Many within the sector have been left disappointed by the recent King’s Speech, labelling it a “missed opportunity” for failing to demonstrate a strong commitment to new affordable homes. Despite outlining commitments to leasehold and private rented sector (PRS) reform, the absence of concrete support for new social housing has left many in the sector dissatisfied.

The Affordable Housing Crisis

With over 1.6 million households on social housing waiting lists, this was a missed opportunity for strong leadership. Instead, the speech contained a vague pledge to “bring forward reforms” to elderly care funding, doing little to help the numerous people currently living in temporary accommodation.

The soaring cost of housing has become an epidemic across the UK. Average house prices now stand at 8–12 times average incomes in some regions – an unsustainable ratio. Private rents have risen over 20% in real terms over the past decade, crippling those unable to get on the property ladder.

In London alone, experts estimate over 100,000 new affordable homes need to be built annually to meet demand. But last year only 10,000 were built in the capital. With such overwhelming shortages, phrases about “restoring stability” fail to grapple with the crisis.

The speech lacked any real targets or policy suggestions to substantially expand affordable housing. There was no mention of empowering local councils to resume housebuilding, which housing advocates argue could create thousands of low-cost homes. No commitment to increasing rental subsidies, building affordable flats above shops, or expanding shared ownership schemes to help first-time buyers.

Social housing models like that in Vienna, where over 60% of residents live in subsidised city-built homes, demonstrate the transformative potential of bold action.

The Government’s recent housing white paper had some positive baby steps, but its main proposals were omitted from the King’s address. With rising homelessness and decreased workforce mobility due to lack of affordable housing, more needs to be done.

Changes and Proposals

The speech did, however, refer to new laws aimed at reforming the housing market, including a Leasehold and Freehold Bill to make it easier for leaseholders to extend their lease or purchase their freehold. The focus on addressing exploitative service charges and ensuring a fairer deal for renters and landlords was acknowledged.

Aiming to tackle one of the country’s longest-term challenges, being fairness in the housing market, the bill includes provisions to make it “cheaper and easier” for leaseholders to extend leases, buy freeholds, and take over building management. Transparency over leaseholders’ service charges is also a key aspect, with a standardised format to allow better scrutiny and challenges if charges are deemed unreasonable.

The government also plans to consult on capping existing ground rents, with a potential introduction of a cap through the Renters’ Reform Bill, which focuses on outlawing no-fault evictions and enabling faster eviction of anti-social tenants. The bill received its second hearing in parliament just a matter of weeks ago and although delayed due to further edits, it remains a strong bill removing discrimination against certain types of tenant, the creation of a new Ombudsman and the introduction of periodic tenancies (rolling tenancies) as standard.

Missed Opportunity

The King’s speech could have signalled a bold new direction, grasping the issue with vision and determination. There is no silver bullet, but by outlining concerted steps to increase affordable housing supply, and make renting and buying more feasible, the government could restore hope to struggling young people and families.

We wanted to see affordable housing front and centre of the speech and given the impact on individuals and families on housing waiting lists or temporary accommodation, the speech failed to address the urgency and need to understand the challenges presented by the affordable housing crisis. While the government has taken some positive steps, ongoing strong leadership and concrete policy action is critical. After this disappointing speech, the calls for radical solutions to increase affordable housing will only grow louder.

It is hoped that there may be some further news and commitment in the upcoming Autumn statement on November 22. We will watch with interest.

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Joanna heads up our social housing development team. Her expertise encompasses advising on social housing development transactions, from site assemblies to larger scale phased sales and purchases.

Having acted for registered providers since 2001, Joanna’s expertise encompasses all aspects of affordable housing acquisitions, sales and development and is often the primary interface on multidisciplinary projects involving cross-departmental working.

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Published: 10th November 2023
Area: Social Housing

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