Can Alok Sharma, Conservative housing minister, fix the UK Housing Crisis?

Richard Lionheart outside Parliament

On 13th June 2017 Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, was appointed as the new and fifteenth housing minister since 1997. There is a housing crisis to fix, but can he do it, and at what cost to UK private landlords? We offer an open letter to the minister and to his counterparts in the other political parties.

Clearly Mr Sharma has a big job ahead of him, housing has been one of the hottest topics of political debate in recent times and in the run up to the election, because the UK public are increasingly frustrated by and feeling the pain of failings within the sector.

Sadly, for the good of finding a solution to the crisis, it has become an attractive political tactic to blame UK landlords for the lack of affordable housing in this country.

The simple truth is that not enough homes have been built in this country for many years, and under both Conservative and Labour governments.

By penalising landlords financially they have two options – put rent up, or sell up.

Great some may say to the latter, a big tick for first time buyers! However, how can they afford to buy these properties? House prices are rising more sharply than salaries so whilst some may opt to sell their property realistically few can actually afford to buy them.

What is being overlooked is that, those landlords who may be feeling the recent changes the hardest are those who offer some of the most attractive opportunities for those who rent.

They are far more likely to welcome long-term tenures with tenants (a proposition sought in the new Housing White Paper, which is pan-political and has the support of housing and homelessness charity Shelter) where they can build positive and friendly relationships, which in turn encourages a more flexible tenancy experience.

For these reasons, and many more, we are keen to learn on behalf of our landlord clients the answers to a number of key questions from Alok Sharma. Sent today to the minister, and offered below in an open letter to him we await the answers to the following:

  • For a long time now, the Conservatives have encouraged home ownership as the favourable housing tenure, but Sajid Javid’s Housing White Paper moves away from this sentiment to embrace a wider spectrum of housing tenures, to support the specific needs of the UK population.
  • Your predecessor, in a question and answer session at a regional event post-release of the paper, said, “landlords play an absolutely vital role in our housing market, and I wouldn’t want the people you work with to feel that they were under attack or that their contribution wasn’t valid.”
  • Do you value the housing provided by private UK landlords, from those with one or two properties, to those with larger portfolios?
  • Do you share the view that a breadth of housing types is essential to fixing the housing crisis?
  • Do you recognise that the provision of this array of private rental housing allows greater competition in rents; especially for those landlords with fewer properties, who will very often discount rent rises in order to retain valued tenants with whom they have a good relationships, where institutionalised solutions are less likely to, as the return on investment becomes more critical than the landlord-tenant relationship?
  • Do you support only institutionalised private rental solutions?
  • Are you keen to continue to squeeze private landlords out of the market by standing by the reduction in tax relief, the introduction of the 3% levy on stamp duty and the PRA changes to mortgage affordability calculations?
  • Do you recognise that by banning letting agent fees the only place for agents to cover this cost is through fees to landlords, and in turn they can only cover the cost by increasing rents?

These questions have also been posed to the following representatives of other political parties:

  • John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, for the Labour Party
  • Councillor Lee Reynolds, Director of Policy, for the Democratic Unionist Party
  • Lord John Shipley OBE, Shadow Minister for Housing, for the Liberal Democrats
  • Samir Jeraj, spokesperson for housing, for the Green Party

We will update you on any response received as soon as we have it.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.