Writing this just minutes after the Prime Ministers speech to the party faithful (and commercial lobbyists with more money than sense) ending the party conference, landlords should be wary of a distinct change in tone, certainly in regards to housing policy.
Listening to her speech, and reading in between the lines, the Prime Minister mentions change 29 times and I highlight this section where she says
From Edmund Burke onwards, Conservatives have always understood that if you want to preserve something important, you need to be prepared to reform it. We must apply that same approach today.
That’s why where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene.
Where companies are exploiting the failures of the market in which they operate, where consumer choice is inhibited by deliberately complex pricing structures, we must set the market right.
It’s just not right, for example, that half of people living in rural areas, and so many small businesses, can’t get a decent broadband connection.
It’s just not right that two thirds of energy customers are stuck on the most expensive tariffs.
And it’s just not right that the housing market continues to fail working people either.
Ask almost any question about social fairness or problems with our economy, and the answer so often comes back to housing.
A Conservative Party prepared to be more interventionist and hinting at price controls for energy companies…who would have thought it. Not Ed Miliband for sure.
To quote Bob Dylan the times they are a changin’. It was announced this week there would be a new Housing White Paper in the Autumn and we understand that there is going to be a significant section on renting.
Whilst we were completely ambushed by George Osborne’s tax grab on landlords in his emergency budget in June 2015 (more to report on that later)*, the mood music has already been playing for some time regarding a changing Government approach to renting before this speech.
We have a new Ministerial team at DCLG, including a new housing minister, Gavin Barwell, who is a senior figure within the party, and also happens to represent a very marginal seat in London. He therefore has a deeply vested interest, and a political mandate from the PM herself, in ensuring that the PRS works for all concerned.
Right now his focus is on Affordability and Security within the PRS. Issues in his inbox, and which we have been discussing with him for some time include:
- Tax changes (both Finance Cost and Stamp Duty),
- Longer Term Tenancies,
- Letting Agents Fees
- Section 21 and
- Rent levels (code for controls).
We meet with the Minister in less than two weeks’ time and you tell us what you want us to raise with him here. We already know that he is sympathetic to our concerns regarding the tax changes but is worried about high rent levels, letting agents fees and the length of tenancies.
It looks like Theresa May is too and is prepared to legislate if necessary. Remember the Prime Minister has 4 years until she has to call an election and there is no credible opposition or even leadership challenger on her own side, for her to worry about. Yes she has a small majority but
- The opposition parties are not united so her majority is bigger than it looks.
- Her backbenchers love her as she is seemingly intent on delivering BREXIT, so will be less likely to cause trouble, especially if she is seen as a vote winner.
She can, in short, get on with governing. Now a week is a long time in politics but there is nothing potentially stopping the Prime Minister doing what she wants…