The following valediction was given by Martin Boyd to the audience of the APPG, for which he ceases his role as secretariat, on the evening of 7 November 2023 at the Palace of Westminster
By Martin Boyd
After many years of being allowed to chair the APPG meetings, today is my first appearance as a speaker.
As you may have read, I’ve been appointed by the minister as the new chair of the government’s Leasehold Advisory Service which is actually the Leasehold, Park Homes, and Commonhold Advisory Service and that this covers everyone from right to buy leaseholders, retirement leaseholders, shared ownership leaseholders, and leaseholders with social landlords, private landlords, RMCs, RTMs and those who own a share of their freehold.
I might also be urging the minister to consider whether we should also be able to help those on freehold estates facing service charge costs.
As I add this new hat as chair of LEASE I have to take off my hat as part of the secretariat of the APPG, but the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership will continue in the role.
I will still be keeping my hat as the chair of LKP, so if anyone thought that I might be about to disappear into public service you will be disappointed.
I would like to start by saying thanks to many people who have helped us to get to this day.
Firstly, I thank my colleagues at LKP and, in particular, Sebastian O’Kelly for putting up with me arguing that if we sat in enough meetings for enough years we might just convince people to change.
On occasions it’s been a somewhat lonely journey, especially in the early days when both the government and the sector were still convinced, or at least telling everyone, there were no problems with leasehold and that we were just wrong.
We’ve also been to some very odd meetings with ministers where we were told we were not allowed to speak.
But those days are now long gone. Maybe we did sit in enough meetings and government is persuaded we need major change. Most importantly, the articles produced on the LKP website over the last decade have shone a light on some of the more questionable practices in the sector.
I thank the co-chairs of the APPG and members of Parliament in the group for their support over the years and in particular for being brave enough to allow me to chair most of these meetings. They have given us a lot of scope to introduce a wide range of topics with a wide range of speakers.
When we started looking at commonhold in 2014 officials in Ministry of Justice, who used to oversee commonhold legislation, assured me that we were wasting our time because there was no commercial interest. It was at the very first meeting that we realised that the market was interested, but the legislation was flawed.
I should, in particular, like to thank APPG co-Chair Sir Peter for trusting us, and for Katherine O’Riordan, in Peter’s office, for doing so much to help us on leasehold issues and the organisation of the APPG.
Many of you will know of Katherine’s role in championing LKP’s efforts for justice for leaseholders to ministers over the last 10 years. Not to mention her role on overseeing the work of the APPG. I thank her for her dedication and hard work, and we hope she will continue her efforts to help us bring about the changes long overdue to this sector.
I thank Justin and Jim Fitzpatick. Justin took over his role from the redoubtable Jim Fitzpatrick [former Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse] in 2019. Justin had always been known as the apprentice as far as Jim was concerned. Justin you can now assume you’ve been hired.
I thank Daisy Cooper MP [LibDem, St Albans] and [Sir] Ed Davey [LibDem leader, Kingston and Surbiton]. Ed phoned me one day to apologise and ask if it was OK for him to stand down as co-chair and hand on the role to Daisy now he’d been made party leader.
I thank all of the non-parliamentarians who have come to the meetings, and in particular thank all the speakers.
We have always tried to be fair in having some speakers we agree with and others who may not agree with us. There have been several speakers from the sector who have given their talk believing they were in front of a highly partisan and sometimes almost angry mob.
It’s been a little secret we’ve kept for a long time – the vast majority of attendees are members of Parliament or the sector, be they lawyers, managing agents, trade bodies, landlords, surveyors or academics. The number of leaseholders in most meetings represents less than 20% of the audience. I thank the leaseholders in particular who come along for giving up their time and spending their money to attend, and for sometimes sounding like an angry mob.
The three ladies who set up the National Leasehold Campaign who have been so active over the last six years must not go without a mention [Katie Kendrick, Cath Williams and Joanne Darbyshire], but they’re not here as all three have work commitments today so we move on. I also mention the End Our Cladding Scandal and cladding groups who have been through so much. There are many others.
I would like to say thank you to the staff at LEASE who for the last nine years have been under constant review.
One year they were meant to sell more services to landlords, the next they were to provide none. They were at one point supposed to become self-funding, they were potentially to be sold, they were potentially to be split, they may not even know they were even potentially due to move to become members in the Department just before the Department’s entire leasehold team was made redundant at the start of 2016.
