The Conservative manifesto plan for council housing

The Tory ‘council house revolution’ trailed in all today’s papers begs all sorts of questions that I’ll be blogging about soon (now up here).

In TV interviews today we’ve learned that there is no new money, just the £1.4bn for affordable housing promised in the 2016 Autumn Statement.

Conservative spokespeople refused to say how many homes were involved but the Autumn Statement said 40,000.

If that is welcome news it hardly qualifies as a ‘revolution’. However, the policy includes other details that could prove to be more significant in the longer term.

Given that all today’s reports are based on a Conservative Party press release that I can’t find anywhere online, here it is:

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What the snap election could mean for housing

Originally published on April 18 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Here are some quick thoughts on what the snap General Election might mean for housing.

First, what about the campaign? Labour and Jeremy Corbyn will make a housing a big part of their alternative vision for Britain.

There will be lots about council and social housing and lots to appeal to private renters. Housing will be more prominent in the campaign of one of the two major parties than it has been for years.

But will any of that matter? Theresa May and the Conservatives will not need to say much about housing because their campaign will be all about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn.

Housing won’t matter much to any of the other parties either as the Lib Dems try to win back seats by appealing to Remainers and the SNP and Plaid use the looming Tory apocalypse in England to win votes in Scotland and Wales.

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Manifestly without details

Originally published on November 8 on my blog for Inside Housing

There are no guarantees but the penny has dropped at the DCLG that policies that were written on the back of a fag packet need lots more work. Six months after the Housing and Planning Act received Royal Assent, we are still waiting for the key details. Could it be that the new ministers have realised that some of what their predecessors did was manifestly without reason too?

Things are not remotely clear with the Housing and Planning Act but perhaps the fact that I’m even able to write that six months after it became law is good news of a sort. It remains to be seen how much will be changed or watered down but the new ministerial team at the DCLG clearly do not share the gung-ho assumptions of their predecessors and the government as a whole has bigger things on its mind. Watch the first five minutes or so of yesterday’s session at the Communities and Local Government Committee to see what I mean.

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Peer review

Originally published on July 15 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Take your pick: targets for new homes are much too low; the private sector cannot deliver them; and policy is too focussed on home ownership.

A report published on Friday by the all-party economic affairs select committee of the House of Lords does not so much criticise the government’s approach to building more homes as skewer it.

And one of the clearest explanations I’ve yet read of why current policy cannot, and will not, work does not come from just any old committee. The group of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Crossbench peers includes two former chancellors of the exchequer (Lords Lamont and Darling) and two former permanent secretaries of the Treasury (Lord Burns and Lord Turnbull) with more cabinet ministers, senior mandarins, special advisors and business people also in the mix. They are drawing on decades of experience of previous failures in housing policy.

The report is also brilliantly timed, just at the point when Theresa May’s new government is getting down to work and preparing for life after the referendum and George Osborne’s budget surplus targets.

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Red flags flying over Right to Buy

How can people who can’t afford the rent suddenly afford to buy?

To recap in case you missed it, a joint investigation by Inside Housing and BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 found that 16% of Right to Buy sales by 10 councils were to tenants on housing benefit.

This is not in itself evidence of fraud: the 721 tenants concerned could have got money from their family or from a third party. But it is seen as a ‘red flag’ of potential fraudulent activity and a particular cause for concern in the councils with the highest levels of sales to tenants on benefit:  Dudley (37%) and Westminster (29%) and Croydon and Birmingham (who each estimate around half).

And it’s one aspect of a fraud problem that should also set the alarm bells ringing about the 1.2m tenants who are about to get a form of Right to Buy from housing associations that will not have the same expertise as local authorities in detecting fraud and money laundering.

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The Housing Bill: Last word

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

The end of resistance to the Housing and Planning Bill leaves one big question hanging: why was the government so completely determined to undo an amendment that delivered its manifesto commitment on higher-value sales?

On the face of it, the amendment by Lord Kerslake that ping-ponged back between the Commons and the Lords should not have been such an issue. It would have put on the face of the bill the funding of replacements for ‘higher-value’ homes where local authorities sign an agreement with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). It also gave them the chance to make the case for social rented replacements, though the DCLG would not be required to accept this.

But ministers treated this as a wrecking amendment and claimed financial privilege on the grounds that it would fatally undermine their plans to pay for Right to Buy discounts for housing association tenants. Their determination was reflected in a piece in Wednesday’s Sun that included a threat to make the Commons sit all night and a personal attack on Lord Kerslake by Brandon Lewis.

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The Housing Bill: Price to pay

Originally published on May 5 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

On Tuesday Brandon Lewis told the press that there would be no further concessions on the Housing Bill. A little over 24 hours later there were…further concessions.

On a day of five more defeats in the House of Lords, which will now ping pong back to the Commons, the biggest surprise for me was the last-minute changes to Pay to Stay announced by communities minister Baroness Williams.

The House of Commons overturned three previous Lords defeats on the controversial policy on Tuesday. To recap, the Lords had increased the thresholds to £40,000 and £50,000 in London, called for the thresholds to be increased in line with inflation every three years and reduced the taper rate from 20p to 10p. On all three the government claimed ‘financial privilege’, a strong message to the Lords to back off.

The stage was set for a new battle on Wednesday over slightly watered down Lords amendments but (probably fearing defeat) the minister announced a compromise – a taper rate of 15p and annual uprating of the thresholds in line with CPI inflation – that was accepted by peers.

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