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What did the Autumn Budget 2018 hold for housing?

Monday 29 October 2018

This year's Autumn Budget was probably one of the most anticipated in recent years, as it set out the domestic policy and financial direction for the UK ahead of Brexit.

The Chancellor sold it as a "Budget that paves the way for a brighter future" saying that the era of Austerity is finally coming to an end, and that the country now has a new future outside the EU. He also said that, if necessary, he would extend the 2019 Spring Statement into a full fiscal event.

But although talk of Brexit dominated the morning, the Governments determination to fix the broken housing market was key to the Chancellors address.

What we already knew

Hot on the heels of the Conservative Party conference, there were several policy changes which the sector was expecting.  

Following reports from earlier in the month, we already knew that the borrowing cap on councils to build housing would be scrapped from tomorrow. The Chancellor reiterated this during his speech, commenting that local authorities will be given powers to compulsorily purchase smaller plots from big developers who sit on them, and hand them to smaller house builders. 

Earlier in the week we released information on the Chancellor's decision to boost England's high streets with a much needed £1.5 billion investment. The financial package will include £900 million in business rates relief, cutting business rate bills by a third for almost half a million small businesses, with a further £675 million co-funding injection to allow towns and cities to redevelop under-used retail space into homes and offices, providing help to restore High Street properties and put historic buildings back into use - which Mr Hammond said would help with the housing challenge whilst increasing footfall in town centres. 

Although nothing new was announced during today's Budget about taxing overseas buyers, it was revealed afterwards that the additional one per cent surcharge would be the subject of a consultation due to be launched in the New Year.

What's new

Among the announcements we were already expecting, there were also a few welcomed surprises. 

First-time buyer stamp duty relief

Probably the most notable announcement to come out of today's Budget was the extension of stamp duty relief for first-time buyers in England and Northern Ireland. Addressing the Commons, Chancellor Philip Hammond declared the abolition of stamp duty land tax for first-time buyers purchasing a home using the Government's Help to Buy shared ownership scheme, worth less than £500,000. Effective from today, the relief will also be applied retrospectively to properties purchased after November 2017.

Commenting on the announcement, NAEA Propertymark Chief Executive, Mark Hayward, said: “When the Government announced a stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers in last year’s Autumn Budget, we said that it was a sticking plaster which did not tackle the wider problem of rising house prices, lack of affordable housing and supply of suitable homes in the UK. Today’s news that this relief is being extended retrospectively to include first-time buyers in shared ownership properties is unlikely to have any material impact. Our data shows that so far in 2018, 26 per cent of property transactions involved first-time buyers. This was the same figure as that for the whole of 2017, showing that it hasn’t had a real impact so far, and therefore is unlikely to make a real difference moving forwards. Instead of focusing solely on those buying their first home, the Government needs to look at the whole system to ensure it’s working effectively for all buyers, and there are suitable homes for everyone.”

Help to Buy

Whilst no reference was made to Help to Buy during the address, a statement afterwards by the Home Builders Federation suggested that the flagship equity loan scheme which was due to come to an end in 2021, will now be extended to run until 2023, but for first time buyers only.

Infrastructure and planning reform

The Government wants to see parishes and communities provide many more homes for local people to buy, at prices they can afford, therefore the Government will provide £8.5 million of resource support to empower up to 500 neighbourhoods to allocate or permission land for housing, through the Neighbourhood Planning system, for sale at a discount to local people.

A further £500 million, funded by the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), has been earmarked for the housing infrastructure fund, which will unlock up to 650,000 homes. Local authorities will be able to bid for a share of the pot, which is designed to deliver new physical infrastructure to support new and existing communities and make more land available for housing in high demand areas, resulting in additional homes that otherwise would not have been built.

A new wave of strategic partnerships with nine housing associations was also announced, which aims to deliver 13,000 homes across England and support the revival of SME house builders.

At Budget 2017, the Government tasked Sir Oliver Letwin with reviewing the cause of the gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned in areas of high housing demand. The independent review, which was published alongside the Budget, concluded that greater differentiation in the types of housing on large sites would increase the market absorption rates of new homes. The Government plans to respond to the review in full in February 2019.