Originally posted on May 1 on my blog for Inside Housing.
New housing secretary James Brokenshire takes over at a critical time from Sajid Javid. With little previous experience of housing, he will have to make some crucial decisions in the weeks ahead, set the longer-term direction for policy and tackle what many Conservatives now see as a key political issue for them.
Here are seven big questions for him to address.
- How will he follow Sajid Javid?
Brokenshire becomes the fourth Conservative secretary of state responsible for housing since 2010, following Eric Pickles, Greg Clark and Sajid Javid.
Javid has to go down as the best of the bunch (admittedly the bar is not set very high here) and he talked such a good game that he even changed the name of his department to include the word ‘housing’.
As Terrie Alafat says, his time in office saw an important shift in the narrative as housing became a top domestic priority.
But how much of it was just talk? Sajid Javid sometimes raised expectations and sometimes left the impression of doing just enough to look like he was doing something – and no more.
Originally published on March 29 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve written a blog at this time every year with the headline ‘April is the cruellest month’.
It’s not that I have a TS Eliot fixation nor (I hope) that I endlessly repeat myself but because ever since 2010 the start of the financial year seems to have meant yet another benefit cut or housing policy change to cope with.
This year is a bit different not so much because there is no bad news but because there is some good news as well. Here are some examples:
- The u-turn on the withdrawal of support for housing costs for 18-21 year olds under universal credit announced on Thursday. This was a cumbersome policy that required significant exemptions and barely saved any money but it’s still a significant change to the original pledge to make young people ‘earn or learn’.
- The Homelessness Reduction Act passed in 2017 applies from April 3. The legislation should be a big step forward in ensuring that more people get help earlier but despite a recent announcement on funding there are still well-founded concerns about whether councils have the money to implement it.
- Claimants already getting housing benefit who move on to universal credit will from April be paid an additional two weeks of housing benefit. That may not be much consolation for the (in theory) five-week wait for their first universal credit but the payment (worth an average of £233) should ease the transition a bit –and it is not recoverable.
- It will be unlawful for landlords to give new tenancies on the least energy efficient property from April 1 – all rented property will have to qualify for at least an Energy Performance Certificate rating of E so (in theory) tenants will no longer be stuck paying high heating bills for the worst F and G property.
- More measures introduced against rogue landlords in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 come into force, including powers for councils to issue banning orders against the worst offenders and implementation of a database of landlords and letting agents convicted of some offences.
Bear in mind too that it’s not so long ago that I would have been writing about plans to apply a Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap to social and supported housing from…April 2018.
For all that good news, though, the suspicion remains that it will at best mitigate the impact of policies already implemented and still in the pipeline.
It’s the time of year again. The time for New Year’s Resolutions that last only a little longer than the next day’s hangover and the time to hope that maybe things will get better once the clock strikes midnight.
So here are five things that bugged me in 2017 that I hope are about to change over the next 12 months.
1) That it will be 2018 not 1958
This seems a vain hope given a prevailing political climate that is blowing us back to the glory days of ‘iconic blue passports’. The Home Office is even making an early bid to take us back to the land of warm beer and black and white telly.
Maybe Britain will wake up in 2018. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn the lessons that were sinking in back in 1958 and realise that the Empire has gone and we need to look closer to home. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on November 2.
Today’s first rise in interest rates for a decade is an important symbolic moment but it will make little or no immediate difference to the housing costs of millions of home owners with a mortgage.
The increase from 0.25% to 0.5% could see average mortgage payments rise by around £15 a month but it will not apply straight away to people with fixed rate mortgages and in any case it only restores the base rate to what was a record low between 2009 and the aftermath of the referendum.
Compare that with the continuing squeeze on benefits and tax credits/universal credit that the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts today will help to increase the percentage of children in relative poverty after housing costs from 30% now to 37% by 2022.
And contrast it with the latest overall benefit cap statistics also published today: as at August 68,000 families were hit by the lower cap that came into effect a year ago and nearly a third of them are losing between £50 and £100 a week. The cap is now £26,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on October 23.
Two of the many things about housing that have been obvious since 2010 could be set to change at last.
First, at a time when interest rates are at a record low, it makes sense to borrow to invest in homes and the infrastructure for them.
Sajid Javid committed this heresy against austerity when he told the Marr Show on Sunday that: ‘Investing for the future, taking advantage of record low interest rates, can be the right thing if done sensibly.’
Second, private housebuilders will build homes only as fast as they can sell them, so if we want more homes the state needs to intervene.
As I’ve argued many times before, it makes financial sense even for a government committed to austerity to commission homes directly, rent them at first and then sell them to recoup the money.
Ministers have taken tentative steps towards this position in the last few Budgets but according to a report in The Sunday Times a giant leap towards it is under consideration for November 22.
Originally posted on June 15 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Theresa May said it herself. Twice. Polling since the election signals it. Housing matters.
Except that it doesn’t really. The delay in naming Alok Sharma as the sixth housing minister in seven years and the 15th in this century said it all.
As John Healey tweeted on Monday, if Labour had won, it would already have started creating a new housing department with a minister of cabinet rank.
Instead we are left with Sajid Javid still at the DCLG despite the apparent determination of Theresa May’s team to move him and a new man taking his Buggins’ turn in the housing job.
And in place of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, the joint chiefs of staff to Theresa May who took the rap for the disastrous Tory campaign and manifesto, we have the ex-housing minister and (thanks to those three) ex-MP Gavin Barwell.
Originally posted on February 21 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Two weeks on from the Housing White Paper and a consensus is developing around many of its recommendations – but how long will it survive contact with the real world?
A big test for Gavin Barwell came on Monday at the annual lecture for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). While it would be unfair to characterise the organisation as England’s nimbys-in-chief, its members are not shy in holding politicians and developers to account, especially when it comes to the green belt.
The housing minister was joined on a panel by Shaun Spiers of the CPRE, Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and Toby Lloyd of Shelter. If that did not quite represent all sides of the debate – a house builder would surely have proved too much for the blood pressure of many in the audience – it certainly brought many of them together in one place. Full marks to the CPRE for opening the event up to a wider audience via Facebook (housing organisations, please take note).