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Housing: A Political Issue
It is generally accepted that there is a significant housing shortage currently facing the UK but how important is housing as an electoral issue? Recent surveys produce a confusing message because Ipsos MORI research published in January 2015 shows that
75% of the public agree that “there is a housing crisis in Britain” but
48% of the public disagree there is a housing crisis in their locality
Further research by Ipsos MORI published in February 2015 and a Greater London Authority survey from November 2014 shows
Housing is only the 8th (of 10) most important issue facing Britain today but
Londoners view housing as the most important issue facing the city.
The publication of the parties’ manifestos, expected very shortly following dissolution of Parliament on 30th March 2015, will give a clear indication of their housing priorities in the next parliament. Although these are not yet published, the parties have already made a number of public commitments on housing, which we have collated and set out below.
No overall housebuilding target has been given but there is a target to
- Build 200,000 ‘Starter Homes’ in the next parliament, specifically for first-time buyers under 40, to be sold at 20% below open market value
- Ensure that 90% of suitable brownfield sites having planning permission by 2020
- The Help to Buy equity loan scheme, providing up to 20% equity loans to first-time buyers and home movers, will be extended until 2020.
- The introduction of a Help to Buy ISA which will contribute an additional 25% to any money saved for a deposit by a first time buyer, up to a maximum Government contribution of £3,000.
- Continued backing for the “Right-to-Buy” policy of allowing council tenants to buy their property at a discount.
- Interest rates and therefore mortgage payments will be kept low as a result of the continuing policy of deficit reduction measures.
Increasing security for private renters
- A continuation of policies already in place – i.e. avoiding the introduction of as few new regulations as possible but encourage landlords to voluntarily offer longer-term tenancies, the commitment to end ‘retaliatory evictions’ for reporting maintenance issues to a landlord.
- A commitment to provide £400m in low cost loans to build 10,000 ‘Rent-to-Buy’ homes.
- Allocation of approximately £750m of the £100million ‘build-to-rent’ fund to build 10,000 new homes for market rent.
- A ‘right to move’ policy to give social tenants “reasonable priority’ if they need to move to another part of the country for work or an apprenticeship.
There are commitments to
- a) Preserve the green belt;
- b) To continue to promote neighbourhood plans as a way of involving local people in planning decisions and
- c) Support “garden city design in locally-led developments,”
- d) Not to impose new towns on any part of the country.”
- 200,000 new houses per year by 2020 through the creation of a New Homes Corporation funded by Government but with new partners for private investment and commission developers to build sites “at pace”.
- An increase in small and medium enterprises (SME) house-builders through a new ‘help-to-build’ scheme, which will give Treasury guarantees on low cost bank lending.
- A requirement for local authorities to introduce fast-track planning on sites of less than 10 homes, and to include a higher proportion of small sites in their five-year land supply.
- Development of new garden cities, garden suburbs and new towns, delivering up to 500,000 homes, through a new ‘right to grow’ for local authorities if they have housing need but have no space to meet these within their own boundaries.
- Target of doubling the number of first-time buyers who get on the housing ladder each year by 2025.
- Allow local authorities to give preference to first-time buyers from the local area for new build housing.
- Introducing a national register of landlords;
- Banning letting agencies from charging fees to tenants
- Legislating to make three-year, rather than six month, tenancies the norm, with a ceiling on rent rises throughout the period.
Welfare and Taxation
- Repeal of the under-occupation deduction from Housing Benefit for social tenants ((also known as the “bedroom tax” or “spare room subsidy”)
- A monthly charge for homes valued at over £2million, starting at £250 per month for houses between £2million and £3million.
- Local authorities may also be given new powers to charge double their usual Council Tax on properties which are left empty for more than a year.
- Target of 300,000 new houses per year by the end of the next parliament (a detailed plan on how this will be achieved will be published within the first year)
- At least ten garden cities “where there is clear local support and private sector appetite”
- Establishment of a housing investment bank.
- Responsibility for local authorities to allocate land to meet 15 years’ housing needs in their local plans through increased use of Local Housing Companies, allowing local authorities to invest outside of their Housing Revenue Accounts.
- Commitment to designate 30,000 new homes as Rent-to-Own by 2020. These would see tenants’ rent payments being used to build up ownership in the property over 30 years.
- Change the policy on Right-to-Buy, allowing local authorities to suspend the scheme in their area if they so wished.
- A new, three-year tenancy (through encouragement rather than legislation).
