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Lord Dixon-Smith: It is interesting. I thought I understood the purpose of a demoted tenancy to be reforming. The hope is that the demoted tenant will reform his ways and that after the lapse of the relevant period the tenancy will revert to a secure tenancy. If that is so, the Minister's example was a bad one. He mentioned specifically rights of repair. If the hope is that after two or three years the tenancy will revert to a secure tenancy, after the person has learnt his lesson,

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and if as a consequence of the rights of repair being removed from the agreement the repairs are not done, the end result could be a worse situation—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I need to correct a misimpression. It was not about rights to repairs, but rights to additional compensation for repairs. That is rather different.

Lord Dixon-Smith: That changes the situation and if I misunderstood it I apologise to the Minister. In any event, I shall study his reply with care and consider whether we need to return to this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 56 to 60 not moved.]

Clause 14 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Demoted tenancies]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 61:


    Page 54, line 2, leave out "of the dwelling-house" and insert "under section 143E"

The noble Lord said: The amendments relate to demoted tenancies. The purpose is to ensure that the fast-track eviction proceedings available for demoted tenancies cannot be used for any reason other than for further anti-social behaviour. In other words, a tenant getting into difficulties over his rent would not necessarily be a reason for taking accelerated action on a demoted tenancy.

The whole purpose of these procedures is to deal with anti-social behaviour. There are other reasons why people get into trouble over their housing and can have difficulties with their landlords. We believe that these amendments would strengthen the Bill. They would ensure that the Bill's focus was to deal with anti-social behaviour and they would also ensure that landlords could not use other grounds for the cessation of a demoted tenancy. We believe that that would be a useful protection. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My name appears to all the amendments. As we are making good progress, I shall not say in different words what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has said. I support the amendments.

6 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving these amendments. It provides us with an opportunity to give further thought to demoted tenancies and the implications of them. Amendments Nos. 61, 63, 68 and 72 require landlords to return to court and prove that there has been further anti-social behaviour in order to end a demoted tenancy.

I fully understand why noble Lords should want to ensure that tenants are not evicted from their homes without good reason. Over the years, quite rightly, there has been much legislation to ensure that that is

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the case. But these amendments would make the whole principle of demoting tenancies, in our view, entirely worthless.

The idea behind demoted tenancies is to encourage landlords not to go straight to possession proceedings in all cases of anti-social behaviour. At the moment we have a situation in which they may seek an injunction. If a period of time passes and the injunction patently has not worked, they can go straight towards possession proceedings.

Here we offer another remedy that can be used separately or perhaps in combination. We want to encourage landlords to use demotion in situations where they feel that they can work with a tenant to change the tenant's behaviour—I believe that the noble Lord supports that principle—and therefore sustain the tenancy. That is what we want. No one wants to force people out willy-nilly, but if there is anti-social behaviour—something that has an adverse effect on neighbours or on other folk in the community—we want to set something in law that assists finding a resolution to that and changing the way in which people behave.

Possession proceedings are time-consuming and, as I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, can be very costly. Many witnesses and victims may be reluctant to attend court for a second time. That would mean that landlords would be much less likely to pursue that option and may move straight to eviction. A tenant would have been demoted in the first place only if the landlord were able to provide sufficient evidence to a court to obtain a demotion order. If the tenant's behaviour fails to improve it seems unfair to expect the landlord to gather the evidence and convince the court a second time. The tenant will already have received his or her last-chance warning. It is pretty clear at the outset of the proceedings exactly what the process leads to.

The procedure for ending a demoted tenancy is based on the procedure for ending an introductory tenancy. That is a decision taken by the landlord, following a statutory process, followed by a possession order granted by the court. The tenant has the right to an internal review of the landlord's decision. At the possession hearing, the court considers only whether the appropriate procedure was followed, and does not consider the facts on which the landlord's decision was based or, for that matter, the merits of the decision. That procedure has been approved by the Court of Appeal and by the House of Lords.

