'Lease victims' win new powers

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Political Correspondent

The Government yesterday announced plans to improve protection for leaseholders against unscrupulous landlords, but abandoned plans to give grants to private companies to build social housing.

In the Housing Bill to be published today, John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, has responded to a campaign by the London Evening Standard to crack down on the "predatory activities" of bad freeholders.

He will bring in amendments to give leaseholders new powers to appoint a manager for a block of flats when landlords are negligent in maintaining their properties. He proposes that it should be a criminal offence for freeholders to fail to offer leaseholders first refusal when freeholds change hands.

And he plans to stop a loophole in the 1993 Leasehold Reform Act whereby landlords split a freehold to avoid giving groups of leaseholders the right to buy their freehold.

But the Government has in effect abandoned attempts to allow private developers to build subsidised housing for council tenants. Government sources said further consultation was needed, and the measure would not be introduced in this parliamentary session.

Because the Housing Bill threatened to become the "biggest piece of legislation ever laid before parliament", it has been split into two Bills, one of which will be published today, the other, called the Construction and Regeneration Bill, will be introduced in the House of Lords next month.

The Housing Bill will confirm that local councils will be required to house families in temporary, rather than permanent, accommodation. Although the rhetoric of stopping pregnant teenagers jumping the housing queue has been abandoned, the housing charity Shelter insisted that the measure would increase misery for families with children.

Ministerial sources said the Bill was about housing on the basis of "need not morality".