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Paper: Government should incentivise downsizing to free up supply

The government needs to incentivise redistribution by encouraging the 3.6 million homeowners aged over 65 with more than two spare bedrooms to consider downsizing, a Whitehall Group Paper has recommended.

Since this could be resented by older, income-poor people in larger dwellings, the paper considered ways to sugar the pill, such as offering practical support for moving, waving stamp duty for downsizers reducing the size of their property by two bedrooms or more, and ensuring there is a supply of more suitable dwellings for this demographic in all areas.

This was one recommendation made, though broadly the paper said policymakers need to start prioritising long-term outcomes rather than election cycles.

Dame Kate Barker, writing the foreword to the Whitehall Group Paper, said: “This paper seeks to look right across the problems in housing and takes a holistic view of solutions… proposing policies without fear of vested interests.

“The issues of supply and distribution of space will be familiar to all those reflecting on housing problems, adding in quality and the increasingly urgent problem of energy efficiency gives this paper extra bite.

“The overriding proposal is for more joined-up and coherent housing policy. This should run wider than just not changing housing ministers frequently, but also engage HM Treasury and financial regulators. Only then could we achieve the goal of defining, and moving towards, housing market success.”

On energy efficiency, the document proposed practical recommendations such as removing VAT for energy-saving materials used to refurbish homes, relaxing listed building controls for energy-saving retrofits, and aligning council tax with energy performance (EPC rating).

Regarding the private rented sector, the paper said moving away from archaic terms such as ‘landlord’ and ‘tenant’ towards ‘property owner’ and ‘resident’ was one of the suggestions, including incentivising longer leases to enable residents to put down roots and invest in their communities, encouraging lenders to offer discounted mortgages to property owners offering longer tenancies, and tax breaks to those property owners.

On social housing the paper concluded that it must be given more priority following recent tragic events, like the death of two year old toddler Awaab Ishak. There should be a review of location of housing association homes to maximise efficiency of maintenance, as well as the adoption of new technology enabling tenants to upload photos of problems to landlords and encouraging utility providers to deliver standard customer service and pricing to those on prepayment meters.