With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 92, page 29, line 21, at end insert
‘that shall include—
(i) the repayment of capital debt on any high value properties sold
(ii) the cost of replacing any high value properties sold on a one for one basis within the same local authority.’
The amendment would ensure the replacement of property locally and it would also ensure appropriate deductions are included in legislation.
Amendment 51, page 29, line 21, at end insert—
‘(2A) The total payment required from all affected local authorities in any financial year shall not exceed the total grant paid in that year to private registered providers in respect of right to buy discounts.’
The amendment would avoid powers being used a general means of taxing councils and tenants for the benefit of the Exchequer.
Amendment 93, page 29, line 32, leave out from ‘regulations’ to ‘for’ and insert
‘require a local housing authority in England to define “high value” in its area’.
The amendment would enable local housing authorities to define high value property in line with local housing market conditions.
Amendment 94, page 29, line 33, at end insert
‘that will not apply to more than 10% of the total authority properties in the local housing authority area’.
The amendment would safeguard a proportion of local authority housing stock in high value areas.
Amendment 53, page 29, line 35, at end insert—
‘(10) Regulations under subsection (8) may not define a dwelling as “high value” if its sale value is less than the cost of rebuilding it and providing a replacement dwelling with the same number of bedrooms in the same local authority area.’
The amendment would ensure that the cost of replacement dwellings is not specified as one of the costs and deductions to be made as required by sub-section 67(2) and would allow for one-for-one local replacement.
Amendment 132, page 29, line 36, leave out clause 68.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 55, in clause 68, page 30, line 11, at end insert—
‘(5) Regulations under subsection (2)(b) shall specify that housing shall be excluded where it forms part of a housing regeneration scheme or consists of specialist housing or recently improved housing.
(6) In this section—
“housing regeneration scheme” means a programme of regeneration or development of an area which includes the provision or improvement of housing and for which finance may be available under section 126 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996;
“specialist housing” means any housing designed for or intended for occupation by older persons or persons needing care or support or persons with mental health problems or learning disabilities, or which has features which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by a physically disabled person, or which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons with special needs;
“recently improved housing” means housing where there has been substantial works of repair or improvement carried out on the relevant dwelling or group of dwellings within the previous two years.’
The amendment would exclude certain types of property from inclusion in the high value homes determination.
Amendment 133, page 30, line 12, leave out clause 69.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 134, page 30, line 28, leave out clause 70.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 135, page 31, line 2, leave out clause 71.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 136, page 31, line 12, leave out clause 72.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Government amendment 112.
Amendment 137, page 31, line 20, leave out clause 73.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 138, page 31, line 28, leave out clause 74.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 139, page 32, line 2, leave out clause 75.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 140, page 32, line 16, leave out clause 76.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Amendment 141, page 32, line 28, leave out clause 77.
See explanatory statement for amendment 131.
Government amendments 130, 9 and 11.
Government new clause 59—Reverting to original rent levels.
Government new clause 60—Private providers: policies for high income social tenants.
Government new clause 61—HMRC information for private registered providers.
New clause 39—Living Rent Commission—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a body, to be known as “the Living Rent Commission”, to discharge the functions conferred under this section.
(2) The Secretary of State shall refer to the Living Rent Commission to determine a definition of “affordability”, based on which it shall make recommendations on rent levels for all housing provided by local authorities and private registered providers in England, at a level of locality considered appropriate and practicable by the Commission.
(3) Before arriving at the recommendations to be included in the report produced under subsection (4), the Living Rent Commission shall consult—
(a) such organisations representative of providers of affordable housing as they think fit;
(b) such organisations representative of affordable housing occupants as they think fit; and
(c) if they think fit, any other body or person.
(4) The Living Rent Commission shall, after considering the matter referred to it under subsection (2), make a report to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State which shall contain the Commission’s recommendations regarding affordable rents.
(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations implement the Commission’s recommendations on affordable rents for private registered providers and local authority provided housing.
(6) If, following the report of the Living Rent Commission under subsection (4) above, the Secretary of State decides—
(a) not to make any regulations implementing the Commission’s recommendation, or
(b) to make regulations which do not relate to a recommendation of the Commission, the Secretary of State shall lay a report before each House of Parliament containing a statement of the reasons for the decision.
(7) The definitions determined and recommendations made under subsection (2) shall be reviewed annually by the Living Rent Commission.’
This new clause would set up a Living Rent Commission to define and determine affordable rents.
Amendment 144, page 33, line 12, leave out clause 79.
This amendment, together with amendments 145 to 153, would leave out Chapter 4 of Part 4.
Government amendment 113.
Amendment 95, in clause 79, page 33, line 15, at end insert—
‘(1A) Any regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section will not apply—
(a) to people aged over 65;
(b) to people who have a registered disability;
(c) to people on zero hours contracts;
(d) to people with seasonal contracts of employment;
(e) to households where one or more members is in receipt of ESA;
(f) where a household member is in receipt of care
(g) where a member of the household is a carer for another household member;
(h) to those living in supported housing; and
(i) to households in receipt of housing benefit.’
The amendment would establish exemptions from the application of high income rents system.
Amendment 57, page 33, line 19, at end insert—
‘(d) to be increased on a tapered system relating to income and level of rent charged.’
The amendment would introduce a taper scheme into the application of high income rents to prevent huge jumps in the rent level being charged with only modest increases in income.
Amendment 58, page 33, line 19, at end insert—
‘(d) to take into account the need to promote socially cohesive and mixed communities.’
The amendment would enable local authorities and social housing providers to take into account the need to promote and encourage a degree of diversity in their communities.
Amendment 59, page 33, line 19, at end insert—
‘(d) take into account local affordability.’
The amendment would establish that rent levels should reflect local affordability.
Amendment 60, page 33, line 22, at end insert—
‘(3A) The Secretary of State must make regulations to provide for the external valuation of high income rents.’
The amendment would establish that the application of a higher income rent should be subject to external valuation.
Amendment 96, page 33, line 22, at end insert—
‘(3A) Any regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section must include provisions for—
(a) a notice period of one year before the new rent becomes payable; and
(b) transitional protection and arrangements as the tenant moves to the higher rent.’
The amendment would make it appropriate for tenants deemed to have a high income to be given time and a degree of transitional protection to enable them to relocate to another property or increase their income further
Government amendment 114.
Amendment 61, page 33, line 27, at end insert—
‘(6) All provisions in this section shall only apply—
(a) for new tenancies commenced after
(b) where the tenant has been provided with a new tenancy agreement.’
The amendment would establish that the high income rent regime would only apply to new tenants from April 2017 and where they have been given a new tenancy agreement.
Amendment 145, page 33, line 29, leave out clause 80.
See statement for amendment 144.
Amendment 97, in clause 80, page 33, line 30, at beginning insert ‘subject to subsection (1A)’.
See amendment 98.
Amendment 98, page 33, line 32, at end insert—
‘(1A) High income” must be set with reference to average incomes in the area with high incomes being defined by income falling in the top quartile of incomes in the area.’
The amendment would establish that high incomes will reflect the top quartile of income levels.
Amendment 62, page 33, line 32, at end insert—
‘(1A) For the purposes of this Chapter high income cannot be set at a level lower than median income.’
The amendment would establish that the high income level cannot be set a level lower than average/median salaries.
Government amendment 115.
Amendment 146, page 34, line 6, leave out clause 81.
See statement for amendment 144.
Government amendments 116 to 120.
Amendment 147, page 34, line 19, leave out clause 82.
See statement for amendment 144.
Government amendments 121 to 123.
Amendment 63, in clause 82, page 34, line 27, leave out subsection (c).
The amendment would establish that the creation of a public body to transfer information from the HMRC to a local authority or registered provider of social housing is not necessary.
Government amendments 124 to 126.
Amendment 148, page 35, line 15, leave out clause 83.
See statement for amendment 144.
Government amendments 127 and 128.
Amendment 149, page 35, line 28, leave out clause 84.
See statement for amendment 144.
Amendment 64, in clause 84. page 35, line 30, leave out ‘estimated’.
The amendment would establish that payments to the Secretary of State would not be made on an estimation of income receipts.
Amendment 65, page 35, line 38, leave out subsection (5).
The amendment would establish that it will not be possible for payments to be made to the Secretary of State based on assumptions that are not borne out by reality.
Amendment 150, page 36, line 1, leave out clause 85.
See statement for amendment 144.
Government amendment 129.
Amendment 152, page 36, line 31, leave out clause 87.
See statement for amendment 144.
Amendment 153, page 37, line 7, leave out clause 88.
See statement for amendment 144.
Amendment 142, page 37, line 20, leave out clause 89.
This amendment, together with amendment 143, would enable councils to be free to manage flexibly tenancies in a way that drives best value from stock whilst supporting strong local communities.
Amendment 143, page 37, line 32, leave out clause 90.
See statement for amendment 142.
Amendment 105, page 86, line 1, leave out schedule 4.
To remove this schedule from the Bill.
Amendment 106, page 99, line 20, leave out schedule 5.
To remove this schedule from the Bill.
Amendment 107, page 27, line 21, leave out clause 61.
This amendment would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to make grants with respect to Right to Buy discounts to private registered providers including housing associations.
Amendment 88, in clause 61, page 27, line 23, at end insert
‘with the exclusion of—
(a) supported housing for older people;
(b) supported housing units (including self-contained homes where floating support is provided for vulnerable people);
(c) key worker housing (which includes self-contained flats subject to nomination agreements with third parties);
(d) units that form part of major regeneration schemes planned or already under way;
(e) rural settlements;
(f) homes built for charitable purposes without Government grant and homes provided through S.106 agreements requiring stock to be kept as social housing in perpetuity;
(g) cooperative housing;
(h) ALMOS (arm’s length management organisations); and
(i) Alms houses.’
The amendment would exclude the listed categories of specialised housing from being subject to the Right to Buy provisions of the Bill.
Amendment 89, page 27, line 25, at end insert—
‘(2A) The conditions at subsection (2) must include a condition that money equivalent to the market value (disregarding any discount) of a dwelling sold under right to buy and to which the grant applies is spent by the private registered provider on the provision of affordable housing in the same local authority area or London, including at least one new home replacing that sold which is—
(a) of the same tenure,
(b) located in the same local authority area or London borough, and
(c) in accordance with assessed local housing need.’
The amendment would require housing associations offering the Right to Buy to their tenants in London and elsewhere to re-invest all the money received as a result of the sale in replacement affordable housing, including a guaranteed like-for-like home in the same local authority area or London borough.
Amendment 50, page 27, line 28, at end insert—
‘(4) Grants must not be payable on properties bought and turned into buy-to-let dwellings within ten years.”
The amendment would prevent property sold under Right to Buy from being converted into buy to let dwellings for a period of ten years.
Amendment 108, page 27, line 29, leave out clause 62.
This amendment would remove the ability of the Greater London Authority to make grants with respect to Right to Buy discounts to private registered providers including housing associations in London.
Government amendment 111.
Amendment 90, in clause 64, page 28, line 24, at end insert—
‘( ) The discount should remain in perpetuity’
The amendment would ensure that homes sold under the Right to Buy remain as discounted housing in perpetuity.
Amendment 91, page 28, line 24, at end insert—
‘( ) A dwelling must not be sold under the Right to Buy without the Housing Association having the ability to—
(a) verify the source of funding for purchase,
(b) establish who is occupying the property,
(c) check that the person/s seeking to purchase the property under Right to Buy has no interest in another property,
(d) has sufficient time to carry out checks for fraudulent activity, and
(e) be able to prepare reports on (a)-(d) for the Housing Association Board of Trustees to consider.’
The amendment would ensure that housing associations are able to carry out proper checks before proceeding with the Right to Buy offer.
Amendment 109, page 28, line 24, at end insert—
‘( ) A dwelling must not be sold under the Right to Buy without the Housing Association having first—
(a) identified the dwelling that will become the replacement for the dwelling sold, where—
(i) the replacement dwelling may be an existing dwelling or a planned new-build,
(ii) the tenure of the replacement property is presumed to be the same as that of the dwelling sold under Right to Buy, unless a different tenure can be justified on the basis of local needs, and
(iii) the replacement dwelling is located in the same local authority area as the dwelling sold; and
(b) communicated the replacement plan to the Regulator.’
This amendment would ensure that a home cannot be sold under Right to Buy until a suitable replacement home has first been found or planned.
It is a pity that we are dealing with the four most contentious aspects of the Bill in one two-hour session, and that the Government did not accept our alterations to the programme motion, which would have made it a bit more sensible.
I shall begin by considering the forced sale of high-value social housing, covered in chapter 2 of part 4 of the Bill. As the Government will be aware, we have tabled a number of amendments to chapter 2 on a range of issues relating to the forced sale of such housing. Amendment 92 would ensure that the replacement of property locally with appropriate resourcing was included in legislation. Amendments 93 and 94 would give local authorities more agency over defining “high value” and would limit the amount of houses sold in a particular area to 10% of the stock.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way so early. I wanted gently to challenge her comments about today’s debate bearing in mind that the programme motion was agreed with the Opposition and that we agreed to the changes that they asked for.
I remind the Minister that we voted against the programme motion.
Amendment 53 safeguards the replacement of like-for-like housing; homes cannot be sold if their sale value is less than the cost of replacing the original property. Amendment 55 seeks to exempt certain types of specialist housing from “high value” determination. Owing to the extremely limited time available today, I will not speak in detail on those amendments. I will focus instead on amendments 131 to 141, which leave out all the clauses in chapter 2 of part 4, effectively removing the chapter from the Bill.
Labour Members are not against local authorities making sensible decisions about their assets, but that is not what the clauses in this chapter of the Bill would enable. They will force local authorities to sell off much-needed council housing, even when they have huge waiting lists. Glyn Robbins, the estate manager of Quaker Court, stated that many council homes in London in places such as Quaker Court are likely to be deemed high value, and that is where the Government’s legislation will have the most severe impact.
Of course, this is not just about the loss of council properties in high-value areas. The impact of the policy would surely be that those properties would move into the privately rented sector, meaning that the housing benefit bill is likely to increase to enable the same properties to be rented out.
My hon. Friend makes an additional point about how truly appalling and nonsensical the policy is. I hope to come to that point a bit later.
Glyn Robbins said:
“This is about as high-value an area as you’re going to find. So every time we get an empty council flat, instead of that home going to the next person on a waiting list in Islington that has 18,000 people on it, it’s going to be sold into the private market.”
The Chartered Institute of Housing, among others, has also expressed concern that the Government’s expectation of the number of houses to be built as a result of forcing the selling off of so-called high-value housing is much, much too high. It says that the Government appear to have vastly overestimated the number of homes that will become vacant in the category of high value that might be defined within any local authority area, which in turn will have a negative impact on the replacement of sold-off homes by housing associations. The chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing stressed that more funding needs to be made available for affordable housing and that
“full compensation for housing associations will be absolutely vital if they are going to be able to build more affordable homes for people who can’t afford to buy”.
As far as commentators are concerned, the provisions of this chapter of the Bill are likely to lead to less council housing being available and to any replacement housing that does materialise being out of the financial reach of many people. We know that housing waiting lists will become longer and people will be forced to stay in temporary accommodation for longer, which of course will mean a greater cost to local taxpayers. Councils will have less of an incentive to invest in stock, as it might push the value above the arbitrary thresholds for forced sale. Moreover, the reduction in the number of social rented homes available will intensify competition for private rented sector homes at the bottom of the market, driving up rents.
Is not the concern that we should see this in the overall context of Government policy? Not only will these council homes be sold off, with the opportunity to replace them on a like-for-like basis almost certainly not being available, but it will be very difficult for most housing associations to replace their sold properties on a like-for-like basis. As was confirmed in the Select Committee yesterday, there is no new money at all in the comprehensive spending review for any new social rented housing. At the end of this Parliament, there will almost certainly be fewer council homes to rent than there are now.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and one that we want to emphasise this afternoon. Most commentators are now saying that there is no additional money to provide the replacement affordable housing and there are no provisions in the Bill to allow a like-for-like replacement in the same local authority for homes that are sold off.
This chapter of the Bill is not only damaging to social housing but will have a negative knock-on effect in the private sector that will mean there is simply no respite for low income families and no housing that they will be able to rent at a level that they can afford. The Government must reconsider this part of the Bill and must take this chapter out of it.
My hon. Friend talked about the impact on homelessness. Across the country, there are probably millions of families in housing need who are waiting for appropriate accommodation in the social sector. A constituent I met last week has two children and lives in a one-bedroom flat. One of the children has skin cancer and they are waiting desperately for a two-bedroom home. Who should get a property—a family with that level of housing need or someone who can buy on the open market for £500,000 or more?
My hon. Friend makes a truly brilliant point that we should reflect on in the Chamber this afternoon. Many councils are telling us that they have thousands of people on their waiting lists, yet this measure will reduce further the number of homes that will be available.
Let me move quickly on to the pay-to-stay provisions in chapter 4 of part 4. Again, as the Minister is aware, we have tabled a number of amendments to try to make the pay-to-stay provisions more palatable. Amendment 95 would establish exemptions from the application of the high income rents system while amendment 57 would ensure that the system would be tapered to avoid a sudden jump in rents when an increase would apply. Amendment 58 looks to ensure that local authorities and housing associations take into account the need to promote and encourage a degree of diversity and social cohesion in their communities and amendment 59 makes sure that rents reflect affordability on a local basis.
Amendment 60 would establish that the application of a higher income rent should be subject to external valuation and not the whim of the Secretary of State. Amendments 96 and 61 both look to give some notice and protection should tenants be moved on to higher rents, with amendment 96 giving tenants who have been determined to have a high income transitional protection and time to enable them to relocate to another property if that is at all possible. Amendment 61 would establish that the high income rent regime would apply only to new tenants and that they would be given a new tenancy agreement.
Amendments 97, 98 and 62 are all designed to ensure that what is considered to be a high income is based on local realities and a multiple of median income, but again the lack of time that the Bill has been afforded together with the incredibly unfair nature of these clauses means that I will be focusing on amendments 144 to 150 and 152 to 153, which seek to remove all the clauses, and therefore the complete chapter, from the Bill.
We are not necessarily against a gradation in rent paid, but we do not think the pay-to-stay proposals that remain in the Bill are in any way acceptable. The proposals will hit people on modest incomes hardest, and this section of the Bill is seemingly a continuation of the Government’s assault on council tenants and a cash grab by the Chancellor, and it is entirely anti-localist as local authorities, and indeed housing associations, already have the discretion to charge high income tenants higher rents.
Did not Westminster council let the cat out of the bag on pay to stay with a leaflet that it distributed last week, “A guide to the Right to Buy Social Mobility Fund”, which stated:
“Under Government proposals, households with an income greater than £40,000 will pay a substantially increased rent. This is an opportunity to avoid this and become a home owner”?
Is not pay to stay about driving home ownership, rather than reflecting income in rent policy?
My hon. Friend makes a relevant point about the proposals.
So why are the Government now imposing this scheme on councils, if not to punish council tenants? What have they done to deserve this unique vitriol from the Minister? I remind the House that the threshold for high income, as it stands, is £40,000 per household in London and £30,000 outside London. This would hit people who earn the Chancellor’s new minimum wage. Most people would think that is disgraceful. The policy will hit hardest those who are working in low paid jobs and that is where it is going to have the most devastating effect.
One of the examples that has been given to me is that of a tenant who has been offered a promotion at work but has decided to turn it down because of the consequential increase in rent under the proposals. Is that not an attack on aspiration?
I could not agree more. The proposals are an attack on aspiration, leaving some families with impossible choices.
As Tony Stacey, chair of PlaceShapers, which represents 100 housing associations, said, this policy conflicts with the Government’s desire to get people into better paid work. He said that it was a bit perverse, compared with the Government’s other policies to make work pay. If the policy goes ahead, it seems that people who are paid more for additional work undertaken or for promotion could face a sudden increase in rent or eviction.
It is interesting to see that the Government caved into pressure from housing associations and removed the element of compulsion from them, but that only means that council tenants are now being singled out for the application of these extraordinary measures. As councils say that the provisions are unworkable in any case, will the Minister explain to us why he has insisted that they should remain for council tenants?
As we did our best to explain to the hon. Gentleman in Committee, such housing is often not subsidised. The point that we are making is that councils already have the discretion to set higher rents for people with higher incomes if they choose to do so. What we are querying this afternoon is why the Government are introducing an element of compulsion and why this will apply to council tenants only.
We should kill the myth of subsidised council housing. Under the rules which this Government changed following the proposals from the previous Government, housing revenue accounts are self-funding. There is no subsidy. The only subsidies that I can see are right to buy discounts and starter home discounts that the Government are proposing.
My hon. Friend has won that round of the debate.
So shocking is chapter 5 of part 4 that we have tabled amendments to remove all of it from the Bill. We have tabled amendments to leave out clauses 89 and 90 and the schedules relating to them. We saw no value in amending these elements of the Bill as the ending of security of tenure for council tenants would be one of the greatest travesties for the future of affordable housing in this country. The only position we can adopt is to ask for it to be removed from the Bill entirely.
Three decades from now, when our grandchildren look back on the decisions of our generation concerning housing, their social mobility will have declined compared with that of previous generations, despite what David Cameron may think, as a result of the instability that this Government’s policy creates. Having a stable home to grow up in is crucial for working families whose income barely affords them an adequate standard of living. Children should not be faced with the threat of having to change schools every two to five years when the council is forced to review the tenancy contracts of their parents. This could have disastrous effects on their education. Like a number of colleagues, I was brought up in a council house and thus was able to acquire better educational opportunities than my parents as a result of growing up in a stable home with security of tenure. We want to ensure that that option exists for families who need it today.
However, the Government are removing the most basic protection for tenants that has existed in our country for decades—that council housing would be provided by local authorities to secure rented homes for people on low incomes, and that those homes would be of good quality. The Government need to stop attacking council tenants. I thought that we had cross-party agreement not only that the council housing sector should be valued, but that measures should be put in place to enhance its attractiveness and availability, rather than it being attacked in the way that it is in this Bill.
In 1979, 42% of Britons lived in council houses. Now that figure is less than 8%. Government investment in social rented housing was cut by two-thirds when the coalition Government came to power. While the Government pledged a one-to-one replacement for every home that was sold under the right to buy, the latest figures show that for every nine homes sold, only one is being replaced.
The Government are wrong in their assumption that council tenants with security of tenure can afford to buy a home or live elsewhere. A recent study found that 91% of homes in England and Wales were unaffordable to homebuyers even in some areas where they had the national average income of £26,500. Local authorities, under the Localism Act 2011, already have the ability to offer flexible tenancies if they so choose. Why are the Government introducing this degree of compulsion and why do they attack council housing tenants in this way?
Recently a woman living in a council house in London told The Guardian:
“In the long run, London needs us service workers more than we need London. Most of us will not be able to survive with the current rental prices. We are no longer children, to be able to share a flat with 10 other people. This is a shift of the goalposts and will leave people in desperate conditions.”
My hon. Friend mentions a lady working in London who was concerned about people like her for economic reasons. Is my hon. Friend aware of the concerns about the housing crisis as iterated by the London chamber of commerce and industry? It said that the housing crisis in London is affecting London’s economy, as well having a human cost, as we all know.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. She rightly mentions London, as do a number of colleagues, because it is an acute issue, but is she not concerned that the issue exists throughout the country and that the Government’s approach makes a sham of their promise to support localism, as they are riding roughshod over the ability of local councils to use discretion in this important area?
I totally agree; I am really pleased that my hon. Friend has reminded me that we need to consider how this area of the Bill affects council tenants and local authorities up and down the country.
Labour has tabled amendments to chapter 1 of part 4 to try to limit the negative impact of the right-to-buy provisions. Amendment 88 seeks to protect certain types of specialised housing and amendment 89 would require housing associations offering the right to buy to their tenants in London and elsewhere to reinvest all the money in replacement affordable housing, including a guaranteed like-for-like home in the same local authority area or London borough. My right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan was among those who tabled that amendment.
We have also tabled amendments that would prevent property sold under the right to buy from being converted into buy-to-let dwellings for a period of 10 years; amendments that would ensure that the discount for homes sold under the right to buy remained in perpetuity; and amendments that would ensure that housing associations were able to carry out proper checks before proceeding with the right-to-buy offer. Yet again, we find ourselves stretched for time. We are facing a chapter that has the potential to decimate the social housing sector, so I will speak to the amendments as one group.
Shelter has estimated that about 113,000 homes could be lost immediately through the provisions in the Bill. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that owing to the scheme’s current vagueness and the
“coalition’s less-than-impressive record in delivering replacement housing under the existing right-to-buy…There is a risk that these policies would lead to a further depletion of the social housing stock”.
What seems to have complete consensus across the housing sector is that there is no guarantee of like-for-like replacement for homes sold under the right to buy. Of course, the Minister will tell me that the Government are guaranteeing a two-for-one replacement of affordable housing, but that measure needs closer inspection. The Government’s new definition of “affordable” housing in new clause 31 includes starter homes, which can be up to £250,000 outside London and up to £450,000 in the capital. That means that a housing association home sold under the right to buy can be considered to have been replaced by another house or even another two houses that will be for sale at up to a quarter of a million pounds or almost half a million in London. That is not a replacement of like for like by any stretch of the imagination.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. What we are trying to say in this debate is that the Government’s right-to-buy proposals do not bring about like-for-like replacements. To have two very expensive homes replacing one home for social rent does not add up to a sensible policy for most people. The Government want to push up the rates of home ownership and we agree that there should be measures to promote that. However, we do not think that those should come at the expense of the social rented or local authority sectors.
My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan are making exactly the right point. The idea that £450,000 homes for sale can replace socially rented homes, and when they are not in the same area, is what I understand Zac Goldsmith told the Camden New Journal last week; if he is here, he may wish to clarify. Getting rid of council homes in inner London and replacing them with homes for sale at vastly inflated prices in outer London and beyond is not acceptable.
I totally agree. We are attempting to show how unappealing the measures put forward by Zac Goldsmith are and how they simply will not tackle the problem for Londoners.
Part 4 of the Bill is nothing but an attack on council housing and council tenants, who have already suffered under the Government’s bedroom tax and cuts to council services. Adding the pay-to-stay provisions and reducing the stock available for rent amounts to a full blown attack on the council housing sector. Housing associations do not fare much better, as the right to buy could deplete their stock without adequate replacement. This is a further attack on people on low incomes and, most worryingly of all, will do almost nothing to tackle the housing crisis that so many people are facing.
We would like to remove most of part 4 of the Bill but simply do not have the time for the necessary votes. As an indicator of our great displeasure, we are going to press clause 142 to a vote, when appropriate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting will press amendment 89. We call on the whole House to reject this awful Bill later today.
I shall not detain the House for long, as I am not sure that anyone would hear me. However, my constituents would expect me to raise the exceptional challenges of the central Oxfordshire housing market. Many of the Bill’s measures will be welcomed locally: more stringent measures to tackle rogue landlords, the brownfield register and measures such as help to buy, starter homes and the Prime Minister’s commitment to commission thousands more affordable homes directly.
Although commendable, the raft of policies to build more affordable houses is not in itself enough. Houses need to be built in areas that need them most. High-cost areas are either where growth is the highest or where markets are sclerotic because sites are hard to come by, infrastructure is at capacity and planning authorities are weak. In some areas such as Oxford, both those factors apply. High growth is becoming constrained by failing local housing markets. Many colleagues have local difficulties with housing, and I wish to explain briefly what our challenges are.
Median full-time earnings in Oxford are now £26,500; median house prices are £427,210. That means that house prices are 16 times the earnings of the average worker.
The Centre for Cities analysis has found Oxford to be the least affordable city in England when prices are set against local incomes. The number of people owning their own home in the city is well below the national average, and median private rent for a three-bedroom house is £300 a week, more than half of median earnings. Some 30% of residents rent compared with 25% in London. The House of Commons Library has found that Oxford City Council delivered zero affordable homes in 2013-14 and only 20 in 2014-15; it is ranked as the fourth worst in the country for delivering housing of any tenure. Yet Oxford requires 1,400 homes to be delivered each year until 2031.
There are lots of specific local problems. To give the council its due, I should say that we have relatively few brownfield sites and all sorts of challenges, given that two thirds of land is in private ownership. That complicates active public management. The city has a relatively low density and development is highly restricted due to the amount of protected and listed buildings. It also has 400 hectares of green-belt land within its local authority. Nevertheless, if we compare Oxford with Cambridge—a reasonable comparison—we see that Cambridge provided 550 affordable homes in 2013-14 and 320 in 2014-15.
It is reasonable for us to call for more to be done because the issue is obviously causing significant problems for our local private and public sectors. One in two senior academic appointments fails because of house prices. Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spends more than £100,000 a week on agency staff: it cannot recruit permanent staff because of local housing affordability. Some 30% of local businesses cite housing costs as their top barrier to recruitment. The failure to build homes where they are needed in cities constrains growth. The issue matters to the national economy as well, as such cities are the most productive and have the most jobs. If people cannot afford to live in these cities, they cannot access those jobs and businesses cannot sell to them. The economy suffers.
We are not yet getting this issue right. Between 2008 and 2013, in respect of local incomes, relatively more homes were built in Barnsley—the second most affordable city in Great Britain—than were built in London or Oxford, which are the least affordable cities. More of these homes need to be built in our most successful cities, where affordability is lowest and demand is highest.
In justifying Government amendment 112, and acknowledging the exceptionalism of the London housing market, the Minister has accepted that housing in Britain’s most economically successful cities is the least affordable and that we need policies that target our affordable house building efforts towards our least affordable areas. That is little more than common sense, but we have all known too many occasions when common sense has fallen by the wayside in our legislative process.
Amendment 112 will ensure that enough receipts from the sale of high-value homes go to the Greater London Authority for it to build two affordable homes for every one sold. Obviously, the receipts left with the GLA would have to be sufficiently high to allow that. I am of course very pleased for Londoners that this important measure has been secured for them, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on the efforts that he has gone through to do so. This is possible for Londoners largely because house prices are so high that huge amounts of money are generated from sales, so it is reasonably easy to fund two for one without putting too big a dent in the revenue stream going to central Government.
In my view, unsurprisingly given my bias towards Oxford, this should also apply to other high-value areas such as Oxford, Bath and St Albans. I will set out how it might work in practice in our case. About 12% of council homes in Oxford would be deemed to be of high value and so the council would be under a duty to consider selling them when they become vacant. Given vacancy rates, this works out at 29 homes a year being sold rather than going to the next person on the waiting list. Our estimates suggest that 29 council homes sold on the open market in Oxford each year would generate about £8.6 million in receipts, so a similar two-for-one provision would ensure that £8.6 million stays with the council for it to provide two extra units of affordable homes for every one sold. If, say, each high-value council home sold for £293,385 each—£8.9 million divided by 29—that would ensure that enough was still going to central Government for them to do as they plan, but we would be able to provide two for one for Oxford.
Amendment 112(6) gives the Secretary of State the power to create exceptions to subsection (4) for other local authorities along the lines of the two-for-one provision that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park has so valiantly provided for London, so that is written explicitly into the Bill. Such an exception would be essential for Oxford to ensure that we have sufficient social and affordable housing. However, I remain to be convinced that the power will be sufficient to ensure that this is delivered, following the challenges that we have faced.
My hon. Friend is making a valiant charge on behalf of all of us who have very expensive houses in our constituencies. The median house price in St Albans is £392,000, and we are ringed by green belt. I share her concern about how deliverable this is, but we are right to push for it in areas that suffer similarly with high prices, such as London. I hope that the Minister takes that into account.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I agree with her.
The Minister has been very generous in the time that he has taken to discuss this with us. I am grateful to him for offering to have meetings with us about how we can implement the measures in amendment 112(6) to deliver for Oxford and other high-cost areas. We need to ensure that this commitment will be implemented as a matter of urgency and works in practice for areas such as mine where residents face a genuine housing crisis and genuine hardship on a daily basis. My colleagues from high-cost areas such as Bath, Cambridge and St Albans and I will, if necessary, look to the Lords to ensure that these measures deliver for our constituents, because affordable housing needs to be targeted towards high-cost areas where we face the biggest challenges in the country.
I rise to speak in favour of amendment 89, tabled in my name and that of my right hon. Friend John Healey and other hon. Friends. I hope that colleagues will understand and forgive me if I focus my comments on London.
The Bill before us will do nothing to help solve the housing crisis facing London.
The Member who has heckled describes the Bill as I would—rubbish.
In fact, on balance, the likelihood is that the Bill will make the crisis even worse. As a result, London’s famed social mix is under threat. Many parts of inner London could be hollowed out, with the city becoming the preserve of the very rich. Do not just take my word for it. When the Government published this Bill, the heading on an Evening Standard editorial was “Don’t lose social houses to fund right-to-buy”. I kept a copy of the newspaper from that day. The editorial said:
“The most serious objection to the Government’s proposal to allow housing association tenants to buy their homes at a discount is that its effect would actually be to diminish the amount of social housing in London at a time when demand is increasing. To fund the discount, councils would be obliged to sell off higher-priced council homes—and given the level of property prices in London, this could, potentially, be disastrous in its effects.”
My right hon. Friend is right to quote the Evening Standard saying that this will be disastrous. For many inner-London authorities, it means that the majority of their council stock will be sold. It is, in effect, the end of security of tenure of council housing in inner London. That is what the Government intend.
My hon. Friend will know that I spend a lot of time visiting all 32 London boroughs. This morning I was in Camden, where people think that more than 40% of their family homes could be sold off as a consequence of this Government’s Bill.
Nobody is against the aspiration of home ownership, but changes to the Bill are required, even at this late stage, to minimise the impact on London. That is why I have tabled and supported amendments all of which, to date, the Government have opposed. I hope, for the sake of Londoners, that that changes today. Amendment 89 is the “like-for-like replacement” amendment. It would say to housing associations across the country, “If you’re going to go ahead with right to buy, you have to spend the money raised from the sale locally on replacement affordable housing.” It has been estimated that the sell-off could lead to over £800 million a year being lost from London unless there are proper guarantees put in place to keep these receipts in the city.
The House should be wary of imitations, because other hon. Members are trying to fool Londoners by saying that their amendment will protect the city’s affordable homes. I refer, of course, to amendment 112, which is in the name of the Secretary of State, but which, rather cosily, the Prime Minister and Zac Goldsmith announced last week. Let me pause to congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park on, as I said, becoming a father again this week. I am sure that the whole House sends him and his family our very best wishes.
I say this to hon. Members and to Londoners outside this Chamber: do not be tricked by the spin and hot air coming from the hon. Member for Richmond Park and the Government; do not allow the wool to be pulled over your eyes, because all is not as the Tories would have you believe. It is a con. For a start, amendment 112 tries to make palatable the Government’s plan to sell off council homes in London. The editorial in the Evening Standard set out three useful tests to judge the impact of this Bill. Let us look at how both amendments measure up to those tests. Under the first test,
“it is absolutely necessary to keep money raised by the sale of London council houses in London.”
The amendment announced with great fanfare last week clearly fails on this front. It fails to ring-fence the money for London, which means that money raised by selling off London’s council homes will still flood out of the capital to subsidise the Government’s national right-to-buy scheme. This contrasts with my amendment 89, which would ring-fence all the money from London housing association homes sold under right to buy for new affordable homes.
On the second test, the Evening Standard stated:
“It could be a mixed blessing if some central London boroughs lost most of their housing-association stock even if it meant more council houses being built in outer London.”
Again, amendment 112 fails on that front. It opens the door for homes to be replaced outside the borough where they are sold off. If there is any doubt that that is the case, the hon. Member for Richmond Park admitted to the Camden New Journal just last week the truth about the Government’s and his own amendment. He owned up to the fact that inner London would be hollowed out under his amendment. He said that, under his proposals, it was a “mathematical obstacle” to replace social housing in Camden and other inner London boroughs such as Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. There we have it: an admission that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment will let London be hollowed out.
By comparison, amendment 89 guarantees a replacement, like-for-like home in the borough where the original home is sold, before the rest of the money is spent on more affordable housing across the capital. My amendment will do exactly what it says on the tin.
The third test set out by the Evening Standard reads:
“A healthy housing sector is a mix of private ownership, private rentals and social housing: the Government, in its attempt to promote home-ownership, should not forget the rest.”
Under amendment 112, the reality is that the so-called affordable homes the Government promise to build could all be for sale for nearly £500,000. I politely tell the hon. Gentleman that in few people’s eyes are homes that cost £450,000 affordable.
We know just how interested the Prime Minister is in getting hung up on what is and what is not truly affordable. His response last week to those who dared to suggest that £450,000 was not really affordable was remarkable. He said that
“people get too hung up on these definitions…the definition of affordable housing is a house that someone can afford to buy or afford to rent”.
Let us think about that for a moment. On that measure, some of the most expensive homes in London, such as the £26.5 million Holland Park mansion sold last year, are affordable, because someone has been able to buy them. That shows just how far from reality and out of touch the hon. Member for Richmond Park and this Government are with the housing crisis. Last week, the hon. Member for Richmond Park told the
Camden New Journal that the term “affordable” has become “elastic and misleading”.
I am sure he would never heckle from a sedentary position. The starter home provisions give a 20% price cut to every first-time buyer, which is very welcome. In my borough of Croydon, the average 20% discount means that a starter home would be only about £220,000 or £250,000, which I am sure even he would agree is extremely affordable.
It usually takes a parliamentarian years to become out of touch, but the hon. Gentleman has done it in six months. Shelter says that for someone to be able to afford a £450,000 starter home, they will have to earn an annual salary of £77,000 and have a deposit of £98,000. Let us put aside for the moment the nurse, the junior doctor and the bus driver—people who get a starter job in a top FTSE 100 company in the City of London will not be able afford one of the Government’s starter homes. That is how out of touch the Conservative mayoral candidate and the Government are.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good case. I understand entirely why he is focusing on London, but we must not allow the Government to pretend that London is a specific and solitary special case. There are many parts of the country, particularly the Lake district, the Yorkshire dales and many rural parts of the United Kingdom, where house prices are incredibly expensive, wages are low and the availability of social rented housing is essential to the social mix of those communities. Does he agree that that is not just a problem in London?
I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman, but I would go a step further. I do not think that the Government are making a special case for London; I think that the combined effect of the Chancellor’s autumn statement and this Bill shows that the Government have it in for London.
As I have said, I visited Camden today, where the average cost of a property to rent is 73% of the average income there. So much for the Conservative mayoral candidate being in touch with Londoners. We also discovered last week that the Government are watering down the definition of what is affordable to include starter homes that cost 17 times the average British salary. By comparison, my amendment 89 would guarantee a new home for social rent to replace one that has been sold.
In short, amendment 112 is, to quote once more the hon. Member for Richmond Park, “elastic and misleading”. My amendment is clear and firm. It meets the tests that Londoners expect and I urge Members, especially anyone who claims to understand the housing crisis in London and who wants to help fix it, to ignore the overblown claims about amendment 112 and instead support my amendment 89.
I will be brief, because we do not have a lot of time. Clearly, we are discussing a national issue and concern, but there can be no doubt that housing is the No. 1 issue for London. Last year, prices rose by about 10% on average. The average price for a first-time buyer in London is now more than £400,000. No one can argue that Londoners today are not being priced out of their own city. It is no longer just a social problem—that point has already been made in relation to another city—because it jeopardises London’s economy as well.
The bottom line is that we need to build more and we need to build for people across the entire income spectrum. It is no good taking a polarised approach with a zero-subsidy option on the one hand and social housing on the other. We need to ensure that the market can accommodate young professionals, key workers and the like—people who perhaps do not qualify for social housing.
I was pleased with the Government’s interventions last week, with an emphasis on shared ownership, which will work around the country and have a particular impact in London. There is also going to be a London version of Help to Buy, which has been a very successful scheme nationally, but less successful in London, because we live in a different world here. The prices are so out of kilter with the rest of the country that that bespoke offer will have an impact. Finally, we have the two-for-one amendment under discussion.
I have a few questions for my hon. Friend the Minister. Amendment 112 requires that two new affordable homes be built for every single high-value council home sold as a consequence of the extension of the right to buy. That is based on my amendment, as has been acknowledged, and I sincerely thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his diligence in making it work.
Just give me a moment, please.
When my hon. Friend the Minister wraps up on this group of amendments, will he update the House on his discussions with London’s local authorities about how they will be able to work together to deliver the homes that London needs? I know that he has been having discussions with council leaders from all the different parties in both inner and outer London. It would be good to have an update.
May I ask my hon. Friend about housing associations? They are absolutely essential to the delivery of the next generation of homes. I believe that the G15, the group of 15 London housing associations, have already committed to delivering a one-for-one replacement of any home that is sold, but they have also said—they have told me this—that they could deliver a great deal more.
In just one moment, if the hon. Lady does not mind.
The G15 would even be able to replace each home sold with two new homes, provided that the Government gives them the flexibilities they are asking for and, even more importantly, access to public sector land. Will the Minister commit to looking carefully at the flexibilities for which housing associations are asking, and will he look at the most critical issue, which is access to public sector land?
As my hon. Friend knows—he can take some credit for it, along with my hon. Friend Boris Johnson—the London Land Commission is now live. It will provide a complete inventory of all publicly owned brownfield land in London, and we will have the figures shortly. We do not have all the details yet, but we know that an enormous amount of publicly owned brownfield land could be developed. We know that to build the homes we need, such land absolutely must be released, so it would be useful to hear from the Minister, when he wraps up the debate, whether he has a likely timetable. When will we have the full picture, and what will be the process for releasing that land both to housing associations and to developers?
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he agrees that the forced sale of empty council properties is a good idea or a bad idea? If it goes ahead, does he agree that those properties should be replaced with like-for-like in the same local authority area? Is that his position?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I stood on a manifesto that included a commitment to extending the right to buy to housing association tenants. That is the right policy: it will enable hundreds of thousands of people to achieve home ownership who would otherwise not be able to do so.
I am not going to take any more interventions. [Interruption.] I did take an intervention.
Finally, will the Minister commit to ensuring that public bodies can take the widest possible and longest term view of best value when releasing land? That point has been raised with me time and again by great and small developers, as well as by housing associations. We need a redefinition or an expanded definition.
The National Audit Office study of the disposal of public land showed that, in the last tranche, enough land was sold off for 109,500 potential homes. Does my hon. Friend agree that people do not live in potential homes, but actual homes, and that it is essential for the public interest to make sure, when a sale takes place, that there is a plan to ensure that something happens in a timely manner?
My hon. Friend makes my point for me. That is absolutely essential. We will not get best value out of the available public land with a rapid fire sale; that will require a much more coherent and strategic view from public bodies. I hope we will see more of that as a consequence of this Government’s intervention.
