Filling in the blanks in the Housing Bill

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

Key elements of the Housing and Planning Bill have faced serious scrutiny in the last couple of days but we’re still not much nearer to knowing how or if they will work.

The frustration of MPs and peers is palpable as they repeatedly ask for more detail and are just as repeatedly told that it will be available shortly. It was all too much even for a Conservative MP on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday afternoon. ‘You’re treating the parliamentarians around this table with contempt,’ Stephen Phillips told two senior Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) civil servants. ‘You’re asking us to take this on faith. Why not do the work first and then bring the legislation forward?’

The answer is of course that it’s much easier for ministers if it works the other way around. Under current plans, the crucial detail will appear in secondary legislation only after the bill has Royal Assent.

The PAC was investigating the value-for-money aspects of the extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations and the levy on forced sales of council houses that is meant to fund it. But members didn’t get far asking for detail. ‘The timings have yet to be determined,’ ran one senior civil servant answer. ‘The amounts have yet to be determined. The formulae have yet to be determined.’

The National Audit Office (NAO) is not impressed either. Here’s its assessment of the government’s impact assessment of the bill:

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Who’s counting

Originally posted on September 24 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The disposal of public land for new homes looks destined to go down as one of the great housing fiascos of this decade.

An extraordinary report published on Thursday by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reveals complacency on an epic scale within the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The report is a follow-up to an investigation by the National Audit Office into a programme announced n 2011 by a certain former housing minister (no prizes for guessing which one) to ‘release enough public land to build as many as 100,000 new, much-needed, homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by 2015’. In March this year the DCLG proclaimed mission accomplished: land with capacity for 109,950 homes across 942 sites had been sold.

However, in a report published in June, the NAO found that ‘the target measured a notional number of expected homes, not actual homes built’. On top of that, a quarter of the 100,000 ‘homes’ were on land that had been sold before Grant Shapps set the target or on land that was categorised as ‘sold’ when its owner simply moved outside the public sector (Royal Mail was privatised and British Waterways moved to a charitable trust).

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Brave new world

Guess what the total value of government financial instruments to support new homes will be by 2021.

The answer that leapt off the page at me in a report on the department’s performance published by the National Audit Office (NAO) last week is a cool £24 billion. And that is just the direct support that comes under the DCLG and its agencies.

Perhaps the figure should not come as a surprise. After all, ever since the financial crisis we’ve grown used to the government adopting new ways of financing things that do not rely on conventional spending or borrowing.

The three programmes that make up the £24 billion are £10 billion for financial guarantees to housing associations and the private rented sector to help build new homes, £9.7 billion for the Help to Buy equity loan scheme (HTB1) and £4.2 billion for other loans and investments such as Build to Rent and the large sites scheme.

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Equity moans

In the furore over the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, its equity loan counterpart has escaped much scrutiny. A report out today changes that.

Help to Buy 1 started in April last year. Equity loans worth more than £500 million households were made in the first nine months of the scheme to almost 13,000 households. Another 9,600 loans were in the pipeline. If everything goes to plan over the next two years, 74,000 households will eventually benefit from equity loans worth £3.7 billion.

Today’s report from the National Audit Office (NAO) makes you remember that although it is small by comparison with the £12 billion of mortgage guarantees offered by its more controversial sibling, Help to Buy 1 is significantly bigger than the FirstBuy scheme that it replaced.

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