Andy Cook: A private rental shake-up would improve security and change lives

Families should not suffer from the upheaval and anxiety of being evicted at two months’ notice, without legitimate grounds.

Andy Cook is Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice.

The most recent investigation of the Centre for Social Justice’s Housing Commission is published today. We heard one message loud and clear from charities fighting social injustice on the front line:

The lack of security in the private rented sector (PRS) is making it even harder for people to address the pathways to poverty.

Whether that’s Real Action in West London telling us about the damage done to children’s education as they are forced to move schools, or the Oasis Project in Brighton, telling us how an unstable home leaves their clients unable to address the other issues in their lives, such as addiction to drugs and alcohol, members of the CSJ Alliance voiced their concerns to us about the interplay between housing insecurity and the challenges holding individuals back.

In its third interim report, Putting Down Roots, the attention of the Commission turns to these concerns directly.

The private rented sector has experienced rapid growth over the last two decades. As the Commission found, in the decade to 2017 alone, the number of renting households with children increased by just under one million. The number of renters on below average incomes increased by 1.5 million. And the number of older renters (aged 65+) increased by almost 150,000.

Household types that could traditionally rely on the security granted by owner occupation or a social tenancy now face having to uproot their lives and look for a new home at just two months’ notice. And while the average tenancy length is 4.1 years, 81 per cent of renters are on contracts offering security of just six to twelve months.

We heard directly about the immense pressure this can place on families. A mother of two in Cheshire told us:

“This week we received ‘notice of possession’. We now have to move out at the end of January, just six months after moving in.  But there’s nothing available in this area that we can afford at the moment. We’ve done nothing wrong, and are exemplary tenants who’ve paid up front and just want a quiet family life . . . Our lives have been turned upside down by this nightmare.”

The liberalisation of the private rental market in the 1980s breathed new life into a stagnant sector. More of the people most likely to rent privately and benefit from its flexibility – that is, students, travelling workers, and young people – could take advantage of the increased dynamism (but reduced security) in the sector.

Yet this context has since changed profoundly. The sector has grown from one in ten households in the late 1980s to one in five today.

This has not only impacted tenants, but landlords too. The Commission also found that the processes private landlords rely on to limit costly void periods and to gain possession of their property in legitimate circumstances have grown unfit for purpose.

Many landlords now rely on Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, the clause which enables them to evict a tenant for no reason at two months’ notice, because the process of gaining possession during a fixed term tenancy through Section 8 is slow, expensive, and ineffective.

Thankfully, the Government is increasingly alive to these developments. It has recently run consultations advancing proposals for wide ranging reforms to private tenancies in England.

The Government must get these reforms right – balancing fairly the needs of both tenants and landlords. To bring the sector up to date, the Commission proposes a package of reforms that would radically strengthen our communities and equip thousands more households with the tools they need to thrive.

First, the Government should introduce a new Standard Tenancy with a four-year term, mirroring the average tenancy length as recorded in the English Housing Survey of 4.1 years. Crucially, the Standard Tenancy would retain the private rented sector’s flexibility advantage.

Second, the Government should abolish Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, meaning that families will no longer suffer from the upheaval and anxiety of being evicted at two months’ notice without legitimate grounds being proved. In order to replace Section 21, however, the CSJ proposes new rules equipping landlords with a wider range of legitimate grounds to gain possession of their properties during the fixed term, such as if they want to sell up or move in, as well as accelerated grounds for when serious rent arrears are incurred.

Third, and just as importantly, the Government should establish stronger securities for the landlords currently ‘let down’ by the housing justice system. The creation of a specialist Housing Court to deal with housing cases more quickly and effectively would provide swifter and fairer access to justice.

The CSJ Housing Commission will continue to work with the Government in the coming months to ensure that we achieve all we can from private rented sector reform in England.

By helping renters put down roots, a new Standard Tenancy would improve security for both tenants and landlords – and change millions of lives for the better.

 

Thomas Turrell: To succeed in London the Conservatives need to offer a better deal to renters

Rent control is not the answer. But we must ensure that deposits owed are promptly repaid and that rogue landlords are exposed.

Thomas Turrell is the Deputy Area Chairman of London South-East Conservatives. He was the agent in Greenwich & Woolwich at both the 2015 and 2017 General Election and Campaign Manager in the 2018 Lewisham Mayoral Election.

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported that the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will make rent controls a central part of his re-election bid in 2020. The reports were followed by an article from the Mayor later in the week, explaining why he believes the capital needs rent controls. This won’t come as a surprise, rent controls were a big part of the Labour manifesto, which Khan as the then Shadow Minister for London helped write in 2015. The policy featured again in the 2017 manifesto – both general elections saw Labour gain seats from the Conservatives in the capital.

Winning renters back to the Conservatives is vital for any recovery for us in London. The Mayor is on the record acknowledging he has no power to deliver rent controls. However that doesn’t mean he can’t lobby for them and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have a go at third time lucky in the next Labour General Election manifesto. The number of privately rented homes in London has overtaken the number of owner-occupied homes. Between 2006 and 2016 home ownership in London fell by 17 per cent; the make-up of London is changing. Appealing to renters has to be a top priority to any would-be Mayor and the current Mayor is making his pitch.

That is not to say we’ve had our fingers in our ears. Conservative Governments since 2010 have already made big steps in helping more people own their own home and the number of first time buyers is at its highest level in twelve years. That is thanks to policies such as: no stamp duty for first time buyers, building more starter homes, the help to buy scheme and lifetime ISA, and the extending right to buy scheme. Neither have we had our back turned to renters. On June 1st there will be a huge change to the law when this Conservative government bans excessive tenant’s fees: massive changes to the market that will benefit tenants cross the country. But this isn’t job done, or problem solved – there is more we need to do.

Justine Greening is at the forefront of the move to ensure that monthly rent payments count towards credit files. The current credit system encourages borrowing and can trap people in a debt circle. Allowing people to build up strong credit scores while paying their rent will help combat this and put renters and homeowners on an equal footing. Every month I pay a large chunk of my take home pay out in rent. It’s never late but should I choose to move house this won’t be taken into account through the credit check. Instead the system encourages renters like me to run up debts to show I can pay them off. It is such a simple move that could make a huge difference.

We also need a new focus on renting standards. Restaurants are hygiene rated with the scores of the doors, taxis and private hires all need to be licenced. You wouldn’t get into a strangers car, yet anyone can rent a house with little or no checks on property or landlord.

Many local authorities are now introducing landlord licence schemes and using this to help ensure landlords are trained on and understand their responsibilities. We can take this policy further and can use such schemes as a way to score the service of a landlord / property manager, as well as ensuring properties are in a good condition. One of the reasons I am a Conservative is my belief that competition is the best way to secure decent standards and having an independent party provide a public rating will mean landlords will need to look after properties. In addition to this, landlords having a public rating with the local authority would help catch out the rogue landlords who operate below the radar – if a landlord doesn’t have a score then tenants will know they haven’t been accredited. This isn’t about making life harder for the majority of good landlords; it is about helping tenants avoid the bad ones.

Finally, we need to speed up the return of deposits and make taking reductions harder. The deposit protection scheme has been useful, but it needs strengthening and updating. Before a deduction is made there should be evidence that more the one quote has been obtained and that the cheapest quote was used. There should also be evidence that the work was complete. A management company once took my full deposit because they claimed a wall needed painting, it so happened that I knew the people moving in after me and therefore knew the walls had not been painted – they just took the money. In a time where a deposit can be the equivalent of a month’s salary this is unacceptable. Tenants need to have more faith that their deposits are protected and will be returned if the property is kept in a good condition. Furthermore we need to introduce a statutory time limit on how long a landlord has before the deposit is released. I don’t want to make life harder for landlords, I simply believe we should making the scales weighed more evenly.

Like many other renters in London, I never experienced the rent controls of the 1970s, so I ask myself this: why was the scheme abolished in the first place? It is because they reduce investment in properties leading to poorer standards and end up reducing the rental stock in the capital. The Mayor is seeking an easy answer to a complex problem, and we can expose this by offering practical policies as an alternative. This isn’t a game of landlord’s versus tenants but about ensuring that a market is delivering for both sides.

The office of National Statistics claim that between 2005 and 2017 the amount of rent Londoners are paying as a percentage of income has increased from just over 30 per cent to 41.5 per cent. The ONS also claim the average rent payment in London has increased from just below £1,250 per month in 2007 to £1,590 per month in 2017. My first one bedroom flat cost me £750 per month and that was considered expensive, more recently I have paid to close to £1,000 a month. As Conservatives we need to be ensuring that standards are going up, not just the rent.

I have been a renter in London for close to ten years, I have had some amazing landlords and I’ve had some truly terrible ones. Everyone I know who is or has been a tenant has a landlord horror story. What’s most shocking is that this just seems to be accepted as the way things are. Rent controls won’t tackle the issue of rogue landlords, it risks making the problem worse. It is a policy written by homeowners for the problems they imagine, not the problems they experience.

Renters are growing in numbers and growing in frustration, and we need to listen, learn and act. Talking about the failings of rent controls isn’t the same as offering a credible alternative. Answers to the problems of the rental market cannot be found in state controls, but instead are found when we ask ourselves how the market can better work for tenants. Faith in the market is vital to our economy but sadly too many renters feel that landlords and letting agents run the market. Labour has raised their flag on the ground of rent controls; now the spotlight turns to us to offer an alternative.

Andrew Wood: We need clear rules to ensure fairness by councils providing property for faith groups

A stricter separation between church and state at local level would safeguard against political patronage.

Cllr Andrew Wood is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council and a councillor for Canary Wharf Ward.

What should the relationship be between religion and government in the UK especially at a local level? In Tower Hamlets, this is a live issue as the Council is helping some religious groups with opportunities at the expense of the wider community.

Tower Hamlets Council last year agreed to lease some land it owns to a mosque group; the site is currently occupied by portacabins used as a mosque. The mosque group sought a 99-year lease in order to allow the construction of a permanent mosque on the site. The lease is for £402,250, even though the Council value the site at £1.2 million. As the site is four minutes’ walk to a DLR station and twenty minute’s walk to Canary Wharf, it may be worth much more.

When this decision went to the Cabinet of Tower Hamlets Council, I asked how many homes could be built on the site instead of a mosque. (The land is currently held for housing purposes.) The answer was sixteen homes. The Council has its own residential development company and a target for building 2,000 Council homes. I also asked how many homes could be built with a community centre or mosque built on the ground floor and homes above it as a compromise, to which the answer was twelve homes. So why was this not done? Well, the mosque wanted a bigger facility which meant that only four homes could be built above the site and this was not economic.

As a result of this decision, the Council is foregoing either a large sum of money or sixteen affordable homes which won’t now be built on Council owned land. It fails both the value for money test and the needs of 19,000 people on the housing waiting list.

