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What does the cabinet reshuffle mean for housing?

  1. 17 January 2018
  2. By Nick Perman

Theresa May’s recent cabinet reshuffle wasn’t anywhere near as wide-ranging as promised. From a property perspective, though, there were a number of promising developments – not least the fact that housing will now have a position at the cabinet table.

A change of title

Sajid Javid was reappointed to head up the same department, but with a slightly altered title. He is now the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which at long last means housing will be represented at cabinet meetings. The calls for this have been plentiful and loud, especially given the importance of housing to voters and the emphasis placed on it by politicians of all stripes.

Adding housing to a senior minister’s brief also ties in with May’s promise to make housing the central priority of her premiership, fixing what she and other ministers have called the ‘broken housing market’.

The increased focus on housing will encourage those who want to see it given the same weight as other key domestic issues such as education, health and foreign affairs.

Of course, much of Javid’s work before the change in title revolved around housing – in recent times his department has called for consultations on a number of housing issues and worked closely with major trade bodies to improve the sector – but the decision to effectively create a Housing Secretary feels like more than political posturing.

Javid himself was certainly pleased with the addition. “Building the homes our country needs is an absolute priority for this government,” he said. “The name change for the department reflects this government’s renewed focus to deliver more homes and build strong communities across England.”

Housing Minister number 16

One of the government’s favourite activities since winning power in 2010 has been changing the position of Housing Minister like it’s going out of fashion. And Theresa May continued that tradition by putting in place her third Housing Minister since becoming PM just over 18 months ago.
Her first, Gavin Barwell, was replaced by Alok Sharma in the wake of the 2017 general election. Now the Reading West MP, who was only in post for seven months, has been shifted to the role of employment minister at the Department of Work and Pensions and replaced by Dominic Raab.

Raab, a legal expert and prominent Brexiteer, becomes the seventh different person to take on the role since 2010 and the 16th since 1997. First elected as MP for Esher and Walton in 2010, he has no obvious experience in housing but has previously held down ministerial roles as the Minister of State for Courts and Justice and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Civil Liberties.

While the appointment of another new Housing Minister might be reason for despair, there is hope that Raab will now have extra influence given the changes to Javid’s department and the increased government focus on housing.

What does this mean for you?

The government has made plenty of bold pledges on housing in recent times – whether it be one million new homes by 2020 or Philip Hammond’s recent announcement that 300,000 new homes a year will be built by the mid-2020s.

A number of housing consultations are ongoing, recently closed or have had their outcomes revealed – including ones on ‘banning order offences’ under the Housing and Planning Act 2016, leasehold reform, energy efficiency in the private rented sector, and improving the home buying and selling process.

In the latter case the consultation has closed and the results will be expected at some point this year, while Javid and Raab will have to work together to take on board the replies to the other consultations.
The government has already said it will ban the practice of new-builds being sold as leasehold, except in situations where it’s necessary (such as shared ownership homes), while also promising to ensure that ground rent on new long leases will be set at zero for both houses and flats. For those who already own leasehold properties, the process of extending a lease or buying the freehold will also be made easier.
There is also the continuing controversy over the ban on letting agent fees charged to agents, with the government recently telling NALS (the National Approved Lettings Scheme) that the ban won’t be implemented until spring 2019 at the earliest.

Elsewhere, the government has recently revealed that it’s working with Labour MP Karen Buck to ensure her Private Members Bill can become law. The Bill would allow tenants to sue landlords over properties that are ‘not fit for human habitation’.

The housing in-tray also includes the ongoing fallout from Grenfell Tower, regulation of the private rented sector, upping the number of affordable homes across the country, implementing MEES and overseeing the introduction of GDPR. What’s more, there are still a number of measures from the government’s Housing White Paper (released in February last year) that need to be followed through with. 

The closer ties between the Housing Minister and Javid’s department should make things smoother and more streamlined, but whether the government can achieve its targets when it comes to housebuilding, leasehold reform and improving the house buying and selling process remains to be seen.
The extra emphasis on housing at the Autumn Budget and the recent reshuffle, though, can only be seen as a positive for the general public and the property industry at large. 

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