Manifesto Check: How Do They Measure Up On… Housing?

imageLiz Ely from Living Rent examines housing policy in the Scottish manifestos. Living Rent doesn’t support any one party; they have the support of the youth wings of most of the major political parties. This piece is Liz’s personal view.

Scottish National Party
50,000 new homes to be built, with 35,000 for social rent
Fee free housing tribunal.
Consultation on a national standard for private rented homes.

With the SNP polling as certain to form the next government, the content of their manifesto will be particularly important for renters. Their recent conference overwhelmingly voted for a national system of rent controls, which we would expect to go further than the rent pressure areas contained within the Private Tenancies Scotland Act.

Despite this, rent controls are conspicuous by their absence from the SNP manifesto.

“We are committed to using the new Housing and Property Tribunal to encourage access to justice and dispute resolution. To support this, we will ensure that the Tribunal does not charge fees to tenants or landlords.”

It is positive that the new housing and property tribunal will not charge fees to tenants, however striving for balance in this area seems unnecessary. With Landlords in an economic position of power, it would seem logical to charge them a fee in order to pay for the service, and encourage the resolution of disputes outside of a tribunal.

“We will consult on a national standard for private rented homes to ensure a good basic standard of accommodation, driving out rogue landlords who exploit tenants in substandard accommodation.”

Again this is positive – and vital for those being exploited in areas such as Sturgeon’s own South Glasgow constituency; but it remains to be seen what mechanisms will be used to force out rogue landlords, and little detail is given here. A system of rent controls where the price of housing was linked to quality would go a long way to driving up the standard of accommodation.

Scottish Labour
Commitment to capping rent increases.
60,000 affordable homes of which 45,000 to be council owned.
Introduction of a charter to drive up standards in the private rented sector
.

There are some definite positives within the Labour manifesto; in particular their commitment to capping rent increases.

“We will regulate private rents — capping rent increases, so rogue landlords can’t get away with charging rip-off rents.”

Private rents are in desperate need of regulation, and capping rent increases is a good start. Given the way this is worded, it is unclear how different this will be from the rent pressure zones which are to be implemented as part of the Private Tenancies Scotland Act.

“We’ll consult on introducing a Charter — similar to that in the social rented sector — to drive up standards in the private rented sector.”

A properly enforced charter could prove useful – or it could be a useless piece of paper. We do need to make private renting more like renting from council and housing associations, rather than social housing becoming more like the private rented sector.

Ultimately, standards in the private rented sector will only be driven up by action from those of us who rent, and this is where action should be focussed.

Scottish Conservative Party
Perks and tax breaks for Landlords.
Re-introduction of Right to Buy.
Focus on work with the Private Sector to deliver affordable housing.

Renters get very little mention within the Scottish Conservative manifesto, with their focus primarily on ‘stimulating demand for house buying’.

This is not surprising given the fact that homeowners are significantly more likely to vote Conservative. From a tenant’s perspective, there is little in here to be excited about.

“The delivery of affordable housing will also depend on cooperation with the private sector on innovative mid-market rent models. This could include providing grant funding to private landlords to build new properties in exchange for them letting the property out at affordable rents for a set period of time.”

It is difficult to see the benefit of depending upon the private sector for something so vital as affordable housing. Indeed in Edinburgh we are currently seeing the long term results of depending upon the private sector to deliver schools in the ongoing PFI crisis.

Likewise the concept of mid-market rent is flawed in practice. In Edinburgh there are properties which are currently deemed ‘mid market’ which cost £809.19 per month for two bedrooms. Mid-market rents are generally set at 80% of the local market rate. 80% of far-too-expensive is still too expensive.

“We would therefore reintroduce the Right to Buy in Scotland and ringfence all funds raised from the policies for future social house-building.”

Although the housing crisis in the UK has many causes, there are few policies which are as responsible for the state of housing in Scotland than the disastrous ‘Right to Buy’ policy which decimated social housing in Britain. Re-introducing this can have no positive benefits for those of us who rent, as it makes it even less likely that we will be able to find a genuinely affordable home.

