Minister Delivers First Speech at NRLA Conference – Originally Posted by NRLA
On Tuesday 15 November the Coventry Arena played host to the NRLA’s first national conference, attended by more than 500 delegates, speakers, and exhibitors including the latest minister for the private rented sector Felicity Buchan MP.
Given ministers’ busy schedules, it is always somewhat of a relief when they arrive at a scheduled speaking engagement, and on this occasion her attendance was especially reassuring as she was in fact the third minister to have received and accepted our invitation. The former two having lost their jobs before the conference date arrived, a fact the minster was good enough to remark upon herself.
Uncertainty aside, we and the congregated audience of landlords were grateful to hear from a member of the Government at a time of so much proposed reform and to have the opportunity to pose some of the questions that rarely get an airing in Westminster.
Delivering her first official speech in her new role, Ms Buchan outlined the programme of reforms planned by the Government, reiterating the measures announced earlier in the year in the Fairer Renting white paper.
The minister sought to reassure landlords in the room that, although her department remains committed to ending the use of no-fault possessions, this would be balanced with measures to ensure responsible landlords can continue to operate with minimal disruption. She also explained, that whilst the courts are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, that she understands the importance of delivering a court system that works efficiently when section 21 is no-longer available.
Working in Partnership
Given her very recent appointment to the role, we did not realistically expect any significant new announcements, so it came as a pleasant surprise to hear the minister say that she and her department have accepted the NRLA’s proposals to establish a working group of key stakeholders representing landlords, tenants, the police, local authorities, and others to develop realistic plans to deal with anti-social tenants and the disruption they cause.
With the publication of the white paper in the summer it has become increasingly clear that one of the most important, yet arguably most neglected, areas of reform will be around managing anti-social behaviour (ASB). The NRLA has been working with dispute resolution, enforcement, and legal professionals to develop proposals to fill the gap to be left by the demise of section 21 in respect of ASB but has struggled to make progress against the political uncertainty of the last few months. With the new ministerial team in place, it appears that our work is paying off and that it may be possible to find workable solutions working with the Government and stakeholders.
The question-and-answer session provided a richer insight into government thinking and ensured that matters of importance to delegates were addressed.
It is probably fair to say that Ms Buchan stuck commendably to the party line, saying nothing particularly controversial or surprising from a Conservative minister. However, answering questions from members of the audience, she was able to categorically reject rent controls asserting that such measures would lead to ‘disinvestment’ which would help neither landlords nor tenants.
She also took time to talk about the valued contribution made by private landlords, in response to which NRLA CEO Ben Beadle seized the opportunity to ask if her colleague Michael Gove shared her respect for landlords – a contribution warmly welcomed by the room and politically handled by the minister.
Lots of questions were raised by delegates, covering issues including the use of ‘paper based’ accelerated processes for section 8 claims once section 21 is abolished, which the minister did not fully answer but agreed to take back to the department.
The thorny matter of student tenancies also came up, with the minister praising the many representations of the NRLA and others on the matter. No promises were made, but it was clear that the issue is being discussed as part of preparation for the Renters’ Reform Bill.
One of the final questions of the session brought to the fore the treatment of HMOs for Council Tax purposes, in particular the practice of ‘disaggregation’ whereby rooms in houses are individually banded as opposed to all forming part of one larger dwelling. Perhaps unsurprisingly with only a few weeks in the role the minister was not able to provide any real comment, but she was aware of proposed amendments to legislation and the question will no doubt open the door to further discussions with NRLA.
A day of firsts
For the new PRS minister to deliver her first speech in the role at the NRLA’s first conference was a great way to start both enterprises. It will certainly not be Felicity Buchan’s last speaking engagement on rental reform and, given the success of the day, it looks unlikely that this will be our last national conference.
There is only so much that you can learn from a politician in one conference agenda item, but the very fact that Ms Buchan agreed to speak with attendees and answer a wide range of questions bodes well for our future working relationship. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with all of the policies she will seek to enact, but it does suggest that landlords will get a fair hearing which can only be a good thing.
You never know she may even come back to speak with us again at NRLA conference 2023 – assuming there have been no more changes in personnel.