On the 13th June at the National Landlord Investment Show, Less Tax 4 Landlords founding director Tony Gimple was joined on stage by former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone; Mortgages for Business MD, Steve Olejnik and Knowledge and Product Editor of the Mail Online’s money section, Sarah Davidson.  Together they discussed the Future of the UK Housing Market.

Chaired by BBC politics presenter Andrew Neil, the debate covered a variety of pertinent topics, such as Brexit and tax changes, but house building and the shortage of homes was the topic that dominated most of the debate.

In this video, Andrew Neil asked Tony Gimple the following questions:-

Q1) It’s 15 years since the Barker report said that we needed to build 250,000 new houses a year to meet the housing shortage and yet not a single year in the past 15 have we come anywhere close to 250,000 new homes.  We’ve seen the collapse of building social housing, we’ve not built enough new houses for people to buy so now our young people are struggling as never before to get on the housing ladder, homeownership has collapsed, and we’ve seen the rise of a private rented sector because of the decline in these other two sectors.  But even when you put it all together, we still don’t seem to be able to provide enough houses for our people why is that?

Politics has changed. People come into politics now as a career as opposed to a sense of doing great for the nation.  Taxation has become a political issue as opposed to just doing the right thing for the nation. You get exploitation, you get bubbles of population growth, increased immigration and it’s very difficult for politicians of all persuasions to put enough money into what is a basic human resource i.e. somewhere safe, warm and dry and a roof over their head, coupled with that is an anti-private landlord sector. Sometimes planning is too tough, sometimes too easy and we get to a situation now where it’s getting harder and harder to put the right kind of development for the right kind of people on the right kind of land.   But at the end of the day it comes down politics swinging every few years between left and right and the pendulum never settling somewhere in the middle and for what is truly the national interest.

Q2) With the failure to continue to build social housing either by the local authorities or the housing associations and the failure of the private sector to build enough homes to buy, this has resulted in one of the most remarkable developments in British housing, that is the rise of the privately rented sector.  For most of my life, private rent was in decline, people either rented from the state or they owned their own homes and if they rented it from the state, they may have wanted to own their own home at some stage.  They didn’t want to rent privately but as both these sectors have failed to meet the demand, more and more people have been forced to rent privately and so we have a big private rented sector in this country now.  Were we ready for that and is it a healthy way forward for the housing sector?

It’s certainly not an unhealthy way forward.  Were we ready for it?  Society is never ready for change, it just happens, and nature abhors a vacuum.  It’s inevitable that if the state isn’t building, if local authorities aren’t building, the demand is still there and money is available, then the result is land prices rise, development prices rise and house prices rise, and when credit is available then people will take advantage of it.  Post-war there were too many poor-quality bad landlords and private renting was in decline, but during my lifetime that really started to change.   I believe the private rental sector can work in conjunction with central government and local authorities.  Having the right kind of housing policies and the right kind of planning permission is key.  We need balanced affordability criteria and also need to start looking outside of the London centric bubble e.g. rents in County Durham are a fraction of the price, it’s a booming area, there’s lots of building going on,  lots of you good quality housing that people want to buy and people want to rent.  We have this London centric policy which distorts things.  The Private rented sector can work hand in hand with local authorities and there’s a good partnership to be had and that’s why private sector landlords shouldn’t be afraid of Licensing and shouldn’t be afraid of offering a quality product.  Having said that, if we are going to have longer-term tenancies with rights come responsibilities and it must be a two-way street.  You can’t have all the benefits and not expect to take care of the properties. We haven’t got an insolvable problem here.  Politics has sadly become a career. Politicians need to stop treating the PRS as the enemy.

3) It’s easy to beat up on politicians but what should be done that the government aren’t doing?

They should have, not necessarily easier, but definitely more balanced planning rules. It takes forever to get permission. Planners should work in conjunction with developers from the outset saying what CAN be put on a plot of land.  It’s then a question of making sure that it’s not so much too easy to borrow money but it’s not too hard either.  Some monies, more monies perhaps are put into social housing projects and concentrate on a more national view may help.

4) Mrs Thatcher’s change of rules in 1988 saw the rented sector grow a bit in the 90s but not by that much. The real acceleration of the rental sector has been in this century.  This is where we’ve seen the real rise and it’s now more important than the social rented sector in terms of size.  As it’s become more important, have we turned against it?  

Yes, by the blunt instrument of taxation, the politics of jealousy. not realising just how important the private sector and private landlords are. We’ve got hundreds of clients and out of those, we’re yet to meet a rogue or criminal landlord. We have clients that do everything from halfway house recovering addicts, to high-end properties, to HMO’s and all types of landlords are being hit in every conceivable way.  Government and local authorities should be working with the PRS. It can be a partnership for profit. Profit isn’t a dirty word, and every type of organisation even a charity is a business and needs to make more money than it costs to run otherwise you’ll go under very quickly. We should encourage people to buy their own homes and if they are buying an ex council house, then perhaps the easiest way to do it is for the authority to become almost like their commercial partner i.e. they help them build it, help them rent it and maybe take a share of that profit when it’s sold and a certain proportion of the proceeds go back into building the next generation of homes and I believe the right to buy a council home should be based on a real need and not a choice, It’s ridiculous that some people earning over £100k are hogging the council waiting list, that’s not what they’re designed for. if you can support yourself then you should. The PRA should be treating the Private Rented Sector like any other business and not tax it out of existence, which is what’s happening.

Ken Livingstone’s response was, “The Private rented sector is a crucial part of the solution to the housing crisis and the government and councils should be working with landlords, dealing with the bad ones and creating good relationships with all others and giving the landlords a voice to debate the tax issues and the regulation issues. But there doesn’t seem to be any debate going on.”