So my first words to the LEASE staff were – there will be no further reviews. The organisation is there to help leaseholders and it is tasked with being even more impactful. The role of the organization will be to grow along with the services we provide.
Perhaps most importantly I thank those who decided I should take on the role of chair of LEASE. That includes Ministers and others. In Sir Humphry speak some will see this appointment as a “brave decision”.
The reason why I might have been chosen is set out in two key changes to LEASE’s role.
I am to help design a system to allow LEASE to “robustly” and “regularly” engage with the government to provide “insights to DLUHC and the Welsh government on the issues that leaseholders and park homeowners are facing” with the purpose of supporting “Government action where needed”.
In short that means we get to tell the government “robustly” and “regularly” where the legislation is not working and suggest ideas on how it might be improved.
I am to help create systems to enable LEASE to work closely with the leasehold and park homeowner stakeholder groups who have had to work on their own for many years.
The specification for my role uses the words “robust” on three occasions and that’s exactly what we will be.
Maybe we are the only arm’s length government body that is not just allowed, but is actively encouraged, to challenge the government robustly and regularly. That should not be read as suggesting we will be criticising government, but we will be arguing on behalf of leaseholders and we will be highlighting issues where we see things are going wrong.
I’ve already read that some in the sector complain I might somehow fail to be “impartial”. To those I would suggest you have been far too used to the scales always being loaded against the interests of the consumer.
What LEASE will be doing is to help the sector work more effectively. We will be working with the Health and Safety Executive and the Financial Conduct Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority and Trading Standards to help share more data to help everyone to make better decisions. We will work with managing agents and developers, lenders, surveyors and all other groups to help make the sector work more efficiently.
LEASE’s new role of working with leaseholder support groups is going to be very important.
For far too long leaseholder groups have been disempowered.
One leading surveyor claimed in a tribunal hearing that strong “tenants” associations were “analogous to a militant trade union from the 1970’s”.
They are not, they are the logical means for leaseholders to share information and support each other and to have a more effective engagement with the managing agent. Wider groups could and should also be there to help share information and knowledge.
I will be arguing that LEASE has a role in helping support other groups.
I specifically reference End Our Cladding Scandal and the National Leasehold Campaign.
Why is it that the people most affected by cladding should have to give up their own time and spend their own money helping their neighbours?
Why is it the people who found themselves stuck with leasehold houses, due to poor government oversight, had to fight so hard to get a solution without any help and why have so many been stuck with homes they now can’t sell?
As we have more leaseholder and commonholder run blocks, LEASE will grow its important role to help ensure that Residents Management Companies (RMCs), Right To Manage companies (RTMs) and Commonhold directors are supported and have access to relevant training.
If the sector thinks I will be partisan, then they have misunderstood what we have been doing at LKP for the last 12 years. We have never been about just arguing the case for the leaseholders. It’s always been about getting the systems right to make this sector work.
We need managing agents who can make a profit, and too many don’t. We need them to be able to make a profit without ripping off leaseholders, and too many of them do.
We need better systems to deal with the occasional problem leaseholder. We need systems to stop landlords making secret profits. We need systems that lead to better housing not richer and richer lawyers.
Most importantly we need a change in culture that ends the idea that people “buy” homes but are then just tenants.
We need to support those who might be the most vulnerable be they in retirement, shared ownership or park homes.
We need to help end the ridiculous system where developers have been allowed to create shoddy buildings, and then use property managers to get through the dilapidation period.
There are, of course, some things I will not be allowed to do, and one is to criticise the current government or support opposition proposals that criticise the government. The key word here is current. So, I will take the opportunity to criticise previous governments.
I criticise them not because they were wrong, but because almost everyone was wrong at the time.
When I first met officials over a decade ago, a minister wrote to my MP to say: “It is clear that Mr Boyd does not agree with the government’s approach and is, of course, free to seek to persuade me of his views.”
Ministers were also arguing that the leasehold system was “mostly working well”, and needed to “balance the interest between the landlord and the tenant”.
It’s taken 12 years and a lot of work from a lot of people, but as both the housing minister and the secretary of state, and now all the opposition parties, have made clear: they accept the leasehold system has reached the end of its life and it is time for it to go gentle into that good night.
The King’s Speech makes clear that change has begun. There will be lots of questions about whether more could have been done sooner, and what more will be needed in future legislation.
My role from now on is to ensure that LEASE will be playing a very active role in helping argue for a better housing market and one that works a lot more effectively for consumers.