MPs have returned from their summer break and the Government has sought to regain the initiative with an extensive reshuffle of the Ministerial team and the announcement of a major package of measures to stimulate the housing market.
Underpinning all this has been 10 Downing Street’s keenness to ensure that the Government’s central policies for economic growth are both delivered and better communicated.
Of key interest to the RLA is the appointment of Mark Prisk as the new Housing Minister. He replaces Grant Shapps, who was promoted to the post of chairman of the Conservative Party.
Prisk, a chartered surveyor by background, comes to the post having been at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as Minister responsible for construction, during which time he was an enthusiast for deregulation and liberalisation to encourage growth.
He has previously shown sympathy towards concerns over what he has described as “exorbitant” agents’ fees for “basic functions” and is an advocate for demand-side policies within the housing industry. He used oral answers while a Business Minister to argue: “The key issue with the housing market is whether the demand is there. That is the challenge: we will do our bit, but the market will need to operate as well.”
The RLA has written to congratulate the new Minister on his appointment and to seek an early meeting to discuss how best the private rented sector can contribute to overall housing growth.
Meanwhile, as new Ministers began opening their red boxes, one, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, stayed very much where he was, using the opportunity to announce a major package of measures to boost the flagging housing market.
Among the measures announced were a confirmation that Ministers would abide by the recommendations of the Montague Review to invest £200m in housing sites to ensure that institutional investors are attracted to invest in high-quality rented homes.
Ministers will also be establishing a taskforce to bring together developers, management bodies and institutional investors to broker deals and deliver more rented homes. The RLA has expressed its wish to participate in this group.
Other key developments have included:
- Ahead of their annual conference in Brighton later this month, the Liberal Democrats have published a motion on housing which calls for tenants to be provided with “more power and security”, and increased protection for private tenants by promoting new longer tenancies and access to a housing ombudsman, and to make much greater use of local licensing schemes. The RLA has written to the co-chairs of the Liberal Democrats’ backbench parliamentary CLG committee to outline its concerns at the wording of the motion and to address a number of imbalances within it.
- Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith has used questions in the Commons to make clear that housing benefits will continue to be paid fortnightly to recipients under the Government’s Universal Credit scheme if recipients are unable to manage monthly budgeting as envisaged under the reforms. However, responding to a written questioned tabled by the Conservative MP Mike Weatherley after consultation with the RLA, Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb failed to provide any detail as to the circumstances under which payments would automatically be made to a landlord. Claimants facing financial difficulties, the Minister said, “will be offered budgeting support products and services. Where it is evident that a claimant cannot manage a single monthly payment effectively, an alternative payment arrangement will be considered. This could include the payment of housing costs direct to the landlord.”
- The Greater London Assembly’s Housing and Regeneration Committee has called on Londoners who rent out properties to outline what reforms are needed to ensure all Londoners living in private rentals get a fair deal. In setting out the scope of the committee’s inquiry, its chair, Labour’s Len Duvall, explained: “The private rented sector’s role in housing Londoners has grown and evolved dramatically in a relatively short space of time, so it’s time to look at whether the current system is actually working, and where new solutions are needed.” Suggestions can be emailed firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Jacobs is the RLA’s public affairs advisor.
Contact Ed by phone on 0113 278 0211, or by email at email@example.com.