Diary of a Sutton Councillor

How the Housing and Planning Bill will make finding (and keeping) a home harder

In advance of the Housing and Planning Bill coming back to be debated by MPs in the Commons I sent this letter to our two local MPs, Paul Scully & Tom Brake:

THE HOUSING AND PLANNING BILL

I am writing on behalf of the Sutton Liberal Democrat Group on Sutton Council and in my role as Chair of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee to express our significant concerns about the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill currently being considered in Parliament.

Whilst the aims of the bill to increase the delivery of housing and give greater protection to private sector tenants are to be welcomed, we are concerned that without significant amendment the bill will actually exacerbate the housing crisis, increase homelessness and push more people into poor living standards and poverty.

This situation is particularly a risk for London. We have soaring house prices where the average cost of a two bedroom house in London is now out of reach for more than 80% of people, and a rental sector in which too many people spend over half their income on rent or are victims of rogue landlords.

Right to Buy extension to housing associations

As more homes are sold off under ‘right to buy’ with no commitment to replacement, and council houses sold off to pay for this, there will be less affordable housing available overall, forcing more people into the private rented sector, and a rise in homelessness as more are added to the 1.6 million people already on waiting lists.

This policy also renders our Housing Revenue Account unviable in the medium term, which will in the first instance mean we have to curtail our council house building plans, and may eventually force us to consider selling off all our housing stock as we cannot afford to manage it.

We know that many housing associations are also reducing their building plans because of the potential impacts of this policy combined with the forced rent reduction.

Starter Homes

Only those earning at least £90,000 per year will be able to afford the Government’s flagship Starter Homes in London, representing just 5% of renters, so the next generation of young people stand little chance of ever owning their own home.

Starter Homes will be more attractive to developers than affordable homes so this will further reduce the availability of homes that average working people can afford.

‘Pay to Stay’

Under ‘Pay to Stay’ and the end of lifetime tenancies, council tenants will face higher rents or eviction if they get a better job or if their partner starts work. This anti-aspirational policy penalises hard working people and locks many in poverty.

This means council tenants will be kept in limbo, potentially being forced to move away from family and friends and not knowing if their children will attend the same school from one term to the next, or if they can keep their jobs.

Nor will the council benefit from increased income as it must be paid to the Treasury, further undermining the council’s Housing Revenue Account viability.

More people dependant on a fiercely competitive private rented sector

The combination of these policies means that poverty and homelessness will increase as more people are forced into paying exorbitant private rents.  More people will find themselves in debt and facing the fear of eviction.

In summary

This Bill will have a profound negative impact on the Council’s ability to deliver desperately needed affordable homes in Sutton, and reduce the availability of genuinely affordable homes overall. It will mean more people facing the threat of eviction from their homes, and more people pushed into poverty and debt as they have to pay more of their income in rent.

To mitigate the most negative impacts of the bill the Lords have recommended a significant number of amendments, and I urge you to vote to accept these amendments when it is debated in Parliament next Tuesday.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns in person and work together to ensure the best deal for Sutton residents.

Tom Brake sent this reply in response:

As you will know, the Liberal Democrats believe that for people to live fulfilled lives, they need a decent home at a cost they can afford. We believe that access to housing is fundamental to liberty, opportunity and hopes for the future. Due to successive government’s failures to build enough homes and manage the sector efficiently, millions of people suffer daily in poor conditions and are unable to afford their own home. Meanwhile, our housing market is overheating, with soaring prices and a rental sector in which many people spend over half their income on rent.

There is a need for Government, first, to show that they understand this housing crisis and then to show the ambition to make real change that improves people’s lives. However, the Housing and Planning Bill currently making its way through Parliament, is disappointing and unambitious even at its best. It doesn’t make a significant attempt to tackle the housing crisis – and in fact, will make it worse.

