The political ebb and flow continues - seemingly with all the subtlety of a Boris Johnson rugby tackle on a 10-year old Japanese schoolboy - but there does appear to be a degree of progress made, and the Queen’s Speech did deliver in terms of offering some clarity and positivity around our own goals for both conveyancing and leasehold reform.
The CA’s own strategic plan, and delivering the necessary changes outlined within it, is not totally reliant on political support but it can only help to have a government actively pursuing the same aims.
This is why we were particularly pleased to see these two important areas referred to in the Queen’s Speech, and it appears (at last) that we have the political will to drive through the necessary changes.
First up was leasehold reform and in case you’ve not read the Queen’s Speech, on page 72 you will find the following: ‘We will consult and look to take action to promote transparency and fairness for leaseholders. We will look at the sale of leasehold houses and onerous ground rents, working with property developers, the Competition and Markets Authority and others as outlined in the Housing White Paper.’
It is perhaps unsurprising, given the level of media interest particularly in areas such as escalating ground rents and the like, to see the government committing to this area. Indeed, former Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, promised as much at the tail-end of the last Parliament so we are pleased to see this commitment reaffirmed.
Of course, we (and many other conveyancing market stakeholders) have been on the road to leasehold reform for some time. Our focus has tended to be on areas such as the role of Lease Administrators, the costs they charge to secure the necessary documentation, the time it takes them to provide this, and key areas such as a robust complaints process and redress scheme, and ensuring that there are fair terms in new leases and that all charges are reasonable.
Luckily, we have an industry which is in agreement on what is required, and as part of the wider Legal Sector Group – which is comprised of ourselves, CILEx, BLG and the SLC, with input from the Law Society – we were able to publish our full Leasehold Reform Proposals earlier this month covering off all the areas outlined above.
These have now been sent to the new Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, as well as to the Law Commission for its 13th Programme of Law Reform – we’ve been advised that the second sift for such proposals will now take place in September.
Key progress is being made here but greater levels of support are always required. I would therefore like to point out that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold is holding its next meeting on Leasehold Reform on the 5th July at the Houses of Parliament. Anyone can attend and we are encouraging all market stakeholders to come along and voice their support.
On a wider scale, the Queen’s Speech (page 78) also committed to look at ‘consumer markets’. It says: ‘In the housing market we will look at ways we can streamline the home buying process so it is cheaper, faster and less stressful for people when they make the biggest purchase of their life.’
Again, this appears to be ‘game on’ for delivering on the reforms that are necessary to bring the conveyancing process into the 21st Century. You may well remember that last year the DCLG was due to publish it’s ‘Call for evidence’ on this very issue however it was repeatedly put back as political issues – the EU Referendum, change of PM, snap election, etc – all got in the way.
Now that we have this Queen’s Speech commitment we are anticipating that the ‘Call for evidence’ will soon be published and again, we are urging all parts of the property/housing/mortgage market to make their views known on the required changes.
There has been a lot of talk about the ‘watered down’ nature of this Queen’s Speech due to the minority position the current Government holds. It may well be that political machinations continue to change the playing field, and ‘events, dear boy, events’ get in the way of delivering on these aims.
However, at present, we do have some degree of clarity and confidence in terms of a Government seeking to consult and change these key areas.
It will require all parts of the market to input into this, and we would certainly like to see agents having their say on all these issues. This requires joined-up thinking and a joined-up approach if we’re going to move the home-buying process on, and if we’re going to deliver some significant benefits to all those involved, not least, the consumer.
*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association and Partner in Goldsmith Williams