They say a week is a long time in politics so the fortnight since our last lobbying update must seem like an eternity to some. For us however, it often seems there aren’t enough hours in the day as the Government continues to implement numerous policies which affect landlords at breakneck speed with, in some cases, a worrying lack of co-ordination.
- Budget & Section 24
- Housing White Paper
- Making Tax Digital
- Right to Rent – Rollout in Scotland & Wales
- Rent Smart Wales
Budget and Section 24 – NLA commissions new report
The Budget is (at time of writing) now just 13 days away. We continue to work on the reversal of Section 24 whilst at the same time helping our members with its impact by lobbying Ministers on measures to ease the effects of this vicious and barbaric assault on members livelihoods and savings.
Ministers have been clear that they are yet to be convinced by our arguments but will revisit the policy if they are persuaded by new evidence. To that end, we have commissioned a comprehensive economic assessment of the likely impact of changes from one of the leading independent economic research companies in the world, Capital Economics.
In 2012, Capital Economics won the Wolfson Prize, the second biggest prize in Economics after the Nobel. Its Managing Director, Roger Bootle, was formerly Group Chief Economist of HSBC, is a Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Treasury Committee and, under the previous Conservative government, was appointed one of the George Osborne’s panel of Independent Economic Advisers (the so-called ‘Wise Men’).
We are confident that a report from an economic firm with such gravitas and influence will be taken seriously by the Government. We aim to launch these findings in early Spring and plan to follow this up with another piece of work later in the year.
We are also continuing to give advice and support to the Axe the Tenant Tax coalition, initiated by NLA members Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper. They are planning a Tenant Tax Awareness Week for landlords in April. We are advising that it targets the vast majority of landlords who are not members of a trade association, and so maybe blissfully unaware of the changes. Only by increasing awareness and building up our numbers will we gain the traction and the support needed to reverse the changes.
Whilst a u-turn is unlikely at this stage, the Chancellor may choose to announce details of the Government’s consultation on banning letting agents fees. It has been made abundantly clear that the Government have made up their minds on this issue, so the consultation will focus on the most practical way to implement the policy. The NLA has never been in favour of a ban as we think that transparency of costs will be lost and that letting agents will merely pass on costs to landlords, which will add pressure to increase rents.
The Housing White Paper – last chance saloon for landlords?
It’s not just the upcoming Budget which is focusing our minds.
“…we will consider what more we can do to support families already renting privately, while encouraging continued investment in the sector.”
At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that the recently published Housing White Paper said very little about the introduction of longer term tenancies. In many ways, its silence was deafening. As we have said on this blog before this Government is not afraid to intervene in the marketplace, especially if they think it will help them politically. The recent announcement on letting agent’s fees is a case in point.
We are always wary that this is the same Prime Minister who, as Home Secretary, brought us the infamous Right to Rent policy. There is every reason to believe that if market-based solutions are not found to address the perception that the PRS is not a secure place to live in, then Ministers will come up with a ‘solution’ of their own.
The NLA stresses that more legislation is not needed and would be the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack open a nut. This is the message we constantly repeat to ministers and civil servants, who appreciate independent statistics that show the average period a tenant stays in their home is 4 years, and that less than 1 in 10 tenancies are ended by the landlord.
The current legal framework is flexible enough to allow for longer-term tenancies without the need for legislation introducing a one-size-fits-all solution that would only act as a straight-jacket on landlords and tenants alike. Just as every tenant and their circumstances are not the same, the same should apply to their respective tenancy lengths.
The Housing Minister is currently on a tour to hear views on the White Paper. You can find more information here and we urge you to attend if possible and tell him what you think.
Making Tax Digital – Update
The NLA are closely monitoring the roll-out of this policy which, as is common with all Government IT projects, is running late, facing concerns regarding increased costs and mounting criticism from MPs – including the Treasury Select Committee. We recently attended a HMRC briefing on the project and we have approximately 15 members involved in their testing of the software.
We will keep members updated on the Government’s plans and news of any delays in its timetable.
Immigration Act – Right to Rent roll out in Scotland and Wales.
Our Head of Policy Chris Norris has recently continued the NLA’s long-running constructive engagement with the Home Office on this controversial policy, by attending several regional stakeholder round-tables regarding the roll-out in Scotland and Wales.
There is no timetable in place for this. However, officials stress it was a manifesto commitment and claim that they have legal advice which says they have the powers to impose the policy on the devolved regions. We are not as convinced.
We did stress the importance in any roll-out of the additional possession measures contained in the Immigration Act 2016 being implemented at the same time. This is especially important in Scotland, given the fact that the no-fault (s33) possession route would be removed when the new Scottish tenancy agreement is implemented, as anticipated in Dec 2017.
We, along with the Welsh LGA, also had to highlight failures in planning, as officials confirmed they had not considered the legal duty to provide support in the Welsh language. We highlighted that, given that the call centres are based in Newcastle and Sunderland, finding Welsh-speaking staff could represent a significant problem unless recruitment measures are put in place.
We will continue to provide feedback to members’ concerns regarding reporting and discrimination, and highlight the very real difficulties of landlords acting as immigration officers.
NLA meets with Rent Smart Wales
The policy team continues to represent landlords’ views on the Welsh Government’s stakeholder group, and recently met officials to discuss our ongoing concerns about the scheme. In our private meeting we once again highlighted the administrative delays landlords are finding as the scheme struggles to process applications in a timely manner.
In an interesting note, officials admitted that they had revised down their estimate of the number of landlords in Wales from 140,000 to between 100 and 110,000 based on registrations. They have currently registered more than 70,000.