Budget 2017: government to tackle ‘unacceptable’ rough sleeping

Philip Hammond raises council tax on empty homes, and promises help for vulnerable renters and first-time buyers

Housing campaigners had demanded a “budget for homes” from Phillip Hammond.

He may not have made any concrete pledges to build more affordable housing – but the Chancellor did outline some big, significant moves.

Hammond promised to tackle the “unacceptable” rise in rough sleeping.

Three regional “Housing First” schemes will be set up to give people on the streets accommodation and intensive help to address their problems. And there will be additional funding for private renters at risk of homelessness.

The government is also to crack down on empty homes, handing local authorities the power to double council tax on owners who leave their property vacant.

For the past two years, The Big Issue’s Fill ‘Em Up campaign has encouraged greater use and restoration of derelict homes and buildings as a way to boost much-needed housing supply.

“It cannot be right to leave property empty when so many are desperate for a place to live,” said Hammond today. “So we will legislate to give local authorities the power to charge a 100% council tax premium on empty properties.”

It is unacceptable that in 21st-century Britain there are people sleeping on the streets

Hammond shared details of the £28 million that would be set aside for the Housing First pilot projects in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.

He also confirmed a homelessness taskforce would be set up to ensure the government meets its target to halve rough sleeping by 2022, then eliminate it altogether by 2027.

“It is unacceptable that in 21st-century Britain there are people sleeping on the streets,” said Hammond.

The government will also provide £20 million for a scheme designed to support vulnerable renters at risk of homelessness, helping them sustain private tenancies.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, the charity that had campaigned for the “Help to Rent” scheme, said the measures “represent real progress and commitment to tackling homelessness”.

The dream of ownership can become a reality once again

There was also the headline-grabbing decision to abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers for properties worth up to £300,000. Anyone buying a home worth up to £500,000 will not pay stamp duty on the first £300,000.

Hammond said he wanted to ensure “the dream of home ownership will become a reality in this country once again”.

The Treasury confirmed various other forms of government intervention to boost the “dream”.

As expected, there will be an extra £10 billion for Help to Buy equity loans, and that government will proceed with a £200 million regional pilot of the Right to Buy for housing association tenants in the Midlands.

Other housing measures announced by the Chancellor today include:

  • A target to see one million homes built in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor by 2050.
  • A government review into the gap between the number of planning permissions and the number of building starts.
  • A demand councils inform the government if they cannot afford fire safety work on housing blocks in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.