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Queen’s Speech: Energy, fake reviews, package travel and evictions on the agenda

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10/05/2022
Prince Charles today delivered the Queen’s Speech which included reference to 38 bills being progressed by the government. Here are the top takeaways.

In a change to tradition, and on account of the Queen’s mobility issues, Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s agenda for the next session.

It made brief reference to 38 different bills. But accompanying documents revealed the following reforms and actions being taken by the government:

Renters Reform Bill

The government confirmed it will fulfill its manifesto commitment to abolish ‘no fault’ Section. 21 evictions in England to “empower” renters to challenge poor practice and unfair rent increases without fear of retaliatory eviction.

Further, it will strengthen landlords’ rights of possession by introducing new and stronger grounds for repeated incidences of rent arrears and reducing notice periods for anti-social behaviour, ensuring that they can regain their property efficiently when needed.

It wants to deliver on its levelling up mission to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030 and “create a rental market that is fairer and more effective for tenants and landlords”.

It comes as around one million (21%) private rental homes don’t meet the Decent Homes Standard. This is down from 41% in 2009 but “still much higher than other tenures”, the government said (12% of social sector homes and 16% of owner-occupied homes).

The reforms will lead to 4.4 million households in more secure and higher quality homes. It will give local councils “effective tools to crack down on the minority of non-compliant landlords and poor practice”.

The government will also introduce a new ombudsman for private landlords so that disputes can easily be resolved without the need to go to court, which is often costly and lengthy, and ensure that when residents make a complaint, landlords take action to put things right.

And it will also seek to introduce a new property portal to help landlords understand their obligations and give tenants performance information to hold their landlord to account.

The government added it will shortly publish a White Paper which will set out more detail on its proposals for “landmark reform” in the private rented sector.

Energy Security Bill

The Bill aims to “maintain a safe and secure energy supply” as well as helping to protect customers against global price fluctuations.

The government confirmed it will extend the energy price cap beyond 2023 to protect 22 million people on default tariffs from unfair pricing. It stated: “The energy price cap is the best safety net for millions, preventing suppliers from overcharging consumers. The Bill will enable the extension of the price cap beyond 2023.”

Further, the heat networks sector will be regulated by Ofgem to ensure people get a “fair price and a reliable supply of heat”. Earlier this year, YourMoney.com revealed nearly half a million households were trapped in unregulated heat networks, unable to switch suppliers amid the soaring energy costs. There were plans to regulate the sector, and the government has now confirmed this will go ahead. YourMoney.com has contacted No.10 to find out if a date for regulation has been set. We’ll update this article once we hear back.

Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill

The government said it wants to promote competition, strengthen consumer rights and to protect households and businesses.

The main benefits of the Bill will be to prevent fake reviews so people have information they can trust. It will update consumer law to prohibit commissioning fake reviews, offering to provide fake reviews, or hosting consumer reviews without taking “reasonable steps” to ensure reviews are genuine.

Research from 2015 estimated £23bn of purchases a year are influenced by online reviews. And estimates revealed that up to 50% of reviews on 36 popular e-commerce websites weren’t genuine and that fake reviews make people more than twice as likely to choose poor-quality products.

The Competition and Markets Authority will have powers to take “swift action”, by deciding for itself when consumer law has been broken, and to issue monetary penalties for those breaches.

Ultimately, it wants to see more choice and better quality services for consumers and businesses which will lower prices for everyday goods and services that rely on online advertising.

Further, the Bill will tackle subscription traps by requiring businesses to provide clearer information to customers and to send reminders before a contract auto-renews. This comes as government research estimates that people hold £1.8bn worth of unwanted subscriptions.

And it aims to strengthen protections for customers using Christmas savings clubs and other similar schemes, which are not currently regulated.

Regulations for package travel will also be simplified so more businesses comply with the law, with non-flight packages being better protected. It also wants to see the quality of information and guidance improved.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

The government said the Bill aims to ensure that people across the UK continue to be able to access their own cash with ease.

This will “ensure the continued availability of withdrawal and deposit facilities across the UK, and that the country’s cash infrastructure is sustainable for the long-term”, it said.

The government added that cash remains an important payment method for millions of people across the UK, particularly those in vulnerable groups, and “it is committed to preserving it”.

It comes as research revealed around 5.4 million adults (10%) rely on cash to a very great or great extent in their daily lives.

Banks can also be required by the regulator to reimburse victims of authorised push payment (APP) fraud, “totalling hundreds of millions of pounds each year”. This will ensure victims are not left paying for fraud through no fault of their own, the government added.

The omissions

Jamie Jenkins, director of policy and external affairs at Royal London, said: “As anticipated, there was little in the way of pensions news in the Queen’s Speech. In practice, there is no shortage of activity on pensions with a national awareness campaign starting later this year, followed by the launch of the first Pensions Dashboard in 2023.

“However, we do need to consider how we build on the success of automatic enrolment, which reaches its 10-year anniversary later this year. The recommendations of the 2017 review – removing the Lower Earnings Limit on contributions and reducing the minimum entry age to 18 – have still to be firmly planned. It looks increasingly unlikely that this will be implemented by the mid-2020s target.

“Beyond that, we need to give employers and employees notice if we are to move contribution rates up from their current 8% level, a move which now seems to carry widespread consensus.

Karen Noye, mortgage expert at Quilter, said: “The government has set out some levelling up plans to address the housing and rental market but none of them truly tackle the root cause of the problem which is that there is simply not enough housing stock in the UK. This ultimately pushes prices up as people scramble for property and the only cure is a radical house building plan that enables people to buy good quality homes at a fair price that stand the test of time.

“The government has also set out their renter’s reform bill abolish section 21 orders, which abolish landlords being able to throw out their tenants with eight-weeks’ notice without explaining why. Similarly, it has committed to improving the condition of rented housing stock. All good news, but ultimately, we need to help more people get their first foot on the property ladder so they can build up equity and enjoy some of the wealth creation opportunities that generations before have enjoyed from housing. Fixing the rental market is needed and understandable but is a sticking plaster that fails to address a much larger problem.”

Myron Jobson, senior personal finance analyst at Interactive Investor, said: “The cost-of-living crisis was addressed off the bat, but the measures listed in the breakdown of policies being taken forward included few new announcements to help people with the biggest fall in living standards in generations.

“It seems that after two years of Covid support measures, households have now largely been left to go it alone, a terrifying prospect given inflation forecasts of up to 10% for the rest of the year.

“As things stands, many household budgets are set to be obliterated by the growing cost-of-living storm, which is set to go from bad to worse with the energy price cap set to rise again in October. As such, it is vital people think about how to fortify their finances against rising prices and consider what protective steps are necessary to take now to avoid money worries later.”

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