When we published our latest research on letting fees in April, we were expecting a long fight to get the issue of banning them back on the political agenda. The Housing and Planning Act, passed in May, contained no changes to the law on fees, and the only area of housing government is currently legislating on concerns planning.
We didn't have to wait for long though. Olly Grender, a Lib Dem peer, who fought for and won some protections for renters in the Housing Act, was selected to present a private member's Bill. Happily for us, she picked fees.
Her Renters' Rights Bill has had its Second Reading (i.e. its first debate) in the House of Lords today.
Our research, showing average fees of £386, going up to £780, was cited by Baroness Grender and other peers, and individual experiences of exploitation shared through Citizens Advice and The Debrief were highlighted. Olly argues that not many problems with the housing market can be solved with the stroke of a pen, but this is one of them.
The Minister, Viscount Younger, commended the principles behind the Bill, and noted that some fees were excessive, but said that the recent transparency laws had yet to bed in.
Other measures in the Bill included giving tenants access to the government's new database of bad landlords - so they could effectively get a reference on their landlord in return for the landlord getting a reference on the tenant. Olly said employers flouting minimum wage laws are published, and the same principle should apply to landlords. Viscount Younger disagreed, comparing it with points on a driving licence.
The fact is, there is already a lot of data on criminal landlords out in the public domain. The government ought to stick it all in one place.
The Bill also seeks to tighten up a couple of loose ends in the law, concerning electrical safety checks and preventing landlords on the watchlist from obtaining a licence to let out a house of multiple occupation. The government claims it has put adequate safeguards in place already.
Aside from the Minister's excuses, the Bill had broad support, and will go to the committee stage later in the year.