The government is urging agents and landlords to be “considerate” when deciding whether to accept tenants on the basis of their references.
The unusual comment came from Housing Minister Chris Pincher in a written Parliamentary answer to Vicky Foxcroft, a Labour MP.
Pincher said “contextual information” from previous landlords and agents, regarding a tenant’s payment holidays, should contribute to the decision.
Foxcroft, who represents the London constituency of Lewisham Deptford, asked what steps were being taken by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to protect the right to a fair reference for tenants in the private rental sector.
Pincher responded: “The reference process is a private matter between the parties involved and not something it would be appropriate for the government to intervene in.
“Landlords and letting agents may wish to obtain references from their prospective tenant’s former landlords or letting agent but cannot charge the tenant a fee for this process.
“As part of the referencing process, landlords may take into account various factors when deciding whether to let to a tenant, including previous or outstanding rent arrears.
“Where these factors have been adversely affected by circumstances arising from the Coronavirus outbreak, we would encourage landlords and letting agents to be considerate of this when deciding whether to accept or recommend such tenants.
“When completing the referencing process, both the previous landlord and prospective tenant should therefore provide any necessary contextual information to aid these considerations. For example, this could include details of any voluntary arrangements or payment holidays which were agreed.”
Foxcroft also asked Pincher what steps his department was taking to support shielding private tenants whose landlord may request that a third party access their property at short notice - for example, for maintenance.
Pincher told her: “Tenants have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their property and must be given at least 24 hours’ notice of any visit to the property. If a tenant is self-isolating, no work should be carried out in their home unless it is to remedy a direct risk that affects their safety or the safety of their household.
“Landlords of clinically extremely vulnerable people can carry out routine repairs and inspections, provided the latest guidance on social distancing, working safely in people’s homes and guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals is followed.
“It remains a crime for a landlord to harass a tenant. Tenants who are concerned should contact their local authority or the police.”