demand can also suffer

destabilisation from the activities of poor landlords and anti-social

tenants. So this power will be available to LHAs to tackle these

problems outside areas of low demand.

16. Consultation papers issued in England and Wales in October 2001

proposed measures for the selective licensing of private landlords in

certain areas.

Home Information Packs

17. The government is committed to making it easier for people buying

and selling homes in England and Wales through a new home information

pack. Legislation to introduce 'sellers' packs' was introduced in the

Homes Bill on 13 December 2000, but was unable to complete its

passage before Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

Legislation will be reintroduced as part 5 of the draft Housing Bill.

18. The seller's pack has been renamed the 'home information pack' in

recognition that it favours neither seller nor buyer, but is of

benefit to both. The home information pack proposals are the outcome

of extensive research into the home buying and selling process, and a

major consultation about options for improvements.

19. Research across a range of housing markets confirms the present

home buying and selling process in England and Wales is among the

slowest in Europe, is fraught with delays and failed transactions,

encourages problems and does not look after the interests of home

buyers and sellers. The problem is that under the present system key

information required to inform buyers' and seller's decisions only

becomes available after terms have been negotiated and agreed. Home

information packs will address this by ensuring key information is

available up front.

20. Home information packs are used in other countries, notably

Denmark and New South Wales in Australia, and work well. There are

also several home information pack schemes operating successfully in

England and Wales.

21. Home information packs have to be compulsory to ensure that every

one can benefit from them. Voluntary arrangements would not ensure

that all homes are marketed with a pack, and would not achieve the

objective of improving the process for the benefit of consumers. Most

transactions are part of a chain and a single missing pack in the

chain could cancel out the benefits of all the others.

22. A consultation paper published in March 2003 set out proposals

for home information packs to contain information about:

- terms of sale; evidence of title; replies to standard searches;

planning consents, agreements and directions, and building control

certificates; replies to preliminary enquiries made on behalf of

buyers; a home condition report based on a professional survey of

the property, including an energy efficiency assessment.

- for new properties, copies of warranties and guarantees.

- for leasehold properties, a copy of the lease; most recent service

charge accounts and receipts; building insurance policy details and

payment receipts; regulations made by the landlord or management

company; and memorandum and articles of the landlord or management

company. Most of these items are obtained at some stage under the

current process; home information packs will involve doing much the

same things but more efficiently, and earlier in the process.

Right to Buy

22. The Right to Buy scheme was introduced in 1980. Since then,

some 1.55 million local authority tenants (and more recently, tenants

of stock transferred across to housing associations exercising the

'preserved RTB') in England have acquired their homes. Tenants

qualify for RTB after only two years, and can buy their home at a

discount but, if they resell the property within three years of

buying it, they must repay some or all of the discount they received.

Rapidly rising property values in some parts of the country are

encouraging early re-sales, sometimes to companies, putting pressure

on the availability of affordable housing in these areas.

23. To address this, the Government has decided to make changes to

the Right to Buy scheme (including preserved Right to Buy for Housing

Association tenants). It has already lowered by Order the maximum

amount of Right to Buy discount for which an individual tenant may

qualify in 41 local authority areas. The Bill continues this process

by:

- extending the qualification period for the Right to Buy from two

years to five years

- extending the period after sale during which landlords may require

owners to repay some or all of their discount on early resale, from

three years to five years.

- Providing that landlords have discretion to waive repayment.

- changing repayment to a percentage basis rather than the current

flat rate basis.

24. Responding to calls from the ODPM select committee, the home

ownership task force and responses to the public consultation, the

government has added the following provisions to the Bill:

- Provide that RTB will not apply where there is a clear intention

that the property in question will be demolished during the next 18

months (as part of a regeneration or renewal scheme).

- Clarify and enhance landlords' responsibility to advise tenants on

the implications of the RTB and hence home-ownership. Tenants are

not always fully aware of what is required, in practical and

financial terms, for home ownership;

- Provide that RTB owners who wish to resell within 10 years must

offer first refusal at full market price on their properties to

their former landlord (local authority or RSL).

- Tackle exploitation by making agreements to resell within the

specified discount repayment period (now three years, to be

extended to five year s by the Bill) 'relevant disposals' that would

trigger repayment of discount. This would target 'deferred re-sale'

agreements between tenants and property companies, which sub-let on

tenants' behalf; and

- End the little-used Rent to Mortgage scheme.

Tackling anti-social behaviour in the social sector

25. As foreshadowed in the draft Housing Bill, local authorities will

be given the flexibility to extend an introductory tenancy beyond its

usual 12-month period.

26. In response to the public consultation and select committee's

concerns about anti-social behaviour, we will add further measures

to the Housing Bill which will:

- allow landlords of secure tenants to refuse a mutual exchange

application if successful court action has been taken against a

tenant or a member of their household for ASB

- prevent tenants completing a RTB purchase where the landlord is

seeking a possession or demotion order against a tenant on the

grounds of anti-social behaviour. If the court decides that such an

order should not be made, or the application is withdrawn, the

obligation on the landlord to complete the sale would be restored.

Same Sex Succession

27. It is government policy to equalise the rights of same sex

couples and different sex couples in relation to tenancy succession.

28. Government recently launched a consultation paper in preparation

for a Civil Partnerships Bill to equalise the position between

married partners and same sex partners who enter into a civil

partnership.

29. The select committee scrutinising the Housing Bill made the

recommendation that the issue of succession for same sex partners be

dealt with in that Bill.

30. The Housing Bill will therefore give unmarried different sex

partners, and same sex partners who do not enter into a civil

partnership, the same rights in relation to tenancy succession.

Grants for Social Housing

31. The Housing Bi ll contains provision for the Housing Corporation

and the National Assembly for Wales (in England and Wales

respectively) to pay grant to bodies other than registered social

landlords, such as developers and housebuilders, to develop

affordable housing. A consultation paper 'Increasing the

effectiveness' of powers to regulate registered social landlords in

England and Wales was issued on 31 March and consultation ended on 23

June. A copy of the consultation document is available on the ODPM

website www.housing.odpm.gov.uk

Disabled Facilities Grant

32. The Bill will extend eligibility for disabled facilities grant to

all those occupying caravans as their only or main residence.

Social Housing Ombudsman for Wales

33. The proposal is to establish a new office of social housing

ombudsman for Wales for the purpose of investigating complaints

against social landlords in Wales and provides that this office will

be held by a Local Commissioner in Wales (CLAW).

34. At present, investigation of complaints against RSLs in Wales is

undertaken by the National Assembly for Wales, which also regulates

RSLs in Wales under the Housing Act 1996. The creation of the social

housing ombudsman for Wales would provide an independent means of

investigating complaints against RSLs in Wales.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.