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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 6:45 pm, 3rd May 2016

Yes. It is interesting that my hon. Friend mentions the LGA, which argued very strongly, on a cross-party basis, that the policy of the right to buy for housing association tenants should not be funded by the sale of local authority assets. I will make sure that I get the Committee’s words right in quoting them to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. We said that

“public policy should usually be funded by central Government, rather than through a levy on local authorities.”

As usual, perhaps the Government ought to listen to the words of the Select Committee. The whole issue of the right to buy for housing association tenants would not be a significant point of contention if the Government were not forcing the sale of local authority homes to pay for it—and we still have not had the figures to show how that would work. With regard to sorting out more flexibility on starter homes, I still do not know what their policy amounts to because of the lack of clarity that we have had.

Finally, I want to raise two really worrying issues where the Select Committee did not come to a view—lifetime tenancies and pay to stay. We welcome the fact that pay to stay will be voluntary for housing associations. However, the situation will be a bit strange in a street where two tenants are earning the same amount of money and paying similar rents, one in a housing association property and one in a council property, and one finds their rent going up and the other does not. Let us get away from the talk about subsidised council housing. There is no central Government subsidy to housing revenue accounts, so there is no subsidy to council tenants earning a little more than their neighbours next door, but what there will be, if this measure goes through, is a tax on those tenants, because the money will go not to the council but to the Treasury, and the Treasury levying a charge on a council tenant is a tax by any other name—of course it is.

Let us put that together with the lifetime tenancy issue. Are we really going to end up with council estates where some homes will have been sold, but in different proportions in different areas, some of which will then have been sold on into the private rented sector, so that we have an increasing mixture of people on the lowest incomes and people there on only a short-term basis? By forcing their rents up, we will push out people on slightly higher incomes who may have a long-term commitment to the area and roots in the area. They may be the people who run the local housing association, the local residents group or the local community forums, and are really active there. Of course, the very same people will be the longer-term tenants who have a real interest in and long-term commitment to their area. What does this policy, and this mixture of policies, do for social cohesion? It undermines the whole idea of a long-term commitment by people who are rooted in their areas and want to stay there because they enjoy living there, they have connections there, their kids go to school there, and that is where their home is.