If you thought the housing crisis couldn’t get much worse; think again. The Government’s Housing and Planning Bill was published last week, detailing a list of measures that will make it harder than ever for families to get an affordable home and make existing homes less affordable for those that already live there. These measures will have a disastrous impact on affordable housing in London and across the country and that’s why the Housing Bill must be opposed.
Take the government’s plans for so-called Starter Homes. In London this means a home worth up to £450,000, which can only be sold to first time buyers under the age of 40. These homes may be sold at a discount but then the lucky buyer can sell them on at full market price a few years later – a huge giveaway that comes at the cost of genuinely affordable homes. Starter Homes will replace the affordable housing contribution that private developers have to offer through the planning process (what are known as section 106 homes). In the last five years, Lambeth has negotiated some 2500 social and affordable rented homes for local families through private developments. With Starter Homes now set to replace this affordable requirement, the next five years could see zero affordable homes built for local residents from big private developments.
The situation for our existing council homes under the Bill, is even more worrying. In Lambeth we have just under 24,500 council homes and almost as many people on our waiting list. 60 to 80 people a week join the waiting list and only 24 homes become available. We need all the new homes we can get and yet the government is driving through the forced sale of ‘high value’ council homes. Councils, like Lambeth, will be sent an annual bill that we will have to pay for by selling empty council homes to the highest bidder. This is the money to pay Housing Associations for introducing the Right to Buy in their properties. For families on the waiting list it means seeing the prospect of a new home drift further and further out of reach and there are no guarantees in the Bill that this money will be used to build new homes in London and or that any replacement homes will be at social rent.
And for families who are already in a council home and are in work, there’s a particularly nasty treat from the self-proclaimed ‘workers’ party’ – a new tax on working families. Families with an income of over £40,000 in London, who are in social housing, will have to pay a new tax which covers the difference between social and market rent. £40,000 can sound like a lot of money but that’s the joint income of two people working full-time on the London Living Wage. Even more worrying – any households who don’t return the form stating their income will be automatically made to pay the tax, and my worry is that people with poor literacy, who don’t read English or who have learning disabilities will not know what to do with the form and before they know it, will be receiving bills that they can’t possibly pay.
In Brixton a family in a two-bedroom flat pay approximately £110 a week in council rent. This new tax will see them sent a bill for an extra £15,000 a year, to be paid directly to the Treasury. For a family in a four bedroom home they will have to find an extra £28,000 – that’s almost their entire post-tax income gone before they even think about paying their actual rent or household bills. There is absolutely no way these families will be able to find that extra income - so it’s either give up your job to avoid the rent tax – or face eviction and be judged by the law to have made yourself intentionally homeless. Even by the standards of this Government’s appalling housing policy and hypocritical claims to care about those who work hard, this is a new low.
In Lambeth we’re committed to building 1000 extra council rent homes over the next few years, and we want to build homes for private renters too where we can offer long tenancies and rent stability. This was always seen as part of solution to tackle the housing crisis – but as the government kicks away the other sources of social housing, forces more of it to be sold, and makes what is left totally unaffordable to local families, we suddenly find that it’s councils like Lambeth who are going to be fighting the housing crisis alone. With the best will in the world, that won’t be nearly enough.
Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Housing