Housing has rarely had so high a profile as it has now. Rosemary Keczkes, Chair of the Law Society’s Housing Law Committee, outlines some current and upcoming issues, how the Law Society is responding - and how you could help.
Before 14 June 2017, housing was ascending the political agenda - but debate was largely about house prices and home ownership. Those of us working with landlords and tenants knew that there were huge issues about housing standards, security of tenure and rising homelessness, and about access to justice. But the rented sector has long been the Cinderella of the housing market.
Grenfell changed everything.
Within months, we had promises of a social housing green paper (‘the most substantial report of its kind for a generation’), dedicated housing courts for ‘faster, more effective, justice’, and - most recently - government’s volte face on support for Karen Buck MP’s Private Member’s Bill on Fitness for Human Habitation.
The Law Society, through the work of our Housing Law Committee (HLC), has long pursued improvements in the rented sector. The environment now is more receptive to our efforts - but to help us continue and expand our work, we need more members.
The application period for Society committees is now open and will close on 13 April 2018 at 5pm. Applicants from across the sector are welcome and we are particularly keen to improve our representation among local authority lawyers and in Wales (where reform has advanced ahead of England in many regards).
The work of the Committee is varied. We will engage with recent announcements as they take substantial form. More members would allow us to provide greater and more effective input.
Our work involves supporting reforms in parliament, such as on the recent Homelessness Reduction Bill (now Act) and the aforementioned Bill on Fitness for Human Habitation. We also delve into the important legal detail which can be so important in deciding whether well-intentioned legislation will work in practice.
Following enactment of the Homeless Reduction legislation, we provided detailed input to proposed guidance revisions for local authorities dealing with homelessness. Around half a dozen Committee members worked intensively - and with stakeholders - to get to grips with the specifics of the guidance and its likely effect on some of the most vulnerable in society when the Act takes effect in April. For example, we suggested improvements to the guidance for support victims of modern slavery, greater clarity on the use of section 21 notices, and updates to meaning and clarity following important cases such as Panayiotou (which addressed issues of vulnerability).
As the Act’s provisions come into force this year, we will monitor their effects and work to improve their operation if necessary. Likewise, we will continue engagement with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill as it moves through parliament. The green paper and housing court proposals will also feature, alongside on-going support for Society work on legal aid and courts reform.
We work with others such as parliamentarians, officials and with other housing law professionals such as Shelter and the Housing Law Practitioners Association.
If you’d like more information on the work of the Committee, and what it’s like to be a member, please contact Sarah Richardson.