Is housing important to you?

According to the results of our recent survey, there’s no denying it is.

Here’s what you told us:

98% said that housing is an important political issue
37% said it’s the most important political issue
97% said the Government isn’t doing enough to make housing affordable
93% would be more likely to vote for a political party that prioritises housing

These are pretty powerful percentages. So powerful that spokespeople from each of the UK’s main political parties have agreed to answer your questions on housing ahead of the 2015 General Election.

Housing Election

So what would you like to ask them? Submit your question to find out what each party would do for you.

National voter registration day

February 5th is National voter registration day.

EC_infographics_fin HR2

There are just 90 days left until the General Election on the 7th May. You may have already registered or still be deciding whether you’re going to vote. Either way, you’re probably feeling a bit confused about what you’re voting for, especially if you’re one of the 9 million people living in a privately rented home.

None of the main political parties seem to be championing the needs of renters. Yet, when we asked renters if they think housing is an important political issue, 97% said it is. A further 97% said the Government isn’t doing enough to make housing affordable and 93% would be more likely to vote for a political party that prioritises housing.

These are pretty powerful stats but they’re being ignored. Why aren’t renters being represented by politicians?

The issue is, by far the majority of people who vote are homeowners (94% of people who own their home outright are registered to vote compared to 63% of private renters) and politicians make policies for people who vote.

The result of this election could easily be swung by the votes of people who live in the private rented sector – people who make up 18% of the UK’s population – but only if they vote.

The main issue here isn’t whether you’re a renter or not, it’s about registering to vote in the first place. We won’t tell you who to vote for, that’s none of our business, but whether you’re a tenant, a homeowner who takes in lodgers or a landlord, if you don’t register to vote you won’t be able to.

Whether you choose to vote Conservative or Green or whether you choose to spoil your ballot, you’ll need to register to vote. Once you’ve done so, why not check out the housing manifestos for each party to find out who cares about you, whatever your situation.

P.S. – We’ll be interviewing each of the main political parties in the lead up to the election. We want to present your housing questions to them and get some answers. We’ve had a firm commitment from Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister and the Green Party housing spokesperson. We’re also in talks with the other parties. We’ll let you know more over the next few weeks, in the meantime, if you have a question about housing you’d like to put to politicians, feel free to let us know – either in the comments section or via Twitter or Facebook.

How to solve the Housing Crisis in London

SpareRoom attended the Future of London Housing debate hosted by the Evening Standard on Wednesday 20th March, in a packed room of over 1000 attendees. Housing is clearly a subject that is close to the hearts of many Londoners and the debate and following Q&A session became quite heated – showing the passion and emotion involved.

All of the panellists, including thinkers and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, agreed that more housing supply was needed to relieve the housing crisis enveloping London. Deputy Mayor for Housing, Richard Blakeway called for London’s share of stamp duty to be ploughed back into a massive house-building programme. Whilst the MD of Berkeley Housing proposed a simplified planning process, the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone’s call was to provide council housing for mixed communities, so there is less segregation between rich and poor in London. Alain de Botton, philosopher and writer, suggested a blueprint for attractive, affordable design that could be repeated easily and efficiently across London, removing some of the hurdles in the planning process, whilst the broadcaster and architectural graduate Janet Street Porter called for high density building, across railway lines and over car parks, like in New York. Possibly the biggest applause of the evening went to Evening Standard columnist Rosamund Urwin’s suggestions of disbanding Foxtons, banning Kirsty Alsopp and deporting the Candy Brothers. Standing up for ‘renty-somethings’ she focused on her own case of being shut out of home ownership, and renting with family members.

Whilst many of their suggestions were valid and probably will help to resolve the housing crisis in a few years to come, if more intensive building programmes do get underway (we’ve only built half the number of homes we need for the last 20 years and have a lot of catching up to do), there was a distinct lack of focus on the here and now. With so many thousands of people on housing lists in London, and the capital attracting workers and students like never before, there is an imperative need to offer practical solutions to today’s housing crisis, before London becomes a place that no real people can afford to live and work in.

Sharing existing resources seems to be the elephant in the room that nobody would mention. Amongst the talk of pressing empty properties and even offices into homes for the needy, there is no mention of the thousands of under-occupied properties that can help to ease the crisis. This is already happening – as teenage children grow up and move away, ’empty nesters’ are starting to rent out their spare rooms in their thousands – but we need to see more of this, to make an impact. What could the policy makers do to help encourage this trend?

We would suggest a raise in the tax free limit homeowners can earn through the Rent a Room scheme for starters – it’s been at the same rate since its introduction in 1997, whilst rents have been rising dramatically. Why not make it more attractive for people with spare rooms to take in a lodger, and help to remove the pressure on the limited supply in the private rented sector, and the social rented sector too? We’ve been pushing for this with our Raise the Roof campaign for some time, and hope that the Chancellor may see fit to increase the tax benefit in his next budget, even if it wasn’t included in last week’s.

