The Chancellor, Philip Hamond, presented his Autumn Statement to Parliament today (23rd November 2016). This is my instant response ….
The decision to abolish upfront letting agents’ fees is warmly welcomed. For far too long tens of thousands of renters have been ripped off by extortionate fees charged by unscrupulous letting agents. To replace these charges we need a fair deal for renters. This must include controls on charges associated with the renewal of six month assured shorthold tenancy agreements where agents levy charges for things that have not changed.
Landlords should also welcome these changes. They need to know what fees are being charged in their names, and fees that are being charged to them and to their tenants.
The announcement of £1.4 billion for ‘affordable’ housing would be welcomed if it is to be spent on homes for rent, but it appears not to be the case. Therefore, this appears to be yet another opportunity missed to address the ever-increasing housing crisis. It does nothing for those who can’t afford to buy, those in temporary and emergency accommodation, and those living on the streets.
Earlier this year £4.7 billion was announced for the Shared Ownership and Affordable Housing programme, but nothing was allowed specifically for social or affordable rented homes. The Chancellor has announced a ‘relaxation’ of restrictions on this funding, but it is not clear whether this will actually lead to any more homes for rent. Developers can generate greater surpluses through building homes for part or outright sale, so there is little incentive for them to build homes to rent, and there is certainly no requirement to meet the housing needs of those most excluded from the housing market.
Investment in the building of new homes with social rents, particularly council housing, would have been a bold and sensible policy, helping those in the greatest need, and would ultimately help the public finances by limiting increases in the national housing benefit bill. On this score, the Chancellor has missed a great opportunity.
There are some measures that will help some of the JAMS, those people who are, in Theresa May’s words, just about managing. But as something is given with one hand, much more is being taken away with another, through the benefit cap and through many other mean-spirited measures.
Those who are managing well, those on middle and high incomes, are being given more, and those with the least get nothing. Britain has become yet more unequal today.