Housing White Paper: Professional Opinion

Described as helping the “homeowners of tomorrow”, the recently released Housing White Paper outlines the government’s long-term plan to deal with the UK’s housing crisis.

The Paper covered a range of issues aiming to tackle the shortage of UK homes, including diversifying housebuilders, increasing land supply and improving the rental market – matters which numerous professionals have shared their opinion on.

A key point raised in the Paper was the plan to improve transparency in regards to land ownership. The government aims to improve data availability and minimise ‘land banking’, where an option for land has been assigned without the possibility for development.

Paula Higgins, Chief Executive of HomeOwners Alliance commented on the importance of this being prevented in order to build more homes efficiently.

“Developers have deliberately managed the supply of new homes for too long, enabling them to take advantage of pent-up housing demand. The government is making small steps towards preventing developers from sitting on valuable land, but we strongly believe more needs to be done. Holding up the development impairs the speed of building housing and we need to deal with the issue of affordability.

“Stats show there is a huge discrepancy between the number of plots and homes approved for development and the number of actual homes being built so this is clearly a huge problem which needs to be tackled head on.”

The speed of building houses has also been cited as a major hindrance for supply being able to meet demand in the UK housing market.

Managing Director of NAEA, Mark Hayward stated: “Only 32,000 affordable homes were built in 2016, and this is totally unacceptable, especially given the number of homes we really need. We’ve had years of empty promises now and this has exacerbated the problem resulting in the price of properties being out of reach for so many. “

With a central proposal listing the plans for reducing home build time, the White Paper aims to address this through improving infrastructure and provision of developer support.

Another key message communicated in the Paper was the aim to diversify housebuilders and increase competition. In the wake of the recession, the number of small builders fell meaning the level of diversity in the market declined. The government aim to help the sector grow again and have delegated £1 billion of the Home Building Fund to SMEs, custom builders and innovators for “short-term loan finance to deliver up to 25,000 homes this parliament”.

In regards to boosting market diversity, Mr Hayward stated: “The announcement the Government plans to diversify the market by opening it up to smaller builders who embrace innovative and efficient methods is great and could go some way in helping deliver a vast number of homes quickly. However, it’s vital the Government considers the cost of building modular homes and understands these could remain unaffordable and unsuitable for FTBs.”

Although including plans where effectiveness can only be judged in the long-term, the White Paper also contains steps which aim to help people now. Within this particular proposal, the government aims to improve the rental market for tenants by boosting available property and increasing stability.

Commenting on the proposed changes to the sector was the Managing Director at ARLA, David Cox, who stated: “ARLA welcomes the Government’s plans to encourage more institutional investment to boost the number of properties available for rent. Any proposals that increase supply should be applauded.

“However, this approach should not be at the expense of small landlords who make up the bulk of the private rented sector. Experience has shown that, even in countries where institutional investment in the PRS has been encouraged, it still only makes up a small part of the sector. Small landlords are vital to the health of our rental sector.

“ARLA welcomes any attempt to improve stability in the housing market and it is important that tenants feel that they are secure in their homes and are able to plan for the future. We welcome the Government’s approach to this, and have been working closely with DCLG on proposals for incentivising longer term tenancies; after all, it is in the best interests of landlords, tenants and agents to have long, well maintained tenancies. It is a fallacy that a regular churn of tenants benefits anyone.”

Greater protection within the rental sector was also highlighted in the White Paper, with the government stating that measures from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 would be implemented. These introduce orders which can ban the worst agents of landlords from operating, providing tenants with greater safeguards. Local councils will also be able to issue fines and even prosecute.

Patrick Littlemore, Director of Lettings at Marsh & Parsons commented on this, stating: “Extra protections and safeguards set out in the White Paper are welcome news for renters, especially those who’ve experienced dishonest landlords, but it is important to note this works both ways. Legitimate landlords must also have protection against rogue tenants, retaining the right to lawfully evict and any restrictions on this could spell disaster. Three-year family tenancy agreements are a good move to provide greater security and stability for renters that want it, so long as the tenant abides by the Housing Act.

“The Government should make sure that measures announced do not dent enthusiasm in the private rental sector among landlords. The buy-to-let sector took a substantial hit with the increase of Stamp Duty in April last year and additional burdens could make this un-attractive, reducing investment and the supply of stock in the much needed Private Rental Sector. Greater stock levels are required to meet the ever-growing demand we’re witnessing and discouraging investment would have huge ramifications for the many young professionals that rely on renting.

“Renting gets a bad name but in reality, many appreciate the flexibility, freedom and choice that comes with it.”

The White Paper also covered issues which had recently been brought up in mainstream media such as problems with leasehold homes as well as for those looking to downsize.

In furthering the scope of market transparency, the government aim to promote fairness within the leasehold market and improve awareness for buyers.

Ms Higgins commented on the need for those currently in leasehold traps to be attended to and the growing need for reform in the area.

“The focus on leasehold houses is not before time, but we also need to turn our attention to those who have bought them already. Those who were encouraged to purchase through the Help to Buy scheme and the latest wave of new homes, for example, find themselves caught in a leasehold trap – leaving them with the choice of shelling out thousands for their freehold or living in homes which are unsaleable. The entire system is broken and in desperate need of reform if we are to create a stable housing system that truly works for everyone.”

Commenting on the difficulties that many older people are currently facing, Mr Hayward highlights the need for the housing supply to be managed efficiently. Downsizing is proving problematic for many older people due to the scale of costs involved and the lack of suitable housing, issues which the White Paper addresses directly.

“The Government’s plans to help older people move at the right time and in the right way to free up homes for other buyers is an important issue and something we believe would make a big difference. Around two-fifths of homes in the UK are owned by those aged over 65, who have no desire to move as they do not want to sustain the costs or stress involved with moving. They are considered “bedroom blockers” and are the main reason why there are a large number of homes with two or three spare bedrooms. We look forward to working with the Government on how it aims to use the existing housing stock in a more efficient way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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