This is a common occurrence in Tower Hamlets. Mellish Street in my ward, Canary Wharf, has a similar set of council owned portacabins mainly used as a mosque. The Council propose to build a new free-standing ‘community centre’ for the mosque group in the car park, then knock down the portacabins to build new housing. The scheme originally proposed to build a community centre at the ground floor with new housing above it, but that proposal disappeared even though it could have delivered more housing. The site will only deliver 35 per cent affordable housing, despite the land being publicly owned. It should, therefore, be delivering 50 per cent affordable housing according to the Council’s own policies, but the suspicion must be that the cost of building the mosque means that the site can only deliver 35 per cent affordable homes.

Another example is Turin Street, where council officers agreed in late 2016 to convert a council building into homeless accommodation. The decision was suspended, as a local mosque group wanted to use it as temporary space while their own mosque was rebuilt. But that temporary use has now been extended to at least August 2019. In places like Blackwall Reach and the Burdett estate, new large purpose-built mosques have been appearing on what used to be publicly owned land. It is not entirely clear who paid for them, but the suspicion is that the cost was borne in part by the public through a reduction in the delivery of new affordable homes.

Why would the Council agree to this? It is because in the battle between Lutfur Rahman and mainstream Labour, being able to deliver prayer space is perceived to be a vote winner. If you visit the website of the Lansbury mosque group, you will see pictures of Labour (and only Labour) politicians on the site. They know very well who to thank for this generous gesture by the Mayor. This article was in fact delayed by a by-election in Lansbury on the 7th February, won by Labour.

Is this activity not illegal? When I asked, the Divisional Director of Legal Services at Tower Hamlets Council confirmed that there is no national legislation or guidance that restricts a local authority from disposing of property for faith use. Only in the USA has the “separation of church and state” been established as a legal principle, thanks to Thomas Jefferson.

But what we urgently need is some national guidance on this matter. Can publicly owned land be used for faith purposes? Can land be disposed of at below market value to faith groups? Can Councils or housing associations build buildings whose main use is for faith use? Does owning a lease on a community space entitle you to the delivery of a purpose-built mosque as has happened at Blackwall Reach and Burdett Estate? What rules then apply? Can they have segregated male and female entrances as has happened briefly at Mellish Street? All of this is unclear, allowing local councils to decide for themselves, but it also allows politicians to make politically expedient decisions on a subject which should not be politicised. And there is increasing evidence that the Muslim community are opposed to the politicisation of their prayer space; they do not like their religious facilities being used for political advantage.

Muslims need places to pray. Local government should be assisting them and any other groups that need help in finding space, whether that is for ballet lessons or for Muslim prayer. The National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 92 does say local planning authorities should “plan positively for the provision and use of shared spaces, community facilities (such as ….. places of worship)”, but that does not mean that local government should be supplying that space for only one group. They should instead be providing truly multi-purpose community space which can be used for judo on a Tuesday night, Jumu’ah prayer on a Friday, tango lessons on a Saturday, and Christian prayer on a Sunday, as already happens locally.

We also need to consider the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, and look at having a stricter separation between church and state, at least at the local level.

John Tonkiss: Part of the social care challenge involves making it easier to downsize

Despite clear demand for more retirement homes, only 162,000 properties have ever been built for ownership, thanks to red tape and other funding issues.

John Tonkiss is the Chief Executive of McCarthy & Stone

The UK’s population is ageing fast, and it is changing the shape of society like never before.

The number of over-65s in our country is set to rise from 11.8 million today to 17.3 million by 2037. Over the same period the number of over-85s will almost double, from 1.6 million to three million.

Addressing the immense pressures that this dramatic shift will bring is one of the most important public policy issues facing politicians today. The Government has rightly identified it as one of the “Grand Challenges” in its Industrial Strategy. And it goes to the heart of the forthcoming Social Care Green Paper.

In seeking to solve the social care conundrum that has vexed politicians for years, it is vital that the Green Paper considers the issue of housing. This view is also supported by Damian Green who has promoted the need for more and better housing options, such as retirement communities, to help people downsize into something more suited to their needs.

Our rapidly ageing population is bringing a new housing crisis to the fore, with millions of older people stuck in homes that are no longer suitable for their needs due to a lack of alternatives.

Research carried out by YouGov found two in five over-65s think they will have difficulty living in their current homes in future as their health changes. This is likely to place increased pressure on the health and social care services due to an increase in slips, trips and falls in homes which are no longer fit for purpose.

Too often people are faced with a choice between staying in unsuitably large family properties or moving into full-time residential care homes before they need or are ready for round-the-clock help.

However, there is a middle ground. Retirement communities can fill the gap between completely independent living in a family home and fully cared-for options – and be a critical part of solving the social care challenge.

Retirement accommodation provides a ready-made community with services on tap, including the ability to increase care provision as and when it is needed in many developments, while also maintaining people’s independence with their own private apartment.

McCarthy & Stone is at the forefront of developing this type of housing, which helps people live longer, happier lives, and we are the largest provider and operator of new retirement communities each year. It also delivers major benefits to society, in line with this Conservative Government’s policy goals.

That includes significant health and social care savings – a Government study found that living in a retirement community can save the state £3,500 per person every year.

It also includes tackling loneliness, championed by Theresa May, by providing a community for people who might otherwise be living alone.

Our communities help unlock the housing chain, with research showing that for every one retirement property bought, three further moves on the housing ladder are made possible – turning the dream of home ownership into reality for younger generations.

They also help save people money. New research published this month shows that running costs for our standard retirement apartments are typically much lower than a customer’s previous home, saving them c.£1,200 a year on average, despite significantly increased services and facilities. Customers could also save c.£13,300 a year in care costs compared to a residential care home.

But despite clear demand for more retirement homes, only 162,000 properties have ever been built for ownership thanks to red tape and other funding issues.

The Social Care Green Paper is a chance to put this right, by recognising the importance of specialist retirement accommodation.

