Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 18th May 2023.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
As a matter of housekeeping, I should say that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ealing North, asked me questions on Tuesday regarding the implementation of changes to the company share option plan, and I committed to write to him with those details. That letter has gone to him this morning, with copies deposited in the Libraries of the Houses. Indeed, I have also arranged for it to be sent to the other Committee members, for their convenience.
The clause will amend existing stamp duty land tax rules to ensure that registered providers of social housing are exempt from the tax when purchasing property using funding allocated under section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003. In December last year, the Government announced an additional £650 million for the Homes for Ukraine support package, which included giving local authorities in England an additional £0.5 billion to reduce homelessness by obtaining housing to reduce pressure on social housing and to help accommodate Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. On
The additional funding, as I said, is allocated under section 31 of the Local Government Act, and the existing stamp duty land tax system includes an exemption for social housing purchases. However, not all social housing providers in receipt of the additional funding would benefit from those exemptions, so we are looking to correct that and to enable registered providers of social housing to benefit from the exemption when they use the new funding. It is a sensible clarification and I hope that the Committee will support the clause standing part of the Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve in Committee with you as Chair, Mr Stringer.
The acquisition of certain properties by registered social landlords is exempt from stamp duty, provided that the purchase is funded with the assistance of public subsidy. As the Minister set out, in December last year the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced an additional £500 million in funding for local authorities to secure additional housing stock for those fleeing conflict, including those from Ukraine and Afghanistan. We understand that that additional funding was allocated under section 31 of the Local Government Act, and the clause will add that section to the list of public subsidies that enable a purchase to qualify for the stamp duty exemption. For the purposes of the stamp duty exemption, we understand that local authorities that intend to register with the Regulator of Social Housing are treated as not-for-profit registered providers of social housing.
The explanatory notes state that £500 million was announced for the local authority housing fund in December 2022, and I welcome the Minister’s assurance that the additional £250 million announced since will also be covered by this clause. We will not oppose the clause, as any support it offers to local authorities that buy homes to provide social housing is welcome.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. This is not the first time that I have been on a Committee with you in the Chair.
Will the Minister give a view about how many extra homes this change to stamp duty land tax will enable local authorities to fund? Has any analysis been done? There will obviously be a positive effect, but how large will it be? Many Afghans are still in hotels and are unable to put down roots so that they can begin to establish themselves in this country and flourish. For large families living in hotels, this is a difficult time, so I would have thought that Members from both sides of the House are anxious to see this scheme work. Knowing the Treasury, it will have done some analysis of the positive benefit of the proposal, so will the Minister share it with the Committee?
How long does the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities expect these extra moneys to last? Will the Minister come back to Parliament to extend this exemption further, or will that happen in a spending review?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. The hon. Member for Wallasey just asked about the length of the funding. As MPs, we all have hard cases to deal with involving refugees from other parts of the world. What funding will be given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so that the devolved Administrations can implement their own schemes?
I can answer yes to the question that the hon. Member for Ealing North asked about the £250 million.
On the question that the hon. Member for Wallasey asked about the number of houses, DLUHC has estimated that it will be about 1,300 homes. She will understand—indeed, we discussed this when I was Minister for Afghan Resettlement—that one of the complexities with Afghan families is that their larger family sizes mean that there is not the availability of housing stock that there is for slightly smaller families. That is why it is taking a bit of time.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife asked about Scotland, and I commit to write to him. This is across the board, so I imagine the scheme will be UK-wide, but I will get that confirmation for him by the end of the sitting.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. According to the Home Office figures that were issued at the end of April, there are 8,000 Afghans currently in UK hotels, half of whom are children. On the point about revisiting this at a future date, does the Minister think the Government have done enough?
I must direct the hon. Lady to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, who is now leading on that. He has overall control of the programme of rehousing for Afghan refugees, and the Homes for Ukraine scheme—obviously that is a very separate system. The scheme is one of the tools available to the Government, which is why we are making the stamp duty changes to assist local authorities in their efforts to find homes for refugees. It will not be the only way in which we find accommodation for those families; there are other ways, including the military helping with accommodation for those who formerly served or helped the armed forces when they were in Afghanistan. It is one tool, and we want to make it as easy as possible for local authorities to use. I encourage the hon. Lady to speak to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, who is leading on the issue.
Another question occurs to me: is the scheme only for Afghans and Ukrainians, or does it accommodate other homeless people who are fleeing conflict? It is clear that those who have fled Afghanistan and Ukraine are in a pretty unique position, with special schemes attached. Could the Minister put it on the record that the exemption may then also help others who are in a similar situation, but not in those categories?
I am very happy to. The scheme is certainly not restricted to Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. It is designed to meet all local authority social housing needs. It is a measure to help alleviate overall social housing pressures on local authorities, precisely because we realise that the enormous generosity of the United Kingdom in helping Ukrainian and Afghan refugees has put increased pressures on local authorities when it comes to social housing. We want to ensure that this is sorted out for local authorities, as part of our humanitarian response to those crises—we are also long enough in the tooth to understand that there may be other humanitarian crises in the future.
On a point of order, Mr Stringer. Before we move on, in relation to the clarification that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife asked for, stamp duty applies only in England and Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales have their own land transaction taxes. Obviously, we are very happy to work with the devolved authorities if there is a point of clarification that they need on that.