DLUHC must back up words with action
A ‘new broom’ sweeps clean so they say. When it comes to our sector having a new Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC), let’s hope not.
When looking at the current political situation with regards to the housing market, it is possible that we might get too ‘worked up’ about the ‘new’. As mentioned we have a new, revamped Department which covers Housing and, what appears to be a priority area for the Government, ‘levelling up’.
We also have a new man at the helm, Michael Gove MP, and no doubt he is currently being inundated with information on what he should prioritise. However, the fact of the matter is that if he merely completed on the large amount of legislation that has already been announced by this Government, then it would make a considerable difference.
Now we fully appreciate that people new to the job might wish to plough their own furrow and make their own mark. That’s fully understandable and perhaps Mr Gove might like to do that in the area of improving the home buying and selling process; after all, we believe there are a large number of potential solutions to be introduced that could improve the experience for all stakeholders, and perhaps most importantly, the consumer.
Yet, we should not forget the very recent past and it certainly makes sense to remind those in charge of the commitments their predecessors (and the Government as a whole) have made, and to suggest the benefits that could be delivered if these announcements actually became law.
By our reckoning we are already in the hundreds when it comes to housing-related commitments announced but not delivered. There has been some movement in terms of planning and money has recently been announced to help Councils build more housing on brownfield sites.
But, what about in an area such as leasehold reform? We are still waiting for a variety of measures to become law here, particularly in terms of greater controls over ground rent costs, maximum fees for the LPE1, maximum times to respond, and we’re also waiting to see action taken with regards to the Law Commission’s report covering enfranchisement, the right to manage and commonhold.
On the latter, legislation hasn’t yet been announced on how we look to develop Commonhold as the ‘go to’ tenure, although we do believe it is coming. In May this year the Government announced reform of the process of the enfranchisement valuation to calculate the cost of extending a lease or buying a freehold. It also said there would be a cap on ground rents of 0.1% of the freehold value with prescribed rates for the calculations at market value.
It said it would introduce a separate valuation for low-value properties and give leaseholders of flats and houses the same rights to extend their lease agreements ‘as often as they wish, at zero ground rent, for a term of 999 years’.
In other areas we await Government delivery on their promise to scrap the ability to create a long lease out of an estate rentcharge, and to give owners of freehold property the same rights to challenge service charges as leaseholders have.
I could go on, because there are a large number of others, but you catch my drift here. There is clearly progress being made, and the pandemic put a spanner in the works in terms of ongoing priorities and delivery, but it would be positive now to see the fruits of these Governmental labours turning into the legislation that has been promised, and now needs to be delivered.
New issues are always likely to emerge, and I think we’re all acutely aware that putting the ‘Levelling Up’ brief into Mr Gove’s Governmental briefcase is a huge addition that requires significant action. But these announcements have already been made and now we simply need to move them down into the legislation zone to be able to help the very people these measures were designed to deliver for. It is the most important part of the process – getting them over the line – but without that then we are simply waiting in stasis to achieve what we would all like to see achieved.
Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)