The Act is now in force, having received Royal Assent on 17 September 2014. However, the majority of its provisions still need to be brought into effect by further commencement orders by the Welsh Ministers over the next two years. The Act is wide ranging and covers private rented housing, homelessness, gypsies and travellers, standards for local authority tenants and changes to housing finance, council tax and fully mutual housing associations.
Private rented sector
By requiring all landlords in the private rented sector to be registered and suitably trained as ‘fit and proper’ the Welsh Government are hoping to improve standards in the sector. The licence issued will last for five years and all licence holders are required to comply with the Code of Practice containing letting and management standards. The licensing authority will also be able to include other conditions as applicable. Licences can be revoked if a condition is breached or if the landlord is no longer considered ‘fit and proper’. Landlords must be licensed or must arrange for a licensed letting agent to carry out activities on their behalf. It is expected that the requirement to register and become licensed will come into force in autumn 2015.
The Welsh Government is also currently consulting on the ” model contract” and guidance to be issued as part of the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill, designed to replace assured shorthold tenancies and simplify and standardise the rental process. The consultation ends on 10 October 2014.
The Act includes a new strengthened duty on local authorities to take reasonable steps to prevent and relieve homelessness, with an emphasis on prevention and extension of the definition of “Threatened with Homelessness” from 28 days to 56 days. Local authorities will be able to discharge their homelessness duty through suitable accommodation in the private rented housing sector as long as it is likely to last for six months. The main changes to homelessness legislation will take effect from April 2015.
Gypsies and travellers
The Act requires local authorities to undertake Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments and includes a duty on local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers where a need has been identified in those Assessments, which is likely to commence in March 2016. Where the need for sites has been identified, but not met, there is a power which enables Welsh Ministers to compel local authorities to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities. Sites will need planning permission in the same way as any other development.
Standards for local authority tenants
The eleven local housing authorities which have retained their stock will have to ensure that all existing properties meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by 2020 and that the standard is maintained. The Welsh Ministers have developed a new policy for social housing rents that will be applied consistently by all social landlords and reflect the type, size, location and quality of the landlord’s properties and will need to be adopted by all local housing authorities following exit from the current Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system. The Act also puts in place the necessary arrangements, procedures and timescales to enable local housing authorities to exit the subsidy system, enabling local authorities to become self financing.
Local authorities will have the power to introduce, should they wish to do so, an increased rate of council tax as another means of tackling the problem of empty homes and the impact on local housing supply in some areas.
Fully mutual housing associations
In allowing fully mutual housing co-operatives to grant assured tenancies, it will allow them to use standard and well-understood tenancy agreements and remove a known difficulty with occupancy agreement between cooperatives and their members.