The Housing Bill: just for starters

Originally posted on January 6 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

MPs staggered bleary eyed from the House of Commons at 2am last night without even getting to the most contentious parts of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Despite a series of obituaries for council housing and a ‘Kill the Bill’ protest outside, issues such as forced high-value sales, Pay to Stay and the voluntary Right to Buy will only be considered on day two of the report stage debate (set for next Tuesday, January 12).

Last night’s five-hour debate included starter homes, the regulation of housing associations, rogue landlords and the planning system. Opposition MPs complained that 65 pages of new clauses and amendments had been added at the last minute to a Bill that was only 145 pages long.

I blogged back in October that this a Bill written on the back of a fag packet and last night only confirmed that impression. The Bill also leaves a series of crucial decisions to be made by ministers by regulation later.

Nothing sums this up more than new clause 31 on planning obligations and affordable housing. This adds starter homes selling for up to £450,000 to the existing definition of affordable housing: homes for people whose needs are not adequately served by the market. However, it also adds that:

‘The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section so as to modify the definition of “affordable housing”.’

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10 things about 2015: part 1

Originally posted on December 30 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Has there ever been a year quite like it for housing? Here’s the first part of my look back at the issues I’ve been blogging about in 2015. 

1) Be careful what you wish for

It was the year that Homes for Britain became Home Ownership for Britain as political campaigning turned into political salvaging. Housing professionals may made their case from Land’s End to London, filled the Albert Hall and secured wide ranging support for its case for more homes. But the election result changed all that – and many of them had booed the representative of the party that won.

True, housing and the need for new homes moved up the political agenda as the year went on but not quite in the way campaigners had imagined. As the election neared the Tories promised a ‘housing revolution’. What amounted to Plan C, the third revolution in five years, took a poor record on supply, and traded it in for what amounted to homes for votes on a grand scale. The campaigners who had filled the Albert Hall found themselves facing the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants.

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Give and take: the spending review and housing benefit

Originally posted on November 17 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Two separate reports over the weekend claimed that housing benefit is being targeted by George Osborne for £2bn worth of savings to fix his tax credits debacle.

Iain Duncan Smith famously responded to Osborne’s July Budget ‘triumph’ with a fist-pumping celebration. The triumph soon began to crumble it became clear that the Budget really amounted to a message to work hard, do the right thing – and get screwed. As that realisation dawned, the scene was set for a struggle between the two Cabinet ministers played out in media briefings over an apparent raid on universal credit to pay for mitigation.

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Rent control moves closer to home

Whether you’re for or against measures to control private sector rents, it’s going to be worth watching closely what happens to new legislation in Ireland.

After a long row between the Irish coalition partners, the government has finally agreed a package of measures designed to give ‘rent certainty’ to tenants until supply increases. The package includes:

  • For the next four years, landlords will only be allowed to increase their rents once every 24 months rather than 12 months as at present
  • Landlords will have to give 90 days notice of any increase (up from 28)
  • Landlords will have to provide evidence that any future increases are in line with the local market rate and inform tenants of their legal right to challenge them
  • Tenants will have stronger protection against unscrupulous landlords who falsely declare they need to sell the home or move in a family member: landlords will have to sign a statutory declaration and face fines if it is invalid
  • Landlords who house tenants on social security will get 100% mortgage tax relief against their rent (up from 75%).

Note that ‘rent certainty’ is not the same thing as rent control. What’s interesting about the package from this side of the Irish Sea is that it anticipates – and goes beyond – all of the points raised in the growing debate on rent regulation here. The Scottish Government is dipping its toe in the water with a Bill that will allow local rent control in rent pressure areas while Labour will call for new powers to freeze rents in London if Sadiq Khan wins next year’s mayoral election.

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Back to the future

Originally posted on September 15 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The first Communities and Local Government questions with a new opposition brought some familiar faces – and issues – back into the limelight.

The Labour reshuffle following the election of Jeremy Corbyn gave the shadow DCLG team only a couple of hours to prepare so it was just as well that shadow communities secretary Jon Trickett had an experienced man beside him on the front bench.

John Healey was one of the most effective Labour housing ministers and continued to show a strong interest even after he moved on. His warning about the threat to social housing helped inspire the creation of SHOUT. He explained his continuing interest in an Inside Housing interview last year in which he supported lifting the borrowing cap on council housing.

In June he wrote to the National Audit Office to call for an investigation of the Right to Buy. It’s good news that he’s back and even better that he’s a member of the shadow cabinet.

His line of attack at Monday’s DCLG questions was declining home ownership. With George Osborne describing it as ‘a tragedy’, what did communities secretary Greg Clark have to say to millions of ‘middle England, middle-income young people and families’ with no hope of buying?

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Scotland goes its own way on private renting

Originally posted on September 2 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Rent control and increased security of tenure are back on the government agenda for the private rented sector for the first time in 30 years.

I am of course talking about the Scottish Government, which yesterday confirmed plans for a Private Tenancies Bill as part of its Programme for Scotland 2015/16. The Bill will ‘provide more predictable rents and protection for tenants against excessive rent increases, including the ability to introduce local rent controls for rent pressure areas’.

And it will introduce a Scottish Private Rented Tenancy to replace the current assured system and remove the ‘no-fault’ ground for repossession. That means the landlord will no longer be able to ask a tenant to leave just because the fixed term has ended but there will be ‘comprehensive and robust grounds for repossession that will allow landlords to regain possession in specified circumstances’.

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Sold out

Originally posted on August 17 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Can the government afford to be complacent about the rate at which right to buy homes are falling into the hands of private landlords?

Pete Apps’s freedom of information investigation for Inside Housing revealed that 38 per cent of former council houses in 91 local authorities are now rented privately. The proportion is as high as 65 per cent in places like Milton Keynes and Stevenage. This figure is for leasehold council flats but there seems no reason to think that the rate for freehold houses will be significantly different, given that many were originally sold longer ago.

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