The housing sector has weighed in on today’s budget reveal, with most welcoming the announcements but expressing concern over some of the finer details and the scant regard for social housing.
Amid a wider budget reveal that focussed on the economic impacts of COVID-19 and susbsequent recovery, the housing sector was far from the centre of Rishi Sunak’s announcements.
That said, the chancellor didn’t ignore housing entirely, with a six-month extension to the £20 Universal Credit weekly uplift and three-month Stamp Duty extension grabbing the headlines among a small set of sector-related announcements.
Here’s what the housing sector had to make of today’s budget.
Kate Henderson, chief executive, National Housing Federation
On the Universal Credit uplift extension, Henderson said: “Housing associations see every day how the Universal Credit uplift provides much needed relief for those living on the lowest incomes – so its short-term extension is welcome.
“This extra £20 a week helps families buy enough food to feed themselves and pay their rent.
“That said, we are concerned that families and children will face the same risk of financial hardship in six months’ time, when the effects of the crisis will still be felt.
On shared accommodation, Henderson said: “It’s good to see the government bring forward exemptions to the shared accommodation rate, ensuring independent living is more affordable for people under 25 who have experienced homelessness and care leavers. This will also help people to move on from emergency accommodation more easily.”
On domestic abuse support, Henderson said: “Extra funding to support survivors of domestic abuse is also welcome news, and we’ll look forward to seeing more detail on this.
On modern methods of construction, Henderson said: “The announcement of a new MMC taskforce is positive, as well as the focus on helping people get onto the housing ladder.
“We must not forget for those on the lowest incomes who cannot afford to buy their own hom – building more social housing in the coming years will also be crucial to recovery.”
James Prestwich, director of Policy and External Affairs, Chartered Institute of Housing
Commenting on the focus of the budget, Prestwich said: “This budget provided an opportunity for government to set out how it hopes to rebuild the country following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Few would understate the scale of the challenge facing government, and with many sectors of the economy hit particularly hard by coronavirus, we weren’t expecting this to be a ‘housing budget’.
“That said, we would have liked to have seen a much greater focus on a housing-led recovery, which we believe represents the best way for government to drive growth, help meet its ambitious climate change targets, create highly skilled jobs, and alleviate the chronic housing shortage.”
On the Universal Credit uplift extension, Prestwich said: “On the detail, we believe there remains a clear need to sustain the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift beyond the six months announced by the chancellor, and we’ll continue to make the case to government that they should look to mitigate the risk of this ending at a time when the economy is likely to remain fragile.”
On the green agenda, Prestwich said: “The £12bn for a UK infrastructure bank will be valuable, although this doesn’t address the vital action required to upgrade the energy-efficiency of Britain’s housing stock and help tackle the climate emergency.”
On the government’s commitment to getting more people onto the property ladder, Prestwich said: “Investment for housing has been focused on helping people into home ownership, with a guarantee for 95% mortgages that will be welcome for those able to afford that option, but will not assist the many households unable to make the step into homeownership or those living in the rented sector.”
Nicholas Harris, chief executive, Stonewater
On Universal credit and furlough extension, Harris said: “The Coronavirus pandemic led the government to put in place restrictions on businesses and households, leaving many people temporarily unable to work, which resulted in an increase in the number of people needing to claim Universal Credit – some for the first time.”
He added: “Today’s news of further support for those on minimum wage and also the self-employed is also very welcome.”
On domestic abuse support, Harris said: “Home is supposed to be a safe place for everyone. But the ongoing pandemic has brought an even sharper focus on the frightening reality that for those affected by domestic abuse, it can often be a place of danger and fear.
“Having somewhere safe to stay can be the first, vital step forward for someone fleeing from domestic abuse.”
He added: “We welcome the government’s pledge of an additional £19m of funding to domestic abuse programmes on top of the £125m announced in the Spending Review last year.”
On the green agenda, Harris said: “We are 100% behind the ambition to build a more sustainable, green UK economy as we recover from the pandemic and work towards the net-zero carbon target by 2050.”
He added: “Additional funding, whether that’s in the form of tax relief or grants, for home retrofitting must be a key part of the fight against fuel poverty.
“It would help improve lives and create long-term jobs across the entire country – a huge win-win.”
Lee Bloomfield, chief executive, Manningham Housing Association
On the Universal Credit uplift extension, Bloomfield said: “Whilst I welcome news that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit payments has been extended until September, the chancellor has merely created yet another cliff edge for those families that depend on this extra income.”
On the freeze to the basic rate personal income tax threshold, Bloomfield said: “Mr Sunak claimed that income tax would not go up but, for those in the lowest paid jobs, the decision to freeze the personal allowance for basic rate taxpayers will have the same effect with workers losing increasing amounts of their take home pay as time goes on.”
On the government’s commitment to getting more people onto the property ladder, Bloomfield said: “I fully understand the desire to help people on to the property ladder. However, history tells us that this will gravely impair access to decent quality homes for those unable to afford a mortgage.
“Decreasing the size of the rented sector in the midst of an ever-deepening housing crisis is short-sighted at best and grossly irresponsible at worst.”
Commenting on the measures overall, Bloomfield said: “With pay for key workers also frozen and unemployment levels expected to rise in the months ahead, these decisions have placed people on the lowest incomes at greatest risk.”
Ben Beadle, chief executive, National Residential Landlords Association
On supporting tenants, Beadle said: “The chancellor’s pledge to do whatever it takes to support those affected by the pandemic will ring hollow for thousands of tenants and landlords across the country.
“The government has admitted that private tenants have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and figures show that most of those in arrears are unable to access emergency housing support from local authorities.
“Despite this, the chancellor has failed to provide the sector with the financial support needed to pay off rent debts built as a consequence of the virus.
“Without help to get arrears cleared, many tenants face the prospect of losing their homes and having damaged credit scores, which will undermine the government’s efforts to help generation rent become generation buy.”
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council
On the green agenda, Hirigoyen said: “In his speech today, the chancellor insisted that this country needs a real commitment to green growth and to create jobs where people are.
“However, ‘build back business as usual’ would be a more fitting description for the government’s plans to build back better.
“We are still none the wiser about the fate of the Green Homes Grant scheme, which just a few short months ago the chancellor told us would support over 100,000 jobs in green construction up and down the country.
“UKGBC, together with many others in our industry, have strongly advocated that the £1.4bn of unspent funding be rolled over to 2021/22, but today’s budget leaves both industry and householders still in the dark.
“Beyond the opportunities for green investment offered by the Infrastructure Bank and new green gilt and retail savings product, this budget appears to ignore the huge part that greening our buildings can play in delivering our post-COVID economic recovery.
“Tackling carbon emissions from buildings – particularly the existing housing stock – is not easy, but we cannot afford to duck the challenge any longer.
“The chancellor’s emphasis on local growth is also welcome, as we recognise that local authorities have a vital role to play in seizing local green growth opportunities.
‘However, local authorities alone cannot deliver the change we need without central government leading from the front.
“The chancellor’s ‘investment-led’ green recovery should not ignore the voice of the industry calling for a national retrofit strategy to unlock vital green jobs across the whole country.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive, Crisis
On homelessness, Sparkes said: “It is very disappointing to see the housing support announced today is limited to home buyers. Hundreds of thousands of renters in arrears are facing eviction in a matter of weeks and must not be forgotten.
“We also desperately need more social housing, while a lack of further investment in housing benefit will push more people into poverty and put them at risk of homelessness.
“We welcome the extensions to the Universal Credit top-up and the Job Retention Scheme, but the UK government must go further.
“With the UK facing up to the economic impact of the pandemic and unemployment on the rise, we need to see an ambitious approach to preventing and ending homelessness.
“A safe and secure home provides dignity but also a vital foundation to those seeking work, so preventing homelessness is essential in supporting our national recovery.
“Last year the UK government’s bold emergency action showed homelessness is not inevitable, but that progress is at risk of being undone if further action is not taken now.”
James Forrester, managing director, Barrows and Forrester estate agents
On housebuilding, Forrester said: “Extremely disappointing to see the government maintain their head in the sand stance on building more homes.
“They usually talk a good game with regard to house building and we often hear dramatic cries of ‘build, build, build’ when the Budget rolls around. Unfortunately, the only thing that has been built is the suspense waiting for them to deliver on these promises.
“This time around, we didn’t even see the usual empty rhetoric and hot air, so we can assume that they will continue to ignore what is perhaps the biggest problem currently impacting the housing market.”
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