Great Britain

Brexit brings uncertainty for everyone, particularly the 18,000 people in my borough waiting for housing

In my borough, over 18,000 are on the housing waiting register. 

With Brexit looming, the future is uncertain for everyone – including people who are waiting for a house, who are already in social housing, renting privately or those with a mortgage.

Many families aspire to own their homes and many families have been able of fulfil this dream by becoming leaseholders through exercising their Right to Buy. This means that they purchase their council homes at a discounted price and rent them out. In the last two decades, overcrowded families living, for example, in two-bedroom councils flats have moved out of the borough to places like Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, renting the leaseholder property to help save towards a larger home to accommodate their families.

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Right to Buy was one of the first major reforms introduced by the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1980, enabling council tenants to buy their home at a minimum discount of 35 per cent of the market value if they have spent at least three years as a public sector tenant. Whilst the scheme enabled people to become homeowners, Thatcher’s government failed to build more homes to replace council homes – a pattern continued by consecutive governments.

Residents often ask at my busy councillor surgery whether they will be able to exercise a Right To Buy option on the social homes they are offered, or when they bid for social housing properties.    

But the future of the Right to Buy scheme – and this avenue for homeownership – is uncertain.

Jeremy Corbyn announced that the Labour Party would abolish Right to Buy, yet inevitably many Labour supporters and politicians have benefited from this scheme, enabling them to get a foot on the housing ladder and invest in the future. 

So why should those who have benefited from the Right To Buy now take away opportunities from people who aspire to become home owners?

One of my former constituents moved out of Tower Hamlets and has a small leasehold property rented out so that it can pay towards the mortgage of a larger family home to meet the needs of her four children, one of whom is disabled. She was alarmed at the Labour Party’s suggestion that, as an alternative, private tenants could be given the chance to buy their homes at a discounted rate from their landlords, because she relies on the rental income to help fund a larger property that is conducive to her growing family.

The Liberal Democrats would devolve the decision-making on Right to Buy to local authorities. In this way, local authorities with long waiting lists can make the choice to end Right to Buy if they wish – or suspend it, but ensure that any homes sold under Right to Buy are replaced. The party has also pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year, including 100,000 social homes – a pledge praised by Shelter. Last year, research by the Lib Dems discovered that more than 11,000 homes across the UK have been empty for 10 years or more – houses that could be used to address homelessness and be allocated to families on social housing waiting lists.

Although the majority of people have become weary of hearing the “B” word, we cannot deny the impact that Brexit will have on all of us, whether we are homeowners or renters. And what about the homeless? Will the opportunities for them to move off the streets into secure, affordable accommodation be enhanced or diminished?

Will leaving the EU slow down housebuilding? We can only predict what will happen, but with uncertainty surrounding Brexit, many homeowners have delayed putting their properties on the market, which has further reduced the number of pre-owned properties available. This means that on new build estates, many properties are taking longer to sell.

What we do know is that the free movement of workers will be revoked following Brexit, along with the free movement of goods, which includes the two thirds of building materials that are imported from Europe. This could prove disastrous for the construction industry.

The UK is currently behind on its new-build targets, which is exacerbating the housing crisis. Although the government has set a target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, the latest data from IHS Markit revealed that activity in the UK construction industry has fallen to its weakest level in more than a decade because of uncertainties over Brexit.

Will Britain really be in a strong position to build the homes we need desperately in the wake of Brexit? We need this question answered.

Rabina Khan is specialist advisor to Lib Dem House of Lords