Scottish Liberal Democrats
Building 40,000 homes for social rent

The notable aspects of the Lib Dem manifesto for renters are that they see social rent as a viable long term option for people, and commit to building 40,000 homes for social rent.

“We will increase the number of homes constructed for social rent, make sure they are accessible and re-establish social renting as a valid long term option for people.”

This is a laudable aim, although their actual building target for socially rented homes is less ambitious than some of the other political parties.

Scottish Green Party
Support for rent controls connected to quality, and security of tenure with a commitment to continue to campaign for these.
12,000 new social rent homes to be built per year.
Support for letting agency regulation.

There are many good ideas within the Scottish Green party manifesto, which seems genuinely tenant-focussed.

“The Scottish Greens will push for action to increase the amount of social housing, control rents, increase security of tenure and improve management in the private sector.”

The Scottish Greens support rent controls! With rents in Scotland the highest they have ever been, this is vital, particularly for those of us who live in rental hotspots like Aberdeen, Edinburgh and some parts of rural Scotland.

Similarly, improved security of tenure is a key campaign demand for Living Rent; and it is good to see it mentioned here. We won some real improvements to security of tenure in the Private Tenancies Scotland Act, and it is good to see that the Greens want to go further – although the chances of a new bill on security any time soon does not seem likely.

RISE: Scotland’s left alliance
100,000 publicly owned homes
Rent Controls
Mentions Living Rent

The Rise manifesto mention our campaign, and have the most ambitious house building target of 100,000 publicly owned homes.

“Private landlords’ profits have boomed through the exploitation of a serious, but solvable, problem in Scottish society. The time has come to tackle this issue head on. RISE will implement rent controls.”

There is little to argue with here, and the RISE manifesto does articulate many of the reasons that Living Rent was founded.

UKIP Scotland
Local homes for local people : exclusion of foreign nationals from state housing
Opposition to rent controls
50,000 socially rented homes to be built

UKIP Scotland have lifted their central housing slogan straight from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ forgetting that most of us wouldn’t really want to live in Royston Vasey.

In all seriousness, their policy to exclude foreign nationals from state housing is despicable. Policies like this allow rogue landlords to prey on migrants and other incomers, and leads to the sort of overcrowding which has become an issue in Govanhill.

“UKIP are against Rent Controls due to their failure to address the key issues in the rented sector”

As you might expect, we beg to differ. Rent controls worked in the UK until Thatcher scrapped them, and are the norm across Europe in nations where private rented housing is in plentiful supply, and much higher quality

Conclusion

With the exception of the Scottish Tories, all political parties make some commitments to building socially rented homes. Labour, The Scottish Greens and RISE all explicitly support rent controls, but more detail is needed from all of these parties as to what sort of control they intend to implement. Labour’s pledge in particular seems very similar to what the SNP have legislated for, more detail is needed.

Manifestos are notoriously rhetorical, with plenty of promises and few certainties. One thing that is certain though, is the need for tenants to organise ourselves to put pressure on the powerful, whichever party they are in.

Comments (16)

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  1. C Rober says:

    Rent controls missing from SNP , would think so , more than a few are landlords.

    3 Billion to provide 35 000 social rented , and a bung to affordable that is not really affordable to the median waged workers.

    Well it is a slight U turn after being exposed by a few keyboard ninjas like myself that it originally was geared towards the majority being bought housing , thus subsidised private.

    This when the SNP were championing a pitiful supply of council housing , simply because it was more than Labour did , meaning at their own rate of supply 117 years to remove council waiting lists in North Ayrshire. A Geographical area , the FM homeland , where the SNP mandate of affordable is unaffordable to the majority of workers , whom are unable to get a mortgage over 75k….. where the SNP removed the only way they could afford their own home , via RTB.

