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Social Housing Speed Read – the Conservative Party conference

We take a closer look at the Government's comments on the housing sector following the Conservative Party Conference and consider whether there has been any change in the Government's focus on home ownership.

Housing Proposals at the Conservative Party Conference

There was a definite spotlight on housing at the Conservative Party Conference last week with Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary confirming that housing would be his “number one, two and three priorities over the next few years”. This is not surprising given the Government’s target of building one million new homes by 2020.

Indeed, even the Prime Minister vowed to “repair the dysfunctional housing market” by increasing the number of new homes available and put this at the centre of her speech on Wednesday 6 October.

During the party conference the Government announced an array of new housing policies to tackle the current housing shortage which include:

  • £3bn Home Building Fund – This fund combines several existing funds into one central fund and the Government has simplified eligibility criteria in an attempt to increase the use of the fund and thereby the number of homes built. Most significantly it was confirmed that housing associations could also access this funding.
  • £2bn Accelerated Construction Programme – The Government will partner with both contractors and investors to encourage ‘accelerated construction’ of public brownfield sites, with the hope it will lead to housing being built at double the existing rate.
  • Future Housing White Paper – This is due to published later on in the year, proposing further measures to enable the Government to reach their housing target. Although the details of such proposals were not outlined, its content will no doubt be the focus of lobbyists of the sector.
  • Starter Homes – Gavin Barwell, the Housing Minister has confirmed the Government are looking to extend the definition of ‘Starter Homes’ so as to include rent-to-buy and other forms of low cost home ownership.
  • Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Schemes – Gavin Barwell has indicated the Government may look to include funds for sub-market rents within these schemes, therefore increasing the number of affordable rental properties.
  • Armed Forces Help to Buy – The Government confirmed this scheme has been extended for a further two years until 2018.

There were also suggestions by the Government that they would be introducing certain measures to encourage the regeneration and development of brownfield sites as well as focusing on one hundred local authority areas where housing demand significantly outweighs the supply.

Has there been a change in focus?

The Government’s highest housing priority, since David Cameron held office, has been increasing home ownership throughout the country. However, with the number of homes being built not able to meet the level required to meet their target, it seems the Government have looked to introduce a broader scope of housing policies to help them build one million new homes by 2020.

Theresa May’s latest comments on housing policy are likely to strengthen the argument that the Government has moved away from a primary focus on home ownership to those schemes which will increase overall supply.

This more diverse approach will undoubtedly be welcomed by the sector who, in the case of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors have been calling for the Government to take a “bolder long-term approach” to address the increasing trend of people relying on the rental market as house prices become increasingly unaffordable.

Certainly with the impending deadline of 2020, the Government will be looking at all possible ways to increase the number of homes being built and tackle the shortage head on.

So far, following these latest announcements, it seems they have recognised that home ownership is only one of many options to enable them to do this.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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