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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 6:30 pm, 3rd May 2016

As the hon. Lady knows, many people in this country and, I am sure, in her constituency, are on council waiting lists. What we should be thinking about is how to build more council houses to meet that need.

Lords amendment 57 would increase the thresholds for pay to stay to £50,000 in London and £40,000 outside London in order to limit the damage that this dreadful policy will cause. Similarly, Lords amendment 58 would ensure that income thresholds would increase in line with the consumer prices index, not at the whim of the Secretary of State. We note that the Government will vote against those amendments, but we could do with more explanation of the basis on which they will increase the thresholds.

There are too many Government Lords amendments to comment on, given the time available, although that again demonstrates a problem with this Bill. I will highlight a few of the other amendments in the group, however. We are pleased that the Government adopted Lords amendments 26 to 36, which were tabled by Lord Kennedy and Baroness Grender. The amendments will enable information to be given to third parties when the recovery of abandoned premises is sought and provide a definition of a “tenancy deposit”. My hon. Friend Teresa Pearce and colleagues in the Lords worked hard to ensure that such measures were included in the Bill.

Government Lords amendments 38 to 43 replace the requirement for local authorities to sell off vacant high-value council housing with a requirement to sell off “higher value” vacant council housing. If selling off high-value housing was bad, selling off higher-value housing is much, much worse. Although the approach might help London a little, it will lead to more sell-offs in other areas. As the Public Accounts Committee noted, there is not enough information available on the impact of the policy or its scope to allow Parliament to vote sensibly on it. Shelter’s analysis found that to raise the £4.5 billion a year needed, each local authority could be asked to raise on average a massive £26 million. That corresponds to the sale of 23,503 council homes a year, which is six times more than it was estimated would be sold under the previous high-value regime.

Government Lords amendment 56 supports the exemption of some categories of persons—as yet unknown —from pay to stay provisions. Labour Members argued strongly for such a measure in Public Bill Committee. The amendment states that

“regulations may create exceptions for high income tenants of social housing of a specified description.”

Do such tenants include people aged over 65, people with a registered disability, people with seasonal contracts of employment, or people who have a household member in receipt of care? We have no idea what the Minister intends, and that is not satisfactory.

Government Lords amendments 215, 217 to 221 and 233 amend proposals on ending security of tenure. Although we recognise that allowing 10-year tenancies, and longer tenancies if there is a child in the home, is a step forward, we still think that the whole policy is dreadful. Many people are commenting that what is really important about social housing, and council housing in particular, is that it provides security of tenure, and enables communities to be stable and to thrive. One can only wonder what will happen to parents when their children reach the age of 19, and what will happen if a young person wants to live at home beyond that age. The policy fails to acknowledge that we are talking about people’s homes. The Government should bring forward proposals to extend security of tenure in the private rented sector, rather than reducing that security for council housing tenants, with all the social upheaval and personal anxiety that that brings with it.

Lords amendments 90 and 91 deal with electrical safety checks. I am pleased that the Government were forced by the action that we took in the Commons, and by their lordships, to adopt the amendments, which would put a duty on private landlords to ensure that electrical safety standards are met, and that checks are carried out at a reasonable frequency and by people with the proper expertise. We should thank Baroness Hayter and others for tabling those amendments and arguing for them in the Lords.

Finally, I am pleased that their lordships have insisted that the regulations that we are still to receive—there are many—that will set out much of the detail of the Bill must, in the main, be subject to the affirmative procedure. This includes measures on banning order offences, and determinations and regulations relating to vacant higher-value housing, high-income social tenants, electrical safety, client money protection and planning freedoms. I thank the Lords for ensuring that the Government’s nasty habit of putting through important regulations under the negative procedure ceases.

As the whole housing world has acknowledged, the Bill does little to solve our housing crisis, yet will make things a whole lot worse for the supply of genuinely affordable housing. According to Inside Housing, the Bill has been producing headaches for the Prime Minister, but I am sure he will be pleased to know that he will not need a junior doctor to cure his headaches—all he needs to do is to drop this dreadful Bill.