Thursday, 31 July 2014

Short-term lets in Greater London - the proposed relaxation

Since I last blogged on this topic on Friday 13 June (Announcing it twice. Announcing it twice.), the promised new clause has been added to the Deregulation Bill. It was originally New Clause 21, but numbers are liable to change as further amendments are added to the Bill and, when I looked the other day, it had become Clause 34. I am making no guesses as to what the section number in the new Act will eventually be!

The clause is headed “Short-term use of London accommodation: power to relax restrictions”. It is purely an enabling power, so we still don’t know precisely how, to what extent, and indeed when, the government will relax the current rule on short-term lets in Greater London.

The new clause will give the Secretary of State power to make regulations by statutory instrument which will provide for the circumstances in which the use as temporary sleeping accommodation of any residential premises in Greater London does not involve a material change of use by virtue of section 25(1) of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973.

The regulations may also enable the Secretary of State or an LPA to direct that any provision included in those regulations will not apply to particular residential premises or to residential premises situated in a particular area. So there will be an opt-out which some of the London Boroughs will be eager to use (always assuming that power is not reserved to the Secretary of State to override the LPA’s direction, as he can in the case of Article 4 Directions).

The regulations may also in themselves amend the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973, and there is a catch-all power that allows them to make different provisions for different purposes and/or include incidental, supplementary, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provisions. This really does give the Secretary of State carte blanche.

So we are really none the wiser for having seen the new clause. Government press releases are not a reliable guide to what is really intended, or whether those intentions will in practice be achieved by the proposed regulations. Given the dire performance of civil servants in drafting subordinate legislation over the years, I am not confident that they will actually do what it says on the tin. Only time will tell.

I have already pointed out the dangers of substantially removing the existing restrictions in section 25(1) of the 1973 Act ( - see Short-term lets in Greater London posted on Tuesday, 25 February 2014), and I know that these concerns are shared by other commentators, such as Michael Bach, as set out in his article on this topic in the Summer 2014 issue of “newsforum”, the journal of the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies. Planning officers and others concerned with planning and housing throughout the Greater London area will be equally worried by the implications of the proposed changes.

For the time being, we have no choice but to wait and see what eventually emerges. There is at least one advantage of the method by which the government has chosen to deal with issue; a future government could use the enabling powers to restore the restriction on short-term lets in the capital without having to pass any amending primary legislation. Nice one, Sir Humphrey!



  1. when do you anticipate that the changes relevant to short term lets will actually be passed in law? There's a lot of discussion about this at the moment but no obvious timescale or date

  2. The proposed relaxation of the short-term letting restrictions in Greater London (which may prove to be more limited than ministers may originally have implied) is a two-stage process. The first stage is the passing of enabling legislation.

    This is incorporated in the Deregulation Bill, which is still wending its way through the parliamentary process. The Bill is currently in its committee stage in the House of Lords, having been introduced in the Commons and having passed all its stages in that house. I don’t know what the expected timetable is for the remaining stages of the Bill, but there will be several more days of debate in committee, followed by the report stage. Any Lords amendments will then have to be passed to the Commons and there is then a process jokingly referred to as ‘ping-pong’ when these amendments pass to and fro between the two houses before finally being agreed, and the Bill can then go forward for Royal Assent. I have no idea whether there is any chance that this can be achieved before the Christmas recess. Off-hand I don’t know when the various sections of the Act (as it will then be) will be brought into force, but it will probably be dependent on a series of Commencement Orders being made, rather than the Act’s taking effect immediately upon Royal Assent (although some sections of the Act, including powers enabling subordinate legislation to be made, could possibly take immediate effect).

    The second stage of the process will then be the making of subordinate legislation under the power granted to the Secretary of State by the Deregulation Act. Civil servants could be getting on with drafting this now, so that the requisite S.I. will be ready to be made immediately the necessary power to do so comes into force, but De-CLoG has quite an ambitious programme of subordinate legislation on its plate already, so this one may not have priority. Other S.Is in the pipeline include further amendments to the GPDO, possible consolidation to the GPDO, corresponding amendments to the UCO and DMPO, followed by possible consolidation of the latter, etc., etc.

    So the answer to the question raised by my correspondent to-day is - Don’t hold your breath.