It’s safe to say that the Conservative’s decision to hold a snap election well and truly backfired – the results of which are a hung parliament, embarrassing coalition with DUP and thanks to Gavin Barwell losing his seat, we now have the 15th Housing Minister in 17 years.
New Housing Minister
The new Housing Minister is Alok Sharma. Taking over from Gavin Barwell who lost his Croyden seat, he is our 6th Housing Minister since 2010 (15th since 2000), and this high turnover doesn’t bode well.
Mr Sharma, MP for Reading West, is faced with an almighty task of reigning in the housing crisis. Critics are bewildered that his position hasn’t now been made ministerial due to the severity of the crisis, and that yet another Housing Minister has been appointed without any suitable expertise or experience for the job.
Every party has made a claim to build (8,000/10,000/20,000) homes by 2020, but none have provided any real logistical or financial explanation as to how their target will be achieved.
Mr Sharma trained as an accountant and later worked as a banker for 16 years. His biggest achievement for his constituency so far was to oppose and help fight off a proposed 750 home scheme.
It is questionable how any positive progress can be made when the turnover of Housing Ministers is so high. Let’s hope though Mr Sharma is able to make a positive contribution over the next few years.
What is in the DUP’s Housing Manifesto?
With an informal coalition now confirmed with the DUP, what ideas could they bring to the table? The DUP’s Housing Manifesto would, of course, have been written without even an inkling of a coalition with the Conservatives in mind. It may, however, influence what comes next in our housing crisis.
Amongst other things, the DUP’s manifesto claims they aim to ‘drive up standards’ in the rental market by buying up private landlords’ portfolios and introducing a bulk-renting scheme, reintroduce the ‘living over the shops’ scheme, and increase investment in new social and affordable housing in order to be able to build 8,000 new homes by 2020. More on their manifesto can be found here.
Yet another coalition, even with the DUP’s support for legislation changes, does make it very difficult for the Conservatives to get through all the laws that they previously were hoping to get through, so we could see a watered-down manifesto going forward.
We’ve witnessed a number of Conservative-led attacks on the Private Rented Sector in recent years, but as we are expecting the focus to be on negotiating a successful Brexit now (rather than on private landlords), we may be about to experience a ‘legislation-light’ Parliament. However;
The Queens Speech
The draft Tenants’ Fees Bill was a definite point in the Queen’s speech and is firmly set to go ahead in England. With Scotland already having a fee ban in place for a few years now, it backs the Welsh Government into a corner and they will also have to bring in a ban at some point.
The Tenants’ Fees Bill will mean tenants will not have to pay fees to letting agents and, in a surprise addition, will also limit deposit amounts to one month’s rent.
The Government decided to bring in a full ban due to a minority of letting agents who exploit tenants with excessive fees at the outset and when renewing tenancies. They feel that by removing the temptation to have shorter tenancies (and thus to have more renewal fees), agents and landlords will encourage tenancies to become longer. The ban should also help tenants save for a deposit to buy their own home.
Currently, deposits in England are the equivalent of 6 weeks’ rent, a figure designed to protect the landlords in the unfortunately common circumstance where the tenant fails to pay the last month’s rent as well as leaves the property in poor condition. Limiting this to just one month will undoubtedly raise concerns in the Private Rented Sector.
The draft bill is expected to be published later this year.