Tony has pointed out that amongst the soggy canapés there are loads of meetings and discussions about housing at this year’s Labour conference. Tomorrow we will find out
what if anything about housing makes the Leader’s speech, but today two of Ed Balls’ key initiatives involved housing: a specific commitment to use a repeat Banker’s bonus tax to fund affordable housing and a new commitment to reduce VAT on maintenance to encourage owners to repair homes.
One meeting Tony didn’t highlight attracted my attention and I went along to a meeting sponsored by New Statesman and the National Landlords Association on the future of the private rented sector. Although I don’t always agree with what Caroline Flint has to say about social housing, I thought she was spot on in her analysis of the PRS, the need for regulation and how it might work. I had forgotten that she was Minister when the Rugg Review was commissioned, so she has some background in this issue. She also rather shamelessly plugged her chapter in the so-called purple book just published by Progress, in which she evidently sets out her views on PRS reform.
Although the NLA seems to favour accreditation rather than registration as the basis of a regulatory system, there was a surprising degree of consensus in the room about what a regulatory system should seek to achieve: an expanding and increasingly professionalised PRS, support and help for good landlords who want to meet good standards, and strong enforcement against bad landlords who exploit tenants and refuse to bring their properties up to scratch. Despite the presence of several landlords and landlords’ representatives, there was no support from anyone for the current government’s laissez-faire (or is it couldn’t care less?) approach.
I was particularly impressed by a letting agent present in the audience who spoke strongly in favour of registration as the way forward, and there were good contributions on how to achieve longer tenancy terms, especially for families needing security and stability, how to control subsidy flowing to bad landlords through housing benefit, and enforcement by environmental health officers.
Sometimes a discussion hits the right tone of seriousness without ladles of rhetoric and generates more light than heat. Here was one and I hope there will be more, especially during the housing debate scheduled for Thursday morning – housing was one of the four issues chosen through a ballot of delegates for debate on the floor of the Conference.