But will the government unravel before implementation?
By Sebastian O’Kelly
For the first time in the ten-year struggle of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership we have in Lucy Frazer KC a housing minister who seems to understand at the outset leasehold’s injustices and how legal stratagems invariably keep freeholders coming out on top.
She told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold and commonhold reform on 12 December that she had read the Law Commission reports on leasehold reform. As she is a former senior barrister, leaseholders may be optimistic that she understood them, too.
Mrs Frazer was particularly alert to the incessant gaming of legal costs, which account for so many of landlords’ easy victories in the ever-accommodating property tribunal. Of course, many other challenges never get started because of the unbalanced cost regime.
Put simply: landlords get their costs under the lease, leaseholders can blow a packet on lawyers but will never get theirs.
“We are really keen to look at the issue about costs,” Mrs Frazer told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold and commonhold reform on 12 December.
“I know, as a former lawyer, that costs are a reason why people sometimes don’t take things to court, and they can escalate. And so we do want to make sure that the system process is fair and that leaseholders will be able to recover their costs.
“And leaseholders should not be subjected to unjustified legal costs.”
Sir Peter Bottomley, the APPG co-chair, added for good measure that she needed to look at leaseholders excluded from the insurance ombudsman because they are not a legal party to landlord-placed insurance contracts (although they pay for it all).
Mrs Frazer promised to do so.
Overall, the minister went out of her way to reassure leaseholders than the leasehold reform agenda is a priority and that the government is fully committed – even though, as Lord Truscott (Labour) pointed out, it only has 18 months or so to deliver.
The minister said:
“Leasehold reform is absolutely critical to the government and we have a secretary of state (Michael Gove) who has a reputation for delivering significant reforms, and it is very important to be working with him on that agenda …
“I think we have a shared agenda to end unfair practices in the leasehold market and I know, and I’ve read the Law Commission’s important recommendations in this area.”
A number of questioners in the audience quizzed the minister on when these reforms would come in, the most noteworthy came from former leasehold and cladding minister Lord (Stephen) Greenhalgh.
He asked where the leasehold reforms stood within the wider housing agenda of levelling up, increasing supply, planning and private rented sector reforms.
“I fear that might be a question to ask the secretary of state,” was the minister’s reply.
Leaseholders will be eager to see whether leasehold reform makes it into the King’s Speech next year, as it was reputedly pushed out of the Queen’s Speech in April by Boris Johnson’s Number 10 strategists, before his own removal.
Of course, a big concern then will be whether the leasehold reforms – outlined in the Law Commission, understood and refined by officials – actually gets over the line before the expected election in 2024.
The minister said:
“I know that the Law Commission has done significant amount of work on this issue, and I’d like to thank them for their extremely detailed work.
“They’ve made over 300 recommendations. And I have spent hours with the team in the department building up my understanding of the issues that you’ve been looking at for some time.
“Because I want to consider all those recommendations in detail to see how we can bring them forward and make sure we get it right, because we do want legislation that works.”
She also made clear that issues concerning building safety are part of the portfolio of Lee Rowley, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government and Building Safety.