    With industrialisation into modern factory housing tooling , instead of developer bungs , council waiting lists can be removed in a generation , as well as using a modified RTB to remove old fuel poverty stock – Further benefits via the creation of councils holding mortgages not banks , thus them having an income and creating employment and training , as well as replacing RTB stock with new better rented with more fuel efficient ones.

    But would it be better spend with industrializing Social housing through councils , not another PFI or private developers , you bet.

    Would that also mean affordable housing across the board , yes. By product of increased supply , through lanlords selling off.

    Would it mean removing 30 year mortgages , meaning a shorter working week or working life , yes. Creating housing that is geared towards being mortgage free means more money for the economy , not instead for banks.

    A 3 bed FP SIP bungalow can be had for councils for 75 k on their own land , not the 130k plus for a 3 bed house/flat that private developers charge the councils instead. With the added bonus of employement locally , not jobbing travelling trades and being almost passive heating , if there is such a thing in Scotland.

    As my old teacher used to say , could try harder.

  2. Frank says:

    Yet another article on the parties which fails to mention Solidarity, even though the author has gone to the struggle of finding out what UKIP thinks! I’m not a member of Solidarity – in fact if I lived in Glasgow I would more likely vote Green than Sheridan – but the way this party has been ignored by some political commentators reveals a mentality of the censor which should not exist in good journalism.

  3. Ghillie says:

    I know that the SNP have the interests of the people of Scotland at their heart.

    While under Westminster rule NO party in Scotland is ever going to have what they need to deliver what the people of Scotland truly need and deserve.

    I’m voting SNP and SNP =)

    Good luck folks! Here we go!!

  4. john young says:

    Any/every party that vowed to lower rents/mortgages would inmo be onto an absolute winner,lower the fcuking burden on the young.

  5. Ian Kirkwood says:

    There is no shortage of bricks at a reasonable price. Why is there little focus on the fact that the shortage is one of land?

    When we tax housing, there will be LESS housing. When land bears no tax it is speculated upon and NOT RELEASED for development. AGR (Annual Ground Rent) solves this by ending speculation in land.

    Scots knew this 100 years ago. They pushed for change and got it through the Commons in 1909. A shame it was blocked by the landlord-dominated Lords.

    Ending speculation in land by embracing AGR will free up land at its real price for plentiful affordable housing. We are (all except tenants) addicted to free capital gains for site owners that have for generations (amazing Westminster scam!) allowed them to claw back from the public purse (AGR) sums in excess of all the tax they pay. Why should tenants have no share in the public value we all create together (AGR)?

    A government’s most basic duty is to collect AGR – the stream of public value we all create together. Neglecting to do so placers responsibility for inequality squarely on the shoulders of such an administration.

    Collect AGR and solve the housing crisis.

    How?

    1. Map Scottish sites
    2. Value Scottish sites (minus improvements such as buildings)
    3. Send annual 5% bills to the owners of Scottish sites
    4. End all taxes that repress the economy

    Lloyd George and Winston Churchill nearly got this for us in 1909. Had they succeeded, imagine where we’d be now…

    1. Ian Kirkwood says:

      Indeed, once site owners have clawed back sums in excess of ALL the tax they pay, why should tenants be left to foot not only the mortgages of their landlords, but also the ENTIRE bill for the country’s public services?

      Clever place – Westminster.

      1. C Rober says:

        I agree on the AGR front.

        However the lack of land is not the problem , with exceptions of developers land banking. There in lies a taxation opportunity for Holyrood , use it or lose it.

        But there is a bigger picture there with lack of building on the council front , ie being forced to sell off land to developers , which means the lack of supply is deliberate and governmental sanctioned.

        For me with the SNP and the removal of the RTB , rather than to modify it as the first housing level for low income buyers , this is also governmental sanctioning of the land and housing supply.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          I also agree on AGR being implemented. Let’s hope Greens Andy Wightman gets in and is able to push for badly needed reform which SNP walked away from. Too many offshore corporates/funds still intercepting ‘rents’ – Ports, airports, energy firms, whisky, aggregates, estates etc etc, pretty much most of the Scottish economy is owned offshore with rents/surpluses syphoned out mostly taxfree while Joe Public is left to pay higher prices.

