The Housing Bill: Higher power

Originally published on April 14 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Day two of the Lords report stage on the Housing Bill brought concessions on forced sales but there were inevitably more questions too.

Peers reached Part 4 of the Bill covering social housing in England and the main business of the day was the first two chapters: implementation of the voluntary right to buy and the levy on sales of high value council houses to pay for it.

This has always been one of the elements of the legislation that most resembled the back of a fag packet. The only figures ever published on how forced sales would work came in a Conservative party press release during the election campaign. This suggested that the most valuable third of council homes would be sold as they fall vacant, with values assessed against regional thresholds by bedroom size.

That raised many problems but two that stood out in particular. First, setting the values like that would mean local authorities in areas with high house prices would lose virtually all of their stock.

Second, it didn’t stack up: receipts would simply not be enough to cover right to buy discounts, the promised replacement homes and a proposed brownfield regeneration fund. That was clear right at the start and the CIH estimated the shortfall at £2.2bn.

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Checking the bill

Originally posted on February 10 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

Start with a fundamental change to the funding mechanism for the right to buy, stir in more changes to key elements of the Housing and Planning Bill, then add criticism of the lack of detail and you have a recipe that shoud give ministers indigestion.

The report of the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee does support both the extension of the right to buy to housing association tenants and the voluntary deal between the government and the NHF is ‘the best way forward’.

But that’s as good as it gets for ministers from a committee that has a Labour chair but a Tory majority. Here is the headline recommendation:

‘The Government proposes to fund the right to buy discounts for housing association tenants with the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes. However we believe that public policy should usually be funded by central Government, rather than through a levy on local authorities.’

This would undermine one of the central elements of the Bill and the government’s method of paying for right to buy discounts and the promised replacement homes. And the MPs are not finished.

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Peer review – part 2

Originally posted on January 27 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Part 1 of this blog covered the opening skirmishes in the Lords on the Housing Bill. This second part covers all-party criticism of the detail of the Bill where the sums don’t add up or don’t exist yet. What are the prospects for changes?

Starter homes. Peers criticised both their affordability and the fact that the discount disappears into the back pocket of the first buyer. As Labour’s Baroness Andrews put it:

‘We know from all the evidence that starter homes are not even affordable for most low and middle-income families, whether in rural areas or central London. However, it is not even a fair policy for future buyers. The 20% discount will apply only to the first tranche of buyers; they will be free to sell their assets after five years at market value. We will be minting a new generation of property speculators.’

Tory peer Viscount Eccles said the scheme had ‘not been thoroughly thought through’ and called for much more detail.

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