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Housing and Homes

Part of Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 15th May 2018.

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Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 5:34 pm, 15th May 2018

That might be too efficient for the British system, given that everybody has to have their say. Nevertheless, I think we could do a lot better than we are doing.

There are a number of other areas in which we can do better, including managing the housing stock. I think there are something like 2 million empty flats over shops that are not being used by families. We all know about the major, substantial and probably permanent changes to the high street. We are over-shopped—many areas will never have shops, partly because of the impact of the internet. Perhaps the Government ought to be a bit more ambitious in turning some of those shops into homes. That would have the added win of bringing people back into our town centres and making them nicer places to live.

Our probate system is inefficient. At any one time, about 1 million homes are hung up in the probate system and cannot be sold because they are going through those legal processes. Why can we not look at the probate system to see whether we can clear houses through it before probate is granted or to try to just speed up the whole process? It is expensive enough as it is, and many homes cannot be used during that time.

In some parts of the country we are still demolishing homes, which cannot be a good thing to do. It is bad environmentally. Why do we not encourage more homesteading and give homes to people if they are willing to take them and do them up? These things can be done and they would increase the housing stock.

My final point is to do with private renting, which we all know has taken the strain over the past 10 to 15 years. We also know that many leases are for only 12 months. For peripatetic, young, single professionals, that is not a problem, but if people are married with two kids in a local school and they work locally, it is a problem, because first, there is the uncertainty each year about whether they can stay where they are; and secondly, quite often, for a variety of reasons—perhaps because the landlord wishes to sell or to put the rent up—families are forced to move. We should not forget that when families move, there is a very high cost. That includes the removal van and sometimes the cost of getting new bits and pieces, and so on. If a family with a child doing GCSEs has to move three or four times, it is not good for that child always to be moving into different homes.

If we are going to give security to people, it is right that we should give security to people who can buy. The social housing sector generally gives security to people, and of course we need to build more council homes, but we also need to give more security to those in the private rented sector. Somehow the Government, perhaps through tax incentives or capital gains incentives, ought to try to ensure that leases of three years or five years are available to families. That would take some of the pressure off families with children, who would feel much more content with their lot. Many of the 1.9 million people renting in London cannot afford to buy, so this is a big market, and a politically sensitive market: if people do not feel they have a stake in the country, and if they feel unsettled, they may well take it out on the party in government at the ballot box.

We need to be more creative and forceful in building homes, we need a better planning system, we need to manage our housing stock better and we need to address the glitches in the market so that we can increase the number of homes available. Ultimately, however, we also need to remember those who can only rent and have no choice but to go to the private rented sector. They need rather more help from the Government than they are getting at the moment.