We commend the House of Lords for its reasoned engagement with the property guardian sector
- Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb triggered a debate on property guardians on 15th October
- There was cross-party acknowledgment that, done well, property guardianship is a positive force in the housing sector
- Dot Dot Dot was the only property guardian company mentioned by name during the debate, cited as an example of good practice and the sector’s potential to make a difference
- We support the Lords’ calls for government involvement in ensuring all property guardian providers raise their standards
- The debate highlights the importance of better communication and enforcement of current laws, which we welcome and have been working to achieve since our inception
Baroness Jones was building on her Green Party colleague Sian Berry’s work in this area. Berry is Chair of the Housing Committee of the London Assembly, and the report which the Assembly released in February 2018 was referenced throughout the House of Lords debate.
The value of the legal White Paper ‘The Law on Property Guardianship’
We agree with those in the House that the report contains much valuable research and some sensible recommendations for government and the sector. However, it also contains several important inaccuracies around safety and rights, which were repeated in the House debate. As we stated in our response to the London Assembly report:
Our determination to provide guardians with good homes, and our desire to encourage others in the industry to do likewise, is the primary reason behind the publication of a survey of guardians’ and property owners’ rights, ‘The Law on Property Guardianship’. Along with six other property guardian companies, we commissioned leading experts Giles Peaker and Michael Arden QC to create a document which is cited by the report as a step towards regulatory clarity.
These experts agreed that health and safety requirements apply to all buildings where Property Guardians live, whether they are commercial, residential or other types, and that fire safety, gas safety and any potential on-site hazards fall under the same regulations as tenants, and are enforceable by the same authorities. We believe that the London Assembly could have placed more emphasis on enforcement of existing laws, as this could be effective immediately in achieving the goals of the report.
We therefore believe Baroness Jones errs when she says, “the law has not kept up with this new form of renting and such property guardians have no legal protection.” However, we wholeheartedly agree with her that government at a national and local level could do more to hold property guardian companies to account in ensuring that all their residents receive the full benefit of the laws as they stand.
The benefits of property guardianship, especially the Dot Dot Dot approach
Lord Shipley neatly summarised many of the benefits of property guardianship for landlords and residents and we’re grateful for his positive mention of our unique approach, as the only social enterprise in the sector:
“It gives opportunities too for social enterprise and, through social enterprise, for volunteering. I noticed that one of the companies involved, Dot Dot Dot, has a requirement for 16 hours of volunteering a month. This approach is to be commended.”
We are proud of retaining our unique identity in this growing sector. Our mission is to take buildings which would otherwise be empty and put them to use as good, inexpensive homes for people who want to volunteer for charities.
Highlighting bad practice and publicising standards to be expected from providers
Lord Beecham noted some important, negative findings in the London Assembly report about the standard experience of property guardians: complaints about the condition of properties, gagging clauses in legal agreements and the average of £148 administration fee for reference, fire safety and criminal record checks. We are aware that this happens in the industry, and this is why we take a different path from our competitors.
We have never charged guardians administrative fees, we provide all fire safety equipment as standard, and our contracts have never included gagging clauses. From the beginning, we have been particularly attentive to the reliability and quality of our service for everyone involved. In 2016 we published the standards we work to, so that guardians fully understand the basis on which they are housed, and can hold us to account if their expectations are not met. We are a business motivated by having a positive impact on the world and have no incentives to cut corners or make a fast buck.
The Government’s next steps and Dot Dot Dot’s ask
In closing the debate, Lord Bourne, the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for the MHCLG and Wales Office, responded positively and constructively and said that he considers property guardianship a serious matter and one that he will not dismiss.
“Improving enforcement guidance seems to me quite important, because, as I say, there are rights at the moment, and maybe they are not always enforced or known… options that I want to probe certainly involve best practice and disseminating it.”
Our further ask of the Government would be to consider ‘The Law on Property Guardianship’ White Paper as part of the toolkit of best practice, which it will work to disseminate to all stakeholders. Before any significant changes are planned or implemented regarding regulation or the law, it is important that everyone understands the status quo.
Furthermore, we welcome opportunities to participate in consultations on options for Government involvement in the sector, whether at the national or local level.
Katharine Hibbert, Dot Dot Dot’s founder, said:
“I’m glad that property guardianship is beginning to get the political attention it deserves as a small but growing sector with potential to make a significant difference to the people it houses.
“I welcome the emphasis the Lords have placed on raising standards across the property guardian industry – this will ensure that more people can benefit from good, well-managed, inexpensive homes in buildings that would otherwise be empty, and will create a level playing field for responsible providers.
“We look forward to working with politicians and regulators, with our industry peers and with all clients and stakeholders to ensure property guardianship works for the benefit of everyone involved.”