The new look ministerial team at Housing, Communities and Local Government took to the despatch box for the first time, to answer MPs questions on Monday. The session was dominated by fire safety, and more specifically, the replacement of dangerous cladding. Figures showed that just 3 tower blocks had works to remove and replace unsafe cladding completed. This is hardly surprising, given the huge costs of the works, and disputes over liability. On Friday, the First Tier Tribunal ruled that leaseholders in a Salford block were liable for the ongoing costs of fire wardens, while awaiting decisions on the future of the building’s cladding. There is an urgent need for government to clear up the confusion, and offer practical support to leaseholders who face losing their home or properties as the cost of dealing with the fall-out of Grenfell spirals.
Other issues tackled included the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, rough sleeping and the cost of temporary accommodation. IN a response to Bath MP, Wera Hobhouse, the government also revealed that it is keeping landlord licensing ‘under review’. It is clear that housing is dominating the agenda of the renamed ministry.
The equivalent departmental select committee also met last Monday, to hear further evidence on the draft tenant fees ban bill and its inquiry into the private rented sector. RLA policy director, David Smith, gave evidence in a performance described as ‘blunt’ and a ‘tour de force’. Evidence was also provided by Generation Rent and Citizens Advice.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice was questioned over court closures. With 86 courts and tribunals closed last year, a consultation on a further round of closures will not be popular. The lack of availability of court time for hearings is a major cause of delays for landlords regaining possession, and why the RLA believes there needs to be a specialist housing court to speed up access to justice for both tenants and landlords.
John Stevenson, Conservative MP for Carlisle, secured a Westminster Hall debate on the reform of stamp duty. He called on the government to switch responsibility for the tax from the buyer to the seller. He also recognised the importance of the private rented sector in his opening comments, and said the government needed to get the housing balance right. Responding to the debate, Treasury minister Robert Jenrick MP, defended the Government’s Stamp Duty reforms, including the 3% surcharge for additional homes, but failed to support his colleague’s proposal.
On Wednesday, the Work and Pensions Committee took evidence from the new minister responsible for Universal Credit, the former housing minister Alok Sharma MP, and also the Department’s Director General, Neil Couling. The session focussed on the self-employed and UC, but also gave some information on the roll-out of the changes announced in the Budget. Committee members pressed on the negative impact of changes to the system imposed by former Chancellor, George Osborne, and the ability of the department to manage the extension of UC to more complex cases.
The social housing sector is coming under increasing scrutiny, and Shelter have become the latest body to announce a commission, which will include former Labour leader Ed Miliband. The government, Labour Party and Chartered Institute of Housing all launched reviews last year, and we wait to see if the social housing sector finds itself subject to the sort of spate of new regulations suffered by the PRS in recent years.
Finally, details of the English Housing Survey 2016-17 were published last week. The survey is the largest source of statistics and information on housing, and the RLA’s Senior Researcher has carried out initial analysis of what the survey reveals about private renting.