Housing

Three-year tenancies axed by the government in Tenant Fees Bill shake-up

Landlords must prove evidence before charging costs after House of Commons amends proposed legislation

Social housing

The government has dropped plans to make three-year fixed-term tenancies mandatory as the Tenant Fees Bill returned to the House of Commons on Tuesday. The move, which was mooted back in July, would have granted tenants the ability to leave before the end of their minimum term. 

But if they chose to stay beyond it they would have been afforded greater protection – with government figures revealing that the average amount of time that people stay in their rented homes is nearly four years. Communities Secretary James Brokenshire confirmed yesterday in a written statement that the plan was set for the axe. 

“After listening carefully to social housing residents, we are proposing not to implement the provisions in the Housing and Planning Act to make fixed term tenancies mandatory for local authority tenants at this time,” he said. “We recognise the benefits of fixed term tenancies in the right circumstances to help social landlords make best use of their housing stock and that flexibility will remain. But we remain keen to ensure that victims of domestic abuse do not risk losing their lifetime tenancy if they are granted a new tenancy after fleeing abuse.”

Homeless charity Shelter is among the groups that had thrown its weight behind the plans. CEO Polly Neate said: “As it stands, families across the country have to put up with blink-and-you-miss-it six-month contracts. This is nowhere near enough time to put kids through school and in the worst cases leaves renters looking over their shoulder worrying about the terrifying threat of homelessness. We need the government to fix this mess by standing up for renters and giving them a legal right to stay in their home for longer – anything short of this will be a complete and utter waste of time.”

However, tenants were afforded a level of security by the latest amendments to the Tenant Fees Bill, which underwent its report stage at the House of Commons yesterday. Under the new default fee provision, a landlord or agent will only be able to recover reasonable incurred costs, and must provide evidence of these costs to the tenant before they can impose any charges. The move is designed to stop landlords charging for things like smoke alarms, which would be provided for free by councils. Other amendments to the bill brought forward by the government include taking steps to ensure tenants get their money back quickly by reducing the timeframe that landlords and agents must pay back any fees that they have unlawfully charged. 

Tenants across the country, whatever their income, should not be hit with unfair costs

Housing minister Rishi Sunak MP said: “Tenants across the country, whatever their income, should not be hit with unfair costs by agents or landlords. This government is determined to make sure our housing market works and this new provision in the Tenant Fees Bill will make renting fairer and more transparent for all.”

The loss of a private rented tenancy remains the main cause of homelessness with the threat of living on the streets an ever-present threat at the end of a six-month contract. The government’s £100m Rough Sleeping Strategy was unveiled last month with promises to focus on prevention, intervention and recovery to help 6,000 vulnerable people over the next decade. 

Today, the communities secretary revealed how his department planned to do it with details on how the first £34m will be spent. The focus will be on helping councils across England with the highest numbers of rough sleepers with funding to beef up ongoing initiatives as well as introducing additional bed spaces and dedicated support teams. Sheffield is one of the areas that will be affected with £363,000 to expand housing-led services and emergency accommodation provision. 

In Thanet, the government has allocated £367,000 to fund a rough sleeping coordinator, mental health specialist outreach worker and substance misuse worker while the council is now undertaking multi-agency case management meeting reviews. And Bournemouth has also been handed £387,000 to boost staff numbers for specialised psychological support for work with those who have experienced complex trauma. The government has also pledged a further £11m to spend on additional areas and projects, which are to be confirmed soon. 

“Our Rough Sleeping Strategy set out the blueprint to end rough sleeping by 2027. Now, we are vigorously taking the steps to make that happen,” said Brokenshire. “The funding through our Rough Sleeping Initiative is already making a real difference in helping support those off the streets into services and accommodation this year.”

The initial announcement was met with claims from Jeremy Corbyn that the decade-long plan was lacking in new investment.  

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