Originally published on May 9 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Since May 1999, when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly met for the first time, devolution has evolved at a different pace in each country and the Barnett formula has given Holyrood more resources than Cardiff Bay.
Politically, the Scottish Parliament was run by Labour with Lib Dem support for its first eight years before the SNP won power in 2007 and then an overall majority in 2011 and the No vote in the independence referendum. The Welsh Assembly has been run by Labour for the last 20 years, though it has needed the support of either the Lib Dems or Plaid Cymru along the way.
However, it was the election of a Conservative-led coalition government at Westminster in 2010 that led to a new phase for the devolved administrations.
For a while, all they had to do to be progressive on housing was nothing – refusing to follow the English swing away from social rent and towards the market created a clear divide.
Both have still had to cope with the impacts of austerity and benefit cuts largely imposed from London, although Scotland has used its extra resources to mitigate the bedroom tax and has been able to make some tweaks to universal credit.
In the areas that they can control, the devolved administrations have tended to devise policy in partnership with the sector, as exemplified by the ambitious target for affordable and social homes in Scotland and the independent review of affordable housing supply published in Wales last week.
But it is in legislation that a really distinctive approach to housing has emerged and it is one that I’d argue has created a new dynamic in housing policy across the wider UK too. Read the rest of this entry »
Blimey. If it plays out as billed, the government’s consultation on ending no-fault evictions and introducing open-ended tenancies for private renters represents the quickest change in housing policy that I can remember.
I say ‘if’ because this is still only a consultation, because ministers have form for claiming rather more in press releases than turns out to be the case when the detail is published and because Theresa May could be succeeded within weeks by a new, more right-wing prime minister who could dump the whole thing.
One more caveat is that I am only talking about England. The first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, pledged to end no-fault evictions on Saturday and so narrowly avoided the embarrassment of Welsh Labour lagging behind the English Tories on tenants’ rights.
Scotland has already abolished Section 33 (its version of 21) and introduced a new tenancy system in December 2017 that could become the model for the other UK nations.
In England, and taking it at face value, this announcement is a stunning victory for campaigners that takes May’s Conservatives to the left not just of where Ed Miliband was at the 2015 general election but also of what Jeremy Corbyn argued at the 2017 election. It was only later that year that the Labour leader committed to ending Section 21.
Last year the government consulted on its own plan for three-year tenancies but did not commit to making them mandatory – this was only one of three options alongside education and financial incentives for landlords.
Originally published on June 2 on my blog for Inside Housing.
When it comes to the private rented sector are we all Chavistas now?
Back in 2014, when Ed Miliband’s Labour proposed a standard three-year tenancy with limits on rent increases, Conservative party chair Grant Shapps was quick to accuse it of ‘Venezuelan-style socialism’.
Flash forward four years and the Conservatives have stolen Labour’s policy at the last two elections and announced plans of their own for three-year tenancies – and if they are not quite proposing limits on rent increases they are not ruling them out either.
Even two years ago it would have been unimaginable for them to propose anything like the proposals announced by housing secretary James Brokenshire on Monday and first reported in the Conservative-supporting Telegraph on Saturday night.
Indeed, far from increasing security for private renters, Conservative-led governments had spent the years since 2010 attempting to undermine it for social tenants.
Originally posted on May 9 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
The May elections have a common theme when it comes to housing: can the winners really do what they say?
From Sadiq Khan to Marvin Rees, from Nicola Sturgeon to Carwyn Jones and from council leaders all over England to the voters of St Ives, winning the elections last week was the easy bit. The hard work starts now.
I’ll start with the poll closest to me: the referendum in St Ives on a Neighbourhood Plan that will ban the building of new second homes that has brought national attention.
More than 80% of residents supported the plan last Thursday and it’s impossible not to sympathise. Around a quarter of the homes in St Ives are either second homes or holiday lets and the problem is even worse in other Cornish communities. That does not just price out locals it also means a lack of year-round residents that makes it hard to sustain vital services and infrastructure.
Originally posted on March 7 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
Campaigners gather in the capital city for a pre-election rally to call for decisive action on the housing crisis. Sound familiar?
But this is not Homes for Britain or London and it’s no longer March 2015. Instead this happened on Friday in Cardiff and it’s Homes for Wales.
The campaigns are clearly related – both are aimed at all the political parties, both are supported by a coalition of housing associations and other housing organisations – but there are differences too.
The Homes for Britain rally happened in a big hall with speakers from the housing world and beyond and from all the main political parties. For all the energy and enthusiasm of the day, it left itself open to the accusation that this was just another example of the sector gathering to congratulate itself about how wonderful it is.
In contrast, campaigners for Homes for Wales gathered on the steps of the Senedd Building in Cardiff Bay for speeches before marching through the streets of the capital for a rally in the heart of the pedestrianised city centre. For a couple of hours, shoppers could watch video messages from the political parties, Welsh celebrities such as Michael Sheen and people with personal experience of the housing crisis. Up to 700 people took part and it was the first housing march that anyone could remember in Wales. For more about the campaign see this piece by Kevin Howell.
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.