What the sector should make of the Autumn Statement

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Steve Douglas, Altair PartnerWell we didn’t quite get Christmas come early, but we did get some very important signals from the Autumn Statement and the other recent housing related announcements on what to expect over the coming months. Some trinkets, some baubles and a few thorns to be wary of.

These are some of the things to pick out and some things to watch for in the coming months:

New money for the affordable homes programme, with flexibility of tenure is good news. But there is still a presumption of supporting tenants through to home ownership.

Extension of the voluntary right to buy pilots to more areas, confirms that this administration hasn’t forgotten that manifesto pledge.

The tearing up of the pay to stay proposals however indicates that it will pick and mix which pledges it wishes to keep.

This in turn suggests that the final enactment of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 may be very different from the one envisaged by the previous administration.

Money for the National Infrastructure Fund, as part of a National Productivity Investment Fund, sees the government adopting a template already in operation in London, the so called homezones, which we’ve previously spoken about. It’s a way for investment to be part of a virtuous circle of supporting economic growth and housing supply through infrastructure.

Devolution will almost certainly be accelerated through the distribution of funding to the regions to enable this template to be used more widely, as urged by the Northern Housing Consortium?

London is already gearing up for delivery, so expect announcements on the GLA’s prospectus shortly and there will almost certainly be encouragement for all housing organisations to step up for delivery. This will mean small housing associations, local authorities and their wholly owned companies, and the largest associations in the capital having a real opportunity to show what they can do.

Expect the Homes and Communities Agency to have a much bigger role in both preparing land for delivery and delivering directly itself, which in turn will most likely see a separate and beefed up role for the regulator. The introduction of fees is a signal of a continued and important role for regulation, not a reduced one, as many might have hoped. Don’t expect the value for money pressure on housing associations to go away.

And finally, the announcement that the LHA cap for under 35s will now apply to existing as well as new tenancies, coupled with the confirmation that the cap would also apply to all supported housing tenants continues to signal that there are no guarantees on future income that is underpinned by housing benefit or Universal Credit.

So our advice to our many clients is threefold.

  • If you are developing, look to government investment as a bonus, that enables you to do more, not that enables you to build at all. Predicate build programmes on generating your own income.
  • Build partnerships – housing associations with local authorities, local authorities with the private sector and associations, and all with government for social benefit. We all have a role to play in delivery.
  • Stress test your business plans for the unexpected and even as you look for certainty, plan for a range of eventualities. And of course we’ve not talked about Brexit.

The coming soon, increasingly trailed White Paper on housing will no doubt set out a long term plan for housing delivery. For those already delivering, all contributions will be welcomed.  Funding, land, planning, flexibilities.  So the call to the policy makers is come on government, let’s see the solutions for JAM today, not for JAM tomorrow.

Steve Douglas is a Partner at Altair. He can be contacted on 07810 152840 |  steve.douglas@nullaltairltd.co.uk