Scotland goes its own way on private renting

Originally posted on September 2 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Rent control and increased security of tenure are back on the government agenda for the private rented sector for the first time in 30 years.

I am of course talking about the Scottish Government, which yesterday confirmed plans for a Private Tenancies Bill as part of its Programme for Scotland 2015/16. The Bill will ‘provide more predictable rents and protection for tenants against excessive rent increases, including the ability to introduce local rent controls for rent pressure areas’.

And it will introduce a Scottish Private Rented Tenancy to replace the current assured system and remove the ‘no-fault’ ground for repossession. That means the landlord will no longer be able to ask a tenant to leave just because the fixed term has ended but there will be ‘comprehensive and robust grounds for repossession that will allow landlords to regain possession in specified circumstances’.

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Home nations

Whoever wins the Westminster election on May 7, more devolution looks inevitable. What will it mean for housing?

The impact is obvious in Wales, where major legislation on homelessness came into force this week, and Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England, momentum is building.

I spent most of this week at TAI 2015, the CIH Cymru conference in Cardiff. The final day saw a debate on the proposition ‘If you could only vote once in the next 18 months which election would you vote in: the General Election 2015 or the Welsh Government election 2016?’ On my count, the Westminster election won – but not by much.

And the closing speech by communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths made clear just how much Wales is going its own way. ‘We believe in social housing,’ she told the conference, ‘and I firmly believe right to buy and right to acquire should end.’

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Devo questions

The devolution of new powers over the housing costs elements of universal credit raises questions not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.

The report of the Smith Commission published this morning only proposes two major changes to the existing arrangements for universal credit:

  • The Scottish Government will be given the administrative power to change the frequency of UC payments, vary the existing plans for single household payments, and pay landlords direct for housing costs in Scotland
  • The Scottish Parliament will have the power to vary the housing cost elements of UC, including varying the under-occupancy charge and local housing allowance rates, eligible rent, and deductions for non-dependents.

All other elements of universal credit, including the earnings taper, conditionality and sanctions will remain reserved to Westminster. Some other benefits outside universal credit, including discretionary housing payments, will be devolved. National media coverage was dominated by the proposals on income tax but other taxes that affect housing, including capital gains tax and VAT, will be reserved.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Home nations

How do the different nations of the UK compare when it comes to housebuilding and the wider housing market?

An official report out this week reveals a fascinating snapshot of housing across the union that survived last week’s referendum. The housing stock, tenure, housebuilding, house prices and rents are all broken down in a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that is much more comprehensive than its title (Trends in the UK housing market, 2014) implies.

Most of the trends will be familiar to regular readers of Inside Housing but what really struck me is the comparison between the different regions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


The West London question

The West Lothian question is at the centre of the politics of the UK in the wake of David Cameron’s response to the No vote in the Scottish referendum.

The prime minister surprised his opponents by linking a demand for ‘English votes for English laws’ to the fulfilment of the three-party ‘vow’ to devolve more power to the Scots if they rejected independence.

Under pressure from English Conservatives and UKIP, Cameron said:

‘I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.’

‘So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.’

It is of course complete coincidence that this would benefit the Conservatives (one current MP in Scotland and eight in Wales) at the expense of Labour (40 in Scotland and 26 in Wales). Taken literally, it also threatens the timetable for ‘the vow’ and Alex Salmond is already claiming that No voters were tricked. Belatedly even Downing Street seems to have realised that this looked like Cameron, rather than Scottish unionists, was trying to get ‘the best of both worlds’. Two and a half days after the original statement it has issued a clarification that that new powers for Scotland are not linked to English votes for English laws

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The Indyref and housing

What are the implications for housing of the independence referendum in Scotland?

Heather Spurr has already covered what a Yes vote might mean for Scotland itself , in particular on social security and the bedroom tax, grant funding and borrowing, private finance and sustainability. Beyond that though, I wanted to look at what might happen with a No vote too – and also at what either result might mean for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In some senses it’s an odd question to be asking at all. Scotland has already decided to abolish the right to buy, made radical changes on homelessness and mitigated the bedroom tax in full. The contrast with housing policy in England could hardly be starker.

But housing is of course about much more than just housing policy. The parameters are set by welfare, tax and economic policy, all of which are controlled from Westminster. The bedroom tax has played a big part in the Yes campaign as a symbol of unfair measures imposed from London and the SNP has also promised to halt the introduction of the universal credit and other welfare reforms. Housing has also played a part in the No campaign, with dire warnings about the prospects of higher mortgage payments if Scots vote for independence.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Scottish independence: what’s the question?

It seems simple enough. Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or No? Except that is not simple at all.

With less than a month to go until the referendum, the debate seems to be hung up on issues of detail that cannot possibly be settled until the negotiations that would follow a Yes vote. Ahead of the second debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling this evening, the BBC identifies five unresolved questions: the currency, oil, border controls, the EU and Trident.

For me the questions seem much more fundamental, and much more numerous, than that. This is the perspective of a non-Scot who does not have a vote or any special insight. But here’s what a recent stay in Edinburgh (with Yes-supporting friends) got me thinking:

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Housing nations

What would a Yes vote to Scottish independence mean for housing in the rest of the UK?

With less than six months to go until the referendum, it’s not just in Scotland that the issues are being debated. While England may feel it can mostly ignore what’s happening north of the Tweed the question is perhaps felt more deeply in the other UK nations.

In Northern Ireland, a research institute has just warned of ‘substantial’ political, economic and social effects. And in Wales the issues were addressed directly this week in a debate at the TAI 2014 conference in Cardiff on the motion ‘This house believes an independent Scotland would be good for Wales.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Bedtime stories

It seems remarkable that with less than 40 days to go until we start taxing them we still don’t really know for certain what a bedroom is.

So it’s not surprising that the move by Knowsley Housing Trust to reclassify 566 of its two- and three-bed homes as one- and two-bed has attracted so much attention. Chief executive Bob Taylor told Inside Housing that a stock review showed some homes are currently classified as having more bedrooms than they actually have, because tenants are not using the extra rooms as bedrooms and were therefore paying too much rent.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing