… where there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ (that would be retirement properties, so far, unless lobbyists squirrel in something else …)
Labour’s Mike Amesbury used prime minister’s questions today to press Boris Johnson to bring an end to the leasehold scandal.
The MP for Weaver Vale in Cheshire highlighted that despite endless consultations and promises of change in recent years, “millions of people are still caught” in the property trap.
Mr Amesbury’s intervention came following concerns that leasehold reform – currently engaging the energies of MHCLG civil servants, the Law Commission, Lord Best’s property management committee and the Competition and Markets Authority – was entirely absent in Queen’s speech.
It is not the first time that the Labour politician has urged an end to government dithering on this issue.
When Theresa May was prime minister, Mr Amesbury also raised leasehold several times at PMQs to demand action be taken to help consumers trapped in toxic leasehold arrangements. Before Mrs May left office, he asked:
“On two previous occasions, I’ve asked the prime minister to support victims of the leasehold scandal. Now that she’s about to move house any time soon, will the PM give that a little more focus and urgently address this issue and give leaseholders justice?”
This time he demanded to know “at what stage is the prime minister and his government going to get a grip and end this feudal system once and for all?”
Before Mr Johnson rose to his feet, chancellor Sajid Javid helpfully reminded the prime minister about banning ground rents, a commitment he made as communities secretary back in December 2017.
Mr Johnson said that leasehold and commonhold reform is “something that is of great importance to all of our constituents” and stressed that his administration “are delivering a very strong package of reforms”.
Despite their exclusion from the Queen’s speech, the leasehold houses ban and the policy to set ground rents on new leases to zero financial value was mentioned by the prime minister as priorities.
However, Mr Johnson floated the potential for exemptions, saying his administration “will reduce future ground rents to zero, in all but exceptional circumstances”.
It is not known whether this is a reference only to the exemption for retirement builders and community developments made by the then Communities Secretary James Brokenshire in June, or a hint at further concessions to the sector’s lobbyists.
Mr Johnson also spoke of government moves to “close the legal loopholes that currently subject leaseholders to unacceptable costs” – a restatement of an announcement made in March, which pledged to ban freeholders from recovering their legal costs through the service charge when the leaseholder has won the case.
Looking solemnly at Mr Amesbury, the prime minister ended his remarks by conceding he had raised a very important point, saying “believe me, Mr Speaker, we are on it right now”.