Will the rush of policies that accompany this year’s party conferences fare any better than last year’s announcements?
This time last year, former English housing minister Grant Shapps was putting the finishing touches to his big announcements at the upcoming Conservative Party conference: ‘pay to stay’ for high-earning social tenants and, the coup de grace, the resurrection of the touchstone Tory policy of right to buy. So 12 months on, have they worked?
As we explore, despite widespread expressions of interest in right to buy, a government-backed publicity campaign and much larger discounts than in recent years, very few sales have gone through. The revamped policy is still in its early days, but lenders do seem reluctant to support it in anything like the numbers Mr Shapps had hoped. The plan was for 100,000 homes to be sold and replaced one-for-one with new properties - this now seems unlikely.
A resounding chorus of ‘no’ also marked Mr Shapps’ pay to stay policy when the consultation on his proposals closed last week. Despite the fact that few social landlords disagree with the principle behind the proposals, they cannot see how they could police such an approach without losing money.
These arguments are fair, but it is to the credit of social landlords that some are working on alternative models, which are shortly to be announced and could find a way round the problem of how to monitor changes in people’s incomes.
One of the dominant themes at this week’s National Housing Federation conference in Birmingham concerned the proposed changes to benefits and the rate of inflation which emerged this week and threaten the incomes of tenants and landlords alike. It is likely this debate will continue at this year’s party conferences which begin with the Liberal Democrats gathering in Brighton this weekend.
Although social landlords are wary of anything which affects their incomes (as the proposed retail price index changes will cause a slight fall of up to 0.88 per cent), the signs are that, so long as they have been prudent in their business plans, the walls should not come tumbling down. The same cannot be said for tenants who face a possible two-year benefits freeze. This would be a policy that could have an immediate and devastating effect.