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Housing and Planning Bill: Government blocks Lords’ starter homes amendments

Words: Laura Edgar
Starter homes

The government has blocked nearly all of the amendments the Lords voted for after the Housing and Planning Bill returned to the House of Commons – and housing minister Brandon Lewis has accused Labour of political posturing.

During yesterday's debate (3 May), Lewis said the government would not “slow the pace of house building” but increase it, pledging to deliver the manifesto commitments made during the 2015 election campaign, which included 200,000 starter homes.

He said the government remain focused on building homes across the country and across tenures, while “Labour blusters with political posturing after the abysmal housing mess that it left”.

Shadow housing minister Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods said 13 defeats and a string of concessions in the House of Lords means that “some of the sharpest edges have been knocked off a very bad bill, but it remains an extraordinary and extreme piece of proposed legislation”.

In April, the House of Lords undertook five report-stage meetings and a third reading as it made a number of changes to the government’s Housing and Planning Bill, including to amendments affecting the starter homes proposals.

One amendment would mean the 20 per cent discount on starter homes is “subject to restriction” if the property is sold, while the other would permit an English planning authority to “grant planning permission for a residential development having had regard to the provision of starter homes based on its own assessment of local housing need and viability”.

Other amendments passed by the Lords include:

  • Allowing local authorities to decide whether to or not to charge an increased rent for those on a higher income, rather than making it compulsory to do so;

  • Raising the threshold for tenants considered to be on a high income to £50,000 in London and £40,000 for the rest of England; and

  • Permission in principle only being granted for housing-led developments. 

Read more here:

- Lords voted through 4 amendments 

- Lords inflict further defeats on the government 

- Lords pass third reading amid more amendments

On starter homes, Lewis said a “balance must be struck” between ensuring starter homes are sold to people “genuinely committed to living in an area” and support mobility. Therefore, he said he disagreed with the Lords’ amendment, proposing one that would see the secretary of state make “regulations on the length of the taper period”.

He also brought forward an amendment that would exclude rural exception sites from the starter homes requirement. The Lords tabled this elsewhere in the bill.

The government believes that the 10 per cent taper for each pound of a tenants income above the minimum threshold for pay to stay is “simply too low” and would prefer an “extra 20p in rent for every pound earned above the threshold income”.

Regarding the income threshold, Lewis said those set by the Lords (£50,000 in London and £40,000 for the rest of England) “totally undermines the principle that social housing tenants on higher incomes should start to contribute a fairer level of rent once they earn” more than £31,000 or £40,000 in London.

Instead, Lewis put forward a couple of amendments, including one that would see an automatic exemption for any household in receipt of housing benefit and universal credit and certain benefits would not count towards income calculation.

The housing minister said he was “not inclined” to support the Lords amendment on inserting a community right of appeal where permission is not in line with neighbourhood plan policies, while MPs also rejected the inclusion of sustainable drainage systems in new developments.

However, the government accepted the Lords' amendment on permission in principle, meaning it would only be granted for housing-led developments.

The bill will now return to the House of Lords today, in a procedure known as ping pong. The bill will go back and forth between the two houses until an agreement is made on the wording of the bill.

Image credit | iStock