Budget 2017 was an opportunity to fix the broken housing market – but did they take it?

The Chancellor’s Budget 2017 was good for people on Universal Credit, planning and first time buyers but failed to address the key issue of land

James Prestwich is Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation

James Prestwich is Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation

22 November 2017

It was trailed as the ‘housing Budget’: the Chancellor’s opportunity to set out how the Government will boost supply to 300,000 new homes per year against the backdrop of continuing uncertainty over the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

After the pre-budget hype was over and a rather long PMQs had drawn to a close what did the Chancellor actually say beyond a series of scripted jokes?

The headline announcement was undoubtedly the key changes to the operation of Universal Credit. The decisions to abolish the seven day period where people had no entitlement to benefit, and to pay Housing Benefit for two weeks after the Universal Credit claim has been made are welcome. This will help relieve some of the difficulties tenants and housing associations have faced since Universal Credit was rolled out. There is still much work for us all to do with the Government to help people on low incomes by improving the operation of Universal Credit.

Hidden away in the Treasury’s ‘Red Book’ that contains the detail underpinning the Chancellor’s speech was the announcement of £200m to fund a pilot of the Voluntary Right to Buy in the Midlands. We will work closely with members across the region and with the Government to deliver a pilot that is a genuine shared endeavour and help develop our understanding of aspects of the scheme not previously tested.

The Chancellor’s speech brought forward a host of useful planning measures and additional funding that builds on the Prime Minister’s commitment to make tackling the housing crisis the focus of her Premiership. The removal of stamp duty for first time buyers will help people who are in a position to access home ownership and is very welcome. But what about people for whom home ownership is just not an option? The Prime Minister’s pre-budget announcements of an additional £2bn to fund additional affordable housing, including the long-awaited return of social rent and the certainty delivered by a new rent settlement from 2020 are a step in the right direction, as was the decision to reverse the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap to the social sector. But more is required.

This Budget represented the perfect opportunity for the Government to make the bold decisions required to fix the broken housing market. For all the talk of reviews into build out rates and help for local authorities in better utilising compulsory purchase orders there was a distinct lack of radical solutions to the long-standing issues of public sector land and the sanctity of the green belt. That the use of public sector land should benefit society should be a given and a review of the Government’s guidance on how the cost of land is set could have cleared the way for the large-scale development of affordable homes for local communities. Now, that really would have been transformational. As would a mature approach to development of the green belt.

There is a clear feeling from those in Government that the measures introduced in the Budget will enable them to meet their 300,000 home ambition. That remains to be seen but at the end of it all one is left with the feeling that this is an opportunity that hasn’t been fully grasped.

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