Let me first welcome the amendments tabled by the Government, as the Minister announced to the Communities and Local Government Committee before Christmas, to make the pay-to-stay scheme voluntary for housing associations, which is a sensible move. My argument is that what is good enough for housing associations should be good enough for local councils as well, and that councils should have the discretion under the pay-to-stay scheme to operate within their housing revenue accounts, which of course receive no subsidy from the general taxpayer. The Government could easily do that without affecting the general public finances in any way. In the spirit of localism, the Government should do that.
I turn to the sale of high-value local authority houses. In Sheffield, we live in a slightly different world from the prices in London. The Prime Minister got rather alarmed when he saw council houses valued at £1 million, but most of the houses in Sheffield that will be sold under the legislation are good-quality family homes that are promised to be sold for about £100,000 to £150,000. However, the reality of the Government’s proposals is that all vacant houses in certain parts of Sheffield will be sold off under the Bill. High-value houses tend to be in high-value areas, which means that, for people on the council waiting list, there will in future be parts of Sheffield where no vacant properties will come up for people to rent. That is the reality: people can be on the waiting list for such a home, but the wait will be forever, because no vacant properties will ever become available. The chances of properties being replaced on a like-for-like basis in those areas of a city such as Sheffield are non-existent. After the discount for right-to-buy properties has been funded, there simply will not be enough money left to replace one social rented property with another.
I accept that the Government have a mandate to bring in the right to buy for housing association tenants—they were elected on that policy—but it would be much fairer if the policy were funded by general taxpayers as a whole, rather than solely by prospective social housing tenants who, as a result of the policy of councils having to sell off their high-value properties, will not have a home to rent in the future. It is unfair that only one section of the community—a more deprived section—should be the one that has to fund and pay for this Government policy.
It is also totally unfair for councils that have sold off their properties in a stock transfer to have to make no contribution at all towards the policy, and for the totality of a policy funding housing association sales all over the country to be paid for only by some councils or council residents, not by others. Why do the Government think that a policy which is national in nature should not be funded nationally, but should be funded only by councils that happen to have retained their council housing stock? There is no logic in that. There would be a lot more understanding of, and agreement with, the housing association right to buy and its consequences if the Government changed that aspect of how the policy is funded.
I turn to security of tenure and the rather nasty, mean-spirited schedule 4, which the Government introduced in Committee. Why are council tenants deemed to be second class? Why have the Government got it in for council tenants? When, during the last Parliament, the Select Committee looked at the private rented sector, it was pretty obvious that one of the biggest problems people have in the private sector is the lack of security. We should try to give people in the private rented sector greater security. Many people will remain there, probably renting privately for the rest of their lives, so they need great security. Instead of giving private sector tenants greater security, why are the Government doing exactly the opposite by transferring the problems of the private rented sector to the council sector and by giving council tenants insecurity? Just what is the logic of doing that?
Let us look at the impact of the policy on families. This is not just about families having to move home, but their having to uproot and change jobs—finding another one if they can—and kids having to move schools. There is nothing more damaging to kids’ prospects and to their future lives than having their education constantly disrupted by having to move house and having to move from one school to another. That is what the Government are moving towards by bringing in this policy.
My hon. Friend is, as always, making a very powerful speech. This issue will affect not just individual families, but entire communities. If families feel that they may have to move within a very short period, what incentive do they have to get involved in the local community, put down roots or build community ties that will be cut unnecessarily quickly?
My hon. Friend must have been looking over my shoulder. I am sure she cannot read my handwriting—it is very difficult at the best of times—but that is exactly my next point. This is not just about individuals in their own home; individuals who are part of the wider community may join and become active members of their local tenants and residents associations only to be told that their home has suddenly gone and the community life with it. The community, as well as such individuals, will lose out.
Of course, it is not just families who will be affected. A pensioner in their family home who has retired might decide that they want to move to a bungalow or flat that is more suitable to their immediate needs. I think that this legislation applies to people of retirement age, but perhaps the Minister could confirm that. If that pensioner is in a secure council property, they now face the prospect of moving into pensioner accommodation that does not have a secure tenancy.
We are therefore asking people to take the risk of moving from a family home with a secure tenancy to pensioner accommodation without that security. That will undermine mobility because it will mean that fewer family homes become available and that such pensioners cannot move on to more suitable accommodation. If they do, they will be faced with the prospect of being turfed out of that accommodation in their 80s on the wish of their landlord. It simply cannot be right to put pensioners in that position.
One argument that was put forward in support of the heinous bedroom tax was that it would encourage people to move to smaller properties when the opportunity arose. Is not what my hon. Friend has just described completely inconsistent with the aims of that policy?
This proposal will indeed discourage people from moving from a secure tenancy on a family home to an insecure tenancy on a smaller property. If it is the Government’s intention to ensure that people who have more space than the Government think they need move home, surely the answer is to build more properties in the first place so that there are more social rented properties for the people on the waiting lists who need them.
Finally, let us take this down to an individual level. Imagine a family sat round their breakfast table or a pensioner couple, who are now on a fixed-term tenancy, sitting in their home. They are waiting for the postman to come, bringing a letter from their local council or housing association. Perhaps in future, it might be called the “Lewis letter” when it drops on people’s doormats. That Lewis letter, when they open it with trembling hands, will tell them, without any forewarning, some six to nine months before their tenancy ends, whether they can stay in their home—these are not houses, apartments, flats or bungalows, but people’s homes at the end of the day—at the whim of the council for another five years, whether they can move to another property that is some distance away in a different neighbourhood, with a different school, or whether they will have no home at all from the council in the future. Just feel the tension in that household when the Lewis letter drops on the doormat and people open it. Even if the answer is, “Yes, you’ve been a good tenant and can stay in your home for another five years,” the trauma that this will put people through is beyond measure.
I hope that the Government will think again. This schedule is mean-minded and dreadful. I hope that the Government withdraw it and, if they do not, that amendments 142 and 105, which were tabled by my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods, will be successful, so that we can give families, pensioners and everyone else the security of tenure that they rightly deserve.
I have kept the House up to date with my struggles to get on the property ladder as a 29-year-old. Just before the Christmas recess, I managed to get on the property ladder with my partner after a struggle of about 10 years. I listened to the speech of Sadiq Khan on the lack of house building under this Government, but I have been struggling to get on the property ladder for the past 10 years, like thousands of young professionals around the country, and I am afraid that he was a member of a Government who built far fewer houses than we are building today.
Thousands of my constituents in Bath, which is one of the least affordable cities in the UK, are also struggling to get on the property ladder, so I empathise with them. Put simply, we need to build more houses than we have done previously. It will not surprise anyone who has visited Bath that it is one of the top 10 most expensive places to live, taking into account local earnings ratios. In Lloyds bank’s latest affordability review, Bath is ranked above Greater London as the sixth most expensive place to live in the UK. That means that for many people in Bath, buying a home will remain only an aspiration for a very long time.
Furthermore, it will not surprise the Minister to hear that my constituents fear that the much-needed rail electrification of Brunel’s Great Western main line, which is under way thanks to this Government’s investment and which will improve train journey times into London, will make the cost of buying a home increasingly unaffordable, forcing Bath residents to wait even longer before they can make the first step on to the property ladder.
Proposed new subsection (4) of clause 72 in amendment 112 shows that the Government are committed to increasing the number of affordable homes in London, where Generation Rent seems to have taken hold. Such changes prove that this is the party of opportunity that will help everyone to reach important life goals such as buying their own home. I welcome the announcement that the Government will ensure that in London, two affordable homes will be built for every high-value unit that is sold in the city. I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on championing that proposal. Having worked with him in the past, I am certain that he will make a superb Mayor of London.
My hon. Friend is rightly highlighting the challenges in Bath. I know that the same is true in Oxford and elsewhere. The two-for-one principle that my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith has identified merits consideration in other hotspots. Does my hon. Friend hope, as I do, that the Minister will consider that carefully?
Yes, I absolutely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I see from the amendments before us today that that is being considered. I welcome the assurance that the Government will look at replicating the proposal in other high-price areas such as Bath, St Albans, which we have heard about today, and Oxford using proposed new subsection (6) in amendment 112.
Development is under way on brownfield sites in Bath such as the Foxhill development, which recently received an extra £313,000 of Homes and Communities Agency funding. That will help to build more homes on brownfield sites. I am pleased to see that the Government are committed to building more affordable homes in London and other expensive areas. I desperately look forward to working with the Minister, as do other colleagues, on rolling out amendment 112 to other high- cost areas.
I wish to make a few remarks on the impact of the Government’s proposals on Stockport.
The impact of the sale of high-value properties will be an issue in Stockport because property prices are high and land is scarce. Even a committed arm’s length management organisation such as Stockport Homes will find it a struggle to find funding for the building of new homes, whether for rent or sale.
For the high-value proposal to operate fairly, it will have to operate on a local level to ensure that no one authority bears the brunt of the sales. In Greater Manchester, for example, a regional high-value level could mean that Stockport sells the vast majority of its stock because it has higher property prices than most areas in the region. Depending on the scale, that could have a significant effect on the ability to meet housing need in the borough.
The new pay-to-stay thresholds should take into account the cost of private renting in each area, as well as income. The Bill proposes pay-to-stay market rents for people who earn a combined household income of £30,000. That threshold is very low. A couple who both work full time at the average Stockport wage of £19,083 would have to pay a significantly higher rent than their neighbours. Let us say, for example, that it was set at £40 a week. In August 2015, the rents in private rented accommodation in Stockport were twice Stockport Homes’ average rent of £74.60 and there was a limited supply. Clearly, moving to the private sector would not be an option. The problem is that £40 a week is still a lot of money to find and may be unaffordable for a family.
One way out would be for people to earn less money to ensure that they do not meet the threshold by cutting the hours they work or leaving a job altogether. Clearly it cannot be right that the proposal would provide a disincentive for people to work the maximum number of hours they can. That runs counter to everything the Government espouse. The cost of renting privately varies greatly from area to area. It would be better if the pay-to-stay market rents that are to be introduced took account of the average income of couples and rents in the private sector in the area so that there are no disincentives to work.
I hope that the Minister will consider the situation for care leavers under his proposals. Housing benefits for single people under 35 years of age will be capped at the shared accommodation rate. That proposal might make it even more difficult than it already is for young people to find a home they can afford. About 1,800 of Stockport Homes’ current tenants are under 35 and receiving some level of housing benefit. The changes would mean that the social housing and private rented sectors will become increasingly unaffordable, and young people will be at increased risk of homelessness, at a time when homeless acceptances have risen nationally by 36% since 2009, and by 15% in Stockport over the last year. The typical young person under 35 will need to find the difference between the average Stockport
Homes rent of £74.60 a week, and the shared allowance rate of £62—a cut of £13 a week once the changes come into effect, and obviously more in the private sector.
Under the proposals, care leavers are exempt from the application of the shared local housing allowance rate only up to the age of 22, yet care leavers are often vulnerable people with complex support needs and problems that can last all their lives. It is therefore important that care leavers are excluded from the shared accommodation housing benefit cap beyond the age of 22. They do not have the alternative of moving in with family members as many other young people do, and they are likely to live alone for longer than the average young person. It is therefore problematic to impose such a low exemption age, so I hope that the Government will further consider the circumstances of care leavers when the Bill goes to another place.
Like all London MPs, particularly inner-London MPs, I welcome any efforts that boost supply and tackle what has become an emergency situation for our capital city. Research by the City of London Corporation found that even the cheapest 10% of London’s houses are affordable only for the highest earning 25% of workers, and businesses now believe that housing supply costs are a significant risk to the capital’s economy.
We have heard contributions from MPs who represent Oxford, Bath, Sheffield and other cities, and it is increasingly apparent to me that there is now also an acute need for specific, London-based solutions to housing costs, so I hope that we can capitalise on the enthusiasm that we have heard in the House today towards devolution in that regard. I would like briefly to share with the Minister the thoughts of my two local authorities, and those of local housing associations, in the hope that we can start to carve out a proper London housing policy.
In almost every speech that I have made in this House on housing in the past 15 years, I have lamented the increasing polarisation of central London, to which my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith referred. Those on medium incomes, and increasingly even those on high incomes, have been pushed out to cater for a new global super-rich and those who qualify for precious social housing. I say to my hon. Friend, and to Sadiq Khan, that as Londoners we recognise that we are an attractive city, largely because of the social capital that generations of Londoners before us have built up, but many future generations of Londoners will not have the opportunity of benefiting from that social capital.
The right hon. Gentleman represents a major part of central London that has some of the highest land and housing values. Will he answer the question that Zac Goldsmith completely avoided and say whether he agrees that the two-for-one policy is absolutely worthless unless the income from the sale of those houses is reinvested in the same local authority area in central London?
It is not absolutely worthless, although I echo the comments made earlier on that issue, and hope that the Minister—as well as accepting amendment 112, to which I was a co-signatory—will indicate that as far as possible the Government will wisely consider the legal terms and the wording of the amendment. The wording does not guarantee that the proceeds of any sales will be retained in London; it simply governs the terms of agreements that the Government might choose to make to that effect. It would be helpful to have something on record about the strength of the commitment to ensure that there is replacement building in the capital, but I will leave that to the Minister.
It is fair to say that plans to allow housing association tenants the right to buy their homes came as a bit of a rabbit out of a hat before May’s general election. I appreciate and agree with the general aspiration to roll out home ownership to as many people as possible, but I worry that forced sales will deplete stock, and that once a windfall has been pocketed, the property concerned will simply be rented out to a high earner. That is what has happened in many housing estates in my constituency, where the second or third buyer after a sale under the right to buy has been—dare I say it?—a well-paid yuppie.
I will not take any more interventions because I know that other Members want to speak.
On a philosophical level, I confess that I am uneasy about the principle of the forced sale of properties that have been built or bought with private, philanthropic donations, and without Government grant. In the case of Peabody—a major social housing provider in my constituency—that approach risks disregarding the intention with which the founder, George Peabody, made his original charitable endowment in the late 1800s, when 10,772 Peabody homes were built without Government grant in my constituency and slightly beyond. I accept that we crossed the Rubicon on that with leasehold reform legislation over the past 30 years, but I worry about the precedents we are setting. It has already been mooted by Opposition Members that buy-to-let landlords should be forced to sell their homes to tenants. I think that would be entirely wrong, but it would probably be the extension of what is proposed.
That touches upon the inherent “fairness” of this policy. Had the Secretary of State been here, I would have taken him on a walk down memory lane. He was a former councillor in my constituency and the Warwick ward of Pimlico, and I walked through that area two or three weeks before the general election, canvassing the stucco-fronted homes of Cumberland Street. On one side, tenants of London and Quadrant pay perhaps £100 per week rent for their flats, whereas on the other side, in almost identical properties, private renters—I accept that this is a hotspot of central London—are paying £350 per week. Already those tenants are in a financially disadvantageous position, yet the former group will get a discount on the purchase price of their properties, and will potentially be able to rent them out further down the line. I question the fairness of giving such huge advantages to those already in secure housing, yet giving no advantage to those in the private rented sector whose voice is perhaps not heard as loudly in this debate, particularly from Labour Members. Central London is an extremely expensive place to live.
I have spoken to a number of housing association residents, such as Lee Millan of the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association in the City of London, and Nicole Furre of the Seven Dials housing co-operative. They pointed out that charging families to “pay to stay” in their council home if they earn more than a certain level of income—£30,000 a year outside London, or the relatively modest amount of £40,000 in central London—also introduces unfairness. For a family in my constituency, £40,000 is not a large amount, and I believe that the cap should be set higher and staircased so that people pay rent that is linked to what they are earning at a particular time. There is also a natural worry that the starting level of that cap might be reduced as time goes by.
There is much that is good in the Bill, and I wish to end on a positive note, but all London MPs share some major worries. Meeting the housing needs of the capital requires the commitment and action of all local authorities, and to help to address those shortages, I am proud that the City of London Corporation has committed to building 3,700 new homes by 2025, many of which will be outside the square mile—as many Members will know, some of the most successful London housing estates outside the square mile are run by the corporation. The programme will be funded through planning gain receipts, grant funding, borrowing through the housing revenue account and a cross-subsidy from the market sales of new homes.
I am sorry that I have concentrated on London, but Members will appreciate why I have done so. All London MPs know only too well that our city will function successfully only if we start thinking creatively in a way that a number of Members from—dare I say it?—both sides of the House have been doing. Together, we must try to address the housing crisis. Once the Bill is on the statute book, as I hope it will be soon, all London MPs stand ready to help the Government—and any future Government—to ensure that we are able more successfully to tailor London’s housing policy so that the social capital to which I referred earlier is kept intact. Some issues of constrained housing supply can be addressed only at a national level, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to this timely debate.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow Mark Field, who agrees with many of the concerns about the Bill that have been raised by Labour Members. Today we are debating provisions on affordable housing, which has been the subject of much deliberate confusion, and smoke and mirrors, by the previous coalition Government and the current Conservative Government.
The Mayor of London has tried to redefine affordable rent as up to 80% of very high private market rents. To put it simply, that is anything but affordable to the vast majority of Londoners. Rent now consumes an average of 62% of Londoners’ income, and the Government now include a starter home of up to £450,000 within the definition of affordable housing. That will not wash; something does not become affordable simply because the Government label it so.
Across the country, we need more social housing at rents that are directly related to the income of lower-income households, more intermediate housing for key workers and middle earners to rent or buy, and more low-cost starter homes for those taking the first step on the home ownership ladder. That is what the people of this country aspire to and it is what the Labour party will campaign for. These clauses have been drafted by a blinkered Government who have no interest in carefully assessing and responding to housing need as it really is, and every interest in peddling a myth of accessible home ownership to people, many of whom stand very little chance of achieving it. By doing that, they are trading off the interests of one section of the community against those of another.
In my short time as an elected Member of this House, I have spoken several times in the Chamber about the extent of my constituency’s housing need. I represent a part of the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. Each borough has more than 20,000 people on the waiting list for a council home. Each week, my surgery is full of people who come to see me because they are in desperate housing need.
The hon. Lady is a fellow member of the Communities and Local Government Committee. She rightly said that an artificial and fixed definition of affordability does not work, and that the move to relate affordability to an individual’s circumstances, which is central to the Bill, goes in the right direction. Is my interpretation of what she said right?
I will not take a further intervention from the hon. Gentleman for the time being, if that is okay.
Each week, people ask me why they should have to live in damp, overcrowded and extortionately priced private flats, why their children should be subject to the insecurities that come with short-term tenancy after short-term tenancy, and who is going to help them in their housing need. Many more people will find their situations made much worse as a consequence of the Bill than will be helped by it.
A family who came to my surgery late last year is typical of many who contact me. The mother is a part-time teaching assistant who is studying to become a teacher, while the father is a pharmacy technician. They live in a two-bedroom housing association property with their four children. The two older girls, who are both at secondary school, share a top bunk, while their two younger siblings share the bottom bunk. The parents described the toll that the situation is taking on their relationship. Their older daughters, who are model students, are often tired and stressed at school. The family works hard and could not have more aspiration for a better life, but their situation will be made worse by the Bill. They will not be able to afford to exercise the right to buy their housing association home, and even if they could, that would be a pretty big gamble, since it is not suitable for their needs. The family home that they desperately need is likely to be exactly the type of home that will either be sold under right to buy, or that councils will be forced to sell to fund the right to buy for other housing association tenants. The Bill delivers nothing for this family, nor for many other residents like them who cannot raise a mortgage but nevertheless have significant housing need that should not and must not be ignored. I sat and wept with this family as they described the sheer unfairness and impossibility of their situation.
During yesterday’s sitting of the Communities and Local Government Committee, I was dismayed to hear senior CLG officials confirm that they have not yet completed any analysis of the likely sums that will be raised from right-to-buy sales and the forced sale of council homes. The Government therefore simply do not know whether the funds will be available to replace housing association homes that are sold under right to buy, and still less at a rate of two for one. The Select Committee heard evidence from an officer at a Conservative-led local authority in Cambridgeshire who said that the council was up to the limit of the borrowing cap against its housing revenue account. When its high-value homes are sold, the first call on the receipt will be HRA debt repayment. Once the subsidy for right to buy has been deducted, there will be almost nothing left to deliver new homes. Members are being asked to vote on a major housing reform without any evidence that it can or will deliver what the Government promise that it will.
There are further attacks on affordable housing in the Bill. The pay-to-stay clause, which is introduced with no taper and no lead-in time, is simply a Conservative tax on hard work and aspiration. There is a deep inconsistency within pay to stay. On the one hand, the Government have decided that a household comprising two people earning the new minimum wage outside London or the London living wage—by definition the minimum required to live on—is “high earning” yet, on the other hand, the Government take a different view of the high-earning threshold for tax purposes. The two are not the same figure.
The impact of pay to stay will be that rents rise to market levels overnight. I cannot see any justification at all for requiring the rent paid by residents living in social housing and earning the minimum wage or the London living wage to be doubled or, in some parts of London, much more than doubled. Pay to stay will break up communities and it will price people out of their homes although there is no private sector or other affordable housing for them to move into. It will increase homelessness and act as a disincentive to seek promotion at work or to take on more hours. It is a Conservative tax on aspiration.
Finally, there is the measure to end secure tenancies, which was introduced on the final day of the Public Bill Committee, meaning that members of that Committee had no opportunity to hear the views of residents or councils about the proposal. That shoddy way of legislating shows contempt for this House and for the constituents and communities we serve. Councils already have freedom under the Localism Act 2011 to end secure tenancies, but the compulsory imposition of the ending of secure tenancies is yet another anti-localist measure that slashes councils’ freedom to respect and respond to the views of their tenants and residents, and to address local housing need in the best way for their local area. I have received emails from constituents who are terrified about the possibility that they will be forced to move home, to move their children to a different school in a strange area, and to seek new jobs and childcare arrangements.
The solution to the housing crisis is not to engage in a race to the bottom on security of tenure, nor to recognise only the aspirations of those who are able to raise a mortgage. The solution to the housing crisis is to build more genuinely affordable homes across all tenure types and to regard social housing as an investment that pays for itself many times over, both financially in comparison with private renting, and in the social benefits that it brings.
Had I listened to the debate without any knowledge, I might have been persuaded by Opposition amendment 142, which deals with security of tenure. However, all is not as it is being portrayed—in fact, far from it. It is a privilege to follow Helen Hayes, who was a town planner for many years and served on the Bill Committee with me, but she should be reassuring the constituents whom she claims are frightened. The changes to security of tenure do not apply to anyone who currently has tenure, which has conveniently been forgotten in much of the scaremongering led by Opposition Front Benchers.
Equally, I cannot be alone in hearing a number of housing associations and councils saying that the balance in the housing stock, where need is not matched by current occupation, is not right. It is therefore only right that as future tenancies come up, we ensure that stock is used most appropriately across the affordable housing market. This has not been mentioned today, but tenancies will be expected to last for five years. They will not be automatically thrown out after five years. There will be a review and the landlord will need to prove why he is removing a tenant.
It is a surprise to hear the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Betts, who is usually much more advanced on these matters than I am, clearly miss out the two important points that detract from his argument. First, the Government have already said to local authorities that there are exceptions when people move tenure. They can grant new life tenures, in particular for people moving jobs and for the elderly. Secondly, he clearly missed what the Government have said to housing associations about the elderly and those with disabilities because, in those cases, the presumption on the housing authority will be to provide life tenure. It is important to get those facts on record because they clearly negate the argument for amendment 142, which I strongly urge the Minister to reject.
On the point about discretion, in schedule 4, proposed new section 81B(2)(b) of the Housing Act 1985 excludes the requirement to give a new secure tenancy except in cases when
“the tenant has not made an application to move”.
In other words, if the tenant has made an application to move to a smaller property, they cannot be guaranteed a new secure tenancy, according to the Bill.
I hope that the Minister will clarify that point, but the key thing is the possibility of new longer tenancies, especially for elderly people, which deals with the point that the hon. Gentleman raised earlier.
I support amendment 112. Many Members have spoken about hotspots and affordability, so I will not rehearse those arguments, but suffice it to say that my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, who previously tabled such an amendment, has been leading the debate on the matter. Sadiq Khan talked about pulling the wool over Londoners’ eyes. I will not challenge his statistics, some of which were questionable, but the key thing that Londoners need to remember about the amendment is that it is a two-for-one provision, whereas amendment 89 represents a one-for-one provision. On that basis alone, Londoners would be wise to support amendment 112, which I am delighted that the Minister, having listened to the arguments, has brought forward today. I hope that the House will support that amendment in the Lobby later.
Many of us have said repeatedly that we have a major housing crisis and that not only is the Bill a missed opportunity to take the necessary urgent action, but it will make a bad situation worse.
My new clause 39, which I plan to press to a vote, would draw on the work done to establish a nationally agreed living wage level—that agreed by the Living Wage Foundation, not the pale imitation the Government like to call a living wage but which is nothing of the sort—and establish a living rent commission, adopting and linking to the principles behind the living wage commission, to calculate what a genuinely affordable level of rent in different places would look like, bearing in mind other costs of living and wage levels. It could also incorporate other factors, such as tenancy security, by taking into account the average length of tenancy in a given area.
Just as the living wage is demonstrably good for employers, employees, society as a whole and the local economy, so too could a living rent lead to significant benefits for all. To best understand what those might be, I hope the House will bear with me while I remind colleagues of the scale of the crisis in Brighton and Hove. As others have said, the problem is by no means limited to London.
Research released by HomeLet today reveals that tenants in Brighton and Hove, where my constituency is based, along with those in Bristol, suffered the worst rent rises of anywhere in Britain last year. Landlords raised prices by an average of 18%, meaning that Brighton and Hove has become only the second city in the country where rents have passed the £1,000-a-month barrier. These record rent rises mean that a typical flat in the city now costs £1,078 a month and that the average earner has to put aside 65% of their salary just to pay for a typical two-bed flat. That is simply untenable.
Given that Brighton and Hove has one of the biggest private rented sectors in the UK—about 30% of the housing stock is in the hands of private landlords—the impact of such rent rises is widely and deeply felt. High rents in the private rented sector have an inevitable knock-on effect on rents in the so-called affordable housing sector, too, and the cost is disproportionately borne by individuals and the state. People on low incomes are going without food and heating to pay rents. People who grew up in the city are having to move away from friends, family and communities to afford enough space to have children. A 2012 assessment of affordable housing need identified 88,000 households in Brighton and Hove—72%—that could not afford to buy or rent without some subsidy or spending a disproportionate level of their income on housing costs. The chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, Andy Winter, has warned that by April 2017, when the local housing allowance changes in the autumn statement come into effect, 75% of its properties will be unaffordable for under-35s, meaning people will have nowhere to go.
New clause 39 would tackle some of those problems head on. A living rent commission would consider the facts and recommend a reliable and fair way of determining an affordable rent level. For example, it would consider whether we need two different living rent levels—one for London and one for elsewhere—as happens with the living wage, or whether, as seems more likely, it should be more localised, and if so, on what basis. It would require the commission to undertake that work in conjunction with providers, landlords and tenants, and then report to the Government. In essence, it commits to nothing other than trying accurately to define the much bandied term “affordable”, which has effectively been rendered meaningless given that council homes have been sold to housing associations, which are now raising funds by increasing rents on re-lets from social housing at a rate of up to 80% of market rates. That is what counts for affordable at the moment, yet it is nothing of the kind.
I add a word of caution: a living rent is not a magic panacea. The underlying reasons for our local and national housing crises are many and varied, and so too are the solutions. We need wholesale reform to address insecurity, inequalities between owners and private renters, decency standards and the better use of public subsidy, as well as affordability. No one measure will work in isolation—it must be part of a broader programme—but the new clause would introduce a solution that could start to have a significant impact on all these problems, and it has not yet been given much consideration in our debates. It goes further than the so-called smart rent controls that some Members advocate. Such controls would link rent levels to inflation and would certainly be a step in the right direction. Capping rents is a step further and is usually linked to local incomes or could be set at a certain percentage more than social rents.
That could help prevent costs from spiralling further out of control, which would be welcomed by the tenants I see in my surgeries who are struggling with the cost of the private rented sector, but given that rents are already so high, even capping them at those levels would offer tenants only limited protection. For the renters in Brighton, Pavilion who are already forced to set aside 65% of their income for rent, it would mean rents not getting any worse, but it would not mean their getting better or becoming affordable or sustainable. They are the result of a market utterly out of control and in need of genuine reform to bring them in line with wages and the cost of living. They need to better reflect what people can afford to pay in rent while maintaining a decent quality of life.
I acknowledge that some see capping and controlling rents as controversial and that there are instances where such policies have had perverse effects, but there are also many instances where they have worked, and a commission would help us learn the lessons from different models to develop one that might work here. Regulators in other countries agree that rent controls can be part of the solution, especially when taken alongside other positive measures. In Sweden, rents in the private sector are not allowed to be more than 105% of rents in equivalent accommodation owned by a municipal housing company. It is a stable private rented sector in which the quality of repairs and maintenance is good and tenants and landlords alike benefit from secure, indefinite tenancies. Indefinite tenancies and rent controls are credited with giving Germany the most stable private rented sector in the world, alongside the US. France, which has rent controls and more secure long-term tenancies than we do, has a growing private rented sector.
Understandably, there will be concerns about the impact on landlords and, in turn, the effect on supply. What happens if landlords cannot afford to take reduced rents, meaning that housing standards plummet or properties are sold out of the rental market? A living rent commission would model all those possibilities and risks and take them into account when making its rent level recommendations. In the meantime, it is worth noting that a recent survey of landlords found that 77% were in employment; that 60% earned more than £2,000 a month from their employment; and that the 79% of landlords who controlled 61% of all privately rented dwelling earned less than a quarter of their income from those rents. In other words, landlords tend to have reliable sources of income other than rent. We also know that many have brought property as an investment or, more commonly, as a pensions supplement.
If Ministers or the Opposition are worried about the finances of those landlords, I humbly suggest they commit to a secure living pension for all that adequately covers the cost of living. The example from countries such as France suggests that to link a particular policy—say rent control—to shrinkage of the private sector is flawed. With the right policy mix, rent controls can be part of a growing private rented sector in which standards are high. As a final word on landlords, I imagine that many of them will be keen to demonstrate their ethics and, just as forward-thinking employers have backed the living wage, many landlords will voluntarily adopt a living rent for their properties.
To sum up, I appreciate that some colleagues will disagree with the idea that a living rent is a good, let alone the best, mechanism to deliver such benefits, but I say this to them. New clause 39 does not prescribe whether a living rent should be legally enforceable or simply voluntary. What it would do is set up a commission to consult widely, consider the evidence and make a series of recommendations. It will give renters a benchmark against which to compare the rent they are currently charged and start a long overdue debate into how best to balance the needs of landlord and tenant. That is why I hope colleagues will support my new clause, which I hope to press to a vote.
Given the time pressures, I shall limit my remarks to my amendment 109. I have made it clear that right to buy is, quite simply, the wrong spending priority at a time of great housing need when resources should be focused on building new homes. In my view, it is also being used as a means to reduce social and affordable housing at the very time that such homes are most desperately needed, particularly for the 1.6 million people currently rotting on a social housing waiting list who are often struggling to bring up children in temporary and inadequate accommodation.
Paying for the extension of right to buy through selling off high-value council housing is simply absurd and will have a crippling financial effect, taking away resources that are much needed by councils to build homes in their areas. The fact that no definition of “high value” is given in the Bill provides far too much wriggle room, with no guarantee of replacement—with the exception of amendment 112, which relates only to London. It has been discussed at length, so I shall not go into any further detail. I see no good reason, other than a political one, for not extending the deal to all regions and not just to London. London is so often the focus of attention when it comes to housing, but the housing crisis is just as real in many other places, especially in rural parts of Britain, including the west country, Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire.
The extension of right to buy, furthermore, is not genuinely a voluntary option for housing associations, as the Government have attempted to claim. The only voluntary aspect was the vote taken by members of the National Housing Federation last September, in which 45% of associations either voted against or abstained, masking the fact that many felt that the extension was already a done deal. The choice on the table was essentially between the immediate death of social housing or a slightly more drawn-out affair.
