The Housing and Planning Act 2016: Rewarding the Aspiration of Homeownership?

Date01 July 2017
AuthorChris Bevan,Emma Laurie
Published date01 July 2017
the Aspiration of Homeownership?
Chris Bevan and Emma Laurie
In May 2016 the Housing and Planning Act 2016 became law, the first purely Conservative
government intervention on housing in England since the 1990s. This article examines the
Act’s key provisions pertaining to social housing and the government’s stated aim of increasing
rates of homeownership. The Act, through the Starter Homes Scheme, extension of the right
to buy to housing association tenants and changes to security of tenure in the social sector,
has been heralded as a ‘landmark’ piece of legislation. This article scrutinises these policy
measures and assesses their effectiveness and likely impact. It is contended that the Act exposes
the government’s promotion of homeownership above all other housing tenures. The article
further explores the deep moralisation at the heart of the homeownership narrative and the
intensification in the residualisation of social housing in England which, it is argued, is the
inevitable consequence of the reforms.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016
and represents the first purely Conservativelegislative outing on housing policy
since the end of the John Major Government in the mid-1990s. The 2016 Act,
which stretches to over 200 sections and some 20 schedules, was described by
the then Cameron Conservative Government as a ‘landmark’ piece of legisla-
tion and represents the current agenda for housing policy in this Parliament.1
The Housing and Planning Bill 2015,2which endured a fraught parliamentary
passage, was ultimately forced speedily through after a series of concessions and
amendments to ensure its Royal Assent prior to the EU Referendum. The Bill
received widespread criticism from across the board: from local authorities, to
politicians of all persuasions, housing charities and campaigners3but despite the
Assistant Professor in Property Law, School of Law, University of Nottingham and Associate Professor
of Law, Law School, University of Southampton, respectively. We are most grateful to Dave Cowan,
David Gurnham and to the two anonymous referees for their invaluable comments on an earlier draft
of this article.
1 A Housing White Paper, DCLG,Fixing our broken housing market CM 9352 (2017), was published
in February 2017 setting out new measures on housing policy under the May Government.These
proposals are, at the time of writing, out for consultation. Their full scale and impact is presently
2 Introduced to the House of Commons in October 2015.
3 As a measure of the controversy surrounding the Bill, the Government was said to have lost
twice the number of votes on the Housing and Planning Bill than on all other legislation in
2015 combined: J. Healey, ‘The New Housing and Planning Bill is a Disaster for Affordable
Homes’ The Guardian 1 November 2015.
C2017 The Author.The Moder n Law Review C2017 The Modern Law Review Limited. (2017) 80(4) MLR 661–684
Published by John Wiley& Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
Rewarding the Aspiration of Homeownership?
significant protests, the final text of the Act retains most of the key provisions
of the Bill. Although much of the precise detail as to the operation of the
provisions is yet unknown (this will be provided for in subsequent regulations),
the 2016 Act offers an important moment to assess the trajectory of housing
policy in England.4Detractors argue that the reforms sound the death knell
for social housing,5herald ‘the end of localism’6and demonstrate ‘ideologi-
cal overreach’ on the part of the Conservative Party.7We assess these claims
through an examination of the key provisions of the 2016 Act as they pertain
to social housing and measures targeted to increase homeownership, and we
evaluate their likely impact. In so doing, it is argued that the reforms reveal
the government’s determination to promote homeownership above all other
housing tenures as the only stable housing option and, moreover, do so at the
expense of social housing. We argue that the 2016 Act therefore contributes
to an intensification in the residualisation of social housing under which those
unable to access homeownership are denied the opportunity for housing sta-
bility. The Act sells a false dream of ‘affordable housing’ and adopts an overtly
moralistic tone which praises homeowners as aspirational, thereby degrading
those who do not or cannot own property. Crucially, the 2016 Act enters the
statute book at a time of acute housing crisis in Britain: with homelessness on
the rise,8the cost of the average home in popular towns reaching 10–20 times
the average salary,9a surge in private sector rents10 and rates of homeownership
in decline.11 It is against this febrile backdrop that the provisions of the Housing
and Planning Act 2016 must be scrutinised.
Housing policy has, since the earliest days of the 2010 Coalition Government,
taken centre stage in policy-terms12 and dealing with ‘the housing problem’ has
become an essential marker of political competence. Theresa May’s coronation
4 The Act applies mostly to England. Scotland and Wales deviate from many of the measures in
important respects.
5 HL Deb vol 609 col 465 9 May 2016.
7Editorial,The Guardian 8 May 2016 at
may/08/the-guardian-view-on-the-housing-bill-ideological-overreach (last accessed 16
September 2016).
8 Department for Communities and Local Government, Homelessness Statistical Release (23 March
9 Office for National Statistics, Housing Summary Measures Analysis (5 August 2015).
10 HomeLet, HomeLet Rental Index (June 2016).
11 Resolution Foundation Report, The Housing Headwind: The Impact of Housing Costs on Liv-
ing Standards 28 June 2016 at
headwind-the-impact-of-rising-housing-costs-on-uk-living-standards (last accessed 16 Septem-
ber 2016); S. Clarke,‘Home ownership struggle reaches Coronation Street’ Resolution Foundation
Blog 2 August 2016 at
struggle-reaches-coronation-street/ (last accessed 16 September 2016).
12 See, for example, the 2015 General Election and the London Mayoral Election of 2016, which
were fought largely according to which political party or candidate could out-promise their
rivals as to the number of houses it would build if elected.
662 C2017 The Author. The Modern Law Review C2017 The Modern Law Review Limited.
(2017) 80(4) MLR 661–684

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