Category Archives: Government

City investors plan to profit from UK social housing

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Increasing numbers of fund managers are looking to profit from social housing and other niche sectors as income investments from the property market continue to stagnate.

Residential Secure Income, a new investment group targetting social housing, is set to float on London Stock Exchange in July. The company plans to raise £300m as part of its initial public offering.

RSI, managed by ReSI Capital Management, plans to acquire homes and lease them back to local authorities and housing associations.  The company claims that it will provide inflation-linked income returns and targeting a dividend yield of 5 per cent.

Residential Secure Income’s announcements means that it will become only the second UK-listed fund dedicated exclusively to social housing investments. Its planned launch follows that of Civitas Social Housing in November last year which raised £350m to acquire properties around London, the Midlands and the south of England to lease back to housing associations. Civitas also targets a dividend yield of 5 per cent.

Increasing private sector involvement

The social housing sector is increasingly attracting private sector money. Pension funds and insurance companies — including Legal & General and Pension Insurance Corp — have been lending to housing associations for several years.

GCP Capital Partners — which runs the GCP Infrastructure fund — said it already holds some social housing and is looking to increase its exposure to the asset class through lending to housing associations.

GCP fund manager Stephen Ellis said: “We’ve got £100m plus and a pipeline of £50m at the moment

“We lend against the acquisition or development of properties by housing associations.”

Mr Ellis added that with 750 housing associations there “ought to be rampant opportunities”, and that retail funds’ small size allowed them to strike deals that bigger players — such as insurers and pension funds — were uninterested in.

Housing associations were also good borrowers, Mr Ellis continued. “Not one housing association has ever defaulted.”

The exemption of housing benefit reductions is a further bonus for investment in supported accommodation.

“Essentially what we’re looking to do is attract public sector-backed cash flows, as long-dated as possible, and wherever possible with inflation linkage,” Ellis said.

However, Andrew Summers, head of research at Investec Wealth, warned that even for private investors there remained risks, notably the possibility of negative press coverage in the event of homes being repossessed. “Housing is a political hot potato,” he said. “There’s a lot of headline risk in [the potential story of] people being thrown out of their homes to fund City investors.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nearly One-in-Three Private Rented Houses Would Fail Government Minimum Housing Standards

Private rented houses worst property type

Nearly one-in-three privately rented properties would fail the Government’s minimum property standards for social housing according to the the 2014/15 English Housing Survey. Even more alarmingly, a House of Commons research report published last year admitted that there has effectively been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England since 2006.

Although there are statutory provisions governing private landlords’ repairing and maintenance obligations, enforcement of standards in private rented housing in England and Wales is mainly carried out through the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This system is essentially a risk-assessment based regulatory model used by local authority environmental health officers. The House of Commons report states that: “since the introduction of the HHSRS in 2006, replacing the old Housing Fitness Standard, there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.”

Overall the private rental sector in England has worst standards of any rental property type. Twenty-nine per cent of privately rented properties would fail to meet minimum standards compared with fourteen per cent of social housing.

Despite the seriousness of the issue, several failed attempts have been made in Parliament to establish minimum housing criteria. Notably the MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck proposed a Private Members’ Bill which was adjourned on its second reading debate on 16th October 2015. The “Fitness for Human Habitation Bill” sought to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation,

In addition to the effective lack of private rental housing standards, local authorities are also struggling to deal with housing complaints. In 2016, the Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Bakewell revealed that in 2012-13, little over half of housing complaints resulted in a Local Authority inspection. Of the 62,818 complaints received over the time period, only 31,634 inspections were carried out. This resulted in only 1,645 improvement notices being served, 2.6% of the total number of complaints. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, overcrowding, falling hazards and fire.

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Furthermore, despite having the lowest property standards, the private renting is also the most expensive housing type. Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% of the income for those in the social rented sector.

These findings come as 11 million people now live in private rented accommodation in England, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set for further increases.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Renters in shared housing to gain from increased protection

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Around a million renters living in HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) will soon benefit from extra protection from rogue landlords being planned by the government.

