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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Cuts, caps and goalposts

Originally posted on July 22 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

Looking to gauge the effects of the latest benefit cuts on housing? The official impact assessments are at best a starting point.

Documents published for the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on Monday evening (available here) do give the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) view on what to expect, but there are several reasons why it is a severely blinkered one.

First, they only cover what is actually in the Bill and many of the main housing benefit changes in the Budget do not require primary legislation.

So there is an impact assessment of the five-year freeze on most working age benefits but it does not include the freeze of the local housing allowance. Similarly, we do not get the DWP view on ending automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds because that will be done by regulation rather than primary legislation.

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State of the nation

Originally published on July 16 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Results from the latest English Housing Survey reveal some fascinating details about where and how we live and how much we pay for it.

Headline findings from the survey for 2013/14 were published in February. As I blogged at the time, they revealed the full scale of the shift in tenure: this was not just about private renting overtaking social renting but outright ownership overtaking buying with a mortgage.

The results published on Thursday provide much more detail on that and much more besides. Here are some details that caught my eye:

100 years of changing tenure

Most of the 20th century was all about the decline of private renting from a tenure that housed three-quarters of us in 1918 to less than 10% of us by the 1980s. Until then, social renting was expanding almost as quickly as home ownership but it retreated again in the wake of the right to buy. But the 21st century has seen a big decline in home ownership too and the rebirth of private renting:


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