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Barwell Softens The Bias On Home Ownership

The Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, had seemed to be continuing with the bias towards home ownership shown by the Cameron/Clegg Government and continued under Mr. Cameron following the election win. However, it now seems that this stance has softened, following a speech on Tuesday, 13th September at the RESI conference in South Wales. His comments indicated a move towards multi-tenure developments, which included some homes to rent as well as those on the market for purchase.

This is a move which will be welcomed by all those who fear they will never be in a position to own a home, but see their rental choices continually diminished by landlords who have felt so vulnerable to attack that they have withdrawn from the rental sector, or chosen not to rent to benefit dependent tenants. Or those that do not have secure, long-term employment – which is a growing category with zero hours contracts and short-hours contracts. In addition, in the 2015 Autumn statement, nearly all of the funding designated for affordable rent was transferred into shared ownership schemes, with planning policy changed to make councils insist on a certain percentage being classified as ‘Starter Homes’, that is, first-step on the property ladder, with prices discounted on all developments to allow this to happen.

Mr. Barwell’s statement that ‘We need to build more homes of every single type and not focus on one single tenure’ must be applauded, as it indicates that he has given serious thought to the situation. He followed it up by saying that Ministers need ‘to make sure we have a good, thriving private rented sector’. It seems the private sector have been waiting a long time for such a pronouncement, especially as it does not use the usual inflammatory language of ‘Rogue landlord’, ‘Slum landlords’ or make reference to what is perceived as very large incomes for doing very little.

Do we finally have a Housing Minister that understands that society has changed? The private sector is no longer the recourse of last resort but is now the chosen sector for many. It is far easier and more flexible for newcomers in various professions, to rent a property in the short-term rather than buy. Building expertise in their field could mean working in several locations over the first few years. It is preferable to find a good quality private rented property than to buy. What of those earning good salaries but unable to accumulate the sizeable deposit now required? Do they do as an earlier generation and buy cheaply and gradually move up the property ladder? Perhaps some do, but many choose to rent good quality homes and bemoan their fate as part of ‘generation rent’. 

Has Mr. Barwell looked at waiting lists for social housing? Even if building targets are met, it would take years to achieve more manageable waiting lists. To have a Minister who appears to understand the importance of the private sector in housing the many that need accommodation is a good start to his new job. Let’s see if he follows this up with measures that help the sector. He is said to be opposed to licensing but they are continuing unopposed. Large tranches of property are being designated for (not very selective) licensing. Any moves he makes to end this unpopular cost to landlords would make him the private sectors’ friend forever – whilst at the same time encouraging landlords to improve standards; as licensing fees will, in the long run, be reflected in the rents tenants are charged, he could become the tenants friend too! 

Work with private landlords, Mr. Barwell – it’s a winner from all sides!

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