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Is there really a 'clear plan' to tackle UK's housing crisis? Five things we learned from Tory manifesto

The Tory manifesto included familiar measures on rough sleeping and ending no-fault evictions as well as a bid to boost homeownership through a revived Help to Buy scheme. But will it turn around the housing crisis that has worsened while the party has been in power?

Rishi Sunak ahead of the Conservative Manifesto launch

The housing crisis has worsened during the 14 years while the Tories have been in charge. Rishi Sunak has laid out his 'clear plan' to change that over the Parliament. Image: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

The Tories have overseen record-high homelessness, private rents and house prices during their 14 years in charge and the 2024 Conservative manifesto doubles down on policies in areas where they have failed to tackle the housing crisis.

Rishi Sunak’s bid to see off Keir Starmer and continue as prime minister has got off to a stuttering start following a series of blunders – not least leaving D-Day commemorations early – and a row over his claim that a Labour government would see £2,000 tax rises.

Sunak’s ‘clear plan’ led with tax cuts with the Tories promising to cut 2p from employees’ national insurance payments as well as a long-trailed promise to reintroduce national service for 18 year olds.

Launching the Conservative manifesto at Silverstone race circuit on Tuesday (11 June), Sunak said: “In this party, we believe that it is morally right that those who can work do work, and that hard work is rewarded with people being able to keep more of their own money. We will ensure that we have lower welfare so we can lower taxes.”

With the Tories trailing Labour in the polls – and even looking over their shoulders at Reform UK – it looks unlikely that they will remain in power.

But here’s what Sunak had to say about the Conservatives’ plans to tackle the housing crisis:

The Tories repeated their 2019 manifesto promise to scrap no-fault evictions

It’s now more than five years since then-PM Theresa May promised the Tories would scrap no-fault evictions, which allow renters to be evicted without a landlord giving a reason.

The pledge later cropped up in the 2019 manifesto but the Renters Reform Bill that was due to axe Section 21 evictions, as they are also known, failed to make it into law.

That’s after the bill faced accusations from pro-renter groups of being “watered down to appease landlords” following a series of concessions to Conservative backbenchers. No timeframe was ever given for no-fault evictions to be scrapped with the Tories arguing that court reforms must first be completed before a ban is brought in.

The 2024 Conservative manifesto repeats the promise from 2019 with the Tories vowing to “pass a Renters Reform Bill that will deliver fairness in the rental market for landlords and renters alike”. That means first delivering court reforms and strengthening other grounds for landlords to evict private tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour, the Tories added.

That falls short of the Renters Reform Coalition’s calls for an immediate no-fault eviction ban. The Big Issue’s Blueprint for Change has also called for no-fault evictions to be scrapped.

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy chief executive at Generation Rent, said: “No-fault evictions make life intolerable for private renters, fuelling homelessness and making it difficult to complain about problems in your home. It is reassuring that the Conservatives remain committed to abolishing these evictions.

“But to enjoy genuinely fairer renting, tenants need stronger protections when evicted for reasons beyond our control, and from unaffordable rent increases that force us out of our homes.”

Ben Beadle, the chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “Reform of the rental market should have taken place in the last parliament. As we said then, a balance between security for tenants and policies which retain the confidence of responsible landlords is crucial if we are to deliver much-needed homes for rent.”

The Conservative manifesto also promised to introduce two-year temporary capital gains tax relief for landlords who sell to their existing tenants.

Landlords who sell up to renters would not have to pay capital gains tax but doubts remain over whether tenants could afford to buy their home.

“To really have an impact, a portion of this tax break needs to go towards a discount on the price for the tenant, otherwise few will be able to afford to buy out their landlord,” said WIlson Craw.

“But many tenants aren’t in a position to buy at all: 23,000 households faced homelessness between April and December 2023 because their landlord was selling up. Tenants should therefore have the option to nominate another buyer, such as a housing co-op or the council, who would allow them to stay. This would mean the policy not only boosted home ownership but reduced homelessness too.”

Beadle said the policy “will not reverse the damage to the rental market caused by tax hikes under recent Conservative governments”.

Ending rough sleeping returns without a deadline

The 2019 manifesto promised the Tories would end rough sleeping by this year.

That target was missed with the annual rough sleeping snapshot showing 3,898 people were homeless on the streets in a single night in autumn 2023. That’s more than double the 1,768 people counted on the streets when the Tories were voted into power in 2010.

The 2024 manifesto promises to continue plans to end rough sleeping and prevent people from ending up on the streets, citing “significant progress over the last few years”.

