Housing and Regeneration Bill


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Clause 182

Performance information
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this we may take Government new clause 40—Publication of performance information
5.45 pm
Mr. Wright: New clause 40 is linked to clause 182, which allows the regulator to require registered providers to prepare an annual report assessing their performance by reference to the standards under clause 173, and then to send it to the regulator and to specify what the report should cover. That allows the regulator to get the information that it needs to monitor and enforce good housing management, supplemented by additional information collected under clause 104 or inspection reports under clause 181.
However, it is fair to say that tenants, local authorities and others also need useful information on landlord performance so that they can compare the service different landlords offer and help hold them to account. New clause 40 places a duty on the regulator to provide information at least once a year. It specifies that the information includes that likely to be useful to tenants, potential tenants and local authorities. It could include, for example, its assessment of performance, self-assessments, the outcome of inspections and tenant satisfaction data. It will help to achieve the recommendations of the Cave review. Martin Cave saw the regulator as publishing comparative information and effective local league tables for registered providers so that tenants and others could compare performance within the same local area, similar to those for schools, universities and hospitals.
Clause 182 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 183

Inquiry
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 248, in clause 183, page 71, line 17, leave out ‘in relation to social housing’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendment No. 250.
Government amendment No. 256.
Government amendment No. 299.
Government new clause 42—Inquiry: charities
Government new clause 58—Charities that have “received public assistance”
Mr. Wright: The amendments and new clauses are all about the application of the regulator’s powers to inquire into the affairs of a registered provider to profit-making bodies and charities that have registered. The provisions are technical points on existing powers and, on that basis, I do not want to detain the Committee any further.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 249, in clause 183, page 71, line 22, after ‘they’, insert ‘and the members of their family’.
This provision amends clause 183 further. It allows the regulator to conduct an inquiry into a provider’s affairs. The amendment is technical. It amends the definition of the phrase “independent of the regulator” under subsection (4) to include members of the families of members and employees of the regulator. An inquiry must be conducted by at least one independent person to improve and enhance transparency in that process. I hope that members of the Committee will accept the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 183, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 184

Inquiry: supplemental
Amendment made: No. 250, in clause 184, page 71, line 28, at end insert—
‘( ) The inquirer may consider the affairs of a profit-making registered provider only so far as relating to social housing.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 251, in clause 184, page 71, line 33, leave out ‘publish’ and insert
‘arrange for the publication of’.
Clause 184 relates to the conduct of inquiries into a provider’s affairs. It allows the regulator to arrange for the publication of the inquirer’s report, rather than publish the report itself. This simply adds flexibility to the process. It may be, for example, that the person conducting the inquiry might also publish the report. The decision as to whether the report or part of it should be published at all will be strictly a decision for the regulator. It might decide not to publish all or parts of a report, for example, where it contains commercially sensitive information. It is a sensible amendment, and I hope that Committee members will accept it.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 184, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 185

Inquiry: evidence
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 252, in clause 185, page 72, line 2, leave out from ‘to’ to end of line 5 and insert ‘provide specified documents or information.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 253 to 255.
Mr. Wright: The amendments are technical, detailed amendments to clause 185, which allows the person conducting the inquiry to which I have referred, to gather evidence for an inquiry into a provider’s affairs. As I have said, the amendments are technical and I think that they make the clause clearer. In order to move business in a swift manner, I do not wish to detain the Committee any longer.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 253, in clause 185, page 72, line 6, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) The notice may, in particular, require evidence to be given on oath (and the inquirer may administer oaths for that purpose).’.
No. 254, in clause 185, page 72, line 8, leave out ‘to persons’ and insert ‘documents’.
No. 255, in clause 185, page 72, line 11, leave out ‘(4), (5), (6) and’ and insert ‘(3) to’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 185, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 186

Extraordinary audit
Amendment made: No. 256, in clause 186, page 72, line 21, at end insert—
‘( ) The revenue accounts of a registered charity may be audited under this section only insofar as they relate to its housing activities.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 186, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 187 and 188 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 189

Charity: change of objects
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Andrew George: In relation to our earlier debate following the amendments moved by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and in relation to clauses 172 to 174, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that in order to protect the independence of the RSLs, it is important that they can reflect it in their memoranda and articles of association, their constitution and so on. What troubles me here, and this is reflected in these clauses, is the extent to which the regulator, under both clause 188 and clause 189, must first, in the case of industrial and provident societies, have consented under clause 188(3) to any changes that the RSL wishes to make to the society’s rules. Similarly, under clause 189(3), the regulator must be consulted by the Charity Commission if someone seeks to make an amendment. To an extent, we have debated this issue before. The Minister has reassured the Committee that these bodies retain their independence, but what troubles some of us is that these two clauses suggest that their independence is not entirely maintained by the extent to which the regulator can intervene. The Charity Commission has to be consulted and the regulator has to give consent to the changes that may be proposed by housing associations that are registered as industrial and provident societies. I simply seek some reassuring statement from the Minister with regard to these two clauses.
Mr. Wright: I am not certain what the hon. Gentleman is getting at. I think that we have covered this issue fairly substantially. I think that what he is saying is that he is concerned that the regulator will intervene in a disproportionate manner in regard to the activities of the registered providers. My very clear intention, which I have expressed to the Committee, is that that is precisely what we want to avoid. Modern regulatory regimes modelled on other industries suggest that we should be proportionate, have a light touch, and should minimise interference wherever possible, and that is locked into the regulator’s objectives, as set out in clause 86. I am very keen to reassure the hon. Gentleman, but the situation is as it always has been. I could look at Hansard to see whether I have missed something, but I would have thought that the parameters that I have just outlined provided that reassurance.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 189 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 190

