The UK Government must tackle redress and keep fixed-term contracts

Representing members, Timothy Douglas, Propertymark’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, presented evidence at the first sitting of the Public Bill Committee on the Renters (Reform) Bill citing member data that demand for rental property was up 32% in August 2023 and underlining the importance of the PRS to the UK housing market, which is struggling due to the lack of affordable housing.

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As the only representative of a property sector professional body taking part, Douglas demonstrated the value of engagement from our 17,500 members and the role agents can play as the Bill progresses through the stages.

He raised several key areas where amendments should be made to ensure the Bill is fit for purpose.

Fixed term tenancies

It’s vitally important for landlords, tenants, guarantors – and students in particular - to have the option of fixed-term tenancies to give both security and flexibility in the system.

A fixed term gives landlords and tenants a guarantee as to the length of time the tenancy will last. The tenant has security of tenure for the full tenancy period and the landlord knows that rent payments will be made for the whole fixed-term period.

Student tenancies

Douglas stated that more detail is required on the new student ground to be able to assess how it will work in reality. It’s difficult to define a student let due to the many different types of students, varying term times, mixed tenancies, and the needs of overseas students.

Propertymark remains sceptical about how the ground will work and suggests that the simplest option would be to retain a fixed-term tenancy option for students and mixed households.

Ombudsman for the PRS

Providing the Property Ombudsman with more teeth should be a priority, Douglas stated and suggested the UK Government is running before it can walk over creating a Private Rented Sector Ombudsman.  

We urge MPs to sort out gaps in the existing redress schemes for lettings agents and provide a statutory code of practice before creating a new layer of regulation. For example, there is no current requirement or clear guidance for a complaints procedure, which results in inconsistency across the sector. 

The variety of management arrangements (fully managed, let only, rent collection etc) means that any major change to systems for redress needs careful consideration.

Housing Courts

Whilst we support the concept of housing courts, realism suggests that change will be made more quickly within the existing system. Douglas made suggestions to have tribunals, which can take place in public buildings, and will speed up the process. To help improve the current system, the UK Government need to ‘focus on bailiff capacity’ and ‘to speed up the possession process provide landlords with an automatic right for a High Court Enforcement Officer to enforce the Court Possession.’

As we have continually said, more detail and clarity are needed on how the UK Government plan to digitise the court system and improve access to justice for everyone. 

Anti-social behaviour (ASB)

Renewed calls were made for a clear definition of ASB which would reduce instances of domestic violence or mental health crisis being treated inappropriately. This would also allow courts to more easily prioritise and deal with genuine cases where suitable evidence could be provided.

Commons Committee process

The first committee session took place without outgoing and incoming Housing Ministers with the removal of Rachel Maclean, MP, on 13 November as part of a UK Government reshuffle. Maclean has been replaced by Lee Rowley, MP, who has briefly held the position before under Liz Truss’s short premiership. 

Propertymark looks forward to engaging with Rowley to help him understand the issues and how we can play a part in forming the Bill to make it fully functioning for agents, landlords and tenants.

The Committee is scheduled to meet each Tuesday and Thursday up to and including 5 December to carry out line-by-line consideration of the Bill and any amendments that are tabled.  

Following the Committee stage the Bill will move on to the Report stage before its Third Reading. It will then pass on to the House of Lords, where it will receive First, Second and Third readings, and go through further Committee and Report stages. The Bill is planned to receive Royal Assent before the next general election.