The Conservative Party Conference has now finished and whilst there was much to listen to, and learn, from the many speakers and events that took place, we’ve been watching closely to find out, in particular, what was discussed about the property market. Here’s a round-up of what was said, and by who.
Michael Gove, the (recently elected), Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary
On Monday, the first day of the Conference, we saw Michael Gove take to the stage and, whilst there was little mention of housing and the government’s ambition to have 300,000 new properties built each year, he did reiterate that the government will "share the cost of building safety and greening buildings "more fairly.
He also took time to explain what the government's ‘levelling up’ agenda was and reiterated its four main aims; to strengthen local leadership; to drive real change, to raise living standards; especially where they are lower, to improve public services; especially where they are weaker and to give people the resources necessary; to enhance the pride they feel in the place they live. So, whilst no mention of housing specifically, there’s certainly points raised that could apply to it and probably hope that the new ‘levelling up’ agenda will positively affect future housing policy. Only time will tell.
Eddie Hughes, minister for rough sleeping and housing at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
On Tuesday it was the turn of Eddie Hughes who took part in a panel discussion abut the rental market and, it was for good reason. Back in 2019 the Conservative manifesto included a commitment to introduce a Renters’ Reform Bill that would introduce far-reaching reform to the rental market including an end to ‘no-fault’ evictions but, since then, the government promised a White Paper to be published beforehand to detail the reform package. Whilst some believed that Mr Hughes would take the Conference as an opportunity to discuss the content of this, instead he reiterated that the government is continuing to gain feedback from all members of the sector in order that they can develop policy that is fit for purpose and ensure that they identify any unintended consequences that could arise i.e. bringing in stringent measures that lead landlords to withdraw from the sector. He explained that the panel discussion would add to this feedback.
He did, however, hint at Lifetime Deposits being introduced (which allow a tenant to move a deposit from one tenancy to the next) acknowledging, however, that this should not bring financial burden to the tenant nor present any risk to landlords and that, in fact, it would be a variant of an insurance policy.
Fellow panel members including Polly Neate, chief executive of charity, Shelter, Conservative MP Lia Nici and Tamara Sandoul, policy and campaigns manager at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health contributed to the feedback, as did many landlords and tenants in the audience, with key conclusions emerging that:
- The Private Rental Sector (PRS) needs reform, there should be an end to homelessness and more affordable homes available.
- A National Landlord Register would be good; not presenting additional burden on the landlord but to assist Councils.
- Whilst there’s already a lot of regulation, enforcement is difficult due to the strains on resources, particularly within Councils, and whilst there were calls for funds to support them to be ring-fenced, there was clearly concerns that this might be difficult to do.
- Getting rid of Section 21 may not be the answer with Eddie Hughes acknowledging that the government has to be mindful of the consequences of this move.
- Help was needed for tenants to build assets to support home ownership; again more affordable homes were needed.
- There’s a need to improve the condition of houses in the PRS with 23% currently below standard
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Finally, in support of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Department, the Prime Minister confirmed, in his end of Conference speech, that home ownership is a central part of the government's levelling up agenda and that housing was part of a £640 billion infrastructure investment programme. He highlighted that there were areas of Britain where no houses were built and that brownfield sites, rather than Greenfield sites, presented the opportunities to build new homes. Home ownership, rather than renting, was a key priority.
Only time will tell what happens in the weeks and months ahead but it’s clear that, as well as it being important to all those in the property market, that housing remains a key focus area for the government and that their success will be heavily judged on the handling of housing policy and reform in the future. We wait with interest to see what happens next.
In the meantime, if you are a landlord and would like to find out more about developments in the market (and you have not already done so) why not subscribe to our regular e-newsletters which provide useful information and advice that may be of interest to you.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a report of the Conservative Party Conference held in October 2021 and should not be considered as a reflection on the views or opinions of Reeds Rains.