HMOs, familiar to many students and flat sharers, are defined as properties shared by more than one unrelated persons. Typically these may be groups of friends such as is common for student accommodation or by strangers.  Typically the house sharers will have their own bedrooms but will share communal areas such as bathrooms or kitchens.

Under the government’s proposals, tenants living in a HMO may soon benefit from:

  • minimum room size standards (6.52m2 for one person rooms and 10.32m2 for double rooms)
  • improved waste disposal facilities
  • tackling rogue landlords through the introduction of a fit and proper person test for HMO landlords

Most significant is the proposed extension of the HMO licensing regime to include small HMOs which are currently exempt from mandatory licensing.

To date only large HMOs (3 stories or more) require mandatory licensing. The government seeks to extend HMO licensing to all properties irrespective of size and will push all HMOs with five occupants or more from two different households into the mandatory HMO licensing regime (with the exception of purpose built flats).

Due to the higher risk of poor quality housing in HMOs complex licensing regimes exist which may vary significantly across the UK. The move to license all HMOs will also help reduce such  regional variation in licensing regimes and housing standards. These extra renter protections will enhance currently existing license checks for properties which currently include minimum building quality standards (gas/fire safety) and the payment of a license fee.

Currently landlords operating an unlicensed HMO which requires licensing are liable for criminal prosecution and may be subject to an unlimited fine. Under such circumstances tenants may apply for a Rent Repayment Order to receive  refund of up to 12 months’ rent on the property.

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Renters may face higher lettings fees under right to rent rules

Right to Rent

Last week the government tightened its Right to Rent rules, making it a criminal offence for a landlord to let to anyone they know, or have reasonable cause to believe, is an illegal immigrant. Previously breaches of this law were sanctioned by civil penalties. However as of 1st December the penalty for failing to check a tenant’s right to rent is a criminal offense which may risk a prison sentence. 

Under the Rent to Right policy, landlords must check that their tenants can legally rent a property. Tenants must produce a document, such as a passport or a certificate of naturalisation, to prove their Right to Rent.Under the new rules, landlords could also receive government notices to terminate tenancies for people disqualified from renting. In such circumstances renters may face eviction without a court order.

This policy has serious ramifications for renters. According to a survey conducted by the housing charity Shelter, 44% of landlords said the policy would make them less likely to rent to people who appear to be immigrants, with similar numbers saying the same about people without a British passport.

In addition to potential discrimination , reports exist of letting agents charging prospective tenants additional agency fees to conduct Right to Rent checks.

In 2015 a Home Office evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme  found that some landlords were charging a fee which ranged from £10 to £120 to carry out immigration checks which the government estimates would take around five minutes to complete.  The Right to Rent policy must be applied to all tenants and by law, landlords must check that every tenant has the right to rent in the UK which could lead to increased lettings fees for tenants.

Although the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement announced plans to ban lettings agent fees, there is an important window where landlords and letting agents can pass on the enhanced Right to Rent checks to tenants.  Renters should therefore be vigilant that they check the amount charged by landlords for administration fees before the letting fee ban officially comes into force.

 

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Chancellor announces plans to ban letting agent fees in England “as soon as possible”

Letting Agent Fees
Letting Agent Fees

In his Autumn Statement today the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans to ban letting agent fees in England “as soon as possible” which may be save 4.3 million households hundreds of pounds. 

Currently many tenants face charges to draw up tenancy agreements, conduct immigration and credit reference checks  in addition to the payment of a non-refundable holding deposit paid before signing up to the deal.

The move comes as numerous reports have indicated that many tenants living in sub-standard housing are discouraged from moving out because of extra fee charges.  A report published by the English Housing Survey covering April 2014 to March 2015 found that 69% of tenants living in poor quality homes are discouraged from moving out because of agent fees.

Nonetheless, landlords groups have claimed that banning letting fees will not necessarily reduce rental costs with landlords and letting agents increasing rental values to offset loss of income. However, renters groups assert that the ban will make it easier for tenants to compare the cost of different properties and reduce the incentive for letting agents to replace tenants.