- Landlords would reduce some of their maintenance responsibilities in return for lower rents.
- Introduce new energy efficiency standards for private rented homes.
- Incentives to housing associations to ‘split up’ homes where tenants were under-occupying. These could be divided into flats to prevent under-occupation
- Promotion of tenant management in social housing.
Welfare and taxation
- Reform of the “bedroom tax” policy – the subsidy will continue to be removed for new tenants in social housing but existing social tenants will not be subject to any housing benefit deduction until they have received a reasonable offer of alternative social rented accommodation with the correct number of bedrooms. Tenants who need an extra bedroom for genuine medical reasons or whose homes are substantially adapted do not have their housing benefit reduced.
- A ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth over £2million
- Introduction of an annual land value tax for homeowners.
UKIP has not produced any policy documents on housing, but its housing spokesperson has outlined some of the party’s housing priorities.
- Target of 1million houses to be built on brownfield sites by 2025 through
- Brownfield bonds;
- Brownfield decontamination assessment grants
- Removing stamp duty from brownfield first builds
- Removing VAT from brownfield conversion costs
- Establishment of a UK Brownfield Agency to collate data for a national register.
- Removal of planning permission for large-scale developments through a referendum, which can be triggered by the signatures of 5% of local electors collected within three months.
- Right-to-Buy is removed for foreign nationals, except for those that had served in the armed forces.
- 700,000 empty properties to be brought back into use as affordable housing
- Introduction of a duty on local authorities to provide housing to any ex-serviceperson “in need”.
To achieve a strong local connection for social housing a ‘grandparent test’ is proposed where local priority will depend on a parent or grandparent having been born in the area.
- A reform of leasehold law to make it easier for leaseholders to extend their leases and to challenge service charges and
- the introduction of a ‘medium-hold’ lease for tenants for between three and five years.
Welfare and taxation
- Commitment to repeal the under-occupation deduction from Housing Benefit
- Local Housing Allowance to be paid directly to landlords rather than tenants.
- Commitment to improve health and support services for rough sleepers
The only publicly announced housebuilding targets have been specifically related to social housing
- A target to build 500,000 new council homes by 2020 (partially funded through direct Government grant paid for by removal of the mortgage relief for buy-to-let landlords).
- Removal of the borrowing cap for local authorities funding an estimated 60,000 extra properties.
- Historic council housing debt would be assumed by central Government.
- Local authorities would no longer be able to classify people as ‘intentionally homeless’ and therefore refuse to provide housing
- Reforms to housing associations, which would be made more democratic through changes in internal governance and by breaking up some of the larger associations. Housing co-operatives would also be promoted.
- All new houses will be built to improved standards for accessibility, space and facilities, ergonomics, sound and thermal insulation, and energy efficiency (applied retrospectively to existing houses “where practicable”)
- Large developments and developments on green field sites will require independent environmental impact assessments.
- Commitment to encourage self-build schemes, with unemployed people permitted to work on such schemes without the risk of benefit sanctions.
- End of the existing Right-to-Buy – end to tenant discounts and each local authority should decide which, if any, properties should be sold
- Introduction of a ‘Right-to-Rent’ policy, with homeowners under threat of repossession gaining the right to transfer the property to council ownership at less than market rate, and to remain in the property as council tenants.
- Rents to be controlled through the establishment of a living rent commission to set a voluntary, ‘living rent’, and to cap rent rises at the rate of inflation.
- Registration of all private rents
- Gradual phasing out of assured short-hold tenancies to be replaced by more stable, assured tenancies.
- Protection of civil liberties in the home with tenants given the right to keep pets and to make environmental modifications such as the installation of solar panels.
Welfare and taxation
- A long-term policy commitment to replace all benefits, including Housing Benefit, with a £72 per week ‘citizens’ income’. As this is phased in a means-tested, regional Housing Benefit would be introduced, related not only to rent payments but also to mortgage repayments.
- Higher Council Tax for empty properties
- New Council Tax bands above band H for high-value properties
- A one-off grant for homeless people moving into unfurnished homes
- Insulation grants for low-income households
- Commitments to scrap mortgage interest tax allowance for buy-to-let mortgage holders and to phase out Council Tax in favour of a land value tax
- Removal of the “bedroom tax” from Housing Benefit
We will confirm and clarify these policies as the Party manifestos are released and the Election campaign develops.
As an election issue how important is the Housing topic to you as a voter? Please let us know your views