Wednesday, 1 April 2015

More on short lets in Greater London

I am grateful to Sheridan Westlake (who until the end of last week was a Special Adviser - a ‘SPAD’ - at De-CLoG, before going off to work for the Tory re-election campaign) for drawing my attention to the Deregulation Act 2015 (Commencement No. 1 and Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2015 (2015 No. 994 (C. 69)), which was made on 27 March, but has not yet been laid before parliament. This will have to await the summoning of a new parliament on 18 May.

Article 6 provides that the date appointed for the coming into force of sections 44 and 45 of the Act (dealing with the relaxation of restrictions on short-term use of London accommodation) is 26 May 2015. Some of the other provisions of the Act are due to come into force in April, but I confess that I am puzzled as to the legality of this, in the absence of this statutory instrument having been laid before parliament. At the head of the SI one usually expects to see three dates – the date the SI was made, the date it was laid before parliament and, finally, the date when the SI takes effect. Only the date on which the SI was made is shown, and so I am left in doubt as to whether this Commencement Order will in fact be effective until after the next session of parliament commences.

I confess to being very rusty indeed on my basic constitutional and administrative law, including parliamentary procedure, so I remain completely in the dark so far as the current legal status of this Commencement Order is concerned, especially during the hiatus between the dissolution of one parliament and the summoning of the next.

Just to recap on the existing legislation, section 25 of the Greater London (General Powers) Act 1973 (as amended) provides that for the purposes of section [55(1) of the 1990 Act], the use as temporary sleeping accommodation of any residential premises in Greater London involves a material change of use of the premises and of each part thereof which is so used. “ Use as temporary sleeping accommodation” in this context means use as sleeping accommodation which is occupied by the same person for less than 90 consecutive nights [originally 22 nights] and which is provided (with or without other services) for a consideration arising either by way of trade for money or money's worth; or by reason of the employment of the occupant; whether or not the relationship of landlord and tenant is thereby created.

What section 44 will do (when it comes into effect on 26 May) is to make section 25 of the 1973 Act subject to a new section 25A. This provides that, notwithstanding the provisions of section 25(1), the use as temporary sleeping accommodation (i.e. for less than 90 days) of any residential premises in Greater London does not involve a material change of use if two conditions are met.

These are, first, that the sum of the number of nights of use as temporary sleeping accommodation, and the number of nights (if any) of each previous use of the premises as temporary sleeping accommodation in the same calendar year, does not exceed 90 and, secondly, that, in respect of each night which falls to be counted in this way, the person who provided the sleeping accommodation for the night (i.e. the owner or normal occupier) was liable to pay council tax in respect of the premises. If more than one person provided the sleeping accommodation for the night, then it’s OK if at least one of those persons was liable to pay council tax in respect of the premises. And it does not matter whether any previous use was by the same person. (I confess that I am not quite sure what difference dection 25A makes, compared with section 25 itself.)

The second new section (25B) gives either the local planning authority or the Secretary of State the power to direct that section 25A is not to apply to specified residential premises, or to residential premises situated in a particular area. A direction under this section can be given only if the local planning authority or the Secretary of State considers that it is necessary to protect the amenity of the locality. The local planning authority may give a direction under this section only with the consent of the Secretary of State. A direction under this section can be revoked at any time, but only by the person (i.e. the LPA or the S of S) who gave it. A direction is not subordinate legislation, and is not therefore subject to the usual legislative formalities, but this power will not arise before 26 May.

The Secretary of State may delegate his functions under this section to an LPA, or may direct that an LPA may give directions under this section without his consent (although he can also revoke such a delegation or direction).

The Secretary of State also has power by means of a statutory instrument to make regulations providing for the procedure which must be followed in connection with the giving of a direction under this section or in connection with its revocation, and as to the information which must be provided where the LPA seeks the consent of the Secretary of State to their giving a direction under this section.

Section 45 of the Deregulation Act then goes on to give the Secretary of State the power, by means of a statutory instrument, to make regulations to disapply section 25(1) of the 1973 Act if conditions specified by those regulations are met. The regulations must include provisions corresponding to section 25B but, subject to that, they may amend the 1973 Act, and may make different provisions for different purposes, and they may include incidental, supplementary, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provisions. A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

It was section 45 of the 2015 Act I had in mind in pointing out that the Secretary of State would run out of time (and has now run out of time) in which to make any such regulations before the General Election. I didn’t follow the Deregulation Bill in its passage through parliament, other than to note its general progress, but I am under the impression that sections 44 and 45 as they have emerged in the Act differ somewhat from the original draft of the Bill, and that the amendments made during the passage of the Bill may well have been intended to overcome this time problem by allowing changes to the rules in advance of any statutory instrument being made.

If so, then it seems that Uncle Eric has ultimately been frustrated, and the intended relaxation of the rules on short-term lets in Greater London will have to await the pleasure of the next Secretary of State.


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