Brandon Lewis announces new measures to crack down on the fight against rogue landlords

An announcement by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis earlier this month has outlined new measures in a bid to crack down on rogue landlords, trapping tenants in unsafe, overcrowded properties…
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Japanese Knotweed – Your guide to identifying and dealing with this silent invader

Japanese Knotweed is Britain’s most invasive non-native plant. We look at how you can best identify and manage the threat, helping you to avoid the devastating effects Knotweed can bring – from structural damage, to loss of sale and a compromised mortgage…

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Mortgage Market Update

Various sources are claiming that now is as good a time to buy a property as there has ever been, with interest rates low and the property market surging forward. We have compiled stats from various sources around the country to give you a complete view of the mortgage market, in case you are looking to invest…

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Ten high streets named a “Rising Star” in Great British High Street competition

Ten high streets from across the country that narrowly missed out on the final of the Great British High Street Competition, impressed judges so much that they have been awarded a special Rising Star award, together with £1,000 in cash.

The judging panel agreed that despite not reaching the final list of 21 high streets, 10 towns and villages had impressed with the great strides that they had made in improving their local high street.

Included within the 10 were Alcester, Beeston, Dartmouth, Faversham, Folkestone, Lowestoft, Bake Street – Middlesbrough, Newquay, Thame and Tottenham.

Nominations for this year’s competition – which reached a record level of 230 applicants – were assessed by a panel of government high street experts and covered categories from ‘coastal community’ to ‘market town’.

Marcus Jones, the High Streets Minister says:

“We had a record amount of high-quality entries to this year’s competition – testament to the pride local people have and brilliant work being done to boost Britain’s high streets…The local high street is the life and soul of many towns, villages and cities across the country and these awards are a great opportunity to not only celebrate those that are the best of the best, but also to help others learn their valuable tips for success”

The Great British High Streets Competition 2015, which is sponsored by big high street names such as Costa, Marks & Spencer, Boots and Tesco, is only in its second year and only one of a number of incentives to help revitalise high streets across the country.

Other incentives include a billion pound package of investment ranging from targeted business rate discounts and sensible planning changes, to action that reins in over-zealous parking practices.

The 21 towns lucky enough to reach the final consist of a top 3 for 7 different categories, with the eventual winner of each sharing a prize pot worth £80,000, which includes expert training and tailor-made tips from Google’s training taskforce for 100 of their shops, bars and restaurants.

For the first time in the competitions very brief history, the public are able to vote directly for their favourite high street online, with the deadline being November this year. The public votes will be cast alongside inspections by the Future High Streets Forum judging panel.

Altrincham, Colne, Twyford, Raynes Park and Amble are just a few of the 21 finalists hoping for victory, for the full list and to register your vote visit The Great British High Street website.

Seeing so many high streets recognised for their significant improvements is certainly a very positive sign, especially after Mary Portas’ review in 2011 which highlighted that the country’s high streets were suffering drastically.

There is, however, a long way to go. It must not be forgotten that it is likely to take a lot of hard work to maintain the improvements made by these towns. Also, despite the encouraging numbers of applicants, there are a number of towns still suffering from high street decline and it could be argued that enough is still not being done.

BT 13.10.15

New Housing and Planning Bill to enforce councils to produce local plans for new homes by 2017

A new Housing and Planning bill has highlighted the government’s ambition to build 1 million new homes by 2020, as well as set a deadline for local councils to provide a local plan.

At present 82% of local councils have published local plans setting out how many homes they plan to deliver, however, only 65% have fully adopted them. Furthermore, almost 20% of councils do not have an up to date local plan at all.

The new bill will aim to improve these figures by setting a deadline of 2017 to produce a local plan. Failure to do so will result in the government consulting with local people to produce one for them, with David Cameron saying:

“If they fail to act, we’ll work with local people to produce a plan for them”

Other proposals set out by the bill in order to boost home building and ownership include a legal duty on councils to guarantee the delivery of Starter Homes and to promote the scheme to first time buyers.

David Cameron explains:

‘The government will do everything it can to help people buy a place of their own and at the heart of this is our ambition to build one million new homes by 2020. Many areas are doing this already but we need a national crusade to get homes built and everyone must play their part”

The new legislation will also incorporate automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites, enabling as many homes as possible to be built whilst protecting green belt land.

Cameron has also announced that a temporary rule that was introduced in May 2013 that allowed disused offices to be converted into residential properties without planning permission, will be made permanent after more than 4,000 conversions were given the go ahead between April 2014 and June 2015.

One supporter of the new bill is Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors who explains:

“It is good to see these now coming forward in the Bill. Some sites have been locked up for too long and these measures, coupled with a brownfield register and fund, will get them moving. While these new measures build on the National Planning Policy Framework and are welcome, the system needs to really pick up speed in order to deliver the vibrant property sector on which the success of our economy depends.”

The Chief Executive of the British Property Foundation also supports the bill:

“Measures to ensure local plans be put in place by 2017 will bring much needed certainty for potential investors and provide a catalyst for growth. Our members focus on brownfield opportunities and so measures that bring more land forward will also be warmly supported”

BT 10.10.15

In case you missed it: Landlord smashes up his own pub after being refused a drink

A businessman who caused an estimated £40,000 worth of damage to a pub after driving a JCB into it, has been let off criminal charges because he is the owner.

