What Does a New Housing Secretary Mean for the Property Industry?

by Gary Whittaker

This article was contributed by Assist Inventories.

James Brokenshire is the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. 

The 50-year-old remain-voting Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup is the fourth Housing Secretary since 2015, which is just one of the departments facing criticism for having a revolving door with regards to the top positions in Parliament. This has caused concern for many in the property industry as they want to work with someone long-term who can tackle the key issues and take responsibility for them. 

What does Mr Brokenshire s appointment mean for the industry as a whole, what do property bodies expect from his time in office, and what are the key challenges he faces within the sector?

Tenant fees and Right to Rent: Brokenshire s previous experience in housing

Although the father-of-three hasn t worked in the department before, he s no stranger to the property industry. As a private landlord himself he also implemented new rules affecting the housing market during his six years at the Home Office. In 2014 he voted against Labour s original attempts to ban fees paid by tenants to letting agents. The Conservatives did adopt the policy two years later and the Tenant Fees Bill was introduced on May 2nd 2018 with the aim of reducing letting fees and saving tenants around £240 million a year overall, according to government figures. 

The new Housing Secretary said: This government is determined to build a housing market fit for the future. Tenants across the country should not be stung by unexpected costs. That s why we re delivering our promise to ban letting fees, alongside other measures to make renting fairer and more transparent.

So, he s made his future intentions for tenants clear. However, as Immigration Minister his legislative work in the past on the rental market divided opinion and is what landlords and lettings agents are likely to remember about him. During his time at the Home Office serving under Theresa May, Mr Brokenshire played a key role in the introduction of new Right to Rent laws. Since 1st February 2016 all private landlords in England must check new tenants have the right to be in the UK before renting out their property. This was part of the Government s plan to create a hostile environment for illegal migrants . Landlords who fail to check a potential tenant s Right to Rent face penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant.

Landlord bodies admitted from the start of the scheme that it would lead to more discrimination. In light of the recent Windrush scandal, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) is campaigning for the Government to change its Right to Rent policy. RLA Policy Director David Smith said that landlords should not be used as scapegoats for the failures of the border agencies, and that it is time to suspend this controversial and unwelcome policy .

How is the industry reacting to the new appointment?

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) want him to deliver 300,000 new homes in England per year at what they call a crucial time for the sector. Brian Berry, Chief Executive at the FMB, said: We hope that Brokenshire will raise the profile of housing as an issue at cabinet level and implement some sound policies aimed at tackling the housing shortage.

Chief Executive of NAEA Propertymark Mark Hayward and David Cox, Chief Executive of ARLA Propertymark both welcomed James Brokenshire into his new role as Housing Secretary, following Sajid Javid s move to Home Secretary.

They stated: Over the last 12 months, housing has been high on the political agenda, with Sajid Javid and his team working closely with the industry to make qualifications for property professionals compulsory, and ultimately make the process of buying, selling, renting or leasing a property better for consumers.

We look forward to working with the new Minister and his team over the coming months and hope the Department s position and policy focus stays on track.

How do his views compare with those of the prime minister s new housing adviser, Toby Lloyd, the former policy boss of homeless charity, Shelter?

A spokesperson from Shelter said about James Brokenshire s new post: With the lowest levels of social housebuilding since the second world war and rough sleeping is its highest for a decade, we hope the new Secretary of State will take the bold action needed to fix our broken housing market. We very much look forward to working with him to achieve this.

Building affordable social homes while pleasing nimbys the challenges on either side

In his first House of Commons debate as Housing Secretary, Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey and Liberal Democrat spokesperson Wera Hobhouse asked Mr Brokenshire why his department underspent on housing last year by £800 million. He replied that 41,530 affordable homes were built last year, 27% more than the year before.

James Brokenshire inherits the challenges of his predecessor, Mr Javid, who regarded people s exclusion from homeownership due to high house prices and the Nimbyist aversion to development as significant threats to the Conservatives hold on power. It was revealed recently that the buy-to-let investor, Mr Brokenshire, opposed an application for 60 new homes in his very own seat in south-east London.

On a positive note for the industry, Mr Brokenshire is a prominent ally to the prime minister and his return to government after recuperation was welcomed. It could mean that housing issues under his remit will be higher on Mrs May s list of priorities.

This article was contributed by Assist Inventories.