Reform of the planning system to create a package of policy measures would remove a major hurdle to boosting supply. This includes a new planning use class for specialist retirement housing, as recommended by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, to help to clarify the definition of retirement housing and address the viability issues that affect this form of housing. Another solution is looking at stamp duty reforms to free up the housing market and help our customers move.

We are ready to play our part to tackle the social care challenge and help people thrive long into old age. A little extra help would go a long way.

Eric Ollerenshaw: Conservatives must be bolder on housing policy – and in taking credit for what is being achieving

There’s a development of 5,000 new homes near where I live. The sign board doesn’t mention the large Government grant.

Eric Ollerenshaw OBE was the Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood from 2010 to 2015.

There is something like an old adage that once an MP becomes a Minister, they forget the problems they came into politics to solve – and too easily become the mouthpieces of why the solutions are too problematic..

Not that I would dream of thinking this has affected any of my former colleagues elected in 2010, many of whom I believe shared a passion, which I hope is still there, to free up people’s lives and opportunities. To be fair, all new ministers have to face that built-in resistance to change that is part and parcel of large bureaucracies, public or commercial. At the same time, today’s particular set of Ministers have had the Brexit planning process affecting their workloads. The palpable instability it has brought to Parliamentary and Party management must also have added to the problems of Ministerial planning and policy development, let alone in some key ministries, the change and change about of the actual person who is Minister. However, it still has to be said, to have had eight housing ministers in eight years is stretching credibility, even with the above factors, a little bit too far. And I would add to that – particularly in Conservative Governments.

From Harold Macmillan in the 1950s, providing the new houses the country was desperate for after the War, to the iconic “Right to Buy” of Mrs Thatcher’s governments, it was the Conservatives who have seen homes and a “property-owning democracy” as crucial to giving people one of the essentials of human life while at the same time providing an individual stake and responsibility in their own country. It could be argued that these historical housing reforms were a crucial part in delivering both votes and long-term support for Conservative Governments and their wider economic reform agendas. Indeed, it has also been commented on before, that the decline in the last 20 years of the ability by 20-year olds and 30-year olds to buy their own properties has had a direct impact on the level of Conservative support in those age groups. There was nothing like taking on the first mortgage to really focus the mind on the critical issues of national debt and interest rates levels and consequently on the Party that has always focused on policies to manage those exact issues.

To be fair though, we introduced ‘Help to Buy’ in 2013 and in the 2015 General Election we fought on extending ‘Right to Buy’ to Housing Association tenants while there is also ‘Support for Mortgage Interest’ – all good policies but nothing as electrifying as the hundreds of thousands of new homes Macmillan pushed through or the hundred of thousands of new property owners Margaret Thatcher created.

We are certainly beginning to see lots of new properties being built, whether it be the new developments on the edges of many of our villages and smaller towns, or the vast number of high-rise glass palaces of new flats (or should I say apartments?) in our large cities, alongside some fantastic conversions of old industrial and office buildings, again mainly in our larger cities. Something is happening. Though when I walk past a vast development of nearly 5,000 new properties near where I live, according to the signboard it is all down to the local Council (Labour), the local Mayor (Labour), a housing association, and a developer – no mention of the large Government grant to that local Council and local Mayor. Sorry this might seem petty in an article about policy, but as an activist who has always believed in taking the message to the doorstep, it doesn’t half irritate that the thousands who walk past those signboards are being given a permanent and biased message – surely some part of the Government bureaucracy could be responsible for ensuring a balanced message on the signboards of major capital schemes funded by Government?

Or let’s take a bigger issue, those thousands of new flats mainly in our major conurbations, some on buy to let it is true and therefore rented, but however bought, are bought on leasehold. This peculiar English form of leasehold that does not give real ownership and something that most people who buy this way never fully realise the drawbacks or the long-term implications on their security of tenure, until they have acquired their lease. Just consider that in all those shiny new flats and conversions, we are creating thousands of new leaseholders to the extent that in London now, according to some figures, a third to a half of home ownership is now leasehold, while it is reaching nearly half in Manchester. One in five properties now across the country are leasehold and growing.

There was a time when we thought leasehold would simply whither way, and to be honest, there can be no excuse for the 1.2 million individual houses or more which are leasehold, mostly brand-new properties facing the scandal of freeholds sold on to Companies only interested in raising cash from increased ground rents and service charges – hardly an advert for a property-owning democracy. As I understand it, the Government is quite rightly banning it for new developments since 2017 but still leaving the question remaining of those already caught in the trap before 2017.

To be fair, the Law Commission has been asked by the Government to report this year on making it simpler, easier, quicker, and more cost-effective for leaseholders to extend their leases when they near the end or to buy the freehold and to actually examine options to reduce the price payable. In my mind, this has the potential to be the next big Conservative housing revolution – that is, of course, if we still see ourselves as the Party of a “property owning democracy”. This could be something really positive to offer to nearly one in five homeowners across the country. Just think of it for a moment – this could also be a positive and a distinct message to allow us entry into those new tall glass palaces in our big city centres with a policy that is consistent with the best traditions of our Party.

But the issue remains as to whether we have Ministers who are bold enough to remember they are still politicians and long enough in post to grasp the nettle of this next great housing reform. When the Law Commission reports this year, will we have ministers willing to grasp a radical agenda and MPs willing to support it through Parliament against the large commercial property interests?

Well, it looks hopeful, given that our ministers have at least given the steer to the Law Commission to do something better in the interests of all leaseholders. But what I cannot understand is why this isn’t available now to sell on the doorsteps and the intercoms in those important local elections in May this year and next year?

