What are the major political parties saying about house building?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few months, the UK once again finds itself in the grip of a general election. With polling day set for Thursday 12 December 2019, we thought that we would attempt to (lightly) unpack the main property promises of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats (in alphabetical order).
Development & Home Ownership
Given that the UK has a systemic housing crisis, this is an area of some interest and could be an indication of the central plank of each party’s housing policy.
The Conservatives, while drawing attention to the work they have done while in government over the last nine years, have set a target of “300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.” While not specifically mentioned, it is presumed that this would include social homes as they refer to “homes of all tenures”.
There are also plans to “encourage a new market in long-term fixed rate mortgages which slash the cost of deposits”. What this encouragement will look like, and how this will deal with the overall cost of the average house still being too high, is unsaid.
They also plan to levy higher stamp duty on overseas residents who purchase UK property.
There is also a commitment to continue with Right to Buy for “all council tenants”. As well as expanding the voluntary Right to Buy beyond its pilot scheme in the Midlands. They would also be extending Help to Buy from 2021 to 2023.
There is no verbalised promise to fund cladding removal or other fire safety measures in high-rise buildings. But the party has pledged to ensure that every home is safe and continue with its “rigorous” material testing programme. The manifesto also reaffirms the commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Hackett Review and the first phase of the Grenfell independent inquiry.
Labour has made an ambitious commitment to house building promising one million homes a decade. Labour is further promising 50,000 “genuinely affordable homes” a year, to be offered through housing associations. They also propose to scrap the current definition of affordable, replacing it with one in line to local incomes.
Labour is also promising to stop the “haemorrhage of low-cost homes by ending the right to buy”.
Labour has pledged to create a £1 billion central fund to fit new fire safety measures in all council and housing association tower blocks and to enforce the replacement of dangerous Grenfell style cladding. There is no indication as to what this enforcement would look like in practice. It is also completely silent on the issue of privately-owned leaseholder blocks and if they would also be allowed access to this fund.
The Liberal Democrats have also set themselves a house building target of 300,000 homes a year by 2024. This figure also includes 100,000 homes for social tenants each year.
They also propose to grant to Local Authorities the ability to “increase council tax by up to 500 per cent where homes are being bought as second homes”. They are also proposing, much like the Conservatives, a stamp duty land tax surcharge on overseas residents purchasing UK properties.
The Liberal Democrats, espousing the issues that Right to Buy has caused (“…served to deplete stock and deepen the crisis in social housing”), propose to devolve full control of Right to Buy to local councils.
The Rental Market
Turning to the rental market, where it is clear the parties are each vying to create a more secure rental market for those not yet able to get onto the property ladder.
The Conservatives will be maintaining their previous plan of scrapping Section 21 of the Housing Act (1988) and ending “no-fault evictions”.
It was widely suspected that the plan put forward by the former prime minister could be left out of the manifesto. However, repealing Section 21, whilst speeding up the process for landlords to reclaim properties (new mandatory grounds for possession?), will probably make up a key part of the Conservatives’ housing policy if they are elected.
Another (potentially) eye-catching offer for private renters is the introduction of a lifetime rental deposit, which can be easily transferred from one landlord to another when moving home.
Labour have announced that cities would be granted new powers to impose rent caps and other controls on the rental sector. There would also be removal of the Right to Rent Immigration checks.
Labour would introduce new “open-ended tenancies” and fund new renters’ unions throughout the UK to allow renters to organise and “defend their rights”.
The Liberal Democrats have similar policies to reform the private rental sector by promoting longer tenancies of more than 3 years with an inflation-linked rent increase built in.
To protect long term renters, the Liberal Democrats have proposed the introduction of a new Rent to Own model “for social housing where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years”
While we have only lightly touched upon some of the parties’ policies, there is much for everyone to consider. Whether you are a social housing tenant, a first-time buyer or a property investor, the next Parliament will have an impact on your prospects. While it is a truism that politicians will campaign in poetry but govern in prose, we can all hope to see some of the above policies making it into the statue books.
At Bishop & Sewell, we over 40 years’ experience in conveyancing. We know what to expect from other solicitors, but we always treat our clients as individuals with their own needs and concerns.
Charlie Davidson is a Solicitor in our Property team, dealing with both residential and commercial property.
This article is intended as a general summary on the law – no reliance should be placed on it.