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Review of the London Assembly Housing Committee Report on ‘Protecting London’s Property Guardians’

Property Guardianship / 07 February 2018

Following several months of investigation, the London Assembly Housing Committee (‘Housing Committee’) has published its report on ‘Protecting London’s Property Guardians’ today.

The London Assembly’s primary role is to hold the Mayor of London to account for policies, decisions and actions.

Overview of the Report 

The Report relies heavily on research by the University of York, commissioned by the Housing Committee, which included interviews with 210 property guardians, mostly in London.

Here is a summary of some of the legal and safety issues raised in the report with my comments:
1. Almost 10% of the 210 guardians asked, said their licences do not have the legal minimum of 28 days’ notice – as most of you know, you should give guardians at least 28 days’ notice, in the prescribed form in accordance with the Protection From Eviction Act 1977 and the Notices to Quit etc. (Prescribed Information) Regulations 1988.

2. Some had ‘gagging orders’ in their licences preventing complaints to property owners, local councils or otherwise – as Guardianship companies effectively manage the property on the owner’s behalf, it is not appropriate for the guardians to complain directly to the property owner. Any further restrictions (for example speaking to the local authority or the media) are unlikely to be
enforceable and should be removed from your standard licences to avoid jeopardising the integrity of your entire licence.

3. Most Guardians reported they were required to buy their own fire safety packs – interestingly, the graph at Figure 5 of the Report shows that almost all guardians have a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher whilst many have additional safeguards. In terms of fire safety, it is essential that each building has a fire risk assessment to assess its particular needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’. Following that assessment, most guardian occupied buildings are likely to require some form of fire detection and an extinguisher. If there is a shared kitchen, a fire blanket may also be required. The key message you should get across to your guardians is that, in the case of a fire, urgently call 999 to speak to the fire brigade and get out of the building as safely and quickly as possible.

4. Many guardians in the study feel distressed by without notice inspections – without notice inspections are currently required to demonstrate that you retain control of the property and that the guardian does not have exclusive possession. On signing up a new guardian, make sure you explain this thoroughly to them so they can decide whether they are willing to accept this term.

5. The lack of a ‘safe space’ for the guardians to highlight complaints or concerns – make sure all your guardians know how to contact you if they need you and deal with reports promptly and proportionately.

What next?
The Housing Committee makes 11 recommendations at pages 7-9 of the Report. These recommendations are wide-ranging in nature. If applied, some would only affect properties in London (Recommendations 3 & 7) whilst others would apply throughout the country (Recommendations 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 & 11).

Some would take considerably longer than others. For example, Recommendations 1 and 6 requiring an overhaul of existing legislation and guidance would take years. During the Roundtable discussions in September, concerns were already raised about Parliamentary capacity in light of an incredibly busy time ahead with Brexit, which will undoubtedly take precedence.

The other recommendations require a substantial amount of input and resource from the London Mayor, Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Valuation Officer Agency (amongst others) providing guidance and advice in respect of multiple issues highlighted including complex housing, ratings and planning queries. The planning and business rates queries can vary between area and authorities and the opinions of different case officers can also create further issues. This is something I am considering further and can provide further thoughts on this.

Remember, the London Assembly has no power to implement its own policies and these recommendations must first be considered by the London Mayor. The London Assembly can, however, amend the Mayor’s annual budget or a mayoral strategy, on a two-thirds majority.

What can you do?
The Report will probably create some negative publicity for the sector on a short-term basis, with media outlets already picking up on its findings.

The ‘summary’ section of the report states ‘Those who are unable to afford the private rented sector, or access other accommodation, are penalised by their financial situation and accept limited legal rights in return for more affordable accommodation in the guardianship industry.’

You may choose to respond to such comments in the Report by releasing (or re-circulating) a “vision” or “statement of best practice” setting out your standards and USPs.
This Report could provide an opportunity for the sector to come together to work on building a better reputation for itself. I suggest Guardianship providers should keep discussing:
– setting up an independent body for guardians to report concerns
– a health and safety ‘charter’ which reputable guardianship companies can sign up and adhere to
– consistent licensing agreements across all reputable guardianship companies

These are all things we can help with.

Kathryn Gilbertson and I have strategies to help you deliver best practice. As a result, you will be ahead of the game in terms of compliance requirements. As always, we suggest you regularly review your standard documentation and policies to ensure they are up to date in this cutting-edge and fast-moving sector. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further

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