Housing white paper - Good news or bad?

publication date: Feb 9, 2017
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

Kate's initial thoughts on the housing white paper

The government’s long-awaited housing white paper is here. We’ve been chatting about it in the media for some days before it arrived and, now I’ve read it, although there is some good news, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, I think!

If you want to judge for yourself, here is a link to the paper.

It is also worth knowing this is for ‘consultation’ so if you feel strongly for or against something you read, then do take the time to send your feedback directly to the government.

Although the document is 100+ pages, the information about policy is only 60 pages and is very clearly written and navigable, the rest is appendices etc.
Here’s my quick summary of what it says:

1 - To build the number of homes we need, the government are now accepting it is their and local authority responsibility to devise and implement a plan to match the number of roofs to the changing needs of the population in their area.

2 -There is a good move to back infrastructure changes which increase the possibility of commuting from existing areas as well as creating new areas for people to commute from.

3 - They recognise that speed is of the essence and are putting forward ideas of how to make the planning process quicker for developers; penalising those who don’t ‘build out’ land in the timeframe agreed and recognising that modular buildings can deliver homes temporarily or long term in just three months, much faster than can be delivered on site.

4 - Increasing delivery of a range of affordable housing options for those who need a bit of help to get on the ladder:

  • ISA to support saving for deposits
  • Help to Buy with a 20% discount for five years, allowing purchase with a 5% deposit
  • Rent to buy, renting at a 20% discount to help save for a deposit
  • Shared ownership, buying from 25% of a share of property.

5 - Back institutional investment in the private rented sector, helping to deliver approximately 15,000 new homes for rent. There are currently 54,000 in the pipeline.

6 - Provide longer term tenancies in the PRS via new build, institutional investment.

7 - Continuation on cracking down on rogue landlords, but nothing different to what is currently planned.

Worried about rogue landlords? Here's how to avoid them.

8 - Ban on lettings fees – as mentioned in the Autumn Statement.

9 - Clarity on electrical safety in the PRS.

10 - More money being made available to tackle homelessness.

11 - More money and a ‘better’ attitude towards housing associations and councils to help them provide more affordable properties to rent, ie the old ‘council house’ or ‘social home’.

12 - Change the relationship between freeholder and leaseholder to improve the leaseholder’s powers.

13 - They are also considering looking at the buying and selling process and if it can be improved.

My thoughts in a nutshell… score: 3/5!
The ideas and work they are doing to build new homes and tackle the housing supply problem are good. They probably aren’t enough, but I do think they have identified some of key issues, the main one being the shocking – and I mean truly shocking – statistic that “40% of local authorities” do not have an up-to-date plan to build enough homes for their population.

This isn’t necessarily completely fault of the local authorities; their planning departments are being squeezed staff-wise and this is contributing. But it’s a disgrace and has to be fixed immediately.

I am really pleased that the need for institutional investment is being recognised and valued – there is £50 billion of untapped investment waiting to come to the UK and we need it!

I am equally delighted to see modular homes being supported, too, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit to SIG on Tuesday morning for the BBC Breakfast programme.

However, I am wholly disappointed that the new cabinet clearly still does not understand the private rented sector. Their continued attack on landlords’ and letting agents’ business models is totally misguided. It seems to me they are either working on very bad research and data or are making policies based on headlines and the odd media report.

They are certainly not making these decisions based on listening to experts in the market who really understand what’s happening on the ground and how to fix the problem.

For example, enforcement is a key issue and we need a national campaign and enforcement policy in England. We currently have individual councils creating licensing schemes and then not carrying out enforcement with the money they raise – and this shouldn’t be allowed to happen. To be fair, some local authorities such as Newham are doing a good job; the government should be learning from them and implementing something nationally.

In addition, if the government provided incentives for our two million landlords to create homes, rather than buying existing properties, this could boost PRS supply by hundreds of thousands in the next few years. Not doing this is a wasted opportunity and, instead, landlords and letting agents continue to be penalised for the poor policies of successive governments, a lack of regulation and weak enforcement.

Until the government understand the PRS properly, I’m afraid tenants – especially the most vulnerable – will be the main losers and their future is not as bright as for homeowners.

I will be doing more in-depth analysis of the paper over the coming weeks and seeking views from the industry on what’s good and what’s not.
Your thoughts? Radio 4’s You and Yours did a super programme on Tuesday which asked people what their property problem was and what they wanted the government to do to fix it.

It was brilliant, so it would be great to continue this conversation and I’d love to hear your thoughts – or those of friends/colleagues and families – on what the government could do to solve your property issues.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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