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I wanna be elected: Conservative edition

By J

Manifesto series (in order of publication)


Lib Dem




It’s fashionable to treat elections with a weary, nay affected, cynicism and a refrain of “they’re all as bad as each other”. That, frankly, is nonsense. And no-where is that more clear than the various housing policies set out by the four national political parties. Over the next few posts, I’m going to cover the housing offer from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens. I’m not going to look at the Scottish or Welsh specific manifestos (whether from nationalist parties or the Scottish/Welsh divisions of the main parties) because housing policy is almost entirely devolved.

I’m also not covering Reform because they are – without exception – comprised of terrible human beings.

Finally, I’m not going to cover the planning-housing crossover policies because I’m not sufficiently au fait with planning law to meaningfully comment.


We start here simply because they were first to publish. There is a fundamental credibility problem with this manifesto. Despite possessing a significant majority in the previous House of Commons, the Tories were unable to get the Renters (Reform) Bill through (due to internal opposition) and, whilst they did pass a Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act, it was plainly a missed opportunity for more radical reform.

So, when we read that they will

….  complete the process of leasehold reform, to improve the lives of over four million leaseholders. We will cap ground rents at £250, reducing them to peppercorn over time. We will end the misuse of forfeiture so leaseholders don’t lose their property and capital unfairly and make it easier to take up commonhold.

It’s tempting to ask why this wasn’t done before?

Breaking this down a bit – the £250 ground rent cap (reducing over time) isn’t a bad promise. It is, however, noticeably less ambitious than previous Conservative promises (to reduce ground rents to peppercorn). But what it doesn’t do is address the freehold-as-asset class problem. Do we want residential freeholds to be assets in the hands of third parties? One assumes the answer to that is “no” (hence the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 preventing ground rents in new leases), but if that is right then grasp the nettle. Make commonhold the default for all new developments. Given where the Conservatives were in policy terms just weeks ago, this is a climbdown.

Similarly, preventing the “misuse” of forfeiture betrays the lack of ambition. No-one seriously defends residential forfeiture and hasn’t for many years. There needs to be *something* to enable leaseholder-owned/controlled freehold companies to recover service charge arrears promptly, but forfeiture isn’t the fairest way to do this.

Parliament has repeatedly tried to rebalance forfeiture so as to make it fairer. The problem is that is cannot be fair. Most residential forfeiture involves a prior determination of breach (s.81, Housing Act 1996; s.168, Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002) and a notice (s.146, Law of Property Act 1925) and possession proceedings and the possibility of relief from forfeiture. Despite all that, we know it continues to be used as a threat against leaseholders. The reform seems to be limited to cases where forfeiture is obtained and would mean leaseholders received the equity following the discharge the debts. Fine, but unambitious. It also misses the wider problem. Forfeiture is inexorably linked to the recovery of legal costs (cf the 69 Marina line of cases).It – and the costs risk it brings with it – operates as a threat.

Similar scepticism greets the promise to

 …  pass a Renters Reform Bill that will deliver fairness in the rental market for landlords and renters alike. We will deliver the court reforms necessary to fully abolish Section 21 and strengthen other grounds for landlords to evict private tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour.

Given that the last Conservative government couldn’t get this policy through, does anyone expect a new one to do better? I certainly don’t.

The social housing proposals are a re-hash of an existing consultation. The promise is to

  … legislate for new ‘Local Connection’ and ‘UK Connection’ tests for social housing in England, to ensure this valuable but limited resource is allocated fairly. And we will implement a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ expectation of social housing landlords for anti-social behaviour. They will be expected to evict tenants whose behaviour is disruptive to neighbours and the local community.

As we explained previously, the local/UK connection test would simply push foreign nationals into Part 7 (homelessness) support and remove the possibility of using Part 6 (allocation of social housing) to assist them. Part 7 costs local authorities a fortune and, post Imam, might mean they have to reclassify stock from Part 6 into Part 7. So it’ll cost more and reduce the available stock of social housing. Rank stupidity and a sign that whoever wrote this is simply not a serious thinker.

The suggestion that social landlords will be “expected” to evict certain tenants might be something new. A statutory duty/presumption of action in certain cases? Given how little use has been made of the 2014 Act “community trigger” powers I’m not sure this is anything more than an unnecessary complication.

One new proposal is floated and that is “two-year temporary Capital Gains Tax relief for landlords who sell to their existing tenants”. The scope for abuse is obvious. Transactions would be structured as a 1 year tenancy followed by an option to buy.

Finally, we see a commitment not to reduce the RTB discount levels (which, lest we forget, the Conservatives have now set at over £100K in London, rising by inflation each year). Fair enough. Clear dividing lines here between them and other parties. But if you are serious about ending RTB the first step is to slash the discounts (which you can do by statutory instrucment and is much, much quicker and easier than full abolition).

What to make of this? Very little here to positively improve housing or housing law and certainly little to enthuse anyone who cares about housing.


* As the great Mr Alice Cooper once sang.

J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Bernard Kennedy

    One loose end is the interplay between anti social behaviour and mental health. As an advisor for a well known charity I see cases where one tenant’s mental health seems to be a major factor in impact on neighbours who can validly complain of anti social behaviour.


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