On 13 October, the long-awaited Housing and Planning Bill was published. Key policies include plans to penalise or ban rogue landlords and the provision that local authorities with vacant, high-value housing must consider selling it. Councils must also guarantee affordable starter homes on all ‘reasonably sized’ new developments, which would be offered to first-time buyers at a 20 per cent market discount.
The Bill also includes new council regulations designed to allow more people to build their own homes and would grant new powers to allow the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to intervene when local councils fail to produce a Local Plan or build enough starter homes.
A key section of the Bill surrounds Right to Buy and its management by housing associations. The Bill allocates funds from the Homes and Communities Agency to allow housing associations to sell properties at a discounted rate to tenants wishing to exercise their right. At first glance, the Bill appears to deliver many of the public’s aspirations, including tackling problem landlords and trying to unlock housing for young people. But will this work?
Unsurprisingly, the Bill has attracted a lot of attention from politicians and the housing industry. While some commentators have commended efforts to tackle unscrupulous landlords, there have been warnings against burdening the industry with excessive regulation. The Chartered Institute for Environmental Health also warned that fixed penalties could ‘risk trivialising serious offences and could be misused by authorities seeking to raise additional income’.
A number of observers have praised the Bill’s commitment to increasing levels of home ownership. However, others have attacked the Right to Buy provision, fearing that it may place a strain on housing stock and exacerbate inequality. The Chartered Institute of Housing expressed concerns about ‘people who can’t afford to buy, even with government support’. As a result, it called for a mixture of different tenures, including shared ownership and social rent, to ensure that those on lower incomes could benefit as well.
As the Bill has only reached its first reading – a parliamentary formality with no discussion – it will be a few weeks before we see a proper debate. After that, it goes to committee for serious, line-by-line scrutiny.
While there are no surprises in the Bill, the Government may still have something of a battle on its hands. The unpopularity of some of the policies, not only with the opposition but with industry bodies, could pose a significant challenge. However, the recent support from housing associations for an extension of Right to Buy may temper some criticism.
What is clear is that the UK is facing an almost unprecedented housing crisis, and the Government is offering radical solutions to it. Whether they are radical enough to work or not will be another story.