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ImageA round-up of parliamentary business the week beginning 17 November:


It has been a rollercoaster week during which we saw Ed Miliband lambasted by Myleene Klass (formerly of pop band HearSay) about his party’s mansion tax; former SpAD John Cummings saying that the prime minister cannot “manage his way out of a paper bag”, Mark Reckless winning the Rochester and Strood by-election and becoming UKIP’s second MP, and Labour’s shadow attorney general resigning following an ill-advised tweet.

Moving rapidly on to this week’s housing news….

Labour MP Diane Abbott introduced a debate on the London housing market which she described as “broken”.  Ms Abbot suggested the single most important measure to help the market would be to allow councils to borrow to build. She also focussed on the private rented sector and highlighted the need to tighten up on “exploitative” letting agents with “exorbitant” fees and consider  some measures of rent stabilisation or rent control. Responding, housing minister Brandon Lewis said the government recognised that some councils needed extra borrowing power, hence an additional £122 million for this purpose. He also referred to proposals to increase local transparency about the value of local authorities’ social housing assets. On the private rented sector, the minister said he wanted to see more institutional investment and professional experience in the sector. And this, he said, is the reason for establishing the £1 billion build to rent fund and setting up the private rented sector taskforce to encourage more entrants. As for “bad” landlords, Mr Lewis said the government had taken action to tackle “bad” landlords, and that he supports the Mayor’s work on the London rental standard. However, he is not supportive of increasing red tape and unnecessary regulations within the sector, including rent controls.

MPs also debated planning policy and housing targets. Introducing the debate, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes called on the government to look at a the  five-year supply problem and find “innovative and effective ways of encouraging those who have permissions to bring their sites forward, as well as ways to deter that sort of manipulation of the system”. The housing minister said that the government’s approach was to try and strike the right balance between delivering the kind of sustainable developments needed and protecting the environment. He said most planning disputes were in areas without local plans and stressed that it is the responsibility of the local authority to follow through with such plans.

The High Speed Rail committee held an evidence session which focussed on compensation for those home owners whose properties will be affected by HS2. The CML and its views were referred to on a number of occasions.

The DCLG released new statistics on housing starts, empty homes and right to buy. The figures show in the 12 months to September housing starts increased by 16%; the number of empty homes is now at a 10-year low; and 2,845 council-owned properties were sold under the Right to Buy and is the second highest quarterly figure since 2006/2007.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon was elected as the Scottish Parliament’s first minster by 66 votes to 15. There were 39 abstentions. Ms Sturgeon is expected to make a statement on the Scottish government’s programme for 2014-15 on Wednesday 26 November. In the meantime, she has reshuffled her cabinet. Alex Neil is cabinet secretary for social justice, communities and pensioners’ rights.

While the Right to Buy is promoted in England, the scheme in Scotland will cease to exist from 1 August 2016. The Scottish government has published information for secure tenants who may wish to exercise their right to buy before this deadline.

The Northern Ireland Executive has put out a reminder to landlords in the private rented sector that they must be registered with the Landlord Registration Scheme by 25 February 2015 or face a fine of up to £2,500.

And, answering questions from Welsh Assembly members, minister Jane Hutt confirmed that the Welsh government will consult on replacing stamp duty land tax and landfill tax in Wales in the spring next year.

Business worth highlighting from last week while I was away on leave include:

A group of written questions on mortgages including the transparency of mortgage pricing and fees and charges; improving clarity and competition in the market; and what discussions had been had, or representations received on these issues. Responding economic secretary Andrea Leadsom said the government is committed to ensuring fair and effective competition across all financial sectors, and that the FCA was established to promote effective competition and has the power to enforce rules that it felt are needed to promote consumer protection.

A third of over 60s would downsize if it were easier, but up to half of older homeowners are priced out of local retirement housing, according to a report published by the thinktank Demos in conjunction with the All Party Parliamentary Group on housing and care for older people. The report is the outcome of an inquiry by the APPG into the affordability of retirement housing. It calls on government to introduce a support package to help older people move home in the form of a Help to Move scheme. The scheme would include stamp duty exemption for older people buying lower value homes, an equity loan offer (similar to Help to Buy), and comprehensive advice linked to new pensions freedoms.

And finally, the private rented sector was the subject of a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published during the week. The report found that by 2040 people who rent will be more than twice as likely to be living in poverty than homeowners. Private rents are forecast to rise by 90%, twice as fast as incomes.

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Michelle Vosper.