Well that was worth waiting for, wasn’t it? In his Autumn Statement, chancellor Philip Hammond announced the UK economy will still not be operating at a surplus by 2020, gave no hint that the regressive and damaging 3% stamp duty levy on second homes would be repealed and confirmed the long-running saga of what to do with business rates will drag on.
The highlights, for want of a more appropriately lacklustre word, were as follows. There was the £1.4bn of funding to build 40,000 new affordable homes.
All well and good, but until we actually build homes that are genuinely affordable, this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
I also suspect that in the not-too-distant future we’ll be asking why these 40,000 homes haven’t been built on time. They never are, so when will we stop falling for the rhetoric?
Hammond also announced relaxed restrictions on how existing affordable housing funding can be used. But this won’t work in reality either.
Until we have a properly resourced planning process in every city, town and village up and down the nation, and until those planning departments are singing from the same hymn sheet, this is merely a good intention that won’t work in practice.
Then we had the banning of letting agency fees on tenants. I received dozens of emails about this. All but one of them bemoaned the policy. It was from Patrick Bullick, a former chairman of the National Association of Estate Agents’ London region.
He didn’t hold with the predictable whining of the vast majority of his contemporaries. He hasn’t levied any charges to tenants walking into his offices at Stanley Chelsea for years. Neither does he pass on those lost charges to landlords.
So if his firm can make money without charging tenants £300 for filling in a form, then why can’t the rest of the letting agents up and down the country? Let’s be clear: agents will recoup the cash from landlords, and landlords will pass that on to tenants. Nothing changes.
All in all, this was the dullest, least helpful and most uninspiring economic announcement I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting through.
OK, the pledging of £2.3bn for infrastructure to support 100,000 new homes and the £1.4bn to build those 40,000 affordable houses, plus a further boost to Right to Buy, may help some, but they are pledges and governments often find an excuse not to meet their pledges.
Somehow I foresee more broken promises and yet another failure of housebuilders and government to work together to solve the biggest crisis facing these islands: housing the people that live on them.
Time to get campaigning
The industry cannot afford to let this happen. It needs to engage with government if we are to address the crisis. In hindsight, it was possibly too soon to expect Hammond to back down on stamp duty this week.
But if government is serious about supporting build-to-rent, potentially a key part of the solution, he will have to. Next week, Property Week is launching a campaign urging government to Call off Duty. Get involved and let’s make it happen.