This time around, the Conservatives have not committed to a date. The Big Issue’s Blueprint for Change called on all political parties to commit to ending rough sleeping by 2030, as Sadiq Khan has pledged to do in London.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said “Despite rents surging, evictions soaring and record homelessness, the Conservative manifesto fails to provide a secure future for the millions of people whose lives are being devastated by the housing emergency.

“It beggars belief that there is no clear plan to tackle spiralling homelessness.”

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The only mention of social housing is down to ‘scapegoating’

The Big Issue’s Blueprint for Change has called for all political leaders to commit to building more affordable and social housing if they are voted in as the next government.

There was no such commitment in the 2024 Conservative manifesto.

The party pledged to renew its Affordable Homes Programme that will deliver homes of all tenures and focus on regenerating and improving housing estates. The programme is set to deliver 180,000 new homes across England by the end of March 2029.

There was also a promise to build 1.6 million new homes during the parliament, tellingly 100,000 more than Labour pledged and just less than 600,000 more than they have managed to build since 2019. The Tories pledged to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s but failed to hit that mark while in power.

Sunak’s party also pledged to “protect the green belt from uncontrolled development” instead focusing building efforts on brownfield land. That’s after Sunak accused Starmer of “concreting over the countryside” in last week’s televised debate in reference to Labour’s plans to target the ’grey belt’.

Instead, the only direct mention of social housing is in reference to the ‘British homes for British workers’ plan that caused a stir in January.

The Conservative manifesto vowed to legislate for new local connection and UK connection tests for social housing in England to “ensure this valuable but limited resource is allocated fairly”.

The plans amount to ”scapegoating people for the failure to build enough”, according to Shelter chief executive Neate.

“With 1.3 million households stuck on social housing waiting lists and over a quarter of a million social homes lost in the last decade, no party can deliver a secure future until they commit to building 90,000 social homes a year with rents tied to local incomes,” said Neate.

Help to Buy gets a revival

Keir Starmer told Rishi Sunak in last week’s debate that the dream of homeownership was over for young people.

Sunak later admitted to BBC’s Nick Robinson that it “has got harder” to own a home over the last 14 years of Tory rule.

The 2024 Conservative manifesto is to permanently abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers up to £425,000 from £300,000.

A new Help to Buy scheme will also be introduced to support people on to the housing ladder.

The latest Help to Buy scheme, which allowed people to buy a home with a 5% deposit, ended in March 2023.

The demand-side measure has faced accusations that it increases house prices in the past, especially when there is a shortage of homes on the market to begin with.

“Help to Buy has been proven to do more harm to our housing system than good,” said Shelter’s Neate. “Not only does it drive up house prices and help only a small minority of people, it ultimately takes money away from building genuinely affordable housing.”

The manifesto also addressed calls for the Thatcher-era Right to Buy scheme to be scrapped.

The Tories ruled out what it called “Labour’s anti-aspiration move” to reduce Right to Buy discounts and said it would “fight any plan by local authorities to abolish the Right to Buy altogether.

The latter comes after Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he wanted to suspend Right to Buy to protect the 10,000 social homes he plans to build in the region.

Leasehold laws are ‘half-finished and watered-down’

The Tories rushed through the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act in wash-up after Sunak called the 4 July general election.

Progress has been slow on leasehold reform. At one point in the last Parliament, housing secretary Michael Gove promised to abolish leasehold altogether before later backtracking.

The 2024 manifesto is a step down from 2019 when the party promised to set ground rents to a nominal peppercorn value immediately, for example. Five years later that has been downgraded to setting the cap at £250, although the Tories plan to reduce it to peppercorn over time.

“Their 2024 manifesto entitled “Clear Plan – Bold Action – Secure Future” ironically is a clear plan on leasehold to boldly action a watered-down version of what they promised in the past,” said Linz Darlington, managing director of lease extension specialists Homehold.

“When taken in isolation, the Conservatives’ commitment to “Complete the process of Leasehold Reform” doesn’t sound too bad. But, it is arguably just a concession that they left leasehold reform too late in the last parliamentary process, and that the bill they hurried through in washup is half finished.”

Darlington added: “What we need from the next government is to concentrate on a successful implementation of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act 2024. They should start with the provisions that are easy to enact and don’t require further consultation, such as longer lease extensions. The current government has estimated most key provisions will be in place by ‘2025-2026’, and whoever is in power, it will take time to get this right.”

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