Posted by: Tom Lloyd25/06/2012
Last week the housing minister Grant Shapps said he would back a private members bill put forward by Conservative MP for Watford Richard Harrington to making subletting a criminal – rather than civil - offence. This sounds fairly straightforward, but there are a couple of issues.
Firstly, as has been argued before on this blog, and somewhat more authoritatively on Nearly Legal, subletting is already frequently prosecuted as fraud – which is a criminal offence. Creating a specific offence of tenancy fraud might help a little bit, but it isn’t going to eradicate subletting in one fell swoop, as the government’s press releases on the subject seem to suggest.
The other problem is to do with process. Ministers have been talking about making subletting illegal for years, but in January this year we finally got some concrete proposals. These were put out for consultation, with a summary of responses published in April.
We are still waiting for the government response to the consultation, saying whether or not it will go ahead with the plans. So if the government hasn’t yet decided what to do on subletting, why is it backing a private members bill on the subject?
It feels a bit like this is being done through the back door, and is vaguely reminiscent of the feed-in tariff fiasco where the government got itself into all sorts of legal trouble by cutting payments for electricity generated from photovoltaic panels before a consultation on the subject had even closed.
If the government feels there are genuine gains to be made by creating a specific offence of tenancy fraud, despite legal claims to the contrary, then it should bring forward legislation in the usual manner to prove it rather than supporting a backbench bill.
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