          1. Ian Kirkwood says:

            Aye. It makes Jock Public grimace with his jock strap houked up roond his lugs.

        2. Ian Kirkwood says:

          C Rober, How can you say lack of land is not the problem? Until speculation in land is removed by AGR the whole country will continue to be held in a straight-jacket. Imprisoned by the tax policy that chooses to indulge speculators in land. Limited areas of land may be available; but not at the right price. There are only two elements to housing: land and materials. Materials are available at a reasonable price.

  6. Alf Baird says:

    Careful analysis should be done on the ‘real’ impact of universities on the rented accommodation sector in our major cities. Excessive demand (from accommodating students coming from outside Scotland in particular) serves to inflate rents. The major universities strategies are aimed at attracting ever more (higher fee paying) students from outside Scotland so this problem can only get worse if not dealt with.

    Large areas of derelict land in former port areas at Leith, Glasgow etc now owned by ‘offshore’ equity funds should be used (compulsorily orders perhaps) for social housing; many of these land banks were intended for expensive ‘waterfront’ housing prior to the 2008 crisis and remain unused.

    1. Ian Kirkwood says:

      Implementing AGR would automatically release these sites because the land speculation would end. Speculators would dump them and move to areas of speculation that are productive – enterprises that contribute to GDP. (Needless to say, schemes sucking in the proceeds of other people’s work produce zero GDP.)

  7. ScottyHotPot says:

    Not sure about charters to create a common standard unless there is real effort at enforcement. At the moment private landlords are required to meet various standards – the repair standard, for example – and required to register with a local authority. But this is not enforced. Legislation isn’t a magic wand – it needs enforcement. (Source: I was a landlord briefly. I did all this stuff voluntarily – no-one checked. Not once.)

    Private rent is not always driven up by landlords profiteering – the banks milk private lets mercilessly. Letting mortgages can cost double the domestic mortgage for the same property. So mortgage costs don’t just drive up cost of living for homeowners, but for everyone. Do I disagree with capping rents? Not necessarily, but mortgage costs need to be taken into account, preferably some measures taken to reduce the cost of letting mortgages. If rent caps are low but mortgages still high, it could become unviable to run a rented property, which would lead to a shortage of private lets.

    I have thought and thought about this and do not know the answer, but I would like to see the question asked more often – how can we bring the cost of mortgages down? One way would surely be to build more social housing, which would ease demand and slow the rise of house prices (I don’t care what anyone says, that’s a good thing – and I own a house. Houses are overvalued and it is a huge drain on everyone’s cost of living. The only winners are the banks.)

    The comment to make private housing more like social housing worries me. I lived in a council block, I owned my flat but all my neighbours were tenants, and frankly the housing association was a terrible landlord – neglecting repairs and failing to provide basics. One elderly neighbour lived with a condemned gas fire for over a year, no effort made to remove or repair it.

    Social landlords are exempt from the repair standard, and that is a disgrace. I would bring them into it and enforce it properly on everyone. Every tenant should have the right to have basic repairs done quickly. I also think ALL lets should include white goods, floor coverings and curtains. It’s the norm for unfurnished private let but social housing is let empty, bare floors, no appliances – the cost of moving in must be frightening. That’s not good enough.

    1. Ian Kirkwood says:

      Mortgage and rent costs come down (as well as the cost of the land needed to build affordable homes) when AGR is collected. The amount removed from the equation is the speculative portion of the value of each site.

      1. Ian Kirkwood says:

        When banks get notice of AGR coming on stream, they will immediately move away from being self-seeking contributors to the unaffordable homes crisis, to where we need them: investing in enterprises and ideas.

        1. Ian Kirkwood says:

          Scotland was once apparently known for its ideas and innovations. But l and speculation drew investment away from the sector that would have been making the economy grow.

          AGR sorts this devastating distortion.

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