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A New Housing Minister

The country waited with baited breath whilst our new Prime Minister formed her cabinet, and none more so than private sector landlords, wondering whether the appointment would be bad or good news for the sector which has felt under attack for so long.

It was perhaps a surprise that Mrs. May chose to appoint Gavin Barwell as Housing and Planning Minister, a fresh-faced and comparatively inexperienced MP, only having joined the House in 2010. He replaces Brandon Lewis.

Whether this will be a positive move for landlords is a little difficult to say yet, but one thing very much in his favour is his opposition to wide-scale licensing of the private sector.

He has said he is willing to work with landlords (about time), councils, housing authorities and developers to address the country’s housing crisis. This is encouraging, in that he appears to be looking at all housing providers on an equal basis. So often in the past, the vital role played by private sector landlords seems to have been ignored. Brandon Lewis seemed focused on build to rent, without acknowledging the empty properties which could be used to house those in need, if legislation had offered more support to landlords with disruptive tenants and high rent arrears.

The new Housing Minister does appear to have more common sense than some local politicians, in that he sees what many of us have been saying for a long time. That measures that hit all, rather than the minority who are causing the problems, means that efficacy of licensing is doubtful – that the law-abiding, good landlords will be hit in the pocket but the minority of landlords, the ones that have poor properties, beds in sheds and poor management standards, will do their utmost to avoid payment.

In these times of staff shortages due to the cuts, how can this be adequately policed?  We can only hope that his resistance to licensing continues; if so, perhaps the next step would be a total abandonment of licensing and the consequent savings poured into enforcement, so that the guilty landlords can be caught and punished.

It is interesting that this view on licensing is held by the MP for Croydon Central. Housing issues may be present throughout the country, but they are most prevalent in the Southern region. Not only the beds in sheds, but also the frequent changes in tenant, in order to raise rents, giving no security to tenants and raising the ire of Shelter and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

There needs to be a wider acceptance that special measures are needed in the London Boroughs and surrounding areas, but that in the wider country, problems should be tackled on the ground, by properly funded local authority officers. Good officers can do more to raise the profile of enforcement than what appears to be the bureaucracy around licensing.

Let us hope Mr. Barwell can eradicate this bane of the lives of landlords; he can then move forward and take positive steps to improve the reputation of the private sector.

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