Before ministers quite rightly shout that they cannot make actual commitments before consultation reports are received and white papers issued, perhaps as Conservative politicians they could realise that the mere fact they recognise the problems and are considering the means to address them, is important to the electorate. So, let’s have more of this out there in Government statements, ministerial speeches, and Party Literature, because as far as I can see, those significant new leaseholders across the country have no idea a Conservative Government actually understands their situation and is actively looking for solutions!

Thomas Mawson: The Mayor of London is wrong to claim “the arguments for rent control are overwhelming”

The experience of San Francisco was that the policy caused the supply of available rental housing to be reduced by 15 per cent.

Thomas Mawson is a member of the Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives. Originally from Australia, he works as a lawyer in the City.

The hard-left ideology of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has seemingly reared its head once again, with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announcing a plan to develop a form of rent control that could interfere with private property rights in London, aimed apparently at addressing housing affordability. In a flight of whimsy, the Mayor has stated “the arguments for rent control are overwhelming,” while at the same time lamenting his “lack of powers” to implement such a scheme. However, a recent study suggests that rent control policies may be counterproductive and counteract the very goal they pursue, pushing up prices in the long-term. What has been announced, then, is an idea to formulate further ideas for which no substantive argument has been advanced, to implement a policy the Mayor has no power to implement.

A recent paper, from Stanford University, draws on substantial data available from San Francisco’s experience with rent controls to demonstrate that while there might be some short-term benefits for the small group of established renters, rent controls ultimately led to long-term negative effects for renters more generally, directly in opposition to the stated aims of such policy.

Unsurprisingly, the initial cohort to whom the law applies was found to generally value the policy, and this cohort is more likely to remain within the city, with the effect stronger for certain minorities. However, this small group of initial beneficiaries are likely the only group positively impacted by the rental controls. Indeed, younger people, a key group for whom housing affordability is a crucial issue, may find it more difficult to benefit from rent control at all since they might more often move as a result of personal reasons. A short-term policy for the few, at the expense of the many, and at the expense of the future.

Significantly, the study, by Rebecca Diamond, Tim McQuade, and Franklin Qian, demonstrated that property owners actively responded to the imposition of rent controls, including by seeking ways in which their properties would become exempt from regulations, whether through conversion, redevelopment, or even owner-occupation. Landlords might also try to evict tenants or have tenants move out.

This reminds me of a story related by a friend of a post-war world where rental caps were initially introduced to protect returning veterans and, in certain cases, widows. One such widow had remained in a rent-controlled flat for many years, paying the same capped rent for over a decade. The price of the dwelling in which she resided was depressed as a result of being subject to the regulations, although the neighbourhood was becoming more affluent. An increasingly frustrated landlord, who generally provided a minimum level of maintenance and who had repeatedly tried to remove his tenant, finally succumbed to a request to paint the apartment, for which the widow gladly relocated for a few days. However, upon returning to her apartment the widow found it had been painted floor to ceiling in thick, deep, total black. She promptly moved out, and the property was no longer subject to the rent control regime. No doubt her next property was far more expensive to rent, especially as she had been out of the market for so long. This anecdote shows just some of the consequences of rent control at a personal level.

Overall, as a result of landlord responses to the rent control laws in San Francisco, Diamond, et al. found the supply of available rental housing was reduced by 15 per cent. As well, housing supply was shifted towards less affordable, increasingly gentrified housing, aimed towards those with a higher income. On the one hand the reduction in rental supply “likely increased rents in the long run” at the expense of future renters, while the gentrification of housing supply, contrary to the stated policy goal of rent controls, “increased income inequality in the city…”. Not, perhaps, the desired outcome for long-term housing affordability and sustainability in London.

Ultimately, stemming from a reduction in available rental housing supply, higher rental prices in the long-term, and an increase in income inequality, the authors conclude that “forcing landlords to provided insurance against rent increases can ultimately be counterproductive.” This is not to comment on the negative effects on a city and housing affordability if a rental control policy is adopted and subsequently abandoned, as was the case in the Boston metropolitan area, a topic that is itself the subject of other studies.

This is but one recent study, although compelling, and detractors may attempt to point towards certain examples of limited success, although undoubtedly not in cities like modern London. So instead of following the rabbit down the red tape-filled, heavy-handed, state-regulated, bureaucratic rabbit hole that is the imposition and maintenance of rent controls, perhaps there are other more appropriate ways to address issues of housing affordability that not only focus on the immediacy of an electoral cycle, but which also meet the long-term needs of a sustainable London.

There has been a repeated call, for example, urging the Mayor to more effectively use the powers he does have to unlock additional housing supply. While we have seen some hot-air from City Hall, there has been little take-off and prices continue to balloon. The Mayor should be less concerned with powers that his office does not have, but wishes to acquire, and more concerned with the coherent application of those powers currently in his possession.

A policy of rent control is essentially a blueprint for Government to interfere with the rights of private property owners. It is said, “an Englishman’s home is his castle,” and it remains a key tenet of this property-owning democracy that an individual holds private property securely and safely, without fear of interference and overbearing regulation and control from Government.

A plethora of alternative measures may be explored to limit the negative impact of unjust increases in rent upon those who can least afford it. They need to strike a balance that protects tenants without harming a landlord’s property rights and making it less attractive for a landlord to rent out their property – thus decreasing supply and pushing rents higher in turn.

Diamond et al. suggest that “less distortionary” forms of assistance could include subsidies or tax credits. Such measures, among others, are worth careful consideration and discussion to ensure that a robust safety net continues to protect the poorest members of our society and those who need such protection most, without encroaching unnecessarily upon the sacred private property-owning rights of all individuals, including aspiring owners, especially by way of implementing policies shown to achieve the opposite of what they intend. But heavy-handed rent controls are clearly not an appropriate or viable long-term solution to assist the many existing and future renters of this dynamic and global city, nor the most vulnerable, nor the future homeowners for that matter.

