Keep your friends close – Part 2

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

Part 1 of this blog looked at the apparent winners and the big losers from George Osborne’s announcements last week. But there is one more group lurking on the edges of the playground, ostracised by virtually everyone. What happened to George’s well-heeled former chums should be a warning to everyone else.

Buy-to-let landlords and second home owners thought they had worked hard, done the right thing, bought a house and then another (and another). Contrary to what everyone said about them driving up house prices and destroying local communities, they thought they were providing desperately needed homes and helping pay for local services. They thought the Conservatives were on their side after they blocked a Labour tax rise on second homes in 2010 and kept buy to let out of European mortgage regulation in 2013.

They thought George was ‘one of us’. After all, he made £450,000 profit on his taxpayer-funded second home and rents out his main home for £10,000 a month while he lives in Downing Street. And they voted Conservative in May when those horrible Labour oiks planned rent regulation and a mansion tax.

Their thanks for all this? Sand kicked in their faces with cuts in tax relief in July and the Chinese Burn of hikes in stamp duty and capital gains tax in November. The fate of these entrepreneurs and investors turned enemies of aspiration should be a warning for all those who are currently part of the Osborne in-crowd.

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Keep your friends close – Part 1

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

For some reason, George Osborne made me think back to the school playground as he set out his spending plans for the next five years.

As the sidekick and heir apparent to the head boy, the chancellor has the power to get what he wants. First he had to correct his mistake from the Summer Budget when he was caught redhanded trying to steal the dinner money of most of the poor kids. He has now handed it back to the Strivers but will be waiting for them in the bushes to claim it back after school.

With that out of the way, he was free to get the gang together to build some homes, by which he means almost exclusively homes to buy. First in line were his main allies the housebuilders.

When you’ve already benefited from billions of pounds worth of loans, guarantees and relaxations in the rules on planning and energy efficiency, what’s another £2.3bn between friends? Yet this was different: the first time that I can remember that grant (presumably it is grant) has gone to pay for something that will not be recycled into more homes.

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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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Good cop, bad cop and mad cop

Originally posted on November 13 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Inside Housing: ‘Clark promises deregulation package’. FT: ‘Osborne eyes social housing stake sale.’ Daily Mail: ‘Duncan Smith’s great council house giveaway.’

Three rival visions for housing in England from three rival politicians who all think they know best.

Let’s assume some of this is the result of private disputes about budgets (especially between Osborne and IDS) playing out in public. The run-up to any spending review features media briefings designed to promote pet projects or scupper those of others. But this is still different: it’s not pet projects at stake here but potentially the entire future of housing. And the rival visions directly contradict each other.

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Beyond meaning

Originally posted on November 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

So now it is official. Brandon Lewis has confirmed that ‘affordable’ means 80% of the market rate.

His statement at a Communities and Local Government Committee hearing on the Housing Bill confirms a direction of travel that has been clear ever since the creation of ‘affordable’ rent. Starter homes at a 20% discount to the full price now represent ‘affordable’ home ownership. Needless to say, neither is exactly affordable by any conventional definition of the word.

The minister’s statement came in this exchange with Labour MP Jo Cox:

Cox: Do you think there should be a statutory definition of affordability for both rent and purchase?’

Lewis: At the moment it’s 80% of the market value, whether to rent or purchase.

Cox: But there isn’t a statutory definition.

Lewis: Well, the definition of affordability… an affordable rent is 80% of market value and affordable purchase with starter homes it would effectively be 80% of market value.

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Right to buy watch

Originally posted on November 4 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Here are eight key themes that emerged in evidence from housing association executives to the parliamentary inquiry into the extension of the right to buy.

I wasn’t planning to but I got sucked in to watching the Communities and Local Government committee hearing on housing associations and the right to buy on Wednesday. Across two sessions with witnesses from eight different associations, here’s what I learned:

1) This is not just about the right to buy

The inquiry is meant to be focussed on the right to buy but questions ranged far and wide as MPs asked about the 1% rent cut, Pay to Stay, starter homes, shared ownership, redundancies, reclassification, mergers, you name it. As an indication of the pace of change, they were even questioned about a policy that has not even been announced yet but everyone assumes will be soon (the end of lifetime tenancies).

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