HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc323-4
1. Mr. Meadowcroft

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to investigate the rents being charged by private landlords to unemployed tenants.

The Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction (Mr. John Patten)

No, Sir.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister aware of evidence from Leeds and Liverpool that a considerable abuse of the fair rents system is taking place? Because the initiative lies with tenants to apply to register a fair rent, if the rent is paid through housing benefit there is no incentive for them to do so. A number of private landlords charge up to four times a fair rent and pocket a vast amount of public funds. Would it not he in the Minister's own interests to liaise with other Departments. for example, to put the initiative with the Department of Health and Social Security to register a fair rent, and to ascertain the extent of the abuse?

Mr. Patten

One or two cases of abuse have been reported to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is a bit much to say that there is considerable evidence of abuse, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pick his words carefully. Local authorities have the duty and the power to deal with cases of abuse where and when they exist. Local authorities should get on and do the job.

Mr. Hill

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are so many anomalies in the Rent Acts that to try to protect any minority, whether unemployed or otherwise, is almost impossible? Is it not time that we had a general review of the Rent Acts and tried to formulate a legislative document on the Rent Acts that the normal person in the street can understand?

Mr. Patten

The Rent Acts are of enormous concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and myself, and we are always thinking about them.

Mr. Alton

How can the Minister justify the fact that in one area of Liverpool for nine properties a landlord is collecting over £120,000 a year, at taxpayers' expense, whereas, if a fair rent were charged, he would collect only £50,000 a year? What does the Minister intend to do about that?

Mr. Patten

I know the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and obviously I cannot discuss it in the House this afternoon. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing it to our attention. I know of his concern about the matter. None the less, Liverpool city council has the power and the duty to do something about it, and it should do so.