I've been waiting 5 years for the Tories' housing reforms - they've failed us once again

In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives promised to ban no fault evictions and abolish ground rents for leaseholders. Yet almost five years on, eight housing ministers later - we're still waiting.
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In the 2019 Conservative manifesto, amidst the bluster of “get Brexit done”, there were some genuinely significant policies.

Boris Johnson promised to effectively abolish ground rent, the punitive charge levied on leaseholders through England and Wales’ feudal home ownership system. This is an annual fee of hundreds or even thousands of pounds which hard-working Britons who live in flats and some houses have to pay for no service in return.

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Just below the leasehold reforms in the 2019 manifesto is the promise to outlaw no-fault evictions. Another cruel and archaic rule, which means renters can never feel genuinely safe and secure in their home. 

Almost five years later, those pledges have still not been turned into law, despite being supported by the Labour Party and other opposition. The Tory governments since 2019 have spent so much time destroying themselves from inside, that they haven’t got on with the basic job of fulfilling the promises they were voted on.

There have been 15 different housing ministers since 2010, and six in the last two years - no wonder they’ve struggled to get things done.

Michael Gove is the Housing Secretary. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty/AdobeMichael Gove is the Housing Secretary. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty/Adobe
Michael Gove is the Housing Secretary. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty/Adobe

And now it appears that both promises are under threat. First, the pledge to ban no-fault evictions is reportedly being gutted by Tory landlord MPs via WhatsApp groups. When I asked one, Nick Fletcher, whether it was a conflict of interest, he told me the British public should be thankful that laws were being drawn up “by MPs who understand the subject matter”. 

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While, multiple news outlets are reporting that Housing Secretary Michael Gove has come under immense pressure from the Treasury not to abolish ground rent. Apparently, officials have argued this could affect pension investments, who have been enjoying the free money tap from the younger generation.

Campaigners, including former Housing Minister Rachel MacLean, have said this is greatly exaggerated. My response to the pension funds would be all investments are risks, circumstances can change - as they rightly should in this case. 

Full disclosure, I’m currently a leaseholder, I was until a few weeks ago a renter and I also have a pension for that matter. My ground rent charge could go up indefinitely to several thousands of pounds every year, something I get no benefit for in return. They're not my words, but those of the Competition and Markets Authority.

On top of that, when the lease gets to below 85 years, under the current system I’ll have to stump up around £10,000 just to extend it just so my flat doesn’t become impossible to sell. 

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And to be honest, I’ve got it lucky compared to many leaseholders. Some are stuck in flats with flammable cladding that are impossible to sell. While others have to pay service charges of several thousands pounds a month, which can be raised on a whim. The whole system needs reform, although that’s now looking less and less likely to happen by the day.

Renters have even less security. Most people know someone who has been the victim of a no-fault eviction, in my case my partner was kicked out of a flat after just four months. Since the Tories first promised to scrap no-fault evictions, almost 80,000 households have been threatened with homelessness.

Meanwhile, Housing Secretary after Housing Secretary, Housing Minister after Housing Minister has got up to the despatch box in the House of Commons and promised to pass these laws, and we’re still left waiting. 

It got to the farcical point this week where ex-Housing Minister Rachel MacLean asked current Housing Minister Lee Rowley if he could promise that ground rents would be reduced to peppercorn. All Rowley did was dodge the question.

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It makes me think what is the point of this husk of a government, which is currently on life-support until the general election. It can’t pass the laws it’s promised, it can’t stop schools from collapsing, it can’t even keep criminals in prison. 

Harry Scoffin, founder of the Free Leaseholders group, summed it up well: “Without meaningful leasehold reform, Sunak’s Conservatives will have nothing. Banning ciggies and A-levels and introducing a football regulator are hardly going to win over hearts and minds.”

If you can’t keep your manifesto pledges Rishi, then it’s time to see if the other lot can. Pass the bills as soon as possible or call a general election.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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