Lunchtime news Wednesday 10 September 2015

The government’s package to help people with their energy bills will be revealed tomorrow, but is unlikely to include a windfall tax on energy companies. Instead, 11 million homes will be given help to reduce bills, funded by an extra £1 billion invested by the utility companies in the carbon emission reduction programme. Four million of the poorest households – people receiving benefit and those over 70 – will be eligible for free loft and cavity insulation, while more affluent households will be able to claim discounts on household improvements to reduce energy consumption.

The National Housing Federation has lobbied successfully for a major tax concession on behalf of housing associations that employ wardens for sheltered accommodation. Associations were facing massive tax bills because of the government’s interpretation of the EU working directive which would have classified wardens’ accommodation as a taxable benefit. This tax was to apply retrospectively to 2000, which would have left the sector facing a bill of more than £9 million a year.

A new housing rights website, the first to be specifically aimed at answering housing entitlement queries of new migrants has been launched. The joint initiative between the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust and the Chartered Institute of Housing allows advisers or new arrivals to receive advice and guidance on housing rights, including the law on the eligibility for social housing and related welfare benefits.

Barratt Developments, the second biggest house builder in the country, is desperately attempting to entice buyers back to the market. It announced that it would pay up to £15,000 in stamp duty, offer a part-exchange plan as well as a three-year guarantee ‘price promise’ that aims to provide some protection for buyers from a fall in house value. This comes as its annual profit slumped by 67 per cent and the value of the land it owns and plans to build on, plummeted by £208 million.

Meanwhile Redrow has written down its land values by 42 per cent, or £259 million, the biggest write down the house building industry has seen. It is calling the housing slump the worst it has ever seen, while a financial analyst believes land value will fall by at least 75 per cent.

The average price of a house sold at auction has plunged nearly 25 per cent in the year to August according to the Liberal Democrats. Commentating on these figures a spokesperson said that this shows just how fast house prices are falling at the sharp end. The Lib Dems called for the government to do more to empower housing associations and councils to buy unsold homes and land, and to ensure that banks only use repossession as a last resort.