A peek at the possible: comparing the party manifestos

Not every promise made as part of a manifesto makes it into the real world. Priorities and budgets change and political systems crawl along. Some promises remain things the parties would like to do rather than things they manage to implement. But we thought it a good time, with the general election looming, to peek at how the main parties are thinking on the areas of policy that affect our sector.

As some of the smaller parties are still to publish their plans, we’re focusing on the three main parties, and we’re offering no opinion here, just a summary of what’s included in the plans.

All the manifestos have substantial commitments on housing, pledging programs of housebuilding and support for social housing. All three main parties are committed to increasing home ownership and supporting help-to-buy type schemes, with the Liberal Democrats favouring a rent-to-own model to help those who cannot save a deposit.  Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour propose reinstating housing benefit for the under 21s and scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’. The Lib Dems also propose increasing Local Housing Allowances in line with average rents in an area.

On the subject of private renting – perhaps where we’re most interested – it’s the Lib Dems again who have most to say. They’re supporting the proposed ban on upfront letting fees, proposing a cap on deposits and increasing the required standards for rented homes. In common with the Labour party, they’re in favour of controlling rental values with a cap on increases linked to the inflation rate. All three of the main parties want to offer tenants more security in the form of longer tenancies, with a three-year norm proposed by the Labour party.

An interesting idea is a government-backed tenancy deposit loan scheme aimed at first-time renters – a Liberal Democrat proposal, as is a suggestion that tenants should have first-refusal rights if their landlord decides to sell during the period of the tenancy.

There is a lot in these documents to protect and help tenants, but it seems that the desire to further regulate the sector is a common feature – the Lib Dems are proposing mandatory licensing for landlords and a tenant-accessible database of rogue landlords and property agents. While we too would like to see all rogue operators out of the business, we can’t help but feel that we’re getting more than the lion’s share of the blame for the country’s housing issues.

Our sector provides a valuable service. The vast majority of landlords and agents are fair and decent. They face considerable risk to their investment but also increasingly modest returns and more and more red-tape.

We’re trying to remain impartial, but where, in all these manifestos, is protection from rogue tenants? Where is the flexibility we need to respond to changing circumstances – as other businesses are able to do? Where is our incentive to keep doing what we do?