This sensationalist, short-term-thinking, uninspired and self-indulgent policy appears to be somewhat of a demonstrably counterproductive power-grab, which benefits a handful of current voters at the expense of future renters. This is not a policy designed for modern London, but instead for a short-term poll-bump. Ultimately, the Mayor’s policy, seemingly drawn from the Book of Corbyn, seeks to benefit a few at the expense of the many.

Scottish Lib Dems pass policy to make it easier for domestic abuse victims to stay in their homes

I was really pleased that Scottish Conference passed a motion I proposed which aims to ensure that victims of domestic abuse don’t have to suffer the added nightmare of going through the homeless procedure when they finally seek help. It should be much easier for them to be able to stay in their home and […]

I was really pleased that Scottish Conference passed a motion I proposed which aims to ensure that victims of domestic abuse don’t have to suffer the added nightmare of going through the homeless procedure when they finally seek help. It should be much easier for them to be able to stay in their home and for the perpetrator to leave.

Commonspace reported on the debate:

Across the UK, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.

Scottish Lib Dem member, Vita Zaporozcenko told the conference of her personal experience of being raised in a house with domestic abuse.

She said: “I have always wondered why my mum did not leave and I have come to the conclusion that she had simply no where else to go.”

Zaporozcenko added: “I want you to support this motion because I don’t think anyone who has gone through this at whatever age can understand the emotional strain that this puts on the person or the people who have been abused and the fear of leaving. We should not be making it harder and by removing the perpetrator is the right way to do it.”

Specifically, the conference backed calls for the Matrimonial Homes Act – where abusers can be swiftly moved out of the family home – to be updated, claiming that it is not fit for purpose.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP told the conference how the rollout of Universal Credit has impacted on those who are victims of domestic abuse, saying the ending of split payments within the household was “a tool of coercive control” for men.

Below is the speech that I made proposing the motion.

“Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?”

That question is on the front of Change, Justice, Fairness, a Scottish Women’s Aid community research project into homelessness caused by domestic abuse in Fife.

Too often, the trauma suffered by victims of domestic abuse is exacerbated when they are forced to leave their homes, often with their children. It is not acceptable that they should be forced into this situation.

It is unlikely that the event that led to them seeking help was the first incident. Safe Lives suggest that someone will endure 50 incidents of abuse or violence before getting effective help.

So you have very vulnerable, traumatised individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, having to declare themselves as homeless. That means that they are put in temporary accommodation, perhaps for short periods into bed and breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities, where they don’t have the comfort of having their own things around them, the children don’t have their toys. They are perhaps in an unfamiliar area away from their support networks. They could get moved at any time to different temporary accommodation. That instability and insecurity piling even more distress on to them.

Those who aren’t married and aren’t named on the tenancy face a lengthy and complicated battle to gain occupancy rights if they wish to stay in their home.
The process of transferring a tenancy can also take time, during which the victim can be homeless. This needs to be sorted with greater speed. The Scottish Government needs to produce guidance that strengthens the rights of the victim to prevent them going down the stressful homeless route.

Conference, this motion demands better for victims of abuse.

We call on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that they have the right to stay in their own home if they wish to do so.

If they are to be moved, that should be done in a planned way. We recognise that the statutory homeless route is not appropriate for families who are suffering the effects of abuse.

We call on housing associations to do more to support people in this situation. I was surprised to learn that not al social housing providers have stand alone domestic abuse policies.

The Women’s Aid research identified serious flaws in the way victims were treated. Women described how they had to talk about what had happened to them in an open plan office.

One said:

“having to repeat my circumstances over and over again was humiliating and distressing to me. I was also worried about a negative reaction of not being believed every time I had to explain to a new person.”

A third of the staff who dealt with disclosures of abuse said that they had not had any training.

Particularly troubling was the fact that the majority of service providers didn’t have any idea that the moment of leaving an abusive partner was the most dangerous for the victim.

Last year the Chartered Institute of Housing, working with Women’s Aid and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance launched the Make a Stand campaign to encourage the housing sector to do more to support victims of domestic abuse. They have asked housing providers to sign up to four goals, to be completed by September this year.

It’s not just about writing a policy, it’s about embedding it and making sure that one person in the organisation is responsible for making sure it works.

It’s about making sure people have easy access to domestic abuse services.

And it’s about putting in place HR policies aimed at supporting their own staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse. It’s changing the culture of the whole organisation and its understanding and awareness of this issue.

Our motion recognises the need for the Scottish Government to provide a destitution fund for those who can’t access benefits. If you are leaving an abusive relationship and you are here as an under some other form of immigration control, you may have no recourse to public funds. That means you can’t get child benefit, universal credit, and disability benefits. You can’t even access the Scottish Welfare Fund.

So if you leave, you have no way of feeding or clothing yourself. Shakti Women’s Aid in Edinburgh’s evidence to the committee was horrendous. Women described how they were having to resort to using pillowcases as nappies. That is no way to treat people who are in an incredibly vulnerable position, who were already terrified about their future being in the hands of the Home Office.

And EEA nationals, even now face difficulties – from the Equalities and Human Rights Committee report:

“We heard changes to UK benefit entitlements for European Economic Area nationals had created additional barriers and risks for women from these countries experiencing domestic abuse. These rule changes failed to take account of gendered patterns of care and employment. Victims of domestic abuse were “doubly disadvantaged” from being able to meet these requirements, due to the coercive and financially controlling behaviour of the abuser.”

