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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 8:00 pm, 3rd May 2016

I congratulate their Lordships on their meticulous and effective scrutiny of the Housing and Planning Bill and on their staunch opposition to many of its most damaging provisions. Having heard the Government response, what remains is an ideological commitment to the undermining of social and genuinely affordable housing, which flies in the face of evidence from across the housing sector; and a package of measures that will fail to deliver for my constituents and for people across the country the solutions to the housing crisis that they so desperately need.

There is a universal consensus that starter homes will be out of reach for people on median incomes in most areas of the country, and particularly in London, and that the very strong obligations on councils to deliver starter homes will undermine their ability both to deliver genuinely affordable homes and to meet local housing needs. Councils will see their waiting lists grow, while scarce valuable land will be used up delivering homes that very few can afford. Home ownership will not grow in the way that Members on both sides of the House would like to see it grow, while too many people are spending too high a proportion of their income on rent and letting agents fees in the private sector to be able to save for a deposit.

It is therefore extremely disappointing that the Government are refusing to accept Lords amendment 9, which would allow councils to decide how many starter homes are built, based on their own assessment of local housing need. It is astonishing that in their ideological commitment to starter homes, the Government are prepared to override the detailed local knowledge of councils and their ability to respond best to what their local communities need.

It is also disappointing that the Government are refusing to accept Lords amendment 47, which would allow councils to retain the receipts from the forced sale of higher value council homes to provide new homes of a tenure that is in demand locally. Without this amendment, there is no guarantee that homes built to replace those sold under right to buy or forced sale will be of the same tenure, or indeed in the same area, and this will have a devastating impact on the social mix and economy of London in particular, and in many other areas.

The abolition of secure tenancies is deeply concerning. I welcome the extension of the maximum length of a social tenancy from five years to 10, and the introduction of some protection for families with children, but I continue to question the principle of the abolition of secure tenancies. People on lower incomes aspire just as much to a secure home as those who can afford to raise a mortgage. I remain concerned that fixed-term tenancies of 10 years simply postpone the anxiety that will surround the ending of the tenancy.

A tenancy review for families with grown-up children presents the very real prospect that adult children may no longer be accepted as a legitimate part of the household for any new tenancy for the purposes of a housing needs assessment. Where would our young adults go then? It would be far better if the Government accepted the benefits of secure tenancies for families and communities, and removed this damaging measure from the Bill.

I remain concerned about the pay-to-stay provisions, which are a further attack on hard-working tenants—a tax on aspiration and achievement. I recently heard from a constituent who had lived with her partner and children in a council home for 14 years. She wrote:

“You see, our joint income for 2015-2016 is estimated to be £38,000. That’s with me working part time and my partner working full time. I intend to work full time from September 2016. If I do then our income will be over £40,000—the government have decided I will have to pay market value rent. I’m sickened at the idea of having to move as there is no way we can pay that level of rent. We don’t have any savings so we are in no position to even contemplate getting a mortgage.”

How can the Government justify legislation that will have such perverse and damaging consequences?

Let me turn now to the elephant in the room. The single biggest cause of homelessness is now the ending of a private tenancy, yet this Bill does absolutely nothing to improve either security of tenure or affordability for the millions of people living in the private rented sector. I have been contacted by 50 constituents since the beginning of January—more than two a week—who are facing homelessness, the vast majority of them in the private rented sector. Residents whose private tenancy comes to an end are increasingly ending up in temporary accommodation at great financial cost to the public sector and great personal cost to the residents and their children, who often end up a long way from their children’s schools, in overcrowded accommodation, too often sharing kitchens and bathrooms with strangers.

In the London Borough of Lambeth alone, there are 5,000 children living in temporary accommodation—more than in the entire city of Birmingham in a single London borough. The Housing and Planning Bill entirely ignores the plight of these families. It will make it harder for them to access a genuinely affordable home to rent; impossible for them to access a secure tenancy; and offers no hope that their family’s next private tenancy will have any more security than the last. How can the Government introduce major housing legislation that ignores the single biggest cause of homelessness?

The housing crisis has become all-pervading. It is already affecting London’s public services, with schools and the NHS finding it difficult to recruit suitably qualified and experienced staff, and it is affecting London’s economy, as the workforce our city needs cannot afford to live here. This Bill will make the situation worse.

We are debating this Bill during a week when Londoners will vote for our next Mayor. We need a Mayor who will stand up for Londoners who are unable to afford a secure home to rent or to buy. We need a Mayor who will make good use of publicly owned land to deliver genuinely affordable homes. We need a Mayor who will stand up for Londoners against a Government who are determined to divide our city, undermine our diversity and make it a place where only the wealthy can afford to live. I look forward to seeing my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan doing just that in two days’ time.