Originally published on January 15 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Robert Jenrick and Esther McVey faced their first parliamentary questions as housing secretary and housing minister on Monday – almost six months after they took up their posts.
The reasons for the remarkable delay to their despatch box debuts – the summer recess, Brexit and the December election – are not hard to guess and are also why housing has slipped down the political agenda in the meantime.
But, give or take the odd appearance in parliamentary debates and in front of select committees, the delay also means that we still have only a fuzzy picture of what they really think about the key issues stacking up in their in-trays.
And it came in the wake of a report in the Daily Mail over the weekend about an apparent clash between the two over where the government should spend its housing cash and which voters they should be targeting.
Originally posted on July 12 on my blog for Inside Housing.
As far back as I can remember, every government has promised to tackle abuses of our outdated system of leasehold.
Between 1979 and 1997, the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major legislated four times on leasehold reform.
The Labour government of Tony Blair promised ‘a comprehensive package of leasehold reforms’ in 2000 and introduced the alternative system of commonhold in 2002.
Piecemeal reforms improved things a bit for leaseholders but commonhold has still only been used on 50 developments at an optimistic estimate – in contrast to the expansion of similar tenures like strata title and condominiums across the rest of the world.
Little wonder when leasehold offers so many advantages to be profitably exploited by landowners, housebuilders and freeholders.
Now, in the wake of the twin scandals of cladding and leasehold, all that could – finally – be about to change.
Whether you put it down to carelessness or couldn’t care less-ness, the inaction inside government inaction that has sparked open letter from A Voice for Tenants (AV4T) is symptomatic of a wider political paralysis.
As the group themselves point out, they are not representative of the eight million people living in social housing in England but they are the best we have until the government keeps the prime minister’s promise to bring tenants into the political process.
The letter is all the more effective for the contrast between its moderate language and its stark message that working behind the scenes has not produced results.
The only option left seems to be to embarrass the politicians into living up to what they have said over the last two years – accepting Inside Housing’s open invitation to a meeting seems the bare minimum they should do.
And there is a strikingly similar message in the Times this morning from Grenfell United, as it attacks ‘indifferent and incompetent’ ministers who took their ‘kindness as weakness’.
Two years of meetings have produced too little action, they say, with no progress on their call for a new model of housing regulator and thousands of people still living in ‘death traps’ with combustible cladding.
Grenfell and tenants were top of the agenda for the ministers in post at the time of the fire – the work of Alok Sharma and his civil servants is praised in the AVT letter – but have slipped down it as the months and now years have passed.
Originally published on March 19 as a blog for Inside Housing.
The leasehold scandal will have far-reaching implications for housing that will be felt well beyond the major housebuilders with whom it began.
A report published by the all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Tuesday takes as its starting point the doubling ground rents and onerous contract terms faced by buyers of new homes who it says were treated ‘not as homeowners or customers but as a source of steady profit’.
And it also highlights the issue of leaseholders facing huge bills to remove and replace combustible cladding raised in its work on fire safety.
But this report goes well beyond those recent high-profile problems with leasehold and poses some fundamental questions about a tenure that only exists in England and Wales – and they are ones that will require answers by social landlords as well as private sector housebuilders and freeholders.
Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on December 11.
As Westminster grinds to a halt over Brexit at least some progress is still being made on housing – or is it?
In the year of the social housing green paper and the end of the borrowing cap, some things have undoubtedly moved but the signs at Housing Communities and Local Government questions on Monday were that others are grinding to a halt.
First up was the land question and specifically the way that MHCLG dashed hopes of radical reform of land value capture in its response to a Housing Communities and Local Government Committee report recommending big changes to a system that sees planning permission for housing increase the value of agricultural land by 100 times.
Originally published on April 13 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Question: When is a home owner not really a home owner? Answer: When they are a leaseholder.
Leaseholders have the responsibilities of being an owner without having all of the rights. They own the bricks and mortar* of the homes they are living in – but only for the length of their lease – and they do not own the land it is built on.
They pay a mortgage but they also pay ground rent to the freeholder and a service charge for maintenance carried out by companies over whom they may have no control. They may see themselves as owners but in the eyes of the law they are tenants.
The issue has come to a head recently with the scandal of developers selling leasehold new houses and then selling on the freehold for a profit. Unwitting buyers have found themselves facing bills for ground rent that double every 10 years and an escalating bill for buying the freehold.