According to locals, 45 year old Mark Switsun was refused a drink after the 11pm closing time, he then left only to return at the controls of a 28 ton digger and ploughed it straight into the extension of the pub.

As a result, Switsun was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage but was released without charge, with police saying they were powerless to charge him. A police source explained:

“At the end of the day the building belongs to him so he can do what he likes with it…We would have needed someone to make an official complaint about the damage he caused”

Only the year previously had Mr Switsun – a wealthy shellfish factory owner – decided to invest £60,000 into the Royal Oak pub in Penclawdd with his business partner Colin McDonald.

A village local summed up:

“It was a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face…But I suppose the police couldn’t charge him because he owns the pub and he can do what he wants with it.”

Another local Rob Lowe, who lives opposite the pub explains

“My daughters had just finished watching a film and heard a loud noise…A JCB with long prongs at the end was being driven through the extension…The prongs went through the window and were lifted up through the roof…My daughters were horrified.”

Luckily, nobody was harmed during the partial demolition, though it’s more than likely that Mr Switsun’s pride and his bank balance both took a knock.

BT 13.10.15

Higher earning tenants set to pay fairer rent under consultation proposals

Higher earning tenants that live in social housing, will find themselves paying a ‘fairer’ rent due to consultation proposals published by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis.

Currently, higher income social tenants benefit from tax payer-funded subsidies of up to £3,500 per year, but the new ‘pay to stay’ proposal will see households with a total annual income of over £40,000 in London, and £30,000 elsewhere, pay a rent at market or near market levels.

Under the proposal, social rents would increase as the tenant’s income increases above the threshold meaning that those in real need of the help continue to pay a subsidised rent, whilst those currently taking advantage of the subsidies are no longer able to.

Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, explains:

“It’s not fair that other hard-working people are subsidising the lifestyles of higher-earners to the tune of £3,500 per year, when the money could be used to build more affordable homes.

’Pay to stay’ will ensure that those tenants on higher incomes who are living in social housing have a rent that reflects their ability to pay, while those who genuinely need support continue to receive it.”

The money saved from the removal of the subsidy will enable councils to contribute towards the government’s £12 billion of welfare savings. Housing associations will also be able to retain the additional income and use it to support their role in providing new housing.

The scheme, which is intended to come into effect as of April 2017, proposes that local authorities will be able to recover any reasonable administrative costs before they are required to return the additional income from increased rents to The Exchequer. Alternatively, as housing associations are expected to retain income they receive from higher rent payments, the policy sets out that they are expected to absorb the administrative costs.

At present more than 40,000 social rented tenants have a total annual income of over £50,000 and will therefore be affected by the new policy. A further 300,000 social tenants have incomes over £30,000.

BT 10.10.15

Right to Buy scheme set to be extended after the government secures historic agreement

On the 7th October, David Cameron announced an historic new agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation that is set to extend the Right to Buy Scheme to 1.3 million more families.

The Prime Minister explains:

“Some people said this would be impossible and that housing associations would never stand for it. Today we have secured a deal with housing associations to give their tenants the Right to Buy their home…That will mean the first tenants can start to buy their homes from next year.”

The Right to Buy is a scheme that allows families in social properties to become homeowners, and has already helped around 2 million families realise their dreams since its introduction under Thatcher.

By recycling the funds raised by selling off the properties towards replacement affordable properties, this agreement sets out to not only increase home ownership but also help those who need a new affordable house, thus increasing overall housing supply.

Communities Secretary, Greg Clarke says:

“We’re determined to ensure that home ownership is seen as a reasonable aspiration for working people…Today’s historic agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation will extend that offer even more widely, while at the same time delivering thousands of new affordable homes across the country”

Under the new agreement, every housing association tenant would have the right to purchase a home at Right to Buy level discounts (subject to the Right to Buy eligibility requirements). It is assumed that housing associations would sell the tenant the property in which they currently live.

Compensation would then be paid to the Housing Association by the government to reflect the discount that was offered to the tenant. The sales receipt would be kept by the housing association so that they can reinvest towards the delivery of new homes.

Housing associations would use sales proceeds to deliver new supply and would have flexibility to replace rented homes with other tenures such as shared ownership.

Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said of the agreement:

“This is a great offer for housing association tenants. It is also a great offer for the country, as our proposal means homes sold will be replaced, delivering an overall increase in housing supply.

“This is an ambitious sector that last year built more than one in three of the country’s homes, matching each pound of taxpayers’ money with £6 of its own. We will build more.”

The Right to Buy is just one part of the Government’s wider programme to increase overall home ownership, with other schemes including the Help to Buy, Starter Homes, Right to Build and planning reforms to get more homes built on brownfield land.

It certainly seems as if there are enough schemes in place to address the mounting problems of home ownership and housing supply, but the question remains – how effective are they? Are they papering over the cracks, or providing a viable solution?

BT 09.10.15