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“Deplorable” government slammed for years of housing problems

A scathing document produced by MPs slams the government for its “deplorable” housing policies which are "invented, abandoned and reinvented" - and for its revolving door of housing ministers changing frequently.

In a report published this morning, the Public Accounts Committee of MPs says the government has been “stringing expectant young people along for years” and “wasting time and resources” on housing policies that “come to nothing as ministers come and go with alarming frequency” .

The PAC, which has reported regularly on the government’s housing delivery record for the past five years, has turned on Boris Johnson’s administration with a vengeance - and that of his predecessor Theresa May.

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Much of its fire is aimed at the repeated failure over the past five years for new and affordable homes to be built for first time buyers. 

The committee says the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has failed to deliver the 200,000 discounted Starter Homes it promised first-time buyers in 2015. Despite setting out the legislative framework for Starter Homes in 2016, the Department has never put in place the necessary laws to make the initiative a reality.

And the MPs say that by 2017, Starter Homes as a distinct policy had been abandoned, although it was not until 2020 that MHCLG formally announced the end of the policy.  

“Some 85,000 people had registered their interest in Starter Homes since 2015, only to hear in 2020 that they had been waiting in vain” says the committee.

MHCLG is now introducing a new policy with similar aims – First Homes – but the PAC claims the department is unable to say when they will be available for first-time buyers to purchase. Its reliance on developer contributions to fund First Homes is part of what the committee calls “an opaque, complex mechanism which risks less money being available to local authorities for housing and infrastructure.”

The report continues: “After this string of abandoned policies and wasted resources, MHCLG remains unable or unwilling to clarify how it will achieve its ambition of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s.

“There is an alarming ‘blurring’ of the definition of affordable housing: it is essential that the department is clear what ‘affordable’ means to different sectors of society and in different areas of the country. 

“The long-term success of MHCLG’s housing policies depends on it working effectively with players across the housing sector, without losing sight of the needs of those who are unlikely to be able to buy or rent a home in the UK property market without support.”

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party Public Accounts Committee, says: “The Department for ‘Housing’ is at risk of losing the right to the title. It has serially, constantly failed to deliver affordable new homes or even make a serious attempt to execute its own housing policies or achieve targets before they are ditched, unannounced - costs sunk and outcomes unknown. 

“MHCLG needs to ditch instead the false promises and set out clear, staged, funded plans, backed by the necessary laws and with a realistic prospect of delivering.

“It also needs to ditch what is becoming a hallmark lack of transparency, if it is to have any hope of rebuilding confidence among future tenants and owners that the decent, safe, affordable homes they want and need will ever be built.”

The committee makes a string of demands of government, including:

- the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government being open when policies change or are abandoned, to reduce uncertainty and disappointment for those looking to the government to help them; 

- as part of the First Homes pilot, the government should give precise estimates of developer contributions and what local authorities need to pay for appropriate infrastructure improvements, and it should also set out clearly how the secondary re-sale market will work;

- the MHCLG should be clear how its range of housing schemes will actually contribute to its ambition of building 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s;

- government should once and for all clarify what ‘affordable housing’ actually means, “whether this definition means they are for sale, shared ownership or rent, and whether, and how, the definition may vary for different circumstances and geographies”;

- the government should be clearer on how it is addressing the long-term issues of homelessness, rough sleeping, and families in temporary accommodation.

The MHCLG this morning commented: “These false claims ignore the facts. They are misleading and we reject them – since 2010 over 663,000 households have been helped into home ownership through government schemes.

"Last year alone we delivered a quarter of a million new homes, the highest number in over three decades. We’re also investing over £12 billion in affordable housing over the next five years – the largest investment in a decade – and our new First Homes scheme will help local people and key workers buy their own home, in the area they already live, at a discount of 30 per cent.”

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