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Housing policy must go beyond election cycles - warning     

Housing policy formation must go beyond electoral cycles, academics have warned.

A group of Cambridge University alumni has teamed up to urge policymakers to deprioritise politics and vested interest when it comes to housing.

It comes as both the Government and opposition have revealed proposed housing policies this week just in time for the local elections.


There are rumours that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to relaunch the Help to Buy housing scheme, a move that has had mixed reception, while Labour has suggested it would prioritise new build sales to first-time buyres.

The Whitehall Group, a forum of the Cambridge University Land Society, has published a report stating that the housing market is plagued with acute issues around affordability and quality, which can only be resolved if policy makers prioritise long-term outcomes.

A key aim is to ensure people have the right housing for their age and stage of life, it said.

Policy suggestions include encouraging the 3.6m homeowners aged over 65 with more than two spare bedrooms to consider downsizing.

The paper considers ways to do this such as offering practical support for moving, scrapping Stamp Duty for downsizers reducing the size of their property by two bedrooms or more, and ensuring there is a supply of more suitable dwellings for this demographic in all areas.

Energy efficiency is also discussed. The document proposes practical recommendations such as removing VAT for energy-saving materials used to refurbish homes, relaxing listed building controls for energy-saving retrofits, and aligning council tax with energy performance.

Dame Kate Barker, writing the foreword to the Whitehall Group paper, said: “This paper seeks to look right across the problems in housing and takes a holistic view of solutions… proposing policies without fear of vested interests.

“The issues of supply and distribution of space will be familiar to all those reflecting on housing problems, adding in quality and the increasingly urgent problem of energy efficiency gives this paper extra bite.

“The overriding proposal is for more joined-up and coherent housing policy. This should run wider than just not changing housing ministers frequently, but also engage HM Treasury and financial regulators. Only then could we achieve the goal of defining, and moving towards, housing market success.”

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    Downsizing is not an appealing prospect for many homeowners aged 65 or over - as my wife and I can testify. Firstly, many people have a significant emotional attachment to their family home. Secondly, there is insufficient property to buy in many areas (bungalows are relatively scarce and many people are reluctant to move from a freehold house into a leasehold flat). Thirdly, if a large amount of equity is released how can it be sheltered efficiently from tax (assume £200k is released, it would take a couple 5 years to transfer it into ISAs - but this demographic will probably be reluctant to invest in shares and stick to low yielding cash), given that the capital in the current main home can increase tax free? We have decided we will stay put as long as possible and just hire gardeners, cleaners , etc as necessary.

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    Agree 100%


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