Autumn Budget wishlist: Green Energy, Evictions, Planning and Downsizing



Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver his Autumn Budget tomorrow, outlining the government’s spending plans for the months and years ahead.

Here, we summarise some of the main hopes and demands from property experts.

Green Energy

There’s been lots of talk about brining properties up to an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C, while mortgage lenders have released a number of loans designed for energy-efficient properties.

Last week it emerged that the government will offer grants of £5,000 for landlords to install heat pumps to replace gas boilers, though this is seen as only a start.

Could the government drop another green home announcement?

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said: “The £5,000 grant for heat pumps to replace old gas boilers is a good start but needs to be backed up by further information about installation, maintenance, insulation etc.

“One size will clearly not fit all as owners and landlords will spend a higher proportion of a property’s value on this work in different parts of the country.”

John Eastgate, managing director of property finance at Shawbrook Bank, said: “Many landlords or property investors will be aware of recent changes to the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) legislation which means that all properties must reach a rating of ‘C’ or above in order to be let by 2025.

“While this is an admirable ambition, there has been a lack of guidance on how this can be achieved in practice. While new houses can be built with these regulations in mind, the reality is that a large amount of our current housing stock is over a century old, improving energy efficiency isn’t a quick fix.

“The recent announcement that homeowners will be given a £5,000 grant to replace their boiler with an air source heat pump is one example of how the government is taking green steps, but many have questioned whether the resource is in place to actually support the rollout.

“To fully support landlords, investors and homeowners the government must establish a new fit for purpose set of green incentives that encourage people to transition to more sustainable and energy efficient ways of heating their home or making improvements to a property, with practical guidance on how it will be achieved.”

Propertymark wants the government to introduce a new version of the scrapped Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme.

Last year the Green Homes Grant offered between £5,000 and £10,000 to cover two thirds of the cost of putting in insulation or low-carbon heating.

It was a failure, amid talk of chaotic management from an American consultancy and issues with a lack of accredited engineers.

Indeed, Propertymark said the government needs to ensure it’s able to deliver on any promises made tomorrow.

Timothy Douglas, policy and campaigns manager, said: “A £5,000 grant for homeowners to replace gas boilers – also announced by the UK government this month – gives an indication there is unlikely to be an enhanced Green Homes Grant Voucher scheme, which has been widely criticised.

“As the National Audit Office ruled this month, this scheme was poorly executed and delivered on an over-ambitious time scale. Future rules and requirements must be realistic and achievable, or else these policies are just full of hot air.”

Tenants and evictions

Some property experts want to see action to support tenants, and in turn landlords, after some fell into rental arrears during the pandemic.

Timothy Douglas, policy and campaigns manager at Propertymark, said: “Wednesday is a chance for the UK government to provide sensible support at the time people need it most, with our calls providing targeted aid for renters who have fallen into Covid-related debt; and landlords who are being pushed out by a sluggish court system and the £26,300 average cost to hit the UK Government’s net-zero carbon target by 2050.”

Propertymark thinks action needs to be taken to prevent a rise of homelessness.

It called for the introduction of a Tenant Hardship Loan Scheme to cover rent payments, similar to the ones used in Scotland and Wales.

It also said the £20 per week Universal Credit should be retained, while Local Housing Allowance rates should be restored to the 30th percentile.

The firm said this would ensure Universal Credit is adequate and effective so that landlords and letting agents feel confident to rent to people on benefits.

There are also calls to reform the court system to deal with the volume possession hearings following the stay on evictions and extension to notice periods throughout the pandemic.

Propertymark said this was the perfect opportunity to establish a court system that can achieve faster access to justice for landlords and safeguard the supply and quality of housing by boosting confidence in the justice system.

Planning reforms and housebuilding

The government has planning changes designed to boost housebuilding in the pipeline, and many are waiting to hear a new announcement on the subject.

Last year the government launched the ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, which made pledges including dividing land in England into ‘growth and ‘protected’ sites.

However Michael Gove’s appointment as Housing Minister in September means these planning changes are likely to shift.

John Eastgate, managing director of property finance at Shawbrook Bank, said: “After being promised the biggest shake up to the property market for a generation, expected changes to the planning process have since been scrapped leaving the door open for a revised approach from the new Housing Minister.

“It’s nothing new to say that the UK has a chronic lack of housing, the government must make it easier for smaller developers, and individuals, to build on viable land in order to meet current demands.

“A crucial part of this, and what we need to see from the Chancellor, is a commitment to supporting the long overdue changes to the planning process.

“The property market can have a key role to play in the government’s levelling up agenda, but only if it’s given the right tools to do so.”

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said: “Housebuilding has been falling due to Covid, Brexit and other reasons, resulting in material and labour shortages as well as sharply rising costs.

“We must try to improve delivery by making the planning system work more efficiently and transparently, including modernising Section 106 and CIL charges so they don’t become an obstacle.

“More supply – including local authority incentives to build their own affordable housing – will help to maintain activity while keeping prices and rents in check.

“More transactions are not just good news for the property market but for the country’s job and social mobility.

“Lack of stock is deterring activity which cannot be good for first-time buyers in particular – the lifeblood of the market.”

Downsizing

A number of commentors also called for changes to encourage downsizing.

John Eastgate, managing director of property finance at Shawbrook Bank, said: “Although the government haven’t outwardly raised the inheritance tax (IHT) threshold in recent years, the rapid growth in house prices has left more homeowners at risk of breaching the £325,000 tax-free allowance when they pass on their estate.

“Introducing a cut to inheritance tax for those looking to downsize would help the property market twofold.

“As well as incentivising large homeowners to move into more manageable properties, freeing up bigger family homes across the market to help younger generations, it would also allow families to hold on to more of their accrued wealth and pass on to loved ones, so they too can build a deposit to buy their own home.”

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said: “Additional tax breaks for ‘right-sizing’ and bringing empty properties back into use would be welcome to help address the shortage of affordable homes for the growing number of over-65s.

“Further details of leasehold reform and zero ground rents for existing as well as brand new properties, not just as part of levelling up, would be another way of increasing supply and activity.

“Build-to-rent and buy-to-let provide a very useful contribution at all stages of the home moving journey so require continuing support.”

Propertymark wants the government to review stamp duty, which is seen as a tax that kills buyers’ motivations to move.

Timothy Douglas, policy and campaigns manager, said: “Homeowners – from first-time buyers to right-sizers – need to be incentivised to move and not be faced by barriers, as the success of the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday showed.

“Data from the holiday is likely to be something we will not have again and provides a unique and golden opportunity to reshape outdated tax levels given basic rates have not changed since 2014 – during which average UK house price have shot up by more than a third.”

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