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By Graham Norwood

Editor, LAT & LLT

Graham Awards

OTHER FEATURES

Why Rental Reform Is Becoming More Important By The Day

It’s easy to overestimate the importance of something in one’s own industry or work, but there seems good reason for believing that the Rental Reform White Paper - much delayed and much anticipated - really will be a vital part of the government’s agenda.

For an administration that has not made housing a central part of its activities so far this may be a surprising statement, but I believe there’s good reason for anticipating a truly once-in-a-generation sea change proposed by the White Paper.

Why? Because so far the Boris Johnson government, despite its overwhelming majority, has been reacting to events rather than shaping them.

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Within three months of its election win - a period which was itself interrupted by Christmas - it was faced with evidence of the coming pandemic, and then two years of reactive measures in the light of Covid sweeping the world. 

During the same time it’s been facing inflation plus disastrous labour and material shortages worsened by Brexit (the latter a problem of the government’s own making, particularly Boris Johnson’s, but a problem it appears not to have anticipated and had to react to).

Then there’s Partygate - wholly the government’s fault, but again something that has prevented it pursuing a pro-active agenda, instead having to prepare itself for revelation after revelation and the bad headlines that come with them.

Now there’s the Russian war on Ukraine: aside from the human and political tragedy, there are devastating financial and resources consequences, and as I write this piece the World Bank is forecasting a 37 per cent hike in global food prices.

So for Johnson, Sunak, et al, the past two and a half years have been a series of reactions, each involving fire-fighting to prevent a bad situation getting worse.

I’ll let you make up your own mind as to whether that fire-fighting has been effective or plain disastrous, but the point is that events have prevented the government setting its own agenda, stopped it making its own mark.

So that brings us to Levelling Up and the Rental Reform White Paper.

Despite shrill exaggerations by some anti-landlord and pro-tenant groups, this is an issue where the government is not facing widespread general public clamour to react against a crisis - instead, there’s a relatively blank sheet of paper on which to create a new approach to rental policy.

This may be why the government is unafraid at taking its time.

The White Paper, much delayed already, is now rumoured to be on the back burner again until the autumn.

Housing minister Eddie Hughes, now the government’s lead politician on the White Paper, is an experienced hand in the industry and has made it clear he’s more concerned at getting it right than getting it done quickly.

And of course most recommendations in the White Paper, if they survive further consultation periods, will take literally years to trundle through parliament, so they will effectively be manifesto policies for the Conservatives for the next General Election in (probably) 2024.

So rental reform - already a huge issue to those of us in the industry - is likely to feature unexpectedly strongly as the government effectively relaunches itself later this year.

None of this, of course, makes it likely that the contents of the White Paper will make happy reading for the rental industry, especially as the Conservatives’ poll showings falter and they are likely to steal more of Labour’s traditionally pro-tenant policies.

There are already clear signals that some of the anti-landlord groups’ hobby horses (the abolition of Section 21 and allowing pets in particular) will be included, but Hughes has made it clear there must be something in the White Paper for landlords as well as the activist campaigners.  

It’s a classic case of wait and see but what’s becoming clearer - as the government continues to get bogged down in reactive politics - is that the White Paper will be an opportunity for the Tories to get on the front foot with a pro-active policy of their own making.

Even this government cannot miss that opportunity - can it?

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

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    The problem is simple - 1) TOO MANY PEOPLE and 2) Not enough PRS landlords (thanks to anti-landlord campaigners) Back fire of the century they are - the more they moan about landlords, the less landlords there are and the more tenants pay in rent. Geniuses.

  • Matthew Payne

    Government policy should only be focussed on improving supply, especially when its policies of the last 5 years have in large part created that shortage in the first place. If that means swallowing the bitter pill of offering incentives to landlords now instead of publicly attacking them to win votes then so be it. I am sure most tenants wouldnt care about their landlords improving tax position if it meant rents came down, choice and accessibility improved, but goverment has to be honest first about what has happened to date. That said, I am sure those clever spin doctors in Tory HQ can come up with something that shows the Tories championing bringing rents down during a cost of living crisis that doesnt draw too much attention to how they achieve it.

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