Another new Housing Minister arrives.
Alok Sharma was appointed today as Minister for Housing and Planning. LKP would like to welcome Alok to the role.
This now means we have had 6 Housing Ministers in just 7 years. As MP for Reading West he may not have seen quite as many leasehold issues as Gavin Barwell in Croydon, but with 22% of the properties in his constituency being leasehold he will know at least something of the problems in this sector.
With the Minister’s banking and accounting experience, before he came into parliament, it might be enjoyable to be a virtual fly on the wall when he meets his officials.
- “Yes Minister, you are correct we have no effective regulation for billions of pounds of leaseholder funds.”
- “Yes Minister, it is true that there is no enforceable obligation to provide leaseholders with accounts. We thought it was best handled through a voluntary code with no penalties.”
- “Yes Minister, there are no penalties for taking huge commissions and unjustified markups in the leasehold sector, other than that you just might have to give some of the money back if you get caught.”
- “Yes Minister, we have supported a self regulation system for managing agents, which means that those agents who are part of the scheme face higher running costs than those who choose not to be regulated, and there is no requirement to join.”
- Yes Minister, to stand a chance of catching his landlord, the leaseholder would have to be willing to spend their own money and a lot of time taking the matter to the “low cost” property tribunal, where the landlord is entitled to reclaim his legal costs in defending the case, under most leases.”
- “Yes Minister, there is a rule which allows the tribunal to try to stop the landlord passing on some of those costs if they lose. It used to be the case that if the landlord called these costs ‘administration’ he might still pass them on, however after just 32 years the Lords have recently addressed this loophole for us.”
- “Yes Minister, we call it a “low cost” tribunal becasue there are no circumstances where the leaseholder is entitled to any of their costs in bringing an action.”
In 7 years has much changed? Historically we blamed Ministers for being woefully ill-informed with the nonsense they used to write about the leasehold system “mostly working well” and being well “balanced” between the interests of landlords and leaseholders, despite the fact that it wasn’t. With the benefit of hindsight it would appear that Ministers often reflected the views of the civil servants of the time with very similar words used under different political administrations before and after 2010.
Minister no 1 on our list of the post May 13th 2010 Housing Ministers was Grant Shapps. It might be best to say that housing was not his forte.
Minister no 2 was Mark Prisk. Mark is a surveyor by training and was the first to ask whether some of the issues in the leasehold sector might need to be addressed. Just as things began to move forward Mark was moved on. Mark continues to have an interest in housing matters and is a member of the leasehold APPG.
Minister no 3 was Kris Hopkins who lasted 10 months. Like Grant Shapps housing was maybe just not his thing.
Minister no 4 was Brandon Lewis. Brandon was the first of the recent Ministers to stay in post long enough to make some small proposals. He was of course the first Minister who asked civil servants to work with LKP so that we could help them to understand, amongst other things, that we had 4.1 million privately owned leasehold homes in England, not the 2 or maybe 2.5 million that they had previously claimed. A number of Brandon’s proposals for making small improvements are still outstanding.
Minister no 5 was Gavin Barwell. He was the first Housing Minister with an urban constituency who’s office regularly saw leasehold matters. His was the first Ministry that began to consider that things might not be as well “balanced” as officials had been claiming in the past. With Secretary of State Sajid Javid their housing paper looked at fixing our broken housing market.
After years of work, LKP’s campaign on one issue finally got to the top of the pile. New build leasehold houses eventually hit the national press and a problem we had reported for years suddenly became a “new” crisis, with everyone from the Prime Minister down saying that it had to be solved.
So, in 7 years nothing has changed, and yet at the same time everything has changed. The claims that things are mostly working well have all but disappeared and now many more in the sector have come round to LKP’s view that things have always needed to change. Some in the sector are now so keen for change you would never guess they had been so silent for so many years. Nor would you guess that they had worked so hard to support the status quo.
So now the new Housing Minister has an open door to a sector which has finally accepted that much progress is needed in order to have balance and a system that works. There is much work to do.
Leasehold construction now accounts for nearly 50% of new build. In the cities it accounts for a much larger proportion of our housing growth. Little has been done over the years to stop the abuses in the sector. Onerous lease terms have become more prevalent. Things are now so bad that the Minster has to consider the problem of housing blight. The Minister should be aware that the lenders have recently brought pressure to bear on the sector, with the effect that it has now been forced to move on some of the issues that the department has ignored for years.
I hope he becomes well informed about the issues leaseholders are facing and can move things forward. Not only to prevent others being in this nightmare but some redress for those of us stuck in depreciating houses. I also hope he looks at what the builders have done and why some solicitors allowed it to happen.
It strikes me that in the past the position of Housing Minister is is a sort of convalescence post where Ministers can recuperate for another position regarded as being more important. They immediately come under the domination of the DCLG who never change.
Perhaps our efforts should be directed more at them. Has anyone ever met a sympathetic DCLG official.
Their standard reply is that the current regulation, mostly voluntary, is sufficient but the Housing Minister will keep the issue under observation. ( ie during his short period of convalescence.)
It might be a good idea for NLC to send the ‘Barwell’ letter to the new Minister- just change the name/ date. Probably good to go in fast and hard before his feet touch the ground!
Make sure it goes to his parliamentary or constituency address and not via the DCLG. Otherwise it will go on the scrap heap.
Good advice MH. I shall pass it on.
Media news is reporting that Gavin Barwell the previous housing minister now PM’s adviser was one of a series of housing ministers who “SAT ON” a report warning high rise blocked like ‘Grenfell Towers’ were vulnerable to fire for 4 yrs!!!! pressure must be put on the newly appointed housing minister to act in the interests of leaseholders and tenants. It is bloody unacceptable successive that housing ministers just seem to tread water until they are moved to a sexier juicier post. There is a blog being circulated by the media that a Grenfell Towers’ tenant wrote back in 2016 warning of such a disaster that has befallen the occupants of his block. Whoever is responsible for this tragedy should be arrested and charged with corporate manslaughter. Shocking!!
Not wanting to get political here but:
I am not expecting any waves from this new Housing Minister what so ever.
This Government are not keen to sort this mess out, as a lot of their funding is coming from builders and landlord investors.
My next general election vote is going to go the party that promises to sort out leasehold issues… and if I don’t get a promise, I won’t vote!
I have a feeling that the Labour Party are going to get behind this issue, as it will swell their numbers for sure.
I have voted for all parties in the past (no favourites!)
I agree with you Karen. I have been a staunch Tory in the past but times are changing. It seems that ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ with the Tories, however , the same will probably apply to Labour! Difficult times…,
The tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the enquiry to follow will test housing minister Alok Sharma to the limit; he made an impressive start at this morning’s emergency meeting. From a what we’ve heard so far, it seems that failures in regulatory compliance and the arrogance of a few high-handed property managers representing the landlords [supported no doubt by sycophantic leaseholder directors] rode roughshod over the concerns of ordinary leaseholders. And this is at the heart of what’s gone wrong at Grenfell; and across the leasehold sector as a whole.. Regulatory compliance? Eh? Stick ’em in jail then they’ll get it.
Sue., I think we should all be very cautious on placing blame until the official investigation completes. Having looked as some of the information its clear the national press are not reporting all of the facts only those that point in one direction. Everyone wants a scapegoat.
Sue I think many contributors to this site will recognise the bad practice highlighted in the Blog written in 2016 by the blighted ‘Grenfell Tower’ tenants – “Mini Mafia” “Ignoring tenants concerns” etc. I bet the ‘Management Company were quick enough to send out solicitors letters if the tenant ‘Breached’ lease terms. I’ll bet there a quite a few outfits out there thinking ” There but for the grace of god go I”. I am shocked to the core by this tragedy ( and I’m a tough old boot) . Whoever is found responsible for this utterly avoidable and tragic beyond belief event must be tried in a court of law. I don’t fancy their chances! (redacted please do not post overtly political or abusive comments)
More lives have been lost in this one avoidable fire than all recent UK terrorism. Had this been terrorism we would have seen police raids on suspects. I reserve judgement on what is being reported as to blame or cause but my own eyes suggest that a concrete tower was clad in material that rendered fire compartmentalisation useless.
If this proves to be corporate terrorism there will be paper trails and hard drives in corporate and government locations and I would expect the police to be seizing this evidence as we speak.
It is sobering to learn that a portion of the flats were leasehold. I have never understood why tower block social landlord sites ever permitted right to buy. Did the leaseholders have any say in what stuff was attached to their homes?
As for housing ministers. I read last year that 40 percent of Conservative MPs were landlords and 20 percent of Labour MPs.
So I do not hold my breath for tenure rights reform.
We dodged the literal bullet of external cladding purely because we were RTM and could block a proposal. We didn’t need it but the Green Deal was offering huge grants for it.
Knock all blocks down above 12 floors for fire ladder reach and strip off cladding is my opinion.
Excellent post Paddy. Totally agree about police ‘ Seizing the evidence”!!
A class action sounds like a good step to take
It is now seven Housing Ministers since 2010 with little or no reform.
The problem is this Governments total opposition to further regulation (they call it Red Tape) and this will be reflected in the attitude of every one those Housing Ministers.
This was clearly stated on Day1 in 2010 for leasehold reform and over the succeeding years has also applied Health and Safety regulations.
A complete change of attitude is required before any changes will be made.
Sorry should have said six Housing Managers not seven, but this could soon change
I do hope Alok Sharma won’t be another Housing Minister lickspittle to the DCLG and LEASE. No one could be as rotten and useless as Grant Shapps I hope.
If housing and consumer protection was taken seriously by government the Housing Minister would be part of the Cabinet. Not even the fire tragedy is likely to elevate housing as a serious issue.
My Tory MP has said he is considering joining the APPG which goes to show how few MPs really care about leasehold reform. I have yet to hear back about his reservations. I can’t think how any sane MP could have any reservations. Maybe it’s to do with those builder donations !