ABOUT a year ago I wrote an article concerning the lack of affordable housing and rented accommodation in the Dorset Council area. While the situation has not yet improved by any realistic measure, there have been developments that may make things easier.
One of the consequences of right-to-buy (RTB) has been the decimation of council-owned housing, with insufficient construction of replacements. While Dorset Council has no housing stock of its own, the announcement around this time last year of the intention to extend RTB to housing association stock would potentially have had a significant effect on the numbers of available and affordable accommodation.
This seemed unlikely given the properties by definition aren’t owned by local government, and indeed Michael Gove in a speech to the LGA in Harrogate last July admitted such, i.e. there would be no way of forcing this upon Housing Associations. The idea has been quietly dropped.
Another policy aired recently has been to allow local councils to levy additional council tax above and beyond what they can apply currently on second homes and short term rental properties. The idea behind this is to try and bring such properties back into use as housing for local people. Wales already has such legislation and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill for England has similar clauses but is still stuck in the parliamentary process. Dorset Council has signalled its intention to avail of these new powers and it’s long been a Liberal Democrat policy to charge 200% or more council tax on second homes. If/when the legislation reaches the statute books, there is currently a requirement for 12 months’ notice so the earliest this could apply would be 2025/26. Liberal Democrats have also called for the closure of the business rates loophole whereby homes are rented out as a ‘business’ and hence don’t pay council tax but also benefit from relief which basically means no business rates payable either. To add insult, many owners also fail to meet the rental obligations required to access this benefit, but this hasn’t been actively enforced until now. From April this year, the Valuation Office requires such properties to provide yearly evidence of rental availability and use. There are concerns they might be understaffed, and we’ll wait to see what impact it might have.
The final development has been the announcement to scrap Section 21 evictions, whereby tenants can be evicted through no fault at short notice. As a Dorset councillor, I’ve helped many families who have been thrown out of their homes and in some cases had to relocate far away due to the lack of local accommodation. Scrapping it can’t come soon enough.
On behalf of South Dorset Lib Dems