Other ways to increase supply include removing some of the hurdles involved in turning a property into an HMO. This will promote more efficient use of existing property, and help young people to find somewhere affordable to live in the here and now, rather than being told to wait for houses yet to be built.

Do you agree? What do you think could be done to help solve the housing crisis sooner, rather than later?

Bedroom Tax or Spare Room Subsidy – What’s in a name?

Yesterday’s spat between David Cameron and Ed Milliband at Prime Minister’s Questions included a squabble about the under-occupancy penalty, about to come into force on 1st April. The PM tried to shift the terms of the debate by using the phrase ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ to counter the opposition’s use of ‘Bedroom Tax’ to describe the penalty. Whilst the two parties can argue till kingdom come about the naming of the measure, its effects will be the same – to put more pressure on low income families who live in social housing, and who are reliant on benefits to pay their rent.

The intention was to save some expenditure on the £23bn housing benefit bill, as well as reducing under-occupancy in the social sector. It’s becoming ever clearer that the measure will achieve neither of these aims – as there aren’t enough smaller houses for people to move to, and many of those affected will have few options to raise the funds to pay the penalty, simply racking up arrears instead. This will put further pressure on the stretched resources of social landlords, who won’t be able to invest in more house-building – the one thing we’re all agreed is most needed.

Whilst party leaders squabble about the words they use to describe the measure, its implementation draws ever closer and anyone who is likely to be impacted needs to understand how it affect them. We’ve put together a concise guide to the Bedroom Tax, which you can download for free.

Why proposals to extend tenancies might not be welcome

Recent proposals published by The Housing Voice Alliance, in their report into ways to fix the ‘broken’ housing market, include extending tenure in the private rental sector from six months to 24.  The call was intended to improve security of tenure, particularly for families with children, who are currently vulnerable to eviction at the end of a fixed tenancy and have a need for greater stability. But could this proposal have a negative impact on a growing contingent of tenants in the private rental sector?

A SpareRoom.co.uk poll conducted over the last couple of days has revealed a strong preference amongst flatsharers for shorter tenancies. Mostly young professionals in their twenties and thirties, over 300 tenants have voiced their opinion so far, with nearly 80% saying they would view the proposals negatively.

Our Facebook page has received a torrent of comments on the subject, explaining why flatsharers are coming out against the proposals:

“That could be totally impractical for a lot of people who rent. Especially younger people who are maybe working their way up the job ladder and may need to move to different locations based on their work,” says one respondent.

However, the response also reveals a lack of understanding of current tenancy contracts. Many flatsharers are worried about the implications of an extended contract, and see themselves as being locked into a tenancy, with the landlord having clear rein to increase the rent at any time.

They clearly don’t want to feel stuck, as one of the benefits of flatsharing is the flexibility to move when your circumstances change. Many feel such a move would hand too much control to the landlord, and a handful even suggested shorter tenancies of just three months would suit them better.

Sharers also raise interesting points about wider implications that may not have been anticipated by the authors of the report. Could a 24 month tenancy place further restrictions on who is accepted as a tenant, with perhaps stricter rules on deposits and guarantors coming in, as landlords seek to reduce their risk? This, as one of SpareRoom’s flatsharers points out, could lead to a lot of people finding it harder to get a tenancy agreement in the first place, and further exacerbate the housing crisis.

As more and more young people are sharing, whilst the options of renting alone or buying a home outright remain closed to them for the foreseeable future, policy makers and leaders of the housing sector would do well to note their worries and frustrations. Not everyone in the rental market is a family looking for security of tenure. And if the employment market is to be truly mobile and flexible, the housing market might also need to reflect this reality.

Labour party’s Housing Policy Review

Yesterday morning we were invited to attend the Labour party’s Housing Policy Review roundtable on the private rented sector. That in itself is a big step forward as it shows a political party able to look at the full picture and recognise that shared accommodation is a vital part of the rental sector when it comes to housing. So, off we went to Westminster, along with representatives of housing charities, landlord groups, council accommodation departments, tenant groups, academics and other parties with an interest and key stake in the discussions.

The Chatham House Rule means we can’t go into specifics on what was said by who but two words that cropped up continuously were ‘supply’ and ‘affordability’. With people present representing all forms of rented housing (including social, shared and privately rented) the discussion covered a lot of ground in a short time but has hopefully helped Labour’s policy people get a clearer sense of what the key issues in housing are and which need tackling first.

Hopefully this will mark the beginning of shared accommodation getting wider recognition for the part it plays in providing an affordable, flexible supply of housing available to the (increasing) numbers who rely on it. Either way it’s a positive sign and we commend the review for asking us to participate. It was certainly a useful experience for us too.

Matt