HC Deb 18 April 1973 vol 855 cc488-9
27. Mr. Cordle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many prosecutions were brought in 1972 under Section 1 of the Accommodation Agencies Act 1953.

Mr. Eyre

Figures for prosecutions in 1972 are not yet available.

Mr. Cordle

Is my hon. Friend aware that many agencies in London charge one or two weeks' rent illegally by way of commission? Does he realise that most tenants are students and young people who pay without demur? Will he consider increasing the number of prosecutions in this respect?

Mr. Eyre

Prosecutions in 1970 numbered four, and in 1971 they rose to 39. But it is evident that properly conducted accommodation agencies meet a real need on behalf of potential tenants. They can save people a great deal of time and trouble in their search for premises. The courts have not found it difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal fees.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I can show him columns of newspaper advertisements in which advertisers are breaking the law by offering rented accommodation to tenants on condition that they pay commission of some kind?

Mr. Eyre

I shall be interested to study carefully any specific matter the hon. Gentleman wishes to send to me, but the Act prohibits only certain actions by the agent. There is a wide field of useful activity which an agent can follow and provide a service which merits a fee.

Mr. Freeson

Is the Minister aware that this is an area of growing concern in the big cities, particularly in inner London, and that the problem is not confined to abuse by agencies, in terms of students and other single people? One of the largest groups of people affected by the situation is the unsupported mother—the single-parent family. Will he consider amending the Act to establish a licensing procedure to make sure that only properly-run accommodation agencies are allowed to operate?

Mr. Eyre

I am prepared to consider any detailed proposal that the hon. Gentleman wishes to make, but as at present advised I understand that the form of the law is not unsatisfactory in this very difficult matter. Furthermore, I would point out that private individuals as well as the police can prosecute.