In our blood

On a first glance at today’s new figures, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is failing to live up to the fears of its critics or the hopes of ministers.

The figures released by the Treasury show 7,313 sales in the first six months of the scheme. Of these, 72 per cent were for homes valued below £250,000 and 80 per cent were to first-time buyers.

Those completions account for around 1.3 per cent of mortgages over the six months so it’s hard to see how the Help to Buy 2 mortgage guarantee (HTB2) on its own can have contributed much to rising property prices.

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Tax year

A year on and the evidence is stacking up about the impact of the bedroom tax.

Over and over again we’ve heard from ministers that tenants affected by what they call the removal of the spare room subsidy have choices: they can downsize; or they can take in a lodger; or they can get a job. And the safety net of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) is there to help the most vulnerable.

Over and over again, landlords, tenants and others have argued that it’s not so simple: smaller homes are just not available; jobs are not so easy to come by and may be impossible for many tenants with disabilities; few will want to take a stranger into their home; and DHPs are woefully inadequate to meet the scale of need.

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


Flagship sunk

While UKIP has taken all the election headlines, in housing terms it’s hard to look beyond the Conservative defeat in the party’s flagship council of Hammersmith & Fulham.

The West London borough dubbed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and has pursued a radical strategy of cutting the council tax and cutting spending since it won power in 2006.

But it is of course also the birthplace of what I’ve come to think of as the third Conservative housing revolution. If the first was the right to buy and the second private finance for housing associations and deregulation of private renting, the third is about changing the nature of social housing completely.

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


Doubts about Dave

How do David Cameron’s claims this morning about home ownership and new housing in his own constituency measure up to scrutiny?

It’s a measure of the growing political importance of housing took top billing in his Today programme interview sandwiched between reaction to the conviction of Abu Hamza and Britain’s relationship with Europe. Listen again here from about 1:30 in.

The interview was notable for me for two things: first an unequivocal claim to the old Tory mantle of the ‘property owning democracy’; and second a denial that Tory councils are nimbys made with specific reference to West Oxfordshire (Cameron’s Witney constituency has the same boundaries).

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


Eric’s ladder

The boast from ministers is that Help to Buy really is getting Britain building – but is it enough?

The narrative according to Eric Pickles is that the coalition ‘inherited a situation where builders couldn’t build, buyers couldn’t buy and lenders wouldn’t lend’. Now, thanks to Help to Buy and the reinvigorated Right to Buy, ‘we’re ensuring that anyone who works hard and wants to get on the property ladder will be able to do so’.

Not to be outdone, housing minister Kris Hopkins said the housebuilding figures for the March quarter of 2014 were the result of a ‘massive government effort’ and even took credit for a 23-year high in council house building. And the DCLG press release comes complete with a statement from Stewart Baseley of the Home Builders Federation that the extension of Help to Buy 1 ‘is allowing the industry to plan ahead, rebuild capacity lost in the downturn and deliver the homes the country needs’.

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


Rachman, rogues and renting

Scandals hit private renting. With an election in the offing, the Labour opposition pledges help for tenants. There are definite parallels between now and the 1960s.

Everyone (especially those who oppose the party’s current modest reform plans) thinks they knows what happened in the wake of Rachmanism but the truth is far more complicated and so are the lessons for the future.

My interest in the period was first caught by a 2012 Radio 4 documentary called The Real Rachman – the Lord of the Slums. I thought I knew about Rachmanism but the programme told a much more nuanced and mysterious story that I blogged about shortly afterwards.

That blog prompted an email from Professor David Nelken, whose 1983 book on the aftermath of Rachmanism has just been reissued. The Limits of the Legal Process is a classic study of the sociology of the law that should be required reading for anyone involved in the current debates about regulating renting (or indeed regulating anything). The book is subtitled ‘a study of landlords, law and crime’ and it tells the story of the response to Rachmanism, first by the politicians with legislation, then by landlords with evasion and then by local authorities and the courts with implementation and enforcement.

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Making the case

Why do we need social housing? The answer may seem obvious on this website but too often elsewhere the one you’ll get is ‘we don’t’.

It’s a theme I’ve blogged about repeatedly over the last few years as social housing has been eroded from within and overtaken from without by the relentless rise of private renting. As coalition ministers never cease to remind us, the sector shrank by 420,000 in England under the last Labour government, but their own policies are merely accelerating the decline while they blur the distinction between affordable and social.

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


Discretion and discrimination

Shocking new figures published by Inside Housing reveal yet again the holes in the safety net provided by discretionary housing payments (DHPs).

On one level it beggars belief that in the last financial year councils turned down 70,000 requests for help from tenants facing cuts in their housing benefit and returned £9 million of DHP funding to central government.

On another, it’s no surprise that a system devolved to local authorities facing their own budget cuts has experienced problems or that one based on local discretion has varied so much between different areas.

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


Control speak

Labour’s bold move on private renting seems to be working as politics. Will it work as policy?

I’ve never been to Venezuela or Vietnam but, with due deference to Grant Shapps’s expertise on their housing systems, I do have a few observations to offer.

The Conservative chairman compared Ed Miliband to Hugo Chavez in a ludicrously overblown reaction to the Labour leader’s speech yesterday. Free market think tanks like the Institute of Economic Affairs and right-wing commentators like Fraser Nelson and Harry Phibbs joined him in condemning Labour’s supposed plans to introduce rent controls.

A quick glance at what Labour is actually proposing reveals that it owes far more to Ireland and Germany than Venezuela and Vietnam:

  • A ban on the outrageous fees letting agents charge to tenants, which Labour says will save them an average of £350.
  • A default three-year tenancy, from which tenants can give one month’s notice after the first six months
  • The rent to be freely negotiated at the start of the tenancy with annual increases after that based on a benchmark such as average market rents.

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Decision time

It’s May 8, 2015. A new government takes office promising that housing will be a priority. But can we be sure they will deliver?

They may have different means in mind but all of the major parties are apparently committed to the same end: Yes to Homes. Whoever wins in a year’s time faces an uphill struggle to boost output from the current miserable levels.

A report published today by Shelter and KPMG sets out a road map for how the new government can get from there to the promised land of 250,000 new homes a year by 2021. It begins with two significant and symbolic acts by the new prime minister on day one – the appointment of the housing minister to the Cabinet and a declaration that building more homes is a ‘national priority’ – and it continues with a programme for the first 50 and 100 days and each year of the new government. The full report is here and a shorter web version here.

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