The move is a culmination of greater regulation of the letting market and will move England further in line with  Scotland where lettings agency fees to tenants have already been banned.  Since 2015 lettings and managing agents in England and Wales have legally been obliged to clearly publicize their fees.

 

 

 

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Buy to let landlords exploiting tax loophole to invest in property

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Increasing numbers of landlords are using a tax loophole to avoid buy-to-let tax changes announced by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2015.  Under the rules set to be introduced next year, private landlords face restrictions on their ability to offset mortgage  interest payments against tax bills.

However, the new rules will not apply to landlords who invest through a company rather than as an individual.  Accordingly in anticipation of the changes, 63 per cent of applications for landlord loans are now being made through limited companies, up from 21 per cent before the announcement was made. Many landlords are also setting up companies and selling their existing properties to them.

According to Chief Operating Officer Steve Olejnik of the mortgage brokering firm, Mortgages for Business, the number of landlords using limited companies will rise since it will be  “more tax efficient for the majority to buy property.”  Investors who hold properties in limited companies will continue to benefit from tax relief and will be able to write off all costs of running buy-to-let properties (including mortgages) as  ‘allowable expenses.’ Incorporation would therefore effectively circumvent the rate relief restrictions.

Furthermore, despite having to pay stamp duty at the increased rate, incorporated landlords would be eligible to pay just 20 per cent corporation tax on profit as opposed to up to 45 per cent income tax if the buy-to-let were operated by an individual.  Incorporated landlords would also benefit from more relaxed affordability checks compared with individual landlords since since lenders will take into account the fact they will still benefit from tax relief.

The increase in landlords registering as companies comes following the successive failure of legal and Parliamentary challenges against former Chancellor George Osborne’s restrictions on the amount of tax relief private landlords will be able to claim on mortgage interest outlined in last year’s summer budget.

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Buy-to-let landlord group represented by Cherie Blair loses court tax challenge

Cherie Blair Royal Court Justice landlord group

A landlord lobby group represented by Cherie Blair have seen a legal challenge to restrictions on buy-to-let tax relief dismissed at the Royal Courts of Justice today.

The landlord coalition called “Axe the Tenant Tax” was refused permission by a senior judge to seek a judicial review of tax changes announced by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2015 which are set to be introduced in April 2017. Under the proposed tax changes (Section 24 of the Finance (No 2) Act 2015) individual landlords with mortgages will be required to pay tax on turnover rather than the profit.

Represented by Omnia Strategy LLP,  the law firm  founded chaired by Cherie Blair in 2011, the group claimed that the tax changes were “unlawful, unreasonable and discriminatory” because they did not also apply to corporate landlords.

Mrs. Blair has previously claimed that the proposed tax changes would be challenged since they would “discriminate against landlords according to the European Convention on Human rights.” Speaking during today’s hearing, Mrs. Blair stated that the tax proposals would “unfairly result in cuts in income for ‘hard-working members of the public’ who had bought properties to rent in order to supplement their savings at a time when interest rates were low.”

Mr Justice Dingemans ruled that the legal challenge would fail rejecting claims that the changes would be contrary to EU legislation and anti-discrimination laws.  The judge added that the extent to which corporate bodies should be treated differently to individuals when it came to tax laws “raises political and economic questions, but not in this instance a legal one.”

In response to today’s court defeat, the landlord group remained defiant. In a joint statement lead claimants Steve Bolton, founder of Platinum Property Partners, and fellow landlord Chris Cooper claimed that the extra costs incurred by landlord due to the tax changes would be passed on to tenants through higher rents.

“We are outraged by the court’s decision. It has completely missed the opportunity to protect tenants, landlords and the housing market from the disastrous consequences of Section 24. From April 2017 the negative impact of this previously failed tax experiment from Ireland, where rents increased by 50% over a three year period, will be felt far and wide. Sadly it will be tenants who are hit hardest; they are set to see unprecedented rent increases over the coming months and years, which will be a very clear and direct consequence of this ludicrous legislation.”

Despite the failure of a previous Parliamentary petition and today’s defeat, Mrs. Blair said that the coalition would fight on and “engage with the Government” more directly over the issue.

