Anyone who attended the ARLA conference at the Excel a few weeks back will remember Michael Portillo speaking and his comments countering suggestions that the government was ‘tinkering’ with legislation in relation to the private rented sector.
As Property Ombudsman I had previously used the term ‘scatter gun’ in relation to the disparate pieces of legislation that have been enacted in the past year or so.
David Cox, managing director of ARLA, has also used the term which Michael seemed to take exception to.
Whilst no longer a politician, Michael gave what I thought was a politician’s response, namely that the Government was not tinkering but was pursuing a strategy.
If the Government were pursuing strategy then it is strange that none of the trade bodies, redress schemes or tenancy deposit schemes have been enlightened as to what this strategy is.
All have been trying to keep up with the many consultations on the individual pieces of legislation that have appeared and whilst the government strategy might be to maximise income to the Treasury, it does not necessarily recognise the potential impact on the industry or the consumer.
I think it fair to say that everyone involved in property recognises the importance of the Private Rented Sector in reducing homelessness and generally in providing the roof over people’s heads in a time when buying property is beyond the reach of many.
The Government should therefore be supportive of the sector, not making life difficult for those who are facilitating the provision of rented property and it should not react to populist views that, for example, fees charged to tenants are excessive and should be banned.
The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, at the same conference, claimed that the Government wanted a professional sector, expanded to meet consumer need with an adequate supply of rental property.
That is a strategy that everyone can understand and so if that is indeed the Government’s formal strategy, it needs a coherent and inclusive approach.
That means coherent and consolidated legislation and support for the sector and a clear consumer protection policy. But even then the minister made clear that compulsory Client Money Protection (CMP) was a non starter, the Government being mindful of the costs to agents.
He did not seem to recognise that a majority of agents have that cover in place anyway and it is only those agents who present a risk to the consumer by currently not having the cover, who would incur additional costs.
Following that statement by the minister we now hear that continued pressure by Baroness Hayter for mandatory provision has brought about an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill which will enable the government to review the need for CMP – a step in the right direction but why only go half way?
It is said that Nero ‘fiddled whilst Rome burned’.
This statement has come to mean that something irresponsible and trivial was being done during an emergency.
I would not suggest that the Government is being irresponsible in relation to the PRS but certainly it does appear to be tinkering while the PRS needs attention.