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The general election has thrown proposed housing laws into question – Rudolf

by: Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)
  • 24/05/2024
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The general election has thrown proposed housing laws into question – Rudolf
There’s probably only one place to start, isn’t there?

To say that the announcement of the general election for 4 July was something of a surprise would be a rather large understatement, especially given how most commentators, indeed politicians, were preparing themselves for the opening of the polls in October or November. 

However, a sizeable rabbit has been pulled out of the electoral hat, and the results that come in on the morning of 5 July will clearly determine whether this was political genius or a huge folly. 

This decision brings up a number of questions, but certainly for our sector we can probably group them into what has been ongoing, what may not make it to the statute book as a result of this decision, and of course, what comes next from whoever forms the next government.

 

Possible legislative changes 

From the Conveyancing Association’s (CA’s) perspective, one of the main areas of focus for us for the best part of a decade has been leasehold reform, and there has clearly been progress on this during the current Parliament.

The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill has not yet become law, and we await to see whether this can be achieved before Parliament is dissolved; there will be similar concerns about bills such as the Renters Reform Bill, although my understanding is that this has not progressed as far through Parliament. 

There is much to comment on with this iteration of the Leasehold and Reform Bill, and many might argue that it is more about what it doesn’t cover than what it does, but I think it’s also true to say that many would prefer this bill to be passed in full, rather than waiting for the next Parliament. 

The obvious reason of course being that, now everything is up in the air, who knows what might reappear in a new Parliament, what might be ditched, indeed which political party will form a new government and what their priorities may or might not be?

 

What could be coming down the line 

We know that, publicly, the Labour party said it would abolish leasehold within its first 100 days of forming a government and make commonhold the ‘default tenure’, but then has also decided this isn’t achievable within that timescale, although there is nothing to say it wouldn’t pursue this over a longer time frame.

There has been concern over this, that leasehold has slipped down the list of Labour’s priorities, and again you might argue that this is why it is important for the current bill to be passed while we wait for what will undoubtedly be a number of months of stasis. 

Other major areas for us were always likely to take some time, and perhaps might well be given impetus within a new Parliament. We certainly hope so in terms of improvements to the home buying and selling process, and it was positive to provide both written and verbal evidence recently to the cross-party inquiry, which is seeking views on how best to deliver in this area. 

The inquiry will present its recommendations to the next government, whatever its make-up. Although, the fact the MPs on it will now be fighting a general election – or even standing down in some cases – is likely to push back the delivery of those.

 

Keeping on track with improving house transactions 

It surely bodes well, however, that the chair of the inquiry is the Labour MP, and previous Labour minister, Clive Betts, who also undertook the inquiry into the mis-selling of leasehold properties, and Baroness Hayter is a Labour peer and was chair of the group who wrote the draft Code of Conduct for the Regulation of Property Agents.

Plus, of course, Natalie Elphicke, who sat on the Select Committee and recently defected to the Labour party, was the chair of the New Homes Quality Board. 

What we do hope is that the inquiry takes onboard a lot of the evidence presented, because much of the industry is singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the need for regulation of property agents, mandated use of upfront information, digital ID and signature usage, etc.

All will help to deliver a much faster, more transparent process, which helps cut down on the huge number of transaction fall-throughs we see each and every year and the vast sums of money and resources wasted in their pursuit.

Plus, a quicker process helps all stakeholders, whether conveyancers or advisers or others, because it gets us to the point of completion in a shorter timescale, turns our pipelines quicker, and gets us paid faster. 

In our view, however, it will require mandation in a number of areas, specifically in terms of what conveyancers do, because within chains, of course, we are all subject to the work speeds and efficiencies of so many other firms working on their clients’ behalf, and we will only move transactions through at the pace of the slowest.

Without mandation, it’s our fear that some firms will simply disregard these measures, and that will mean we will continue in the same vein. 

Overall, therefore, I’m looking forward to seeing the party’s manifestos, specifically around what they have planned for the UK housing market and the requirements we have to see improvement right across it.

It promises to be a tumultuous six weeks, and our hope is that we have a clear direction ahead by the time the next Parliament is up and running. 

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