Sean Hooker: What can we expect from the Renters' Reform Bill White Paper?

6 September 2021

There are many organisations in the industry that have the skills and expertise to deliver a robust and effective solution to the challenges the government is looking to solve with its Renters' Reform Bill.

This Autumn promises to be one of the most pivotal in the rental market for a generation - or at least as far as England is concerned. Those who have been following my articles on Newsagent or watching our recent webinars, will know that after the abysmal void that Covid-19 has been for much of Government policy, we are all anticipating the publication of the White Paper on the Renters' Reform Bill and seeing if the few words and sentences of the good intentions, uttered by ministers materialises into real action.

Many organisations are laying out their blueprints and parking their tanks on the lawn over parts of all of the proposals, but the announcement that what will come out of the Ministry of Housing Communities and Government will not be an oven-ready bill, but a consultation and engagement paper. Which is fine, however, when there have already been countless consultations, roundtables and working groups, you would question how much more they need to discover?

Not a lot, according to the National Residential Landlord Association, which echoes F.D. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms in its recently laid out vision for a rental market that works for all. In what they call their Shadow White Paper, they put together proposals for reform of the eviction process, lifetime deposits, enforcement against the rogue elements, and landlord redress.

Agent body ARLA Propertymark have called for a dedicated Housing Court and, on the tenant side, Generation Rent have recently called for landlords to pay the moving costs of tenants if they ask them to leave in order to sell or move back in their property.  There is an increasing trend to demonise one side or the other in the argument and make the problem black and white and a battle royal between good and evil. A problem, however, there is! 

What is also clear is that attempts to resolve the issues have been cumbersome and ineffective, relying on under-resourced local authorities, overworked courts, and disjointed legislation. Not immune to putting our two-pennies worth in, we at the Property Redress Scheme have been calling for the introduction of landlord redress for several years now. The criminal landlord gets all the headlines, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a significant number of amateur landlords whose unconscious incompetence is staggering.

Whilst far from the majority, they pervade the sector, especially in those areas where the most vulnerable rely on their services. They are undercutting and undermining decent, compliant, and professional landlords, who do their homework, follow the rules, undertake the training or are smart enough to realise their own shortcomings and join a landlord association or use a qualified agent.

So what about the rogue tenant, I hear you cry? Well, the introduction of landlord redress could go hand-in-glove with making a tougher environment for the criminal tenant.  The reality is the people who exploit the system, prey on the uninformed and unprepared landlords. These often accidental first timers who not only don't see what they are doing may harm the tenants they house, but in too many cases are a danger to themselves and are prime targets for these shysters.

If every landlord had to register for a redress scheme and, in exchange, was provided with an information pack outlining the importance of referencing, inventories, and the right protection - such as rent protection insurance and legal expenses -  they would be in a far stronger position to protect themselves from the fraudsters or canny tenants, who know the legal loopholes that could end up costing the naïve or amateur landlord dearly.

It is frustrating that many of the answers are staring the Government in the face. There are many organisations in the industry that have the skills and expertise to deliver a robust and effective solution to the challenges. These bodies already provide valuable services that provide strong dispute resolution, competency training, best practice, and guidance. Whilst many landlords see the value of this, for most they opt out.

A mandatory system of redress delivered by competent bodies, would protect tenants, support landlords and make it easier for enforcement agents to track down those landlords who want to operate under the radar. This simple change could be implemented tomorrow if the Government had the will do so, whereas Court reform and say the introduction of a housing court will take much longer and require significant resources.

Organisations like ourselves and our sister company mydeposits, already run effective schemes providing complaint resolution for customers of letting agents and protecting and resolving deposit disputes. We also set up a professional mediation service over the pandemic to help stave off a rent arrears crisis, which works equally well for resolving other tenancy disputes, such a repair issues and personal disputes between the parties.

We have proven that we can deliver quick, successful, and affordable solutions to the challenges and are ready to step up the mark. All the Government would need to do is approve the right organisations and we can all get on to the job.

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