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All hail the Rugg Review

16 Jan 10 | Re: Democracy in action

In November, I wrote to my MP for the first time about letting agency fees (I won’t go too far into it just now, but briefly I think that the way the system works makes the exploitation of tenants inevitable). I’ve been reasonably pleased with the response.

After my initial email to David Howarth’s office I got a fairly speedy email acknowledgement followed by a letter two weeks later. The letter enclosed another letter Mr Howarth had written to none other than Lord Mandelson to pass on my concerns, since letting agencies fall within Mandelson’s super-department, along with greengrocers, inventors, teacher training colleges and a twinkling miscellany of other incidentalia. The tension had now been ratcheted up - I might get a communication from the Grand High Poo-Bah himself.

I waited, agog, until yesterday when I received my reply. The House of Commons envelope was an early clue that I had not in fact been personally contacted by Lord Mandelson, and so it proved: the reply was from one Ian Austin MP at the Department for Communities and Local Government. It appears that letting agencies are not part of Mandelson’s remit after all. Perhaps David Howarth simply uses him as a repository for all queries whose rightful destination isn’t immediately clear.

Ian Austin is a man, it seems, of some competence, though his handwriting is rather a scrawl. If you want to read more about him, a diligent, friendly-looking under-secretary toiling under the scattershot sway of John Denham, you can do so here. His letter contained no end of encouraging information: the Government is already planning to start regulating the hated letting agencies, and back their pronouncements up with “an effective system of redress”. This is in response to the little-known Rugg Review of 2008. Shout-outs to Julie Rugg and David Rhodes of the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York.

Now, I follow the news and I have never heard of the Rugg Review, yet if it does manage to reduce the arbitrary, exploitative and unjust fees that agencies charge at the moment then it will be one of the most important acts of government for years, improving the lot of millions of ordinary people. You would think a Labour government would make a bit more political capital out of something like that. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that you can write to your MP and get an informative and worthwhile response. I hope all MPs are as attentive as David Howarth.

It’s also worth mentioning that Mr Howarth came out of the expenses scandal very well indeed: a good guy all round. Shame I’ve heard he won’t be standing at the next election.


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