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Westminster Roundup: From Cladding to Universal Credit

John Stewart
Written by John Stewart

Grenfell continues to exercise the minds of MPs, as an urgent question from Labour’s Shadow Housing and Communities Secretary, John Healey MP, showed on Monday.  The Building Research Establishment (BRE) had withdrawn a cladding test result from its website, after the manufacturer discovered discrepancies between the materials stated and those in the test sample. While the cladding did not contain any ACM – the material at issue following Grenfell – the sudden removal of test results has caused concern.  The new Housing Minister, Dominic Raab, was at pains to stress the situation was not comparable to Grenfell and that the current advice for freeholders was still sound. 

A real issue of contention remains who will be required to pay for ongoing safety measures and the removal and re-cladding of buildings with affected materials.  Housing and Communities Minister, Sajid Javid, maintains the responsibility should sit with the owners of such buildings, but in reality, leaseholders face being billed, while disputes are settled at tribunal.   The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, upped pressure, by calling on the government to meet these costs in the short term. 

Javid had better news on the planning front, when announcing plans to make it easier to develop existing properties upwards.  An additional 2 levels could be added to a property – provided it was in keeping with the roofline of other buildings in the area.  This policy will be included in the revised draft National Planning Policy Framework, which is due for consultation later in the year.  Further information can be found here

On Tuesday, Conservative MP, David Amess, presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill that would require all domestic properties to have an EPC rating of C by 2035.  While the Bill has little chance of progress, it would bring the owner occupier and social housing sectors into line with government plans for private renting.  New and renewed private rented tenancies will require an EPC rating of E or better from April this year, with existing tenancies following suit from 2020, with the government aiming to raise the standard to a C rating by 2028.

Signs of the government’s PRS policies are beginning to bite could be seen in research published by the Intermediate Mortgage Lenders Association (IMLA), that suggested buy-to-let borrowing had plummeted 80% in the last two years.

Despite the challenges, Ministry of Justice figures showed that the number of landlord possession claims had remained stable in the final quarter of last year.  Full statistics can be found here.

The Work and Pensions Committee published a report on the Universal Credit Project Assessment Reviews, stating that the department has brought UC back from the ‘brink of complete failure’.  It described recent policy changes, campaigned for by the RLA, as ‘major improvements’ but some of the biggest challenges facing the roll out are still to come. 

The Communities and Local Government Committee also published a report this week, looking at older people’s housing needs.  The report calls for a national strategy.  It’s likely that the private rented sector will be required to house increasing numbers of older people, as home ownership options grow out of reach for those renters currently in their 40s and 50s.  Private landlords may soon be rising the challenge of meeting the mobility and care needs of older tenants who wish to remain their homes long-term.

About the author

John Stewart

John Stewart

John is the Policy Manager for the RLA. He has over 20 years experience working in politics, as a successful election agent, MP’s assistant, local councillor and council leader, and is a former charity chief executive.

He oversees RLA policy work across all levels of government – central, devolved and local – working to ensure that landlords’ views are represented and officials, MPs, Assembly Members and local councillors have key information and evidence about the PRS before they take decisions.

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