Election fever – or should that be election fatigue? – is back, with the country once again getting ready to head back to the voting booths.
The snap vote, the first December election since 1923 and the third general election since 2015, comes after months of toing and froing over Brexit and a heavily divided House of Commons where no one party had anything close to a majority and the government found getting anything through Parliament highly difficult.
Boris Johnson called the election with the clarion call of breaking the impasse and getting Brexit done, Jeremy Corbyn has promised to renegotiate a better deal with the EU before taking it back to the people in a second referendum within six months, while Jo Swinson has promised to stop Brexit altogether.
No wonder, then, it has regularly been referred to as the Brexit election – but it’s not the only topic people are concerned about. Domestic issues always play a major part in any election, and in all recent polls housing has been a key battleground for all the parties. Going by their manifestos, this will be the case once again.
But what are the various pledges being made by the main parties and what would their impact be on the property market? We take a closer look.
The Conservative Party’s manifesto
places a key focus on helping people to buy and rent, with the most eye-catching policy being new long-term fixed-rate mortgages which slash the cost of deposits for first-time buyers, which the Tories say will open ‘up a secure path to home ownership for first-time buyers in all parts of the UK’.
As you might expect, given it was the party which introduced the policy in the first place, the Conservatives are committed to Right to Buy for all council tenants as well as maintaining the voluntary scheme agreed with housing associations, expanding further pilot schemes across the country.
The Tories are also committed to reforming shared ownership and the leasehold system, as well as introducing a Better Deal for Renters, which will include the abolition of Section 21, so-called ‘no fault’ evictions and the creation of a lifetime deposit which moves around with the tenant.
The party says it will protect tenants from revenge evictions and rogue landlords, and promises that good landlords will have their rights of possession strengthened.
The manifesto also confirmed the plans to introduce a 3% surcharge on non-UK resident buyers, with the extra money generated going towards tackling rough sleeping.
As for housebuilding, the manifesto reiterated the party’s bold ambition to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. Some have questioned the viability of this plan given the current rate of housebuilding is around 220,000 new homes a year. Still, the Tories have insisted they will construct at least a million more homes, of all tenures, over the next Parliament, while also pledging to make the planning system simpler and support modern methods of construction such as modular housing.
Furthermore, the manifesto committed the party to building safety, supporting community housing, protecting the Green Belt and creating environmentally-friendly new homes.
The Labour Party insists its manifesto
is one of the most radical and transformative ever, and has placed a key emphasis on both building many new homes and regulating the private rented sector in a more comprehensive fashion.
Jeremy Corbyn’s party will, according to the plans it lays out in its manifesto, deliver a new social housebuilding programme of more than a million homes over a decade, with council housing at its heart.
By the end of the next Parliament (2024), Labour insists it will be building at least 150,000 council and social homes per year, with 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent – a considerable uplift from where we are currently.
But despite its pledges for many new homes, it says it will protect the Green Belt by focusing on brownfield sites and disused public land instead.
The manifesto also outlines plans to end Right to Buy and the leasehold scandal, while all new homes will need to meet a tough, new carbon-zero homes standard to help in the fight against climate change. Local councils, meanwhile, will be given powers to bring empty homes back into use by taxing properties which have stood empty for over a year.
Labour says it will keep Help to Buy going, but reform it to make sure first-time buyers on ordinary incomes benefit. Local people will also be given a boost by having ‘first dibs’ on new homes built in their local area. A new Department for Housing will be created and Homes England would be a more accountable national housing agency.
In terms of the private rented sector, the party’s proposals include rent controls, open-ended tenancies and new, binding minimum standards, with runaway rents capped with inflation and cities offered powers to cap rents further. The proposals are likely to go down well with renters but are strongly opposed by those in the lettings industry, who insist the changes would drive landlords and investment from the sector and punish the many good landlords who provide much-needed rental homes.
As with the Conservatives, Labour has promised to end so-called no fault evictions and will impose tougher sanctions on those landlords who flout the rules.
Local authorities would be given more powers to regulate the rapidly growing short-lets market, while Right to Rent would be ended to ‘get rid of the discriminatory rules that require landlords to check people’s immigration status or that allow them to exclude people on housing benefit’.
In a further pitch to tenants, Labour says it will fund new renters’ unions in every part of the country to enable renters to organise and defend their rights.
Lastly, the party has promised to end rough sleeping within five years.
Jo Swinson’s party might have lost some of the momentum they gained through impressive performances in May’s local and European elections, but the Lib Dems are still hoping to be the third biggest party in Westminster after December 12 and could hold the position of kingmakers in the event of another hung parliament.
With this in mind, the Lib Dem manifesto
includes a number of housing policies designed to appeal to all parts of the property sector.
The party matches the Conservative Party’s pledge to build 300,000 homes per year, but this time with at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year. This will be funded by the party’s £130 billion capital infrastructure budget.
All new houses will be built to zero-carbon standards under the Lib Dem plans, while full control of Right to Buy will be devolved to local councils.
Rent to Own and Help to Rent (providing government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30) schemes will be introduced, and the party also says it would allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% where homes are being bought as second homes. A stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents buying second homes would also apply.
In the rental sector, the party would promote longer tenancies of three years or more, with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, while protections against rogue landlords would be bolstered through mandatory licensing.
The Liberal Democrats have also promised to end rough sleeping within five years.
As we know, the pledges in manifestos are often just that – pledges – so whether many of the bold policies outlined above will actually ever see the light of day will only become clearer over time.
All the parties are offering quite different policies on housing, though, so the extent to which the private rented sector is regulated and the approach to housebuilding will depend greatly on the outcome of the upcoming election.