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If housing were the only issue, who would you vote for?

Monday 22 May 2017

With the General Election looming, we take a look at what the three major parties have in store for the housing sector.

Housing policy is at the top of every parties' agenda, so we have put together a round up of the three major parties manifestos from a housing perspective.

Conservatives

The Conservative party’s pledge; homes for all.

The Conservatives have committed to building 500,000 new homes by 2022, on top of their existing promise to build one million homes by 2020. Whilst recognising that property has become increasingly unaffordable, they have promised to build enough homes to meet the current demand.

In order to improve protection for tenants, the Conservatives will look at how to increase security for good tenants and encouraging landlords to offer longer tenancies as standard.

They have promised help for councils to build, “but only those councils who will build high-quality, sustainable and integrated communities” and will enter into new Council Housing Deals with ambitious, pro-development, local authorities to help them build more social housing.

New fixed-term social houses will be built, with a view to sell them privately after ten to fifteen years with an automatic Right to Buy for tenants, the proceeds of which will be recycled into further homes.

Greater flexibility will also be given to housing associations to increase their stock.

A new homelessness reduction taskforce will be responsible for halving rough sleeping over the course of the parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027. Focusing on prevention and affordable housing, they will pilot a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping.

The Conservatives briefly mentioned leasehold properties, promising to crack down on unfair practices in leasehold, such as escalating ground rents.

Whilst in support of high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets, unfortunately there was no mention of provisions for older homeowners or any specific reference to first-time buyers.

Read the full Conservative manifesto here.

Labour

The message in the Labour manifesto was clear; secure homes for all.

A 43 page draft document was leaked from the Labour camp ahead of its finalisation and formal launch, and whilst the Labour party refused to comment on the authenticity of the document, we gained a rough idea of what to expect from Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour plans to establish a new Department for Housing to focus on tackling the current housing crisis, and to ensure housing is about homes for the many, not investment opportunities for the few.

They have pledged to invest to build over a million new homes, with 100,000 council and housing association homes built each year, for genuinely affordable rent or sale by the end of the next Parliament.

Labour have promised to end uncertainty for private renters by introducing controls on rent rises, more secure tenancies and new consumer rights for renters. Soaring rent prices were indicted as the reason for more families living in temporary accommodation, the incline in rough sleeping, and for many not having enough money to save for a house deposit. There were plans to enforce new three-year tenancies as the norm, with an inflation-linked cap on rent rises during this term.

The manifesto pledged to make living conditions a priority. It identified that renters are currently spending £9.6 billion a year on homes which the government classes as 'non-decent', with around a quarter of this expenditure paid by housing benefit. According to the document, a Labour government would introduce new legal minimum standards to ensure properties are 'fit for human habitation' and empower tenants to take action against rogue landlords and their substandard rented homes.

They have promised homes built to a higher standard, and more long-term, secured tenancies. Labour has also proposed to scrap the punitive bedroom tax, which they say is a measure that has caused many people to be evicted from their homes and communities.

Government restrictions that stop councils building homes will be brought to an end, and the biggest council building programme for at least 30 years will begin. With only one in five council homes that has been sold off replaced, Labour will look to suspend the right-to-buy and protect affordable homes for local people. Councils will only be able to resume sales if they can prove they have a plan to replace homes sold like-for-like.

As one of only a few to make reference to the prevalent 'leasehold scandal', Labour have promised to back homeowners who are currently unprotected from escalating ground rents by developers and management companies. They have vowed to end the routine use of leasehold houses in new developments.

Labour will also ensure that local plans address the need for older people’s housing, ensuring that choice and downsizing options are readily available.

Take a look at the complete Labour manifesto here.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats; building more and better homes.

The Lib Dems have set a target of increasing the rate of housebuilding to 300,000 a year – almost double the current level. They say that “These new houses must be sustainably planned to ensure that excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure.”

Their manifesto promises to directly build homes to fill the gap left by the market, to reach a house-building target of 300,000 homes a year, through a government commissioning programme to build homes for sale and rent; ensuring that half a million affordable, energy-efficient homes are built by the end of the Parliament.

With the average cost of heating and lighting a home now at over £1,200 per year, the Liberal Democrats say they will reduce energy bills permanently by improving home insulation and encouraging small-scale, community and local authority renewable schemes.

Measures would include ensuring at least four million homes are made highly energy efficient (Band C) by 2022, with priority given to fuel-poor households, and pledge to look at restoring the Zero Carbon Standard for new homes which was set by Liberal Democrats in government and since abandoned by the Conservatives, increasing the standard steadily and extending it to non-domestic buildings by 2022.

With a view to building more and better homes, the Lib Dems will create at least ten new Garden Cities in England, providing tens of thousands of high-quality new zero carbon homes, with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport.

They will look to end the Voluntary Right to Buy pilots that sell off Housing Association homes and the associated high value asset levy and lift the borrowing cap on local authorities and increase the borrowing capacity of Housing Associations so that they can build council and social housing.

With house prices often unaffordable for first time buyers and rents also rising at a rate much faster than wages the Lib Dems have pledged to help people “find and keep a home of their own”.

They will help people who cannot afford a deposit by introducing a new Rent to Own model, where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years. The will also look to help young people into the rental market by establishing a new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.

Promoting longer tenancies of three years or more and an outright ban on lettings fees will be introduced to improve renting standards for tenants. There will be a cap on up-front deposits, and an increase in minimum standards in rented homes. 

By wanting to place a greater emphasis on community politics and commitments, they have promised to scrap the ‘bedroom tax’, while seeking to achieve the aim of making best use of the housing supply through incentivising local authorities to help homeowners ‘downsize’.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto went into great detail as to their plans for greener homes, planning and council decision making; view the full manifesto here.

Mark Hayward, Chief Executive, NAEA Propertymark and David Cox, Chief Executive, ARLA Propertymark comment on the housing policies out-lined in the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem Manifestos:

“The housing market is in crisis. We are simply not building enough homes to meet the demand from both the private rented and sales sectors. We are concerned that housing has become a political football for future governments to score points against each other and this is getting in the way of actually ensuring we have the right sort of houses available, in the right areas, across all tenures, to provide the homes that people need.

“Only 32,000 affordable homes were built in 2016, which hasn’t made a dent; although the parties are pledging to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, we need to seriously consider if such pledges are even remotely practically possible. As we have said many times, we need to take the politics out of housing and consider other ways to ease the pressure on housebuilding that will allow us to provide a more accessible and affordable housing market for all.”