To cast this assault on social housing, and especially the assault on rural communities, as something willed by the housing associations is just bogus. The Bill puts many small and specialist housing associations, particularly those in rural areas such as mine, in an extremely difficult position. Some are worried about the impact it will have on maintaining additional services to residents—jobseeking advice, for example, which is often crucial to getting people back on their feet. I would therefore like to see the right to buy extension taken out of the Bill altogether. If the extension is to go ahead, however, a commitment to replacing the property sold off must be included. That is what would be achieved by my amendment 109.
Let me make it clear that I am not opposed to right to buy in principle. I am a supporter of the aspiration of those who wish to own their own home, and I want us to support housing associations as they seek to build mixed developments to give people the opportunity to get on to the housing ladder.
There are two possible reasons for extending right to buy. The first is to encourage aspiration and the second is to decimate and get rid of social housing. If it is the first that people care about most, legislating to extend right to buy would be focused on ensuring replacement, in which case my amendment 109 should be supported to make sure that that happens. This would provide people with the opportunity to buy their own home without at the same time depleting affordable housing stock for other families in need.
If the motivation were simply to reduce social housing—those motives are too depressing at this time even to bother discussing—the policy would be exactly what the Government are doing: right to buy would be extended and housing associations would be press-ganged to go along with it, with verbal expressions of intentions to replace homes. That would also mean ensuring zero guarantee in the legislation that any replacement must happen.
Sadly, it is clear that this Government’s reasons for press-ganging housing associations to extend right to buy are based on a pretty grubby desire to get rid of social housing. We know what happens when intentions to replace homes are expressed, but not enforced, in legislation. We have had many decades of experience of that. We know that one-to-one replacement simply does not happen. Even in recent years, since the one-to-one replacement policy was introduced in 2012, only one in every nine homes sold has been replaced.
My amendment 109 is designed to overcome that problem and guarantee the replacement of homes by insisting that before a home is sold off under right to buy, a replacement home must first be identified. This could be a home within a new planned development or an existing home that is acquired by the housing association with the proceeds of the sale. Housing associations should be required to identify that replacement property and communicate the plan to the regulator before selling the home.
Probably not, because there is not much time left and I do not want to prevent others from speaking.
In addition, the replacement home should in most cases be equivalent to the one sold off. It should be located in the same local authority area and there must be an initial presumption that the replacement home would be the same tenure unless there is a strong case for changing it, based on local need. This would avoid the squeezing out of social homes for rent, which are often occupied by some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, in favour of other potentially more profitable tenures. My amendment would provide not only a one-for-one replacement of homes, but in many cases like for like. I urge Members to support it.
I support the amendments tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I want to say from the outset that I am proud to support amendments 112 and 130. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), as well as to colleagues across London not just for inspiring these amendments, but for working so passionately and diligently to ensure that we get a good result for London. That is quite a contrast to Labour, from whose Members I have received no direct approaches about doing anything positive to increase the housing supply in London.
I shall give way in a few moments.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park on the birth of his son.
We shall be looking to ensure that local authorities in London can make an agreement with the Government. These provisions will require two new affordable homes to be provided for every vacant, high-value dwelling that we expect to see sold.
Perhaps the Minister will explain why the joint duty on the Secretary of State, the Mayor of London and local housing authorities in Greater London to provide two units of affordable housing for each council home sold, which was set out in new clause 1 in Committee, failed to make it through to amendment 112, which we are debating today?
Well, it did not get through Committee. As we shall come on to later, it is interesting to reflect on how few provisions Labour Members voted against in Committee, yet today they seem to have found a voice that they did not have before.
We all know—it has been spoken about on the Floor of the House today—that housing markets vary across our country, and that has been reflected in the legislation so that, for example, it is possible to define “high-value” areas differently in different areas. Housing need is most acute in London, as we have heard today—hence amendment 112.
I am not giving way at the moment.
I intend to use the flexibility of the agreement process to take account of the difficulties that other local authorities might have in seeking to deliver more housing—again, if they had high-value areas, for example. My hon. Friends have spoken about that this afternoon. The legislation is framed to provide as much flexibility as possible, so that we can consider the circumstances of each local authority and its housing need.
I look forward to working with my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood along with my hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald and my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), for Bath (Ben Howlett), for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), for St Albans (Mrs Main), for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), for Bracknell (Dr Lee), for Woking (Jonathan Lord) and for Braintree (James Cleverly), as well as with hon. Friends from other areas to make sure that we get these regulations in the right place so that local authorities can deliver the housing that they need.
I am happy to work with South Cambridgeshire. In fact, we are working well with it; it provides a good example of central Government and local government working together, as we have seen with 10,000 homes being delivered for Northstowe. I encourage local authorities to join others from across
London that have already spoken to us. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park rightly asked about progress, and the London Land Commission will be building on the work opened up by the Government’s delivery of public sector land. We have allocated sufficient land for 160,000 homes, although the London Land Commission must go further to see what more can be done in London.
This is a real opportunity for a step change in housing supply for London. I am not talking just about the two-for-one scheme that has been discussed this afternoon, important though that is, but about a huge opportunity for Londoners and those in other places around the country that has also been outlined this afternoon: the added flexibility for councils to work together on innovative new ideas to deliver more homes across our country, and, unlike Labour, to drive up supply.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman Google #ownyourhouse, where he will find a range of Government schemes to deliver more homes, including new homes, for people throughout the country.
We heard from Dr Blackman-Woods about her opposition to councils’ using vacant high-value building to build more homes and help more people into home ownership. Labour Members have also stated their opposition to ensuring that social tenants on high incomes pay a fair rent. I am not going to rehash the arguments that we had on Second Reading and Report—
No, not at this stage.
Opposition Members had their chance to vote against these clauses in Committee—that is what clause-by-clause stand part debates are for—but they stayed quiet. I will not stay quiet this afternoon. I want to make it very clear that we are introducing these clauses because we have an elected mandate to do so. We will deliver new homes for those who need them, and that will include the opportunity to gain access to home ownership. There is no time to lose.
Not at this stage.
Government amendments 9 and 11 will enable this part of the Bill to come into force on Royal Assent so that funding becomes available as soon as possible. We discussed amendment 51 in Committee as well. I want to ensure that we have full flexibility to use receipts to deliver new homes. Amendments 92 and 93 would result in a reduction in flexibility, and we therefore cannot support them. As I said in Committee, amendments such as amendments 89 and 109 represent the worst examples of the command-and-control, centralist approach that Labour seems to like. We see the same mindset in amendments 94 and 53, which attempt to limit the definitions of high value and high income, once more attempting to introduce exclusions into the Bill. As I have said time and again, we will let further engagement inform detailed policy.
Labour Members also want the Government to tell home owners that they must sell their properties at less than the market value, and to prevent them from letting their homes for a period of 10 years. I think that that is unfair and inappropriate. People should have the right to do with their own homes what any other home owner would do. The Government want a voluntary agreement with housing associations rather than the imposition of unnecessary requirements in legislation, which is what would result from amendment 91
Let me now clarify the position relating to the payment of grant under clause 61. I know that the National Housing Federation is interested in this. I am happy to confirm that, under clause 61, grant will be paid to housing associations as compensation for the right-to-buy discount. The terms of the grant-making power in the clause will enable it to be considered a revenue grant, so it will be sufficient to classify the grant as income. Of course, if Tim Farron had his way, there would be no clause 61 or clause 62.
I will not give way at this stage, because we are short of time and I want to respond to the points that have been raised by those who have spoken.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale spoke about amendments 107 and 108. I trust that the housing association tenants in his constituency who want to buy their own homes will note his comments, and will remember them when they are home owners at the next general election.
Is the Minister aware that in the 1980s, the late Willie Whitelaw expressed concern to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, about the impact of the right to buy, unmitigated, in rural communities such as the Lake District? Thirty years on, will he at least take note of what was said by the great man?
I appreciate that one of the problems of the right to buy is that for 13 years, for every 170 homes that were sold the Labour Administration built only one, which is disgraceful. That is why, under our reintegrated scheme, there is one-for-one replacement. I think it right to move to two-for-one in London, given the higher-value asset sales there. The Labour party neglected to replace supply for 13 years, but Labour Members still think that the public will believe their rhetoric.
Let me return to chapter 4, part 4. Government new clause 59 and amendments 119, 120 and 128 will ensure that tenants who do not provide information on income cannot then have their rent raised any higher than the maximum chargeable under the policy as a whole. Government new clauses 60 and 61 and amendment 111,
113 to 118, 121 to 127 and 129 are part of our wider deregulatory package for housing associations. Amendment 111 removes clause 64, which is no longer needed.
No, not at this point.
We heard the thoughts of the hon. Member for City of Durham on amendments 57 to 60. Again at the risk of repeating myself, I want to make something clear. I have already made it crystal clear, in Committee and elsewhere, that we propose to introduce a taper so that there will always be an incentive to find and keep work. I accept that, as Opposition Front Benchers were not present for the whole Committee stage, they may have missed that at the time.
I want to ensure that our policy is simple to implement, as well as flexible. The option to create a central body to enable data to be transferred to landlords—which amendment 63 would remove—has been provided for the sake of simplicity. For example, the role could be carried out by one local authority on behalf of others.
I listened carefully to what was said by Caroline Lucas about new clause 39. As she knows from her engagement with the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the Government have already decided to reduce social rents by 1% a year, so I do not believe that the body that she has proposed is necessary.
Let me now deal with Members’ opposition to chapter 5. The approach adopted by the hon. Member for City of Durham would mean that families would continue to be trapped in overcrowded council homes, while older tenants whose children had left home would continue to occupy homes that might no longer be appropriate for their needs, with no opportunity to move.
No, I will not give way at this stage. I must try to deal with all the points that other Members have made.
Moreover, the hon. Lady’s approach would mean that some lifetime tenancies would be passed on to family members who were perfectly able to meet their own housing needs.
I can make it clear to the Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Betts, that when someone with a secure tenancy is asked to move, the tenancy will be transferred with that person. We will give local authorities the freedom and flexibility to apply that to voluntary moves as well.
Will the Minister confirm that if someone with a secure tenancy applies for a transfer, and a new tenancy is therefore created in a new property, the security of tenure will pass to the new property and the new tenancy?
In the interests of speed, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should look at the report of what I have just said, but yes, we will ensure that secure tenancies continue when tenants are asked to move, and councils will be able to consider applying them to voluntary moves as well.
I do not believe that the hon. Lady’s proposal represents a good use of social housing, and I trust that the House will agree. The Government amendments will result in a Bill that will bring fairness and efficiency to the housing market, and will further the dreams of aspirational home owners. I commend them to the House.
As I said, we would have liked to remove the chapters on the forced sale of council housing and the mandatory rent rises, but we cannot do so because of time. I therefore wish to withdraw amendment 131, to which we shall no doubt return in the Lords. I will, however, press amendment 142, which seeks to protect security of tenure for council tenants, and in due course my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan will press amendment 89.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.