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By Graham Norwood

Editor, EAT, LAT & LLT

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The Holiday Home Debate - Don’t Let Politicians Get Away With It

At first sight it’s a tough ask to defend holiday homes when there’s evidence that many who want to buy can’t, because of high prices driven higher still by a lack of supply.

It’s like the argument about landlords - according to some, they have it all because they have one or more investment properties in addition to their own home, and get rent from those who can’t afford to buy even one property.

There’s a perfectly cogent and respectable moral position to say that owning more than one home is wrong when there are some people unable to own none; likewise there’s a moral logic to ask people in the fortunate position of owning multiple homes to pay tax.

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I’m not arguing that those moral stances are right or wrong, just that it seems to me perfectly reasonable for people to hold those views.

But what is unreasonable, surely, is for politicians to jump on the bandwagon and make holiday home owners and landlords the scapegoats for the politicians’ own shortcomings and negligence, in failing to build the appropriate number of homes in the first place.

Take what’s happening in Wales right now - it’s had a lot of publicity in recent days.

Politicians could, if they wished, build more council homes, or change planning laws to favour the building of more private homes, or they could fund and/or enter into joint activities with social housing providers to create what we used to call housing associations.

Either way, the result of that could be that the apparent shortage of properties in Wales in relation to demand, could at least be reduced or in theory it could even be ended completely. Build enough of them to meet demand, and then prices would reduce too.

Instead, what have we got from the Welsh politicians? 

They seize on the fact that there are 24,500 second homes in the country, and refer to that - not to the shortage of homes being built - as the “problem” and the “crisis”. So persuasive are they that the fault lies with holiday home owners rather than the politicians themselves, that even Propertymark has referred on its own website to the Welsh “holiday home crisis.”

It’s a similar story - many, many times larger - across the UK when it comes to the private rented sector, which in England accounts for almost 20 per cent of households.

Readers will be all too familiar with the tax and regulatory changes hitting landlords, and the multiple Help To Buy and similar schemes which have come in over recent years to achieve what this government calls “a level playing field.” That is, allowing owner occupiers - especially first time buyers - an advantage in purchasing homes which might otherwise have been bought by landlords.

Again the debate has been framed in emotive language, suggesting landlords have previ-ously enjoyed “unequal” status, some kind of “advantage”, and that by becoming a landlord to begin with is something bordering on the anti-social.

I believe the debate is framed this way by politicians to deflect attention away from the real culprits of the housing shortage - the politicians themselves.

It is, after all, the politicians who for the past four decades have been selling off council houses and flats through Right To Buy, who have privatised local authority maintenance and construction departments in the 80s and 90s, and who have been slow to allow councils to use capital receipts to fund new house building in more recent times.

It is the politicians who make grand statements about housebuilding targets only to take a different view in their own backyard when lobbied by constituents, and who have for dec-ades failed to make the changes to the planning to allow more homes to be built. 

Full disclosure here - I have in the past been a holiday home owner (no more) and am currently a landlord with two properties, and my own view is that those of us in this fortunate position should pay additional tax. 

Likewise, I believe it’s the government’s job to help out those can’t afford their own homes - hence the need, currently unmet by politicians, for more social rented housing.

We all have a part to play, but the irony of politicians making scapegoats of people with holiday homes or people who have become landlords, when those self same politicians have serially failed to provide enough homes for the nation, should not be lost on anyone.

Don’t let them get away with it… 

*Editor of Estate Agent Today, Letting Agent Today and Landlord Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn

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