Theresa May has quite the in-tray – not only does she have to try and manage a smooth exit from the EU and cope with the possible economic knocks that withdrawal could cause, she also has to try and get a handle on one of the key issues affecting the population: housing.
She has made quite a lot of housing – first, in her pitches to become leader of the Conservative Party and then in her first speeches as Prime Minister.
May talked about how 'housing matters so much' and how her government would be dedicated to building the many new homes that the country is in desperate need of.
“Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising,” she said. “Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home. The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced.”
May has insisted that she won’t call a snap general election, reasoning that she has a mandate (and a manifesto) to govern from after the surprise Conservative Party election victory last year.
This suggests that much of what was in that manifesto will continue to be enacted by the May-led administration, including policies when it comes to housing.
Brandon Lewis, the previous Housing Minister and a strong backer of Theresa May in her efforts to become the new Prime Minister, doesn’t expect housing policy to change drastically given how little time has passed since David Cameron won a small majority in 2015, even allowing for the new, post-Brexit landscape.
Key policies in that manifesto were starter homes and the expansion of Right to Buy to 1.3 million people.
Help to Buy, Shared Ownership and Build to Rent are other flagship policies that are highly likely to be kept in place, while the Lifetime ISA – the government’s latest scheme to help first-time buyers onto the ladder – is still expected to come into play in April 2017.
As for lettings, there have so far been no indications that George Osborne’s tax reforms to the buy-to-let sector will be overturned by the new chancellor Philip Hammond.
There have been calls from the Residential Landlords Association for the government to rethink and re-evaluate its relationship with the private rented sector (PRS), with many criticising Osborne for penalising buy-to-let investors too harshly.
As well as the additional 3% stamp duty surcharge introduced in April, there have also been changes to the Wear and Tear Allowance and planned reductions to mortgage interest tax relief (which will be phased in from 2017).
Furthermore, there has been controversy over Right to Rent and much frustration among landlords and investors that they are being hit too hard when the PRS is in need of more investment and more homes, with more and more people now opting to rent for the long-term.
Given how important housing is, it is also a tad worrying that the Housing Minister – the post now taken over by Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell – still has no position in the Cabinet.
While there may be legitimate reasons for this, it gives leverage to those who say that the government are only paying lip-service to the country’s housing problems and don’t actually have any plans to solve the supply-demand schism.
The government, which has pledged to build one million new homes by 2020 – a pledge that May has yet to turn her back on – has made plenty of noise in recent years about affordable housing and increasing the prospects of first-time buyers getting a foot on the ladder.
However, recent efforts to aid first-time buyers have angered landlords and investors in the buy-to-let sector, showing how difficult a balancing act it is to keep all aspects of the property market happy.
The government currently has some very pressing concerns, but housing shouldn’t be put on the backburner. In recent years it’s been one of the issues that voters care most about and there is nothing to suggest that position will change in the future.
With the uncertainty and upheaval surrounding Brexit, and with so much of housing policy agreed on in the Housing & Planning Bill just a few months ago, there is expected to be little change in the direction of travel over the coming years.
But, with Theresa May talking about the need to address the housing deficit and improve the chances of young buyers actually buying homes, she will be expected to keep to these promises.