Theresa May’s three tumultuous years in office will be defined by Brexit.
However, in between the infighting, paralysis and the constant uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU, there was a number of significant policy changes made through her tenure that have changed the housing landscape.
After taking over as prime minister in July, Ms May is quick to make housing one of her domestic priorities. She highlights how the housing market continues to “fail working people” during her first Conservative Party conference as prime minister. In her speech Ms May says: “Ask almost any question about social fairness or problems with our economy and the answer so often comes back to housing.”
After Gavin Barwell loses his constituency seat of Croydon Central on 8 June during the snap general election, Ms May appoints the former housing minister as Downing Street chief of staff. Mr Barwell is then seen as a key figure in influencing Ms May’s housing policy decisions.
Weeks later saw the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower, which kills 72 people. The government’s response to the Grenfell disaster is severely criticised, both at the time and to this day in terms of a failure to rehouse tenants, the initial scope and role of the public inquiry. The PM announces a full public inquiry into fire.
Ms May’s second Conservative Party conference speech sees her address a number of key housing policy issues, such as Grenfell, homeownership and delivering more affordable homes. As part of the speech she reveals that the government will invest an additional £2bn into affordable housing.
Later in the month, Ms May announces that she will also drop plans to cap housing benefit in the social housing sector at Local Housing Allowance rates. The move is seen a massive climbdown on previous government policy, and is a key part of Ms May’s move away from the housing policies put in place by former prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne.
Philip Hammond unveils a swathe of housing funding commitments, which includes £15bn to increase housing supply in the Autumn Budget. This includes £8bn of “financial guarantees to support private housebuilding and the purpose-built private rented sector”. He also announces a £2.7bn Housing Infrastructure Fund and £630m for housebuilding on small sites.
The prime minister outlines proposals to change planning rules, stating that developers who are deemed to be too slow in building homes could see their past record called into account. The proposals see 80 recommendations from the housing white paper implemented, including fast-tracking housing planning permissions.
Ms May announces a £400m fund to cover the costs of removing cladding from tower blocks owned by councils or social housing providers.
The scale of the cladding problem which exists both for social housing tenants and private renters however is still not fully resolved and has prompted Inside Housing to launch it’s End Our Cladding Scandal campaign last month.
The government publishes the Social Housing Green Paper titled A New Deal for Social Housing. In a foreword by the prime minister, she pledges to build a “new generation of council homes to help fix our broken housing market”. Some of the proposals include the creation of sector league tables for social housing providers and Ofsted-style regulation of tenant services.
However, some groups, including those representing Grenfell survivors, say it doesn’t go far enough.
The prime minister addresses the National Housing Federation conference and announces plans to give housing associations £2bn of funding to help build new low-cost homes. Ms May becomes the first serving prime minister to appear at the conference.
Ms May announces plans to scrap the Housing Revenue Account cap for local councils. The cap, which has been in place for decades, limited the amount councils could borrow for housing projects. The decision is heralded by the sector as a positive move that will facilitate new council house building.
Parliament passes the Homes (Fit for Human Habitation) Act, which came into force in March 2019. The act, which is introduced as a private member’s bill by Labour MP Karen Buck, has seen the reintroduction of standards for rented homes that could have a huge impact on landlords that keep properties in poor condition.
Ms May announces plans to scrap Section 21 no-fault evictions. The plans are described by the government as the “most radical changes to the private rental sector in a generation”.
All in all, though the premiership lasted a mere three years, the agenda set by government in that time has seen housing rise up the political spectrum in a way it has not been arguably for a generation. Whether any new prime minister keeps that momentum remains to be seen.