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UK Government re open, re-start and renew the housing market in England

Wednesday 13 May 2020

The Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, made a statement to the House of Commons earlier today where he set the context by emphasising the importance of homes, particularly where personal circumstances change, saying that over 450,000 sales have been stuck in the system unable to progress during the #Stayathome period.

Every month 300,000 tenancies come up for renewal and the pressure to move has become “acute” for some, from both a financial and legal point of view which is why the Government is announcing a comprehensive, clear, and coherent plan to reopen the housing industry. This includes lifting the temporary freeze on home moving, meaning that “anyone can move, at any time and for any reason”.

To support the safe execution of this, the Government has published guidance influenced by Public Health advice in order to support this “relevant and critical industry.”

Virtual viewings are still the preference wherever possible but as long as those involved are not isolating or shielding, anyone can now move house again. All of the building blocks of the industry are back in place, as long as work is carried out as safely as possible.

  • Estate agent offices can now reopen
  • Removal companies can restart work
  • Surveyors, conveyancers, and valuers can go back to work
  • Show homes and on-sights can re-open                                           

Thorough and regular cleaning is absolutely essential where professionals and the public are visiting other people’s homes and everyone involved must take all relevant precautions in order to control the virus and protect the public.

He described this as the “most radical restarting of an industry” thus far, encouraging all parties to work flexibly together and conceding that there is no precedent allowing anyone to accurately judge the state of the housing market.

He addressed the industry directly: “To all who work in the sector, I am doing everything I can to help the industry bounce back, to protect lives, save jobs and renew and refresh the housing market”

For the construction industry, he announced:

  • A ‘Safe Working Charter’ with the Home Builders federation so that those working on sight feel that they are adequately protected.
  • He would also allow more flexible working hours for construction sights.

He also wanted the Planning Inspectorate to be at the “forefront” of this work and he asked them to make all hearings virtual within weeks.

Shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire MP responded asking what plan is there for when the temporary ban of evictions ends. She also made a case for local housing allowance to remain at the 30th percentile and for evictions on the basis of section 8 arrears to be halted. The Secretary responded that he will be monitoring progress over the coming weeks and months and retains the power to extend the ban on evictions beyond June, going on to criticise Labour moves to encourage tenants to stop paying rent, he said this would lead to increasing debt levels and negative credit ratings.