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Buy-to-let landlord court date set for 6th October

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Buy-to-let Landlords taking the government to court to challenge tax relief restrictions will have their hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday 6th October.

The group, led by the founder and chairman of Platinum Property Partners, Steve Bolton, and landlord Chris Cooper, seek to overturn former chancellor George Osborne’s decision to restrict the amount of tax relief a landlord will be able to claim on mortgage interest outlined in last year’s summer Budget.

The judicial review of Osborne’s proposals was financed by a crowdfunding campaign which followed a failed parliamentary petition to challenge the proposed tax changes.

Over £100,000 was raised by the pair who hired Omnia Strategy LLP,  the law firm  founded chaired by Cherie Blair in 2011, to act for them. At the landlord conference named the “Tenant Tax Summit” held in June to discuss the case,  Blair claimed that the former Chancellor’s tax changes warrant a judicial review since they “discriminate against landlords according to the European Convention on Human rights.”  Also speaking at the event was the Conservative Life Peer and former MP Lord Howard Flight who had written a letter to the Government “Why the Government is wrong to attack buy-to-let.”

Unless the legal challenge is successful, the government’s tax changes will come into effect in April 2017.

 

 

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Private landlords receive £9.3bn in housing benefit

 

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Private landlords received £9.3bn in housing benefit payments, almost double the amount a decade ago according to a study published by the National Housing Federation.

This situation is set to deteriorate with the decades long trend of decrease home ownership exemplified by a House of Commons research report published earlier this year which reported that 48 per cent of 25-34 year-olds in England now rent,  up from 21 per cent in 2003-04.

The National Housing Federation report found an increase of 42% in the the number of households using housing benefit to pay rent to private landlords since 2008.  Housing benefit is paid to households that cannot afford to cover rental costs in addition to essentials such as food, clothes, heating and lighting.

This situation has been exacerbated by stagnation in real middle-income household earnings with the greatest increase in housing benefit claims coming from households with net incomes between £20,000 to £28,000 per year.  Furthermore, in 2008 around a quarter of private sector tenants in receipt of housing benefit were in employment, a figure which has risen to almost a half today.

In order to address the crisis in property ownership in the UK both parties have adopted standard policy positions.  The Conservatives  have signaled a preference for supply-side solutions to improve housing affordability with little detail on easing planning restrictions and tackling construction sector skills shortages.  Labour on the other hand have suggested a combination of rent-controls and investment in social housing with few details on the practicability of such proposals.

The National Housing Federation claims that if all those housed in the private rented sector lived in affordable housing, taxpayers would save £1.5bn a year in housing benefit payments. The federation’s chief executive, David Orr has said, “It is madness to spend £9bn of taxpayers’ money lining the pockets of private landlords, rather than investing in affordable homes. Housing associations want to build the homes the nation needs. By loosening restrictions on existing funding, the government can free up housing associations to build more affordable housing at better value to the taxpayer and directly address the housing crisis.”

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Letting Agent MP Backs Buy-To-Let Capital Gains Tax Cut

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The founder of the Hunters Estate agency and Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton Kevin Hollinrake has backed a campaign by the  Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) to reduce Capital Gains Tax paid by landlords when selling their rented home to sitting tenants.

The proposal involves an amendment to the Finance Bill currently before Parliament. Currently Clause 72 of the Bill  seeks to reduce Capital Gains Tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent except for the sale of residential property where the rate will remain unchanged.

According to the RLA, Hollinrake is tabling an amendment to the Bill which will extend the tax cut to private landlords selling a rental property to a sitting tenant.  “Given the recent attack on the Private Rented Sector by Chancellor George Osborne…more and more landlords will want to exit the market as renting [sic] becomes financially unsustainable for them” the RLA said.

The RLA further purports that 77 per cent of private landlords would consider selling their property to tenants if the tax liability were reduced.

Hollinrake claims that the amendment will support the government’s wider home ownership agenda while at the same time offering landlords a route out of the sector minimizing their financial hit.  According to the RLA, the amendment  includes safeguards to prevent such a tax change being abused.

 

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