Sir Julian Lewis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister, for whom I have a great deal of time and respect, but it seems to me that he is talking about tinkering at the edges and improving a fundamentally unfair system. I would gently remind him of an exchange I had with the Secretary of State on 20 February this year, when I asked if there was going to be fundamental reform and he replied:
“We hope, in the forthcoming King’s Speech, to introduce legislation to fundamentally reform the system. Leaseholders, not just in this case but in so many other cases, are held to ransom by freeholders. We need to end this feudal form of tenure and ensure individuals have the right to enjoy their own property fully.” – [Official Report, 20 February 2023; Vol. 728, c. 3.]
Do I detect a basic shift away from this position? I earnestly hope not.
[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Lee Rowley): My right hon. Friend highlights the importance of reform in this area and the cross-party nature of the support for it. I would not read anything into my comments other than that we are committing to reform, we have said we will bring it forward and we will bring it forward. It will happen in the remainder of this Parliament.
Part of that reform will involve reforming unreasonable and excessive service charges. Many landlords and managing agents already demonstrate good practice and provide significant and relevant information to leaseholders, but too many are failing to meet that standard and failing to provide sufficient information or sufficient clarity. We recognise that existing statutory requirements do not go far enough to enable leaseholders to identify and challenge unfair costs. We will therefore act to improve this through better communication around these charges, and a clearer route to challenge or seek redress if things go wrong. That will ensure that leaseholders better understand what they are paying for and can more effectively challenge their landlord if fees are unreasonable, and make it harder for landlords to hide unreasonable or unfair charges.]
Sir Julian Lewis: I declare an interest, as both a leaseholder and the owner of one buy-to-let flat. I have the direct experience of having had a top-floor flat and having had another floor and a roof garden built above it. After all the faults came about, many of which still persist, guess who had to pay, in one case more than £200,000, for remedying them? It was the leaseholders, not the freeholder.