HL Deb 22 March 2001 vol 623 cc250-2GC

(" .—(1) In section 7 of the 1967 Act (rights of members of family succeeding to tenancy on death), after subsection (8) insert— (8A) On the death of a person who has for the three years before his death been a qualifying tenant of a dwellinghouse, the rights conferred by this Act are exercisable, subject to and in accordance with this Act, by his personal representatives; and, accordingly, in such a case references in this Act to the tenant shall, in so far as the context permits, be to the personal representatives.

(2) In section 5 of the 1967 Act (general provisions as to claims to enfranchisement or extension), at the end of subsection (1) insert— A notice under this section may not be given by the personal representatives of a tenant later than six months after the grant of probate or letters of administration.".").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 233A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 234A and 234B. Amendment No. 233B is also in this grouping but it slightly different.

This brings us to a discrepancy in the Bill. Benefits will accrue from the Bill to those who occupy flats but not to those who live in houses. This clause raises the question of the eligibility for obtaining a new lease following the death of the owner. Under Clause 128, to which we have referred today, the personal representative of a qualifying tenant of a flat who dies will continue to be able to exercise the right to a new lease for a period of six months after the grant of probate or letters of administration. However, no such provision is available to those who are the personal representatives of house leaseholders.

Section 7 of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 provides that the heirs of a deceased qualifying tenant can inherit the right to serve a claim, but only if they are themselves resident in the property. Non-resident heirs cannot inherit the benefit of a claim if it has already been served before the death of the qualifying tenant. They cannot inherit the right to enfranchise or extend the lease if they do not fulfil the residence qualification. As the Bill stands, that will continue to be three years for a house leaseholder.

In practice, this residential qualification has caused serious difficulties for families when elderly parents die long after the children have stopped living at home. The problems arise particularly in the Midlands and north-east England where families have tended to treat their homes as family properties, even though they are leasehold. This amendment would give the same rights to house leaseholders as are being given to flat leaseholders enabling personal representatives to both inherit the right to enfranchise or to extend the lease.

I turn to Amendment No. 233B. Under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, the owner of the leasehold house—which is where the differences arise—must satisfy a test which involves clocking up three years' residence in order to enjoy the statutory right to acquire the freehold. A more or less equivalent test applies in respect of flat owners under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 in relation to collective enfranchisement, and also in relation to the individual leaseholder's right to acquire a 90-year extension to his or her lease.

The Bill, as we have discussed, scraps the residence test in respect of flats, replacing it with the two-year ownership, but it does not do that in respect of houses. In other words, it amends the 1993 Act but it does not amend the 1967 Act.

That all seems rather odd in the light of the remarks in the consultation paper of August 2000, which accompanied a previous draft Bill which drew attention to the, need to reform leasehold law and rationalise the rules and procedures where this would be justified and beneficial".

That consultation paper goes on to state: We propose to abolish the resident test for houses in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. However, we propose to replace it with a requirement that the lease should have been held for at least two years".

That would of course have brought it into line. Had that been done, it would have prevented the inconsistency which is now about to be enshrined in this Bill. My amendment seeks to prevent such a thing happening. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

These amendments are mainly intended to provide the same kind of changes to the rights of leaseholders of houses to enfranchise or extend their leases to the rights of leaseholders of flats, as we were discussing a few minutes ago. The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, propose the abolition of the existing residence test. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, proposes to allow the personal representatives of deceased leaseholders, who would have qualified for the rights, to exercise them within six months of granting probate or letters of administration.

I assure the Committee that the Government are keen to achieve a more consistent approach between the law on flats and houses. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, reminded us, we made this clear in the consultation paper which accompanied the draft Bill. Unfortunately, we have not been able to include in this Bill as many changes as we would have liked. We appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter and, although I cannot make firm commitments, we will consider very carefully the views that have been put forward.

Amendments Nos. 233B and 235C also affect agricultural tenancies and charitable housing trusts. As that aspect has not been addressed, I assume that it was not intended, so I will not reply to it.

Baroness Hanham

I thank the Minister for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 233AA to 233C not moved.]

Clause 134 [Abolition of limits on rights after lease extension]:

[Amendment No. 234 not moved.]

Clause 134 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 234A to 234C not moved.]

Clause 135 agreed to.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 235: After Clause 135, insert the following new clause—