Today the Government unveiled its new housing strategy for England in a White Paper presented to the House of Commons.
The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, vowed to build more affordable houses and help people buy and rent, after admitting the current market is “broken”.
Sophie Bell, specialist housing lawyer at London law firm Hodge Jones and Allen represents tenants in both social housing and the private rented sector, including those under threat of homelessness or who are housed in temporary accommodation. She comments:
“Until now the Government’s commitment to home ownership has ignored the fact that huge numbers of people, both working and on benefits, have no chance of ever affording their own home. Finally recognising the scale of the housing crisis, the Housing White Paper offers some hope to those who are in insecure and often unaffordable rental accommodation, although gives little detail as to how many of the stated aims will be achieved.
“The Paper promises to work towards the private rented sector offering three year ‘family-friendly’ tenancies – a crucial change given 6/12 month tenancies simply do not provide the necessary security. It appears however that this will only apply to new build rental homes and that long tenancies for private rental homes delivered by housing associations, institutional investors or local authorities will only be ‘encouraged’. This is pretty vague and unless the government can impose such tenancies on private landlords in a way that creates sufficient number of long let properties, problems for renters will remain.
“Once again, we see a commitment to building more affordable homes, something one cannot help but be cynical about given the Government’s poor track record. Even if affordable homes are built, they are rarely affordable to those on the lowest incomes. Of the affordable homes built in 2015/2016 only 20% were at a social rent levels. The rest constituted properties at 80% of the market rent. With average rents in the UK of £764 a month, rising to £1,543 in London, even at 80% the cost is clearly going to be a significant struggle for many working families.
“Clearly there is a dire need for more social housing, which for many is the only truly affordable option. Despite this, the White Paper makes no commitment to social housing other than giving local authorities powers to build more homes. How will they ensure these are social homes? With local authorities so cash strapped that they are having to increase council tax just to pay for social care, where is the incentive to build social homes rather than selling off their land to the highest bidder?
“Whilst we welcome the Government’s recognition that more homes are desperately needed and that home ownership is not always the answer, the white paper simply does not go far enough and on many issues, raises more questions than it answers.”