Companies: change of articles
Amendment made: No. 258, in clause 190, page 73, line 12, at end insert—
‘( ) The regulator may not consent to an amendment which it thinks would turn the company into a profit-making organisation.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 190, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 191

General
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this we may take Government new clause 37—Information, advice etc.
Mr. Wright: Clause 191 permits the regulator to give guidance to registered providers. It does not specify limitations as to the scope or content of such guidance. Unlike standards, guidance is not binding on registered providers, but providers may wish to take it into account.
We are coming on to clause 192, which states that guidance can also cover how the regulator
“intends to use powers under this Chapter and Chapter 7.”
The regulator may have regard to compliance with guidance by registered providers when exercising or contemplating the use of its powers under chapters 6 and 7. The regulator can also issue general information of use to registered providers under this heading. I think that that is an important power. However, I am also moving an amendment to introduce new clause 37.
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New clause 37 will replace clause 191. The new clause will give the regulator a more comprehensive set of powers than clause 191, letting the regulator publish information, undertake research and provide guidance, advice, education or training. It is based in part on the Housing Corporation’s power in section 77 of the Housing Association Act 1985. The new clause will be better, and on that basis, I hope that we will not agree to clause 191.
Question put and negatived.
Clause 191 disagreed to.
Clauses 192 and 193 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 194

Accreditation
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 260, in clause 194, page 74, line 11, leave out from ‘may’ to end of line 13 and insert
‘refer to accreditation under this section.’.
The amendment relates to clause 19, which allows the regulator to run or approve an accreditation scheme for housing management. It will amend subsection (6) to provide that standards set under clause 173 may refer to accreditation. It is a simple, technical amendment, and on that basis, I hope that Committee members will accept it.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 194, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 195 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 196

Grounds for giving notice
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 261, in clause 196, page 74, line 28, at end insert—
‘( ) Case 2A is where the registered provider has failed to comply with an earlier enforcement notice.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments No. 262 to 265.
Government new clause 44—Notifying HCA.
Mr. Wright: Government amendments Nos. 261 to 265 and new clause 44 relate to clauses 195 to 202, which permit the regulator to issue enforcement notices to registered providers. The amendments are technical, and they will allow enforcement notices to be used if registered providers fail to comply with an earlier notice, fail to publish the fact that they have been required to pay a penalty or compensation, or fail to pay an annual fee. They will also allow the regulator to require an enforcement notice to be published by the provider to whom it was given, and a pre-enforcement notice to be combined with a pre-management-transfer warning notice, and they will require the regulator to send a copy of an enforcement notice to the HCA. The amendments are technical, and as such, I hope that the Committee will accept them.
Sir George Young: I appreciate what the Minister has just said—they are technical amendments to the grounds for giving notice under chapter 7. However, when he drafted the amendments, I wonder whether he had before him the letter from the Housing Ombudsman Service, which proposed an additional ground for giving notice, namely “case 7”. Case 7 would be
“where a registered provider has failed to comply with a determination of an ombudsman appointed by virtue of section 120”—
currently clause 120—
“other than an award of compensation.”
That is part of a letter from the ombudsman, Dr. Mike Biles, on 23 January. He prefaced the letter by saying that he had brought those points
“to the attention of Communities and Local Government”.
I take it that the Minister’s Department was aware that the Housing Ombudsman Service wanted clause 196 amended with an additional case. However, the amendment has not been tabled, so will the Minister confirm that he received the letter, considered the argument for an additional case and rejected it, and will he share the reasons why with us?
Mr. Wright: I can confirm that the Department received the letter that the right hon. Gentleman cites. It was dated 23 January, which is not too long ago.
Sir George Young: That was the date of the letter to me, but it referred specifically to
“the following points that I have brought to the attention of Communities and Local Government”,
So, from that, I take it that the Minister was in the picture before I was.
Mr. Wright: I would not count on that. Suffice it to say that the Department is fully aware of the points raised in the letter. We are considering the proposal, and we could bring something forward in subsequent stages of the Bill. I hope that that reassures the right hon. Gentleman.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 262, in clause 196, page 74, line 28, at end insert—
‘( ) Case 2B is where the registered provider has failed to publish information in accordance with a requirement under section 205(2A) or 217(2A).’.
No. 263, in clause 196, page 74, line 33, at end insert—
‘( ) Case 5A is where the registered provider has failed to pay an annual fee under section 113(2).’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 196, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
 
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