Looking again

With even the Monster Raving Loonies calling it a crazy policy, is there still time for changes to the bedroom tax?

It’s a measure of how big a political issue it’s become that it was one of only three nominated by voters in Eastleigh for the BBC to put to the 15 candidates in today’s by-election. Ten came out against the bedroom tax, with Howling Laud Hope of the Monster Raving Loony William Hill Party making the far too sensible point that ‘this is like going back to the pre-Victorian window tax.’ The coalition parties could only rely on the backing of the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party, the Christian Party (Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship) and an independent.

The by-election winner will enter a House of Commons that is at last giving the bedroom tax the sort of scrutiny it deserves. The Welfare Reform Act packed so many changes in to one piece of legislation that there was little time for detailed debate on each of them. Even when contradictions and unintended consequences were picked up in the Lords, the amendments were reversed in the Commons.

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Sales pitch

So how is it going so far for two ‘ambitious schemes’ that we were told would ‘unlock the aspirations of a new generation of home buyers’?

It was March 2012 when David Cameron and Grant Shapps launched NewBuy and the ‘reinvigorated’ Right to Buy 2. ‘This government doesn’t just talk about expanding home ownership: we’re making it happen,’ said the prime minister.

Even as he was speaking it all seemed a tad ambitious. No wonder, when theEnglish Housing Survey has just shown that home ownership fell again in 2011/12.

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False start

It’s half time for a government that promised to make us ‘a nation of homebuilders’. The crowd are – to put it mildly – not happy.

Figures released yesterday show the performance of the coalition in the first two and a half years of its five-year term. By now its abolition of ‘Stalinist’ top-down regional strategies and creation of the ‘powerful new incentive’ of the new homes bonus and the National Planning Policy Framework should be working.

Instead housebuilding in England is flat-lining at less than half of the level required. The 26,830 housing starts in the fourth quarter of 2012 were up by 180 on the previous three months but down by 400 on a year ago.

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Bedtime stories

It seems remarkable that with less than 40 days to go until we start taxing them we still don’t really know for certain what a bedroom is.

So it’s not surprising that the move by Knowsley Housing Trust to reclassify 566 of its two- and three-bed homes as one- and two-bed has attracted so much attention. Chief executive Bob Taylor told Inside Housing that a stock review showed some homes are currently classified as having more bedrooms than they actually have, because tenants are not using the extra rooms as bedrooms and were therefore paying too much rent.

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Worst fears

So the government has finally admitted the potentially devastating consequences of welfare reform in a cumulative impact assessment.

Before anyone starts to think that Iain Duncan Smith has undergone a dramatic change of heart, I should add that I am of course taking about the Welsh government, not the UK one.

The second stage review of the impact of welfare reform in Wales is accompanied by an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) of the effects of welfare reform on labour supply in Wales.

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One-way street

Repossessions are at their lowest and loans to first-time buyers are at their highest since 2007. Has the housing market finally turned the corner?

That’s certainly one interpretation of stats released by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) this week showing big improvements since the year the credit crunch hit.

On Tuesday it revealed that 216,200 first-time buyers became homeowners in 2012. That was a 12 per cent rise on 2011 and it’s the first time since 2007 that the annual total has exceeded 200,000.

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Capital crisis

The scale of the housing crisis facing London is hitting home with both Londoners and their political leaders.

In an opinion poll in the Evening Standard published today, half of people in the city say they fear being driven out of their neighbourhood by the cost of housing and six out of ten say there is a crisis in their area.

At one end of the housing scale, soaring demand from global investors is threatening to push house prices even further out of reach of ordinary Londoners. According to a report yesterday from the Home Builders Federation, it now takes the average first-time buyer 24 years to raise a deposit in London.

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Under pressure

The government’s arguments for the bedroom tax are continuing to unravel under intense media and political scrutiny. Will the pressure finally tell?

For the first time in years that I can remember, a social housing issue led prime minister’s questions yesterday as Labour leader Ed Miliband used the plight of people facing the tax to put David Cameron on the spot.

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Accounting for the new self-employed

A report out today from the ONS confirms the big increase in self-employment in the UK seen since the start of the Global Financial Crisis.

As a result of the recessions that triggered, the number of employees fell by 434,000 between 2008 and 2012. In complete contrast, the number of self-employed people rose by 367,000 over the same period, with 219,000 of that coming between 2011 and 2012.


Source: ONS

These are remarkable figures, especially when you consider, as the FT data blog points out, that self-employment has actually fallen in most other countries in the OECD.

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Growing pains

If you drive a car, you need a license, an MOT and insurance. Why should it be any different to rent out a house?

That point – made by Jacky Peacock of the National Private Tenants Organisation at a Communities and Local Government committee hearing yesterday – got me thinking about the whole issue of licensing and the private rented sector.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing