Julian Knight: The road to housing hell is littered with good intentions
Sunday 18 May 2008
I am a techno clot but still love digital cameras. You can take snaps anywhere you like and then it's a cinch (even for me) to download them on to a laptop, blow them up and email them to all and sundry.
Last week, an enterprising snapper used one to take a picture of housing minister Caroline Flint's notes as she entered 10 Downing Street for a Cabinet meeting on the worsening UK housing market.
The contents made several front pages but were hardly earth-shattering. House prices could fall by 5 to 10 per cent in the next year, it was revealed, and the Government doesn't know "how bad it will get". Ms Flint's officials must have really burnt the midnight oil thinking those lines up.
It's what our rulers plan to do about this, as outlined in Gordon Brown's proto-Queen's Speech last week, that provides the real food for thought.
In short, the Government wants to help those on lower incomes on to the housing ladder. This is a very worthy objective: there is a whole generation of people who may never be able to afford their own home, and that isn't fair. No matter how much you hear about the advantages of renting and how we should be more like the French or Germans (where whole families are perfectly happy to rent for generations), I, like most Britons, have a gut feeling that it's simply better for the soul to own a place rather than to rent.
The Government's wheeze for getting more people on to the ladder is to loosen the criteria of the shared-ownership schemes run by housing associations. Under these initiatives, people begin by buying a part-share in a house and renting the remainder; over time, they can then expand their stake. The change now is that applicants for shared ownership will no longer have to be, in that buzz phrase of New Labour, "key workers". In other words, they won't have to be in the public sector.
I've always thought it unfair that someone who has chosen a career in the public sector – which enjoys better pensions and job security than the rest of us – should also have a great big leg-up on to the property ladder when some other people, who may be worse off, don't get any help. A levelling of the playing field is welcome.
But there is a big problem here. This isn't the right time to be propelling people who really can't afford to buy into a housing market which is crumbling by the day. The property in which they purchase a stake could be worth 25 per cent less, or maybe even worse, in a couple of years' time.
Along the same lines, the Government says it wants mortgage companies to ease their lending criteria for first-time buyers, so encouraging more to take the plunge. But just like Ms Flint, lenders don't know how bad the housing market is going to get – and they want borrowers to have a buffer against negative equity. The Government, then, risks throwing lots of people into the fire. It's far better to wait for the market to correct itself, and then to help low-income groups.
Boost for pensions
A more welcome development was the news last Friday that the EU has confirmed the legality of auto-enrolment into workplace pension schemes. For too long now, the inertia of employees has meant they have missed out on pension saving and any employer contributions. When staff are automatically enrolled into their workplace scheme, 90 per cent stay put and make regular contributions. But when workers have to opt in, the take-up rate falls to around 50 per cent.
More auto-enrolment won't solve the retirement savings crisis, but it will ease it.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'
Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance
Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way
Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
iJobs Money & Business
£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...
Day In a Page
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village