The Liberal Democrats held their conference from 17th-20th September 2021, and to be honest, their reference to the housing market was nothing different for them.
In their view, rents are ‘excessively high’ so they probably haven’t been using the Government’s own rental index which shows that, on average, rents don’t rise as much as general inflation. In fact, year on year, despite huge house price increases, their latest data states that rents went up by 1.2% in England, 1.2% in Wales and 1.6% in Scotland in the 12 months to August 2021 versus a 3.2% inflation rate for that month*.
They do, rightly I think, say that we “desperately need a new approach to create affordable, good-quality homes.” And the good news is they aren’t expecting these to be miraculously provided by the private sector. For them, they would put “local authorities at the heart of new home building” and (another myth to bust), they would reform the Land Compensation Act so all the ‘land-banked’ land from big developers would be freed up. As larger developers don’t really land-bank, that’s unlikely to make a difference.
If only policy makers would work backwards from ‘who are the good guys…
They are proposing however to produce an enormous number of homes – their aim is 380,000 per year, with 150,000 for social rent. That would be great, but bearing in mind the current shortages of supplies, lorry drivers, labour and price rises, it will take some years before this target could be achieved. Headline grabbing, yes, practical? Sadly no, and I’m an optimist.
Finally with their desire for homes to be more eco-friendly, they want whole life net-zero carbon new developments with solar panels, electric vehicles and green space.
So, nothing particularly new or life changing from the Lib Dems.
Well, they managed to scare the living daylights out of landlords with the idea that as everything is clearly a landlord’s (or agent’s) fault, they should pay – this time it’s towards the cost of social care. So, one of their ‘big ideas’ was to increase taxes on private landlords instead of through National Insurance rises. Landlords to be fair, weren’t alone, they also want to penalise those who “buy and sell large quantities of financial assets, stocks and shares”.
Other policies included “restoring the link between wages and housing costs”, which considering rents are already pretty tied to wage rises is an interesting, but fairly useless policy. The core of the problem is a lack of affordable homes which need to be invested in by the Government. According to Shelter, around a million households are eligible for a social home, it’s not private landlords’ fault that the only place for them to live is a fairly unregulated, poorly enforced private rented sector.
I also find it odd that no-one mentions the fact that some companies are paying people wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation (including government workers), let alone housing cost rises and then deciding that’s the property industry’s fault. Surely if someone is being paid a wage and needs Universal Credit because they aren’t being paid enough to live on, at some point the blame has to partly fall on companies paying low wages?
Other policies were, giving local authorities new powers to buy and develop land for housing, similar to the Lib Dems, but less ambitious, they are aiming for 100,000 new homes a year from this policy which would provide social and ‘affordable’ homes.
One area I was impressed with is the idea of a ‘buildings works agency’ to assess, fix, fund and certify all tall buildings – then chase those they deem responsible for the costs. The idea that leaseholders are having to pay for government and industry failings is, for me, incredibly unfair.
The rental sector also gets a mention and although little detail, their aim is to tackle quality, affordability and security in private rentals. I think I’ve been hearing that for some decades now from successive governments, but despite the 168 laws landlords and agents have to abide by to let a property, it appears from a lot of anti-PRS rhetoric, this has yet to be delivered.
If only policy makers would work ‘backwards’ from ‘who are the good guys’, understand ‘why are they different to the rogues’ and then deliver campaigns on ‘how do we equip tenants with the tools they need to ensure they rent from the ‘good guys’ before they move in’, then perhaps we’d actually make some headway to root out bad practice in this sector.
And finally, the big moment, the Conservative party conference with our new housing policy leader Mr Gove. It has to be said, most of the speech was about levelling up, but we did get some nuggets of what might be focused on into the future, albeit none of them particularly new:-
- Investing in urban regeneration
- Building new homes on ‘neglected’ brownfield sites
- A better deal for those in social housing
- Helping those out of renting to own their own home
But he did say that they would focus on making everyone’s home “safer and greener… and sharing the cost of that work more fairly” so, perhaps, this means they will sort the cladding issues for current leaseholders so they don’t have to pay.
However, as the Conservatives are running the current government there is a lot going on in housing – as we know. On the PRS, there are the big changes coming from the Renters Reform Bill and for all homeowners, the challenge of reducing our sector’s carbon footprint is going to have an increased focus. Finally, we are working as hard as we can to help deliver a better home moving experience – both for consumers and the industry.
To sum up where housing stands and is going, there are still a lot of myths around the housing market and how we solve the ‘current crisis’. For me, until the parties have an unbiased and properly data-led view of housing, we will still struggle to solve the real issues around putting roofs over everyone’s heads.