I was in New York for the general election and had the luxury of watching the results at the leisurely time of 5pm onwards. I was as shocked as everybody else when I heard the broadcasters’ exit poll and watched in amazement as the results unfolded. I suspected that we might find ourselves in a 1992 scenario where Labour support had been overestimated and so I wasn’t totally surprised that the Conservatives were the largest party, though I didn’t expect them to get a small working majority.
What dawned on me the next day was how the last five years had been such a destructive ego trip by Ed Miliband. Labour’s lurch to the left had alienated so many left of centre voters, particularly in the business community. I was heartened that his anti-aspiration agenda had been rejected by the Great British public – and I think the vast majority of UK landlords breathed a huge sigh of relief. The private rented sector (PRS) had been threatened with three year tenancy agreements, indexed rent rises, a national register coupled with encouragement for local authority licensing. The tone was considerably anti landlord and Miliband had ramped up the rhetoric on rent caps towards the end of the campaign. These back-of-an-envelope policies, driven by the likes of Alex Hilton from Generation Rent had been panned by most property professionals, so clearly not the right way forward to solve Britain’s housing crisis and a crude attempt to win votes. The message from the public was quite clear. Alex Hilton has resigned and is moving abroad.
The PRS is not high on the Conservative government’s agenda, so it will be a relief to be out of the political spotlight for a while. But there are a number of issues that will affect landlords over the next 12 months. David Cameron still wants to clear the deficit and increased local authority cuts could encourage more local authorities to bring in licensing to pay for their private sector housing department. Fortunately a Conservative Secretary of State is likely to uphold the new cap of 20% of a local authority area for licensing thus preventing borough wide schemes.
A number of policy rollouts are likely later this year. Universal Credit is one big train trundling towards national rollout. As the welfare cap is lowered to £23,000 even more families will not have enough benefit to pay their rent, so we are likely to see a continued exodus of landlords from the benefits sector and displacement of out of work larger families from more expensive inner city areas. Plans to join up health and social care provision could also affect landlords who house vulnerable tenants. Further changes this year include the national rollout of ‘Right to rent’ immigration checks and the introduction of the ‘retaliatory eviction’ changes to section 21 under the Deregulation Act in October 2015. The government’s proposals to introduce right to buy for housing association tenants is likely to cause much controversy and changes to tenancy arrangements in Scotland and the introduction of mandatory licensing and accreditation in Wales will make England look considerably unregulated and could create pressure for change. The introduction of directly elected mayors in Northern cities and the London Mayoral election in 2016 could also have an impact on housing policy.
With the Liberal Democrats all but obliterated from the National Political landscape, the spotlight will turn to the Labour Party leadership campaign over the Summer to see what kind of direction the party will take once its new leader is elected on 12 September 2015. I appeal to the Labour party to take a twenty first century attitude to business and the private rented sector. The NLA counts 1.7m landlords in the UK, that means that there is a landlord in 1 in 7 households. The vast majority are decent entrepreneurial people providing good homes for a cross section of the population. Many provide a vital service to local authorities. I want to see the Labour Party reframe its attitude to the private rented sector, move to a reward based approach to improving standards and recognise the positive contribution the PRS can make to the future of housing in the UK.