HL Deb 19 May 2004 vol 661 cc33-4WS
The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Housing Bill introduces measures to help to create a fairer and more effective housing market, and will protect those that are most vulnerable in that market.

The Government have listened carefully during Commons consideration of the Bill and to external stakeholders. We now plan to add two further measures to the Bill: provisions to tackle empty homes; and measures to protect tenancy deposits. These amendments will be tabled in due course.

Empty homes

The Government are committed to finding ways of bringing empty homes back into use. We have already encouraged voluntary measures wherever possible, but recognise that more is needed to reduce significantly the number of privately owned homes that remain vacant for long periods of time.

The Government therefore intend to enable local authorities to make management orders in respect of long-term empty homes. The legislation will contain the evidence a local authority would need to provide in support of an application to make a management order on an empty home. We will ensure intervention is proportionate, appropriately targeted and compliant with the Human Rights Act. Voluntary arrangements will continue to be appropriate in many circumstances.

Empty homes management orders would support measures to increase housing supply. We will set out the precise scope of intervention in legislation. Our intention is to apply this measure to genuine cases of housing vacancy. We do not consider it would be appropriate to apply it to property that is genuinely occupied, albeit not on a regular basis, or property subject to an action that will result in it coming back into use without the need for intervention.

A management order would enable a local authority to put in place arrangements to enable a property to be let. In the case of a dilapidated property, this might entail renovation. The legal estate would be retained by the owner who would be entitled to any rental income generated by the local authority after deduction of its relevant costs. The owner would be entitled to sell the property or request revocation of the management order.

Tenancy deposit protection

The Government also propose to add to the Housing Bill some provisions on tenancy deposits.

The Government remain of the view that providing a link between the safeguarding of tenancy deposits and a requirement for all tenants to have written agreements is a sensible objective. However it accepts that the Law Commission proposals on tenure reform will take time to put into effect and need careful consideration.

Our intention is to add provisions to the Housing Bill to require that tenancy deposits should be subject to safeguarding arrangements. The Government accept that we will need to sponsor a scheme to provide for the safeguarding of the deposits sought by the majority of landlords. But we also recognise that members of trade or professional bodies should be able to look to those bodies to provide their own schemes if these schemes provide sufficient protection and the Government are able to approve them.

The provisions will need to define the term ''tenancy deposit" and provide that where such deposits are required by landlords or their agents they should be safeguarded by a scheme approved by the Government. There will need to be civil sanctions for non-compliance. There will need to be provisions for the timely return of deposits and for their repayment following dispute resolution.

These measures on empty homes and tenancy deposits follow extensive consultation with the key stakeholders, and there will be an opportunity for further debate when they are tabled for inclusion in the Housing Bill.