This week, the State Opening of Parliament took place. This is where the government set out their legislative agenda for the next Parliamentary session. The event looked very different to previous State Openings. It was the Queen’s first public engagement since Prince Philip’s funeral and the occasion had to take place with social distancing guidance in place. Whereas, normally there would have been over 600 members of the House of Lords in the Chamber, coronavirus restrictions meant it was just over 70.
Unsurprisingly, much of the focus was on the recovery from the pandemic, but there were a number of specific housing announcements where the government reaffirmed its aspirations on supporting home ownership and enhancing renters’ rights.
There will be Bills to introduce a building safety regulatory regime, modernise the planning process and initiate leaseholder reform. There were also announcements, but no commitment to legislation, on the Social Housing White Paper, renters’ reform and social care.
In NHF Public Affairs team we’ve been doing a lot of work both to prepare for the Queen’s Speech and digest what the key housing announcements mean. So, we wanted to share our analysis with you and outline what it means for our work going forward.
As we expected, the government is bringing forward the Building Safety Bill, which will update existing safety regulations, bring clarity on who is responsible for making and keeping a building safe and establish a new Building Safety Regulator.
The Bill will make provisions to support the removal of unsafe cladding, including a financing scheme and a developer levy to pay for costs, but there was no new update today on who will cover the immediate expense. We will continue to raise the need for clarity on this issue with the government.
We welcome the certainty that the Bill will be going through in this Parliamentary session, but we will be looking for further detail on how the new regulatory environment will be implemented in practice. We’ll request meetings with Ministers and MPs to discuss this in more detail and we will update our members on this.
The upcoming Planning Bill is focused on the speed of housebuilding, striving to significantly decrease the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.
The Bill will change local plans so there is more certainty over the type and scale of development allowed on different categories of land. There will also be reform of the framework for locally led development corporations so local areas have access to delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration. There is so much potential to build high-quality, sustainable housing and we look forward to working with the government to deliver new homes.
In its efforts to simplify the planning process, the Bill proposes to eliminate existing systems for funding affordable housing (including Section 106) with a “more predictable and more transparent” levy.
We are concerned about the impact of this on the number of new affordable homes built and the impact it may have on different regional areas. We will work with the government to understand more about the new proposals and be clear on the importance of funding for affordable homes.
This Bill is the first in the government’s plan for leaseholder reform. It aims to restrict the charging of ground rents on new long residential leases. New ground rents will be set in law at a ‘peppercorn rent’ level. There will be civil penalties for freeholders who charge ground rent in breach of the Bill, including fines of up to £5,000. There are exceptions to the new law, including some parts of the community-led housing sector.
The government announced it would continue to implement the proposals in the white paper and legislate as soon as possible. The future legislation aims to focus on ensuring social landlords’ compliance with improved standards and putting social renters’ interests at the centre of the regulatory system.
We look forward to the implementation of the white paper’s proposals. The NHF will lead on sharing good practice already taking place in the sector with the government to demonstrate where engagement between social landlords and residents is already working well.
A white paper, which will be later followed by legislation, is expected in the autumn along with the government’s consultation response on reforming tenancy law. This will look into the abolition of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and improving security for tenants in the private rented sector, as well as strengthening repossession grounds for landlords when they have valid cause.
Other proposals included a new ‘lifetime’ tenancy deposit model that aims to ease the burden on tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next, helping improve the experience of those living in the private rental sector.
There will be extensive stakeholder engagement working with the housing sector to inform and shape reforms which we will engage with. This will ensure the reforms deliver a private rented sector that works for both tenants and landlords, while also learning from the pandemic and its impact on the sector.
We will continue to work closely with the government and ensure that our housing association members’ views are heard each step of the way.
If you want to find out more about our influencing work then join our next Communications and Influencing Network, taking place virtually on 7 June.