Yesterday saw a thoroughly unusual State Opening of Parliament. Gone was the Queen’s traditional regalia and in was an informal (at least in relation to usual), parred down and thoroughly speedy affair.
One thing that never changes though is the ability of veteran Labour MP Denis Skinner to provide an unscripted piece of commentary – this year suggesting that it’s time to get the skates on, after all the Queen needed to be at Ascot for the first race.
Although not what he meant this also rings true for housing policy – where it is certainly time to put the skates on and – to steal the Prime Minister’s language this time – to get to work.
Sadly, this year’s Queen’s Speech barely uttered the word housing and, despite several positive announcements in the additional notes, there was no bold agenda set out.
Yet it is possible to make progress in this Parliament thanks to a broad consensus: the market is broken, and more must be done to provide good quality, affordable homes for ordinary people. Now is not the time to shy away from taking action on the housing crisis.
So what was mentioned on housing?
The Queen’s Speech was, unfortunately, light on both detail and content when it comes to housing, although there were some encouraging moments:
- Letting Agent Fees: first announced last year at the Autumn Statement this is an issue that we have campaigned hard on. The confirmation that a Draft Bill to deliver it will come forward is a major success. In addition to the ban it’s also extremely pleasing to see that the Bill will include a proposal to cap holding deposits at no more than one week’s rent and security deposits at no more than one month’s rent.
- The White Paper: although not mentioned in the Speech itself the Housing White Paper did get a mention in the explanatory notes where the government has committed to taking forward the proposals outlined within it. As we’ve written about before the White Paper is a positive step in the right direction in housing policy so the commitment to continue taking it forward is a positive one.
- Transparency and fairness: a specific mention was made to “promote fairness and transparency in the housing market”. Again this is a positive step and one that reflects the commitments laid out in the White Paper in February.
- Building more homes: a general statement and one that will cause little controversy, after all there is political consensus on the need for more housebuilding. Although disappointing that there is no additional indication of how this might be achieved in the next two years at least the recognition that something needs to happen remains.
But what’s missing?
In addition to a general lack of detail it is also disappointing not to see reference made to the Conservative manifesto promise on compulsory purchase order (CPO) reform.
As Shelter noted when the policy was announced a reform of CPO would have a hugely positive impact. It is imperative that the government does not move away from delivering this over the coming months.
In particular, it should be recognised that there is cross party support for such reform. The government can tap into this support and deliver a change that would mean more money for infrastructure, affordable housing and community facilities.
As we have noted in our 100 days plan for the new government there are also other, conspicuously absent, measures that need addressing:
- Improving affordability: The government needs to look again at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) – both ending the freeze and reviewing levels to better reflect local market rates. Currently in many places across the country, there is a significant gap between LHA rates and rent levels. This means families month-on-month struggle to manage financial deficits and in worst case scenarios, families get into rent arrears and lose their homes. If government is serious in tackling homelessness and its causes, LHA rate freeze must be undone.
- A new generation of living rent homes: Low-earning renters are being let down by the current market. Unable to access social housing due to lack of supply and prevented from being able to home own because of escalating housing prices, low-earning renters are trapped in the private rented sector. We need a commitment to delivering 500,000 new living rent homes to help the ‘forgotten middle’ of our housing market.
- Stability and security in the private rented sector: The government should use the momentum behind banning letting agent fees as an opportunity to make other significant improvements to private renting. Existing laws provide tenants little security from eviction and no certainty to plan for the long term. The government should legislate for a 5 year minimum tenancies to address this.
In the last two years’ strong foundations have been made for tackling the housing crisis. But there is much more to do and we cannot let the opportunity to make vital improvements pass us by for yet another generation.
Although reaffirming some positive commitments, yesterday’s Queen’s Speech simply did not go far enough in laying out a bold agenda on housing.
It’s time for cross-party working. It’s time to build on the established political consensus. And it’s certainly time to get our skates on.