Today in politics: Spending review, safety bill, benefits and Renters’ Reform

21 Jul 2020 02:25 PM

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has launched the spending review, with the government’s draft safety bill also published today. Reports that legacy benefit run-on payments will start tomorrow are circulating – and the housing minister is quizzed on the latest as regards the Renters Reform Bill.

Chancellor launches spending review

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has today launched this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review. The review, which will be published in the autumn, will set out the government’s spending plans for the parliament.

The Government says that the review will prioritise:

Mr Sunak said: “The first phase of our economic response to coronavirus was about safeguarding employment as far as possible. Our goal in the second phase is to protect, create and support jobs and we set out our plan to achieve this two weeks ago.

“The Comprehensive Spending Review is our opportunity to deliver on the third phase of our recovery plan – where we will honour the commitments made in the March Budget to rebuild, level up and invest in people and places spreading opportunities more evenly across the nation.”

More information can be found here.

External stakeholders can submit representations to the Spending Review ahead of a September 24th deadline, with the NRLA currently preparing its submission.

Government publishes Draft Building Safety Bill

The Government has published the Draft Building Safety Bill.

The foreword to the bill, written by HCLG Secretary Robert Jenrick, says: “The Bill will introduce a new era of accountability, making it clear where the responsibility for managing safety risks lies throughout the design, construction and occupation of buildings in scope. There will be tougher sanctions for those that fail to meet their obligations.

“Central to ensuring the regime is effective will be a powerful new Building Safety Regulator housed within the Health and Safety Executive. It will have responsibility for implementing and enforcing the more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings and will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings…

“I would encourage Parliament to engage wholeheartedly in strengthening the proposals for reform set out in this draft legislation, so that together we can further improve it and ensure we deliver a reformed and improved system that keeps residents safe.”

The draft bill also includes new rules around how leaseholders pay for fire safety works and building defects. 

It is proposing that the Landlord and Tenant Act be amended to ensure more transparent recovery of costs incurred by landlords introducing fire safety measures. 

Under the new proposed rules there will be obligations for building owners to provide accurate estimates for building safety charges, with leaseholders able to refuse payment if the charges are deemed “unreasonable” or if the freeholder does not issue a clear breakdown of costs.

Run-on payments to be introduced tomorrow

The Department for Work and Pensions will be introducing run-on payments for legacy benefit claimants who are moving to Universal Credit.

From tomorrow, legacy benefit claimants will receive two weeks of their award as they switch to Universal Credit.

Will Quince, the Welfare Delivery Minister, said: “This one-off payment will provide additional support as claimants move from legacy benefits to Universal Credit. It doesn’t have to be paid back and won’t affect their UC award, so is welcome extra cash in pockets.”

Chancellor questioned on private renters in inquiry 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has been questioned on what support the Treasury is offering private renters in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The question came during an evidence session to the Treasury Select Committee.

Siobhain McDonagh MP (Labour, Mitcham and Morden) asked: “Chancellor, we know that people are not equally affected by the coronavirus lockdown. 

“If we look at private renters, they are 50% more likely to have fallen behind on their housing costs than people in other tenures. 

“They are also likely to be in the occupations where they are more likely to lose their jobs. 

“Given that they represent 20% of the workforce, they fear the reinstatement of repossession hearings in September and losing their jobs. What is in the pipeline for them that does not already exist?”

Mr Sunak responded: “…it is probably worth reflecting on the fact that there has been a five-month suspension of possession proceedings, which has been welcome, as you said. 

“We are obviously entering a different phase of this crisis now, and we are moving out of it. 

“We need to look at what is appropriate going forward. That will be a decision for the Housing Secretary, who is in constant touch with the sector. 

“There have been some other things at our end at the FCA, with regard to working with lenders to make sure that there are buy-to-let landlord payment holidays, or equivalents of. That has happened. 

“Lastly, I would say that for the full year—it is not just for now—the local housing allowance has been significantly increased in generosity, which helps renters. The change takes it up to the 30th percentile. That is something that is here for the full year.”

The full transcript of the session is available here.

Minister questioned on Renters Reform Bill

The Housing Minister Christopher Pincher has been asked when the Government plans to bring forward proposals for the renters reform bill. 

The question came during HCLG Questions in the House of Commons.

Tonia Antoniazzi MP (Labour, Gower) asked the question, to which Mr Pincher responded: “We are committed to bringing forward legislation to deliver a better deal for renters, including repealing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 as a priority. 

“This will represent a generational change to tenancy, so it is only right that such legislation is considered and balanced to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, for tenants and, of course, for landlords.”

Ms Antoniazzi then asked if the Government would look at measures that the Welsh government had introduced to protect renters from eviction. Mr Pincher said the government had already brought in an array of measures to support tenants and would continue to act for them.

Shadow Housing Minister Thangam Debbonaire then asked:“The evictions ban ends on 23 August and the Government could have already brought in this Bill, raised LHA temporarily to average rents, scrapped section 21 or given courts discretion in arrears cases, but they have not done any of those things and thousands of people are struggling with rent now. 

So will the Minister guarantee to honour the words of the Secretary of State in March: “no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus”? Yes or no?”

Mr Pincher reaffirmed his previous reply, adding: “I believe my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is about to introduce a measure that will make it difficult for landlords who do not show “good cause” in bringing their application to court by describing what the effect on their tenants will be of an eviction—the courts will be able to adjourn those actions.”

The Government was also questioned on dangerous cladding

Ian Byrne MP (Labour, Liverpool West Derby – Member of the HCLG Select Committee) asked what steps the Government was taking to remove cladding from buildings of all heights. 

Mr Pincher responded to say the government was publishing the draft Building Safety Bill and that over two thirds of buildings with ACM cladding had completed or started their remediation. 

Mr Byrne followed this up by asking if the Government would release more funds to remedy buildings with ACM cladding, to which Mr Pincher said that MHCLG expected the money made available by the Treasury to be fully allocated by March “so that the buildings that most need remediation where the owners were not able to act quickly can be helped.”

Mike Amesbury MP (Labour, Weaver Vale) then asked how the Building Safety Bill would speed up remediation whilst also increasing the size and scope of the building safety fund.

Mr Pincher said that tough enforcement action was “on its way” for those who are responsible for remediation but are not taking action.

A full transcript of the question session can be found here.