Today in politics: Housing market reopens, plus questions on council tax, repossessions and new coronavirus report

13 May 2020 12:15 PM

We look at MHCLG’s decision to reopen the housing market, IPPR calls for a rent freeze and questions on council tax and repossessions. 

Housing market opens up again

From today anyone in England can move home if they follow new guidance published by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP.

MHCLG has said that since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house. 

All buyers and renters will now be able to complete purchases and view properties in person, while estate agents, conveyancers and removals firms can return to work while following social distancing guidelines.

In another move to unlock the housing market, the Housing Secretary has announced a series of measures to get the country building homes for the future, including:

Allowing builders to agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council, such as staggering builders’ arrival times, easing pressure on public transport;

Enabling local councils and developers to publicise planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets, helping to unblock the service; and

Support for smaller developers by allowing them to defer payments to local councils, helping those struggling with their cash flow while ensuring communities still receive funding towards local infrastructure in the longer term.

A new Charter has also been launched by the Government and the Home Builders Federation, helping construction sites reopen in line with latest health and safety guidance.

Further information can be accessed here and the full guidance can be accessed here.

The Secretary of State will also make an oral statement to the House of Commons early this afternoon.

IPPR calls for rent freeze 

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has published a report titled: “Who wins and who pays? Rentier power and the Covid crisis”. 

Of note it suggests that “struggling households could be entitled to a freeze on rent, debts and bills without new debts accruing.”

It goes on to say: “If such short-term measures are not taken, it will be all the more critical to take longer-term steps as we emerge from the crisis to redress the resulting imbalances – between workers and asset-owners, creditors and debtors, landlords and tenants. 

“Such measures could include higher taxes on wealth, land ownership or excess profits; rent controls; and retrospective write-downs of debts accrued during the crisis. This would recognise the implicit subsidies enjoyed by creditors and landlords and the sacrifices borne by low-paid debtors and tenants.”

It continues: “The ban on ‘no fault’ evictions should be brought forward urgently as the first step in a wider package of reforms to boost renters’ rights. 

“Longer-term, alternative models of land and housing ownership such as public ownership, municipal ownership, cooperative ownership and community ownership can help deal with the problems of rent extraction while aligning housing more closely with social needs.”

Former APPG chair presses government for council tax relief

Sir Christopher Chope MP (Conservative, Christchurch) has received a response to his written question asking if MHCLG will make it the policy of the government to prevent people who are unable to sell an empty property during the Covid-19 lockdown from being penalised under the Empty Property Council Tax Premium?

The Housing Minster, Christopher Pincher MP, responded: “The empty homes premium is a discretionary power and applies to properties that have been empty and unfurnished for two or more years. Local authorities are responsible for administering the premium, taking into account any relevant circumstances.”

Health guidance will determine repossession decisions

Fleur Anderson MP (Conservative, Putney) has received a response to her written question asking if MHCLG will extend the pause on eviction notices from three months to six months during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Housing Minister responded: “Through the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Government extended the notice period that a landlord is required to serve on a tenant to at least three months or, in some cases, created a three months’ notice requirement where a requirement to give notice does not currently exist.

“The Act provides powers that allows the government to keep this protection under review as efforts to tackle Covid-19 progress. Any decision to alter the duration of these emergency measures will be informed by the wider government approach to lockdown measures and Public Health England guidance, alongside consideration of the needs of landlords and tenants.”