Registered social landlord demoted tenants are assured shorthold tenants and their landlords can obtain a possession order by giving two months' notice and they do not have to give any reason for that. That is in line with the way that the RSL starter tenancy scheme operates.

However, there are checks on the appropriate use of starter tenancies. The Housing Corporation guidance sets out that registered social landlords should follow a similar process to that for local authorities when taking possession action against starter tenancies. Housing Corporation regulations, along with Audit

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Commission inspection, help to ensure that RSLs act in the right way. That protection will be extended to demoted registered social landlord tenancies.

That is how we see the situation working. We do not believe that these amendments, motivated by a desire to put in a degree of further protection, will do anything other than make the situation more complicated and add cost. We believe that there are the necessary checks and balances already in the procedures that we have set out. Of course, we understand the reason why noble Lords have sought to put in additional checks, but they are checks that we cannot support.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I have to confess that I am not sufficiently expert to be able to interpret his intricacies without some advice. I shall be happy to take his reply away and—I hope he will forgive me—have it checked for the benefit of my own information rather than because I suspect that it is wrong. This has been a useful discussion. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 62:


    Page 54, line 12, at end insert—


"(6) A demoted tenancy shall have the effect of suspending but not of terminating the tenant's right to buy the property pursuant to section 118 of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68) (the right to buy) for the demotion period."

The noble Baroness said: I also have Amendment No. 61 in this group. Grouped with the amendment are Amendments Nos. 69 and 70, which are government amendments. I suppose I might say that my amendments have already had a result because they were designed, with a little difficulty, to flush out the effect that a demoted tenancy will have on the right to buy. The Government have now made explicit what was so disguised that I was not able to establish—either myself or, more importantly, through talking to those who might know—what the effect would be. They were sure that there would be one, but could not quite explain it. I see that in Amendment No. 69 the preserved right to buy goes. In other words, demotion means back to square one.

I am glad to have flushed that matter out. It is an issue that I—and, I daresay, others—will want to consider because it raises important issues both of principle, as to whether that is the effect of demotion, and also of practice, in terms of informing tenants of the risk and of effect. At this point, and seeing that people are gathering for the next part of the Bill, I shall leave my remarks on the issue at that point. I may want to return to it. Meanwhile, and in advance of the Minister moving his amendments, I thank the noble Lord for at least making clear what was unclear before. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I rise to speak to Amendments No. 69 and 70 and to give further explanation. I am grateful to the noble Baroness,

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Lady Hamwee, for her kind observations on our responding almost before she reached, as it were, an issue that concerned her. We are pleased to have been able to achieve that.

The aim of Amendment No. 69 is to ensure that tenants who have preserved right to buy lose it on demotion. That is plain. Preserved right to buy usually arises on stock transfer when secure local authority tenants with a right to buy become assured RSL tenants.

The existing clauses already ensure that when a local authority or housing action trust tenant is demoted from a secure tenancy, they will not have the right to buy for the period of the demotion. We intend to make amendments to the right to acquire through secondary legislation so that assured tenants of registered social landlords will not have the right to acquire during demotion. The amendment is designed to ensure consistency of approach.

The purpose of Amendment No. 70 is to ensure that time spent as a demoted assured short-hold tenant does not count towards the right to buy qualification or discount periods. The existing Anti-social Behaviour Bill provisions ensure that time spent as a local authority or housing action trust demoted tenant will not count towards the qualifying period for right to buy or the accrual of discount. The amendment ensures that the same rules will apply to time spent as a demoted assured short-hold tenant.

The right to buy is a very important, and now very valuable, right—as is the loss of the accrual rights to discount. We see it in those terms. We hope that taking that right away, even for a shortish period, will help focus the minds of those tenants who are making the lives of others hell or close to hell. We hope that it will help to focus their minds. We see it as an important part of the battery of measures set out in the Bill. As the noble Baroness said, it is absolutely proper that that is plain and clear in the Bill and that the impact of the loss of that right is well understood. We want it that way and consider that important. I commend the government amendments.


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