I Am the Agent explains more about recent legislative changes, including a new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service and advance notice of a new version of the How to Rent guide.
While the Renters (Reform) Bill is likely to be the main legislation affecting the private rented sector over the next year, it is not the only change that landlords should be aware of.
As of this week, the Government has launched the Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service, and later in the year there will be new fire safety requirements for some HMO landlords and owners of blocks of flats.
Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service
This week, the Government launched the Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service. This service replaces the Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes (HCPDS).
The new service allows tenants to access legal advice where they are at risk of losing their home. This advice can be provided once the tenant has evidence they are at risk of possession proceedings.
The legal advice can cover a range of including:
• repossession claims
• rent arrears
• issues with welfare benefits payments
• debt concerns
• disrepair and other problems with housing conditions
The previous scheme (HCPDS) was only available on the day of the hearing so this should mean that tenants have better access to legal support in housing matters.
The scope of the new scheme has been widened to cover issues around debt and welfare payments.
This should mean that tenants struggling with payments are signposted to debt support services which should hopefully mean that arrears are addressed at an earlier stage, rather than at the court hearing date.
This service is only active until after the first full hearing. Should possession defences require a second or third hearing the tenant will have to qualify for legal aid or hire a solicitor themselves.
Fire safety in communal parts
On 1st October 2023, the next stage of the Building Safety Act will apply.
This has implications for landlords who have control over the communal parts of buildings (the responsible person). Typically in the PRS this will mean landlords who let properties by the room.
Section 156 of the Building Safety Act updates the requirements around the performance of fire risk assessments and the provision of information to tenants about fire safety risks.
The new requirements mean that the responsible person must –
• record their completed fire risk assessment in writing, and in full (previously only specific information was required to be recorded)
• record the identity of the individual or company that has performed the fire risk assessment
• demonstrate how fire safety is managed in the premises
• share their contact information, including a UK based address with premises other responsible persons (if applicable) and the tenants.
• Take reasonable steps to identify any other responsible persons in the same building.
• Share all relevant fire safety information with incoming responsible persons when giving up control of the property.
• Provide tenants with relevant fire safety information in a format that is easily understood.
The relevant fire safety information for tenants is:
• The risks identified by the risk assessment
• The preventive and protective measures in place
• The name of the responsible person and a UK address where they, or their representative, can accept notices and documents
• The identity of any person appointed to assist with the risk assessment
• The identity of any competent persons nominated by the responsible person
• Any risks informed to the responsible person
• Any other matters specified in regulations made by the relevant authority
Please note that, for landlords in England, this is in addition to the information that you are already required to provide because of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022.
Further updates around the competency of fire risk assessors employed by the landlord are also expected in the future.
No date for this has been set but, in practice, most HMO landlords already employ a qualified professional to perform these risk assessments.
New How to Rent Guide coming
To account for these changes, the How to Rent guide is set to be updated on 30th September this year.
Landlords should make a note of this date if they are starting or renewing a tenancy on or after that date as they will need to serve the latest version. The How to Rent guide, which can be accessed here.