Today in politics: Coronavirus Bill, gas safety and rogue landlord database
24 Mar 2020 01:59 PM
We look at the Coronavirus Bill, which will today be debated in the Lords, gas safety advice, questions from MPs on the impact of Covid-19 on renters and latest data from the rogue landlord database.
The House of Commons completed its deliberations on the Coronavirus Bill yesterday.
This includes the changes related to evictions in rented housing, which extends the notification for repossessions to three months.
The government announced a three-month ban on repossessions last week – and will bring this forward by extending the notice period by a month.
Speaking during the second reading debate Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth MP, said: “Nobody should lose their home because of this virus.
“It is welcome that Ministers have listened to Labour and committed to an evictions ban for renters, but despite the Prime Minister’s promises that the government would legislate to that effect, no such measures are in the Bill.
“Some 8.5 million households rent their home from a private, council or housing association landlord in England.
“Our analysis of Government statistics shows that 6 million renting households have no savings at all and are particularly vulnerable if they lose their job or have their hours cut as a result of coronavirus.
“To give people confidence and reassurance during this difficult time and to ensure that no renter loses their home as a result of coronavirus, rent needs to be suspended for those adversely affected by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.”
Dr Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) told the House: “The Bill should give local authorities the power to grant council tax holidays and suspend all business tax payments, with central government meeting the lost revenue.
“It needs to freeze household and business rental payments across all sectors, again, with compensation for landlords for the lost rent—not just for three months but for as long as is necessary—and to allow for flexible provision for those at risk from domestic abuse, sexual violence and child abuse. Above all the Bill needs to include those measures to protect people’s incomes, not just their wages.”
Speaking during the remaining stages of the Bill the Shadow Solicitor General, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP(Labour, Torfaen) said: “There is a concern about the Prime Minister and his promises to the country’s 20 million renters to protect them from evictions, because this does not seem to be an evictions ban, which is what the Opposition have argued for, and we understood was promised by the Prime Minister.
“The legislation does not seem to stop people losing their home as a result of coronavirus; it would just give them some extra time to pack their bags. In a sense, that makes us wonder why the government are not willing to make a very simple change.
“There is already welcome help for homeowners, and I hope the government will look again at their promises to renters. We do not need this public health emergency to become a crisis of housing and homelessness as well.”
The House of Lords will debate the Bill today.
Gas Safe Guidance
The Gas Safe Register has published guidance in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
It said: “As of the evening of 23rd March, we expect to suspend Gas Safety inspections until we have more guidance. We anticipate that we will need to continue, but will confirm this soon, once we the guidance from Cabinet Office and HSE on what they need from the industry to support the nation.”
For landlords, it says:
- “We are aware that the new restrictions announced by the UK Prime Minister on leaving your own home and avoidance of any social contact will reduce the ability for landlords to arrange annual safety checks. We are working with the HSE to provide new guidance specific to this three-week period.
- “Landlords have a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances in a safe condition, to ensure an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue, and to keep a record of each safety check.
- “If you anticipate difficulties in gaining access as the Covid-19 situation progresses, you have the flexibility to carry out annual gas safety checks two months before the deadline date. Landlords can have the annual gas safety checks at their properties carried out any time from 10 to 12 calendar months after the previous check and still retain the original deadline date as if the check had been carried out exactly 12 months after the previous check.
- “You are encouraged to arrange your annual gas safety checks as early as possible, as a contingency against tenants being in self-isolation for a period of 14-days (in line with current guidelines), or gas engineers being unavailable due to illness. The two-month period to carry out annual gas safety checks should provide adequate resilience in most situations.
- “In the event you are unable to gain access to the property, e.g. persistent refusal of access due to vulnerable tenants self-isolating, you will be expected to be able to demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to comply with the law. This will need to include records of communication with the tenant and details of your engineers attempts to gain access.”
The HSE is currently seeking guidance from Cabinet Office on what gas engineering services and scenarios are considered essential for the next 3 weeks. As soon as more definitive guidance is available it will be published.
No plans to change rules regarding rent rises at this stage says housing minister
Florence Eshalomi MP (Labour, Vauxhall) has received a response to her written question asking whether MHCLG plans to place temporary restrictions on the use of Section 21 and Section 8 evictions for tenants affected by covid-19.
Christopher Pincher MP referred her to the announcement made by MHCLG on this issue last week.
Ms Eshalmoi has also received a response to her written question asking what plans MHCLG has to ban rent rises in the private rented sector as part of the emergency measures put in place during the covid-19 outbreak.
Christopher Pincher MP responded: “Landlords cannot in general increase rent without their tenants’ permission and there are no plans to change the rules regarding rent rises at this stage.
“We will protect renters and landlords affected by coronavirus through a radical package of measures announced on 18 March, including emergency legislation to prevent landlords from starting eviction proceedings for at least a three-month period.”
MPs question government on support for rented housing costs
Richard Fuller MP (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire) has received a response to his written question asking whether people with a reduced income after following guidance on coivd-19 are eligible for assistance with rented housing costs through the Discretionary Housing Payments scheme; and whether additional funding has been allocated to local authorities for that payment scheme.
The Work and Pensions Minister, Will Quince MP, responded: “As both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have made clear, the Government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID 19 and we have been clear in our intention that no one should be penalised for doing the right thing.
“These are rapidly developing circumstances, we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.”
John Cryer MP (Labour, Leyton and Wanstead) and Tim Farron MP (Liberal Democrat, Westmorland and Lonsdale – Housing Spokesperson) have both received responses to their written questions on ensuring mortgage payment holidays provided to landlords as a result of the coronavirus outbreak are fed through to tenants in the form of rent holidays where need be.
As these questions were tabled prior to the announcements made on buy-to-let mortgages last week, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP, simply pointed them to this package.
Rogue landlord database
Luke Pollard MP (Labour, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport) has received a response to his written question asking how many names there are on the Rogue Landlords Database as of 1 March 2020.
The Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher MP, responded:
“There were 25 entries and 24 names on the database of Rogue Landlords and Property Agents as of 1 March 2020.”