Hostile Environment. It is the catchphrase of a government that seems intent on wrecking the entire nation’s sense of security, including that of the unhoused, the improperly housed and the already housed.
This lack of security provided by the Government has been underlined incessantly in recent weeks – just as local elections are due.
Never have so many government departments shown themselves to be so inept or callous, or both.
This particularly applies to the departments which have a direct interest and responsibility for housing – along with the Treasury.
There is the Home Office, the cuddly name for an interior ministry with all that implies without the cuddles; the Department of Work and Pensions, ably failing the disabled, the homeless and the needy on benefits; and, of course, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Will anything change now that Sajid Javid has departed from the last to go to the first, and as of yesterday, we have yet another new Housing Secretary of State in the form of James Brokenshire?
It seems doubtful.
A great swathe of government has its fingers in housing, one of the most basic of human needs along with health and education.
Yet, the Government ignores the social housing sector and arrogantly forces private landlords and agents into becoming unpaid minions (slave labourers?) for the Border Agency, which itself is considered unfit for purpose.
It conscripts sales and letting agents on behalf of the Financial Conduct Authority and contemptuously taxes housing transactions, never mind the cost, pain or debt it brings to the individual.
And there is no sign of this tragic farce coming to an end soon, no matter what signals the voters might send at the local elections on Thursday.
Help to Buy borrowers enticed into the market by the Government and coming to the end of their initial terms, will have to start paying interest and will often find themselves unable to remortgage to better terms as they are leaseholders liable to onerous ground rent increases.
They will find themselves in the same situation as the unfortunate buyers of starter homes in the the early nineties – with unsaleable properties and unaffordable costs.
Private sector landlords find themselves excoriated as rogues and forced into conducting border checks on tenants holding unreadable, but probably genuine, documentation.
Savage fines are payable for innocent mistakes, while tax concessions that made buy-to-let worthwhile are removed and the private rented sector itself diminishes.
Sales and letting agents who provide the experience and expertise that makes the housing market function are expected to demonstrate the skills of a financial regulatory authority and keep the international money launderers at bay.
Checking the provenance of buyers and tenants and their cash costs expensive time and effort even as the markets fall. Failure to spot a crook leads to draconian punishment.
Meanwhile, the home owners themselves hunker down, hoping that the Government won’t put new obstacles in the way of moving or improving by way of extra Stamp Duties that will make selling difficult and buying harder.
And the vulnerable in the care of the DWP find it increasingly difficult to find social housing or to rent privately.
Adding insult to injury, current government consultation papers were issued showing confusion between letting and managing agents, leaseholders and tenants, and – wait for it – ‘practise’ and ‘practice’.
However, the Government ordains it is the agents who must take an exam.
Thursday could be an interesting day and perhaps a foretaste of the future. Meanwhile housing operates in a hostile environment. It is a dismal scene of falling markets, fines, imprisonment and tax.
The new Housing Secretary has much to do. Whether he will be around long enough to even discover what needs to be done, let alone do any of it, is another matter.
- Malcolm Harrison is a regular commentator on the housing market