We should also be aware now that one of the effects of Brexit will be that EEA nationals who come to live here after the end of next year will be subject to the same brutal immigration system as the rest of the world and could find themselves without access to public funds if they leave home because of domestic abuse.

Conference, this motion gives real choice to women who are leaving an abusive situation. It gives them the chance to stay within their own homes if they wish so that their whole lives and those of their children are not thrown into even more turmoil.

It makes sure that the services they access give them the financial and practical support they need.

Conference, show victims of domestic abuse that we stand with them by passing this motion.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Andrew Carter: More flexibility in council finances is needed if the target for new homes is to be met

Without a boost to infrastructure and local services, it will not be possible to increase the housing supply.

Andrew Carter is Chief Executive of Centre for Cities

In recent weeks, we have seen a surprising shift in political debate. While much political attention remains focussed on the Brexit high-drama of Westminster, there is now an increasing sense that some politicians are beginning to look at issues closer to home once again.

Earlier this month, James Brokenshire lauded the Local Government Finance Settlement as paving the way for a ‘fairer, more self-sufficient and resilient future’ for local government. After ten years of very large spending reductions this is long overdue. While the belt tightening introduced in 2010 has undoubtedly made local authorities leaner and more efficient, all the evidence now indicates that they are unable to take any further restrictions without it significantly limiting their ability to provide the public services that many residents depend on and expect. This was evident in the responses by MPs on both sides of the House to the Secretary of State’s parliamentary statement setting out the 2019 Settlement.

Urban authorities have felt this pressure most acutely. Centre for Cities’ annual Cities Outlook analysis found that Britain’s urban areas have borne nearly three quarters of all real-term local government funding reductions since 2009/10, despite being home to just 54 percent of the population. This is equivalent to a £386 fall in spending for every city dweller, compared to £172 per person living elsewhere.

The social care crisis adds to this problem. A decade ago, just four cities, out of the 62 we studied, spent the majority of their budget on social care; now half of them do. Barnsley now ranks as both the city that has seen the largest fall in spending since 2009/10 (a 40 percent reduction), and also the place that dedicates the largest share of its budget to social care (62 percent of its budget). This is no coincidence.

These funding pressures are not just bad news for public services, but also bad news for the British economy. The UK’s 63 biggest cities account for around 60 percent of all the UK’s jobs, business starts, and total GVA. Therefore, anything that hampers their development is a handicap to UK plc. In the past decade, strategically important services have seen significant spending reductions in cities. For example, spending on activities to improve their economic performance has fallen in cities by 43 percent. If this continues it will not bode well for the UK’s long-term economic performance. As noted by the National Audit Office recently, cuts to planning services over the last decade means the likelihood of hitting the government’s target to build 300,000 homes per annum is much less likely. As ever thus, a decision taken in one part of government has knock on effects for another part, often in a perverse way.

While the forthcoming Spending Review is an opportunity for the Government to address these challenges, it would be overly optimistic to expect significant amounts of extra funding for local government. Despite the Secretary of State’s warm words, the Local Government Finance Settlement still deals councils a further reduction to their central government grant. However, the good news is that some of the policies that would support city finances to be more sustainable in the long-term could be delivered at minimal cost to HM Treasury.

First, the Government should scrap the current rules stipulating that money raised through council charges in one area can only be spent in the same area. It makes little sense that councillors struggling to keep libraries open or roads maintained are prevented from accessing funds raised in other areas, such as through parking charges. Local leaders are best placed to make decisions about need in their area and the Government should give them the tools to do so.

Second, while it may be controversial, we need to examine the idea of giving cities powers to introduce localised taxes. Following the passing of the Scottish Government’s recent budget, and with significant public support, Edinburgh became the first British city to implement a £2 per night tourist tax. Enabling cities across the country to follow suit would bring them in line with places such as Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. It would also raise money to spend on public services without a cost to local taxpayers.

Finally, the Government should reform the current local government finance rules that stipulate that councils can only set single-year budgets. This rule encourages short-term thinking in local government and restricts councils’ capacity to reform public services, and fund the up-front revenue costs associated with developing the major strategic housing or infrastructure projects that drive the economy forwards.

There are signs that we are heading in the right direction. Brokenshire has just reaffirmed the Government’s belief in the merits of city devolution in rejecting the One Yorkshire campaign proposals. Local government minister, Rishi Sunak, has also indicated that the government is open-minded about devolving fiscal power to cities. In the next Spending Review, the Chancellor should move this one step further and unlock cities’ economic potential. It is vital for our future prosperity that he takes this opportunity.

 

Will Tanner: Nansledan offers an answer to Britain’s housing crisis

By engaging properly with the local community, the developer has won local consent for four times as many homes as originally proposed.

Will Tanner is Director of Onward, which today holds Creating Communities 2019, a major conference in partnership with Create Streets.

You will not have heard of Nansledan, but it might be an answer to Britain’s housing crisis.

The development on the edge of Newquay was planned as the kind of scheme which NIMBY residents are supposed to oppose vociferously: an urban extension of one thousand new houses.

Over the last seven years, the opposite has happened. Instead of building a thousand new homes as originally proposed, the local community now supports four times that number in a mixed-use scheme that will increase the size of the town by 20 per cent.

As a result, the development will serve Newquay’s housing needs for not just five but the next fifty years.

Nansledan turned NIMBYs into YIMBYs by doing something that should be unremarkable but is in fact revolutionary in Britain’s adversarial planning system. They worked with local people to ensure that the development met their needs, not just the short-term interests of developers and landowners.

Instead of imposing plans on the community, the landowner undertook a detailed engagement process with residents. They discovered that local people wanted good design and local jobs. This led to a co-design approach that meant terraced seaside streets planned with the community and its own high street, church, school, and public spaces.