Tim Farron has described the Housing and Planning Bill as an all-out Government assault on social and affordable housing. Through the Bill, the Government will allow Housing Associations to sell their existing homes, without the requirement to replace them in the same area. This will have long-term consequences across the UK, breaking up and irreversibly damaging communities. Similarly, the Bill will allow developers off the hook from providing affordable homes by prioritising Starter Homes for the better off. It will also force councils to sell thousands of council houses with the proceeds going to central, rather than local, government.

What Britain really needs is more homes of all kinds. That’s why we’re pressing the Government to produce a long term plan that increases supply, gives security to the most vulnerable and creates homes that are genuinely affordable. My Parliamentary colleagues and I did that in the Commons today. We believe house building must increase to 300,000 new homes per year, with homes built in the right places and to a decent and sustainable standard.

Our vision includes the creation of at least 10 new garden cities and villages, empowering councils to get the funding they need for housebuilding by removing caps on borrowing, bringing more empty homes back into use, bringing back Zero Carbon Homes regulations and stimulating house building through the creation of a new Housing Investment Bank.

We believe Britain needs a radical, ambitious and compassionate housing policy like this; something that the Conservatives are not delivering. I can assure you that we will continue to fight this Bill in Parliament and outside and we will continue to push for more, better and greener housing across the country too.

Regards

Tom Brake
Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington

I have yet to receive a response from Paul Scully, MP for Sutton & Cheam.

We are not the only ones expressing grave concerns about the negative impacts of this Bill.

Sir Bob Kerslake, a former Permanent Secretary at the DCLG, has accused the Government of launching an “attack” on England’s council homes, adding that middle-class buyers have been helped “at the expense of lower-income people in desperate need”. In addressing a section of the Housing Bill that will end lifelong secure tenancies for council tenants and replace them with five-year terms, Lord Kerslake described the move as “another attack on social rented housing” which “effectively removes the security that people need to build a new home and build a new life.” He added that despite having some “good bits,” the Bill has a lot that is “fundamentally wrong,” highlighting “the actions to diminish affordable housing” as those which concern him most.

Housing charity Shelter has branded the Government ‘reckless’ and claims that over 20,000 council homes could be lost across England in a year to pay for the extension of the Government’s right-to-buy policy. On Starter Homes Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “By building homes for people on middle to high incomes, the government is redistributing existing resources away from those on low incomes. This will have a massive impact on ordinary families being priced out of the dream of owning their own home, and millennials faced with expensive and unstable private renting, or living with their parents well into their 30s.”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said that the Government’s manifesto pledge to allow housing association tenants to buy their own home at a discount has not been accurately costed, is open to abuse and may end up exacerbating the UK housing crisis. The PAC said the Government should provide “a full analysis showing how this policy is to be funded, provide a clear statement of where financial and other risks lie, and spell out its contingency plan if its policies prove not to be fiscally neutral. It added that the DCLG should publish detailed data on how it intended to ensure that every home sold off would be replaced with a like-for-like social property. “We share the committee’s concerns about the difficulty in assessing the impact of this in each local area, and have opposed proposals for it to be funded by forcing councils to sell much needed housing,” said Sharon Taylor, vice-chair of the LGA. “We are urging MPs to vote for a vital amendment that will mean councils retain sufficient funds to replace any higher-value home they are forced to sell to fund the policy one-for-one and with a tenure that best meets local need.”

Cllr David Hodge – leader of the Tories at the Local Government Association (LGA) – warns that elements of the bill  could have the “unintended consequence of increasing homelessness and pushing more families into the more expensive private rented sector”.

And our own Peer and ex-council leader Lord Graham Tope has been working with the council to understand the likely impacts of the Bill and supporting relevant amendments put forward by the Lords to mitigate some of the worst effects of the bill.

Unfortunately the Minister responsible for the bill, Brandon Lewis, has called on MPs to vote down all the amendments.

You can add your name to those concerned about the impacts of this bill by signing our petition.

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May 6, 2016 - Posted by | Information | , , , , , , ,

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