§ '(1) For section 44 of the 1971 Act (effect of registration of rent) there shall be substituted the following section—
44.—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, the registration of a rent for a dwelling-house takes effect, if the rent was determined by the rent officer, from the date when it was registered.
(2) In section 21(3) of the 1971 Act (limit of rent during statutory periods) for the words "on which the rent was registered" there shall be substituted the words "from which the registration of the rent took effect".
(3) For section 40(4) of the 1971 Act (meaning of a "relevant date" in relation to applications for registration of rent) there shall be substituted the following subsections—
(4) In paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 6 of the 1971 Act (procedure on application for registration of rent), for the word "accordingly" there shall be substituted the words "of their decision and, in the case of the determination of a rent, of the date on which their decision was made.".'.—[Mr. Rifkind.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The purpose of the clause is to amend the provisions in the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 which fix the date from which the registration of a fair rent takes effect. The clause provides a simplification of these rules. It provides that both increases and deductions in rent will take effect from the date that the rent officer registers the rent or, where there is an objection to his figure, the date when the rent assessment committee gives its decision. Similarly, it provides for the three-year registration period to be calculated from the date on which the rent officer registers the rent that he has fixed.
With that explanation, I commend the new clause to the House.
§ Mr. Millan
This is a long and complicated new clause which makes some important changes in the procedures for determining when a new rent shall take effect. I understand that one effect will be that in certain cases the rent may be increased earlier than under existing legislation if we pass the clause. Even under existing legislation, when a rent officer determines a new rent, that rent cannot take effect until there has been a notice from the landlord to the tenants concerned. I do not think that this is a better provision.
337 I am not happy about a provision which allows the rent to be increased from the date of the rent officer's determination without a further notice from the landlord. I have some outstanding cases of disputed rents in my constituency and I am not happy about the procedures for dealing with them.
I was dealing with one case in my constituency only yesterday. The rents were registered from 4 January this year. The tenants concerned had notice from the rent assessment committee only at the end of May and the beginning of June that there were to be hearings regarding these rents.
I understand that under the new clause, as under existing legislation, if the rent assessment committee comes to a subsequent determination of a different rent, then, if it is an increase, the new rent will not be payable until the date of the determination by the rent assessment committee. In that respect—I hope that I have got the law right—my constituents are protected.
The point that I want to draw to the Minister's attention is that there was a delay of three months before the rent assessment committee followed the standard procedures by telling the tenants that there had been an objection and that there would have to be a hearing. There was a delay of three months with no satisfactory reason for it.
In cases of rent registration where there may ultimately be an appeal to the rent assessment committee, it is difficult for tenants to know exactly how they stand in relation to rents at any particular time. One advantage of the present provision, even if the rent assessment committee is not involved, is that it provides a procedure which makes the landlord send a notice to the tenant concerned. The tenant, having got the appropriate notice, may then see the date from which the new rent is payable. If we make it automatic, then, unless the procedures are such that the tenant is informed in some way very quickly after the new rent has been registered, he may find himself innocently accumulating arrears, because there is no obligation on the landlord to demand the new rent immediately. If the landlord does not demand the new rent immediately, arrears may accumulate in a 338 wholly unsatisfactory way. The existing provision prevents that from happening.
I am not convinced that we should change the procedures to allow the new rent to be exigible immediately it is registered. If there were no delays and so on, that would be reasonable. However, I suggest, from some experience of these matters in my constituency, that tenants can easily become confused. It is unsatisfactory that they should innocently get into rent arrears by not understanding what their rent is or, for that matter, not having proper notice of it.
I ask the Minister to look into these procedures. I understand that when the matter goes to the rent assessment committee there is protection in that any further increase cannot be asked for by the landlord until the committee has made its determination. However, I should like to be assured that when the rent assessment committee has made its determination the tenants are informed right away and that it does not take several weeks to send out the notices. If it does—sometimes increases can be substantial for individual tenants—arrears can accumulate. That is highly unsatisfactory. If we are to make the changes proposed in the new clause, we must be sure that the procedures will work speedily so that tenants are not innocently disadvantaged and put in financial difficulty.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no change as a result of the new clause in the amount of notice required to be given to the tenant of a rent increase. Whatever else the new clause does, it does not affect the notice which has to be given to the tenant. I shall certainly consider the points made by the right hon. Gentleman to see whether any further changes may be required as a result of the new clause.
I should have referred earlier to amendment No. 162. The amendment brings housing associations into line with landlords generally in the private rented sector in the event of an application being made for re-registration of a fair rent within the last three months of the period of three years from the effective date of the previous registration. In such circumstances, the amendment prevents the new registration from taking effect before the expiry of the three-year period from the 339 effective date of the previous registration. This clearly is a desirable protection for tenants and I am sure that it will have the support of the House as a whole.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.