On top of that, the community will create 4,000 jobs for local building and trade firms. It is, as the Director of Planning for Cornwall County Council remarked, about “a comprehensive new place rather than just building houses”.

Nansledan is the exception rather than the rule. True, it has advantages that other sites do not – not least, in the Duchy of Cornwall, a long-term landowner focused squarely on sustainable development. But it nevertheless shows that with the right engagement and a long-term approach, we can build the homes we need and simultaneously improve local trust in the housing market. We must create communities, not just build homes.

Thankfully, the Government is already singing from this hymn sheet. In the reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework set out last year, much greater weight was given to planning by consent and design-led development. The recently announced Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, led by Sir Roger Scruton, will set out ways to go even further. The Secretary of State, who will lead an Onward and Create Streets conference today, talks openly of “ensuring the homes communities need are built, accepted and loved by those who live in and near them”.

The reality is that NIMBYism is more myth than reality. Local communities are objecting to lack of engagement, not the issue of development. A poll last week for Number Cruncher Politics found that 62 per cent of people support building more housing in their local area, double the proportion (30 per cent) who oppose it.

Of those that do oppose, their two biggest concerns were not their views or the impact on green spaces, but related to infrastructure: 47 per cent of people said they worried about increased demands on local services and 45 per cent said increased traffic.

This speaks to one of the greatest problems in our housing and planning system: that we too often fail to use the value generated by planning permission to invest in communities. We currently let 75 per cent of the gains from land value, around £10 billion a year, accrue to landowners and developers. That is money that could be partly used to build local infrastructure like schools, doctors’ surgeries, roads and green parks.

Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) are woefully insufficient: Onward has found that last year more than a quarter of developments between 100 and 999 homes, and seven per cent of developments of over 1,000 homes, paid no Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy at all.

Reform would deliver the homes that Britain needs and the communities to support them. A new approach put forward by Onward last year would refocus the plan-making process away from its current passive and sequential approach – in which landowners choose which land to bring forward, usually on the edge of existing settlements – towards an active policy that starts from the question of which land would be most acceptable to local residents and best for new development for the local area.

This kind of master-planning, which is common in Europe but rare in Britain, would likely favour standalone settlements over piecemeal development on the edge of existing towns and villages, and allow for infrastructure to be installed before new homes. The Netherlands, which takes this approach, captures around 90 per cent of land gains in some cases.

Since the end of the New Towns programme and Docklands Development Corporations, Britain built no significant planned communities. In the last few years, local and central government have started to consider new planned communities, including garden towns and villages across the country, but the sites are still relatively small in number.

This Government has presided over a house-building revolution for which it does not get enough credit. Net housing additions are now at 222,000 – around 100,000 more than the level inherited in 2010-11 – but 78,000 fewer than the Government’s target of 300,000 homes. The vast majority of those are houses not flats, and new builds not conversions. Supply is rising and prices are stabilising.

But in doing this we must ensure that new homes are high quality, that they are loved by their communities, and that they have the infrastructure to make them sustainable for the long-term.

Paul Mercer: Tackling empty homes in Charnwood

In many cases, when we spoke to the owners, they admitted that they were unsure about how they could either sell or rent out their property.

Cllr Paul Mercer is councillor in Loughborough.

Charnwood is a fairly typical English borough with a mixture of housing – dense terraced properties in the centre of town, housing estates and small villages – in its two parliamentary constituencies. The number of empty homes in the borough is relatively low in comparison with some areas in northern England, such as Burnley where whole streets are boarded-up. But there have been a residual of around 650 which had remained empty for six months or more.

If someone chooses to buy a property and keep it empty then they have an absolute right to do so even though one could question whether it makes financial sense, at least outside London. However, having looked at the problem in more detail, it was apparent, first, that a number of these properties were creating problems for the local area. Problems such as vandalism, rodents and general disrepair were all mentioned and each year the private sector housing team was receiving about 25 complaints. The second problem is that, in many cases, when we spoke to the owners, they admitted that they were unsure about how they could either sell or rent out their property and had simply left it empty because it was the easiest thing to do.

In 2015, we set up the scrutiny panel to examine the problem of empty homes and despite resistance from our officers, recommended that Charnwood introduces an empty homes premium – charging more council tax on properties that had been empty for more than six months. At the time, officers had a target of bringing just four long-term empty properties back into use each year and even then, they complained that this objective was “challenging”. We therefore decided to complement this new premium with the appointment of an empty homes officer who would be given the ambitious target of 50 homes each year.

Although the appointment of any new council employee costs money, this was a position which effectively paid for itself because these properties triggered the new homes bonus and therefore generated considerably more income although most of it is taken by the county council. At the same time, not only did it mean that more houses were entering the property market, but we were addressing the problems caused by empty properties and, in many cases, actually helping the owners deal with their problem.

The majority of these properties were relatively small two or three bedroomed houses but there was one, actually in my ward, which was very large and had remained empty for two decades. Although the owner had hoped to convert it into flats there had been a number of reasons why this proved difficult. Our new empty homes officer contacted the owner directly and persuaded him that it would be possible to bring it back into use by modernising it in four separate phases. The first stage has now been completed and there are six new flats occupied by tenants; the next three stages will see the addition of 17 flats bringing the total to 23.

Addressing the problem of empty homes has been an all-win success story with the owners, local residents and council taxpayers benefiting. It has shown that the Conservative’s policy of introducing the empty homes premium, when correctly applied, can have a beneficial effect, as well as generating some extra revenue. Charnwood’s pragmatic approach to this problem is one which other councils could benefit from.