Conservatives VS. Labour: Housing plans and proposals

5th July 2023

Housing is an essential policy area for any political party, given its widespread impact and economic influences and is poised to play a significant role in the upcoming general election, anticipated to take place in 2024. Both political parties are aiming to attract voters by offering promises to facilitate homeownership and provide affordable rental options. However, the topic has generated intense debate within each party, leading to disagreements regarding the location of new housing developments and the implementation of legally binding housing targets. To provide a brief overview of each party’s stance based on recent statements, let’s examine their proposals regarding the following key points:

Reforming private renting:

Conservative party: The Renters’ Reform Bill, unveiled in 2019 and recently introduced to Parliament, outlines the government’s plans. The associated white paper published in June 2022 details proposals to abolish section 21, transition all tenancies to periodic agreements, and introduce new rental sector standards. 

Labour party: Expressing concerns about the version of the Renters (Reform) Bill presented by the Conservatives, Labour has vowed to empower tenants with new rights and protections. They have promised a Renters’ Charter, offering an end to no-fault evictions, rights for renters to have pets and make reasonable alterations to properties, a four-month notice period for landlords, and an end to automatic evictions for rent arrears.

Introducing rent controls

Conservative party: Despite some support within the Conservative party for a rent freeze, the current government opposes rent controls as proposed by figures like Sadiq Khan, the Labour party Mayor of London. The Renters’ Reform Bill white paper explicitly states that the government does not advocate for rent controls to establish initial rent levels.

Labour party: The Labour party has vocal advocates of rent controls, including Sadiq Khan and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. However, there are also party members like Shabana Mahmood who oppose this idea. Lisa Nandy, initially supportive of local councils having the authority to implement rent freezes, has since reconsidered due to concerns that such controls may lead to homelessness for some individuals.

Boosting housing supply

Conservative party: The Conservatives set an ambitious target of building 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s. However, in December 2022, Michael Gove revised these targets as “advisory.”

Labour party: Keir Starmer, the Labour party leader, pledged to reinstate the target of constructing 300,000 homes under a Labour government. They also aim to update planning laws to provide more local authority influence over housing developments. The party argues that abandoning house building targets could cost tenants up to £200 per year by 2030, but specifics about achieving the increased target remain undisclosed.

Helping first-time buyers

Conservative party: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has contemplated reinstating the Help to Buy scheme to facilitate first-time buyers’ entry into the property market. However, critics argue that this may inflate property prices, negating the subsidy’s intended effect. Additionally, Boris Johnson’s commitment to extending the Right to Buy scheme for housing association tenants has not yet been implemented.

Labour party: Keir Starmer announced plans to prioritise first-time buyers over buy-to-let landlords or second homeowners. Labour aims for 70% home ownership and proposes implementing a mortgage guarantee scheme while increasing the stamp duty surcharge for foreign investors. The party also intends to give first-time buyers precedence in purchasing new-build homes, although the practical implementation of this approach remains uncertain.

Providing social and affordable housing

Conservative party: A recent poll found that three-quarters of Conservative voters desire an increase in social housing construction. The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has invested £11.5 billion in its Affordable Homes Programme to create tens of thousands of homes for rent and sale throughout the country. However, the current allocation of 33,550 homes for social rent falls short of the demand from over 1 million households on the social housing waitlist.

Labour party: Labour aims to restore social housing to the second largest tenure type, given its current status as only 17% of households. The party intends to reduce the number of social homes sold through the Right to Buy scheme while ensuring the replacement of sold social homes. Specific plans for achieving this goal are yet to be released.

Regulating holiday homes and short-term lets

Conservative party: The government has taken recent measures to address the issues surrounding short-term and holiday lets, particularly in tourist destinations. These actions include tighter rules on business rates and the initiation of consultations on planning permissions and a short-term let register in England.

Labour party: Labour has proposed a licensing scheme for short-term lets in England, similar to the system implemented in Wales. They are also considering raising the surcharge for second homes and council tax premiums if they come into power.

Abolishing the leasehold system

Conservative party: Initially, Michael Gove pledged to end the leasehold system and replace it with a commonhold system. However, subsequent reports indicate that Gove has backtracked on this promise. Instead, the government plans to implement a cap on ground rents, grant tenants more choice in property management companies, and prohibit building owners from passing legal costs to leaseholders.

Labour party: Labour supports the abolition of leasehold laws and proposes introducing a “commonhold” system as an alternative. This idea was previously mentioned in Labour’s 2019 report, “Ending the Scandal – Labour’s New Deal for Leaseholders.”

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