Housing White Paper: where do we stand now?

Feb 09, 2017 3:27 PM

Well, the Housing White Paper was a massive disappointment. After an exciting glimpse on Sunday of moves to "incentivise" longer tenancies, on Tuesday it became clear that those incentives were existing government subsidies for companies building new homes. Number of beneficiaries: 80,322 (not counting the companies who would have offered longer tenancies anyway).

For the 4.3 million households in existing properties? The vague undertaking to "consider what more we can do to support families already renting privately, while encouraging continued investment in the sector." Which gives little hope to people who don't live with their family and a lot of hope to property speculators.

This timidity is infuriating, but the government's recognition of the inadequacy of renting shouldn't be discounted. Generation Rent will keep the pressure on to give renters greater protection from eviction and rent rises and, in turn, greater stability in their lives. Read more about our campaign here.

Today, the Ministry of Justice revealed that of 21,596 private renters who were evicted in 2016, at least 15,747 were given no reason by their landlord. The tenant's lack of legal rights when served with a Section 21 eviction notice means that many more will have left before the courts or the bailiffs got involved.

The same statistics showed a drop in "accelerated possession claims" (the point at which a landlord refers a no-fault eviction to the court) of 4000 between 2015 and 2016, which suggests that the 2015 revenge eviction ban is having an impact and/or that economic uncertainty means fewer landlords are throwing renters to the wolves in pursuit of higher profits. 

A BBC story today finds that few councils are aware of the impact that the ban is having, though the real test of the policy is whether councils are forcing landlords to make repairs to their property, thereby protecting the tenant in court. 

Unfortunately, the revenge eviction ban only protects tenants of landlords who are actively breaking the law by neglecting unsafe conditions. As long as your property isn't threatening your tenant's health you're free to kick them out.

Aside from promising the bare minimum for renters, what else did the White Paper do?

Starter Homes

Under David Cameron, the government's big idea to fix the housing crisis was to build 200,000 discounted "Starter Homes" that only the very richest renters could buy, then sell after 5 years at the full market price, trousering an average profit of £141,000 courtesy of the taxpayer. Oh, and developers could build them instead of homes for low income households to rent. 

It was tantalisingly similar to a policy Generation Rent proposed - but only as long as they were additional to genuinely affordable homes and the discount remained in perpetuity.

We lobbied hard to make the Starter Homes policy fairer as the Housing and Planning Bill went through Parliament, but the government fudged the details when the Bill became law, so we've been waiting until now for the detail. The bad news is that the discount will still run out, but the good news is that it stays in place for 15 years, not 5. So this will help ensure more than just the initial cohort of first-time buyers will benefit. 

It will also be restricted to households earning less that £90,000 and buying with a mortgage, while councils won't have to build as many of them if there is local need for other housing tenures.

"Affordable" Housing

Beyond Starter Homes, we have been calling on the government to plough much more investment into building social housing. With homelessness rising, London councils being forced to house people in other parts of the country, £9bn of housing benefit going to private landlords every year, and other landlords free to put "No DSS" on adverts, it falls to the government to step in and house society's most vulnerable people.

But all we've had is tinkering - like on renting, the government has changed its tune on helping local authorities build but most references to affordable housing put rent at 80% of what the market sets. In London, that's the difference between spending 60% of your income and 48% of your income. 

At the same time, apart from talking tough on land banking, the government is relying on a new system of assessing local housing needs to allocate enough land for housebuilding. It should have made it easier to build on green belt land in high-demand areas.

The government is now bringing in billions from increased stamp duty - it must put that back into new homes that the poorest can afford.


Finally, there was good news for anyone who wants to know more about who owns the country's land. 

As part of a package of measures to shed light on land ownership, the Land Registry's data on corporate property ownership will be made free. 

That means that renters will be able to know more about the companies that they rent from, and it will be harder for the dodgy ones to evade the authorities. And at a time when more landlords are incorporating in order to benefit from mortgage interest tax relief.