Mortgages: Eligibility — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:44 pm on 23rd October 2017.

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Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:44 pm, 23rd October 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank all those who signed the petition—more than 140,000 people did so—and Members from across the House for this good-natured and constructive debate. The petition shows the importance of debating these issues, which clearly resonate with many people. It is right that the House should consider them.

I thank my hon. Friend Paul Scully for his very helpful suggestion of a market-based solution for fintech, and I am happy to discuss that with him further. I also had a very constructive meeting with Lord Bird, who has done a lot of important work in this area, and came forward with important suggestions. Luke Pollard also demonstrated a degree of cross-party consensus in terms of how we move forward on these issues.

To address directly the issue that the petition refers to—the extent to which paying rent should be evidence of affordability of a mortgage—it is important to note that affordability assessments are not just based on one factor. That is why mortgage affordability assessments include a requirement to assess possible changes to income. It is responsible for lenders to have a long-term perspective when making assessments.

Lenders can currently include payments of rent as a factor, but it is right to highlight that the Financial Conduct Authority independently makes those affordability assessments, or sets the terms relating to affordability for firms. My hon. Friend James Cartlidge drew on his professional experience and expertly explained that a wider suite of issues affects affordability—it is not just one’s past ability to pay rent.

Let me address the issues that hon. Members raised during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam called for reform of stamp duty. He will be aware that we are very close to a Budget, so I will take that as a Budget submission; I am sure that was the spirit in which he offered it to the House. It is obviously important that we balance people’s right to buy a second home or to buy to let against the impact that that has on other people’s ability to get on to the property ladder. I think that was the point that he was making. He also mentioned supporting the Rental Exchange scheme, which has already lifted 4.2 million social housing tenants into better credit. I encourage housing associations to play a more active role in raising awareness of important schemes such as that.

Jim Fitzpatrick raised, with great authority, the issue of ground rents. The Department for Communities and Local Government has published a consultation, as I am sure he knows, on that important subject. I assure him that the Treasury will take an active interest in the course of those discussions, but he can probably get a flavour of the Government’s position from the comments of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who said that too many homebuyers are being exploited. That goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.