The stamp duty saga rolls on – this weekend the National Association of Estate Agents published the results of a poll showing that 24 per cent of its members were convinced that sales had fallen through because of speculation that the rate would be cut. Housing minister Caroline Flint countered that it was among a range of options being considered to boost the market and a decision would be announced in the pre-budget report in the autumn.
Meanwhile as the Council of Mortgage Lenders released its repossession figures for the first half of the year on Friday, which showed an almost 50 per cent increase. In response, the Legal Services Commission announced that emergency legal aid schemes will be set up at a further 20 county courts to provide free legal advice and representation to homeowners threatened with eviction, increasing the number of such schemes to 174.
The problems facing the property market, including the growing number of repossessions, will result in five million people being on the waiting lists for social housing by 2017 according to the Local Government Association. Currently there are 1.6 million families, or 4 million people, waiting for social housing, and during the past few years, waiting lists have been increasing at a rate of 90,000 families a year. The LGA believes this figure will increase sharply during the next two years.
At the same time, more than a million people are living in private accommodation that falls below the government’s decent home standard. Figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats show that the government is likely to miss its target for reducing the amount of social housing that fails to meet the standard. According to the Lib Dems, by 2014 the amount of social housing that failed to meet the standard had only fallen by 47 per cent since 2001. The government has set a target to reduce the amount of social housing that does not reach the decent homes standard by 65 per cent by the end of 2015.
Further proof of the credit crunch comes as reports that building societies have slashed their mortgage lending so far that repayments are now outstripping new loans by almost £700 million in June, according to data from the Building Societies Association. A spokesperson for the BSA said that the Financial Services Authority had been placing pressure on the societies to increase their reserves above 20 per cent of liabilities.
And moneysupermarket.com has revealed that the number of buy-to-let mortgages has fallen 93 per cent in the past year. Twelve months ago there were 4,384 mortgages available to landlords, compared with just 307 deals today. The cost of a mortgage has also increased more than half a percent in the year. Meanwhile lenders are applying much stricter lending criteria on their buy-to-let deals, requiring rental income to be 19 per cent higher than the mortgage repayments – up 13 per cent a year ago.
Care for elderly, infirm and disabled people could be taken from local authority control under new government plans to end the ‘postcode lottery’ that allows wildly differing standards of care across the country. More than 370 nursing and care homes have been given a ‘no star’ rating after the Commission for Social Care Inspectors assessed their services as poor, while a further 31 have been sent legal notices saying that the CSCI plan to cancel their registration and move residents elsewhere.
In Scotland, the SNP is looking to place further restrictions on council tenants’ rights to their home by withdrawing the entitlement for new tenants. Having recently supported moves to remove the right to buy new build council houses, deputy first minister Nicole Sturgeon believes that banning new tenants in the social rented sector from buying their own home will encourage local authorities and housing associations to invest in new properties.
And finally, a cross-party committee of MPs has urged the government to adopt a bill of rights for the UK. The committee said the bill should go further than current human rights legislation and include the rights to housing, education and a healthy environment. Both Labour and the Conservatives agree on the need for a new Bill of Rights, but differ on what areas it should cover.