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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Back to work

Government resumes this week after a summer in limbo following the Brexit vote and change of prime minister. The unanswered questions for housing are stacking up.

The Cabinet met to discuss Brexit and parliament returns on Monday for two weeks before MPs take another break for the party conferences.

And the next few months should bring answers to some of the questions that have been hanging over housing ever since the referendum result and change of government.

What part will housing investment play in the fiscal ‘reset’ expected in the Autumn Statement? Will the new government offer any flexibility in the spending review settlement?

Is Theresa May’s vision of ‘a country that works for everyone’ and ‘giving people more opportunity’ just rhetoric or does she want a housing system that works for everyone too?

Will Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell offer a change of approach at the DCLG? Will they be any less obsessed with home ownership? Or any less willing to devolve funding and decision making? Will they give full government backing to the private member’s Homelessness Reduction Bill?

But the more you look beyond the big picture and look at the detail the fuller the ministerial Pending and In trays become.

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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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The Housing Bill: The final lap

Originally published on April 29 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The worst excuse for a Bill that I can remember in 25 years of writing about housing limps back to the House of Commons next week.

The Housing and Planning Bill’s tail is not quite between its legs as all the key elements are still there and the Commons will reverse some changes. But it’s been gutted in the Lords, with two more defeats for the government on Wednesday, and this morning (Friday) it’s the subject of withering criticism by the all-party Public Accounts Committee.

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The Housing Bill: the better part of valour

Originally posted on April 19 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

It was another day, another session of watering down the Housing and Planning Bill in the Lords. Peers reached sections of the Bill including Pay to Stay and security of tenure in the latest Report stage debate on Monday.

On Pay to Stay for ‘high income’ council tenants, they inflicted three more defeats on the government and they also forced some interesting clarifications of the detail out of ministers. As the Bill now stands, local authorities will have discretion about whether to apply Pay to Stay, the thresholds will be increased to £40,000 outside London and £50,000 in London, and the taper for higher rents will be 10p.

Obviously it remains to be seen how much of this the government will look to reverse in the Commons, perhaps citing financial privilege because the money raised by the policy goes back to the Treasury.

The government version of the policy – set out in an email to peers an hour before the debate – is that it will be compulsory for councils, the thresholds will be £31,000 and £40,000 and the taper will be 20p. That means tenants would pay an extra £200 a year in rent for each £1,000 they earn above the thresholds. (It’s not clear to me why the out-of-London threshold has been increased from the previous £30,000).

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What David Cameron’s tax returns say about property

Next time you read about ‘fat cats’ earning more than the prime minister here’s something to bear in mind: so does his house.

The summarised tax returns released by David Cameron this weekend show that he had a total taxable income of just over £200,000 in 2014/15. The first £141,000 of that were his earnings as prime minister: he has not taken a pay rise since 2010 and has also voluntarily waived a £20,000 prime ministerial expenses deduction since 2011.

Most of the Panama Papers coverage has concentrated on Cameron’s links to his father’s offshore fund and an inheritance gift from his mother. However, he is also the first prime minister to rent out his existing home while living tax-free in Downing Street. The accounts show that he had a net rental income of £47,000 from letting out his house in Notting Hill, an amount that notes to the accounts confirm is his 50 per cent share of the proceeds:

Tax

So the total rent (after expenses) received by the Camerons last year was £94,000 and in the first five years since he became prime minister they gained a total of £432,000 in rent.

However, that is not the total amount they will have ‘earned’ from their house as London house prices have also soared over the same period. The exact value of the Cameron house is hard to pin down, since they are reported to have spent £600,000 on renovations after buying it in 2006. Some reports put the value at £2 million in 2010, others £2.7 million.

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Paying the price for Pay to Stay – Part 2

Originally published on March 22 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

This concluding part of my blog on Pay to Stay follows up more clues on how the government wants the policy to work. Part 1 focuses on how the tapers will work plus issues about the assessment of incomes and market rents.

Just to confuse things even further, a statutory instrument on social housing rents published on Friday stipulates that the four-year 1% rent cut that applies from April 2016 does not apply to households with incomes of more than £60,000 (in the current or previous year). This is a reference to the existing voluntary Pay to Stay and I assumed at first it simply meant that the relatively few landlords who have implemented it would not reduce the rents of ‘high income’ tenants who are already paying higher rents. However, it seems that as drafted it means that landlords would have to exclude all tenants with an income of more than £60,000 from the cut  – even though there is currently no obvious way for them to find them all. Appropriately enough the regulations come into force on April 1.

The Housing and Planning Bill makes Pay to Stay compulsory for local authorities but reduces the household income thresholds to £30,000 outside London and £40,000 in London. Any increased rental income has to be paid to the Treasury. It remains voluntary for housing associations. Here are five more issues raised in the Lords.

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