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Property: Shared Ownership

Volume 769: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, under their shared ownership scheme, a property owner can let out a room to another person, and if not, why not.

My Lords, shared ownership has an important role to play in helping those who aspire to home ownership but may be otherwise unable to afford it. Grant-funded shared-ownership leases do not allow subletting, other than in exceptional circumstances, to prevent any use for commercial gain and to ensure that affordable homes are there for those who genuinely need them. However, individual shared owners are still able to take in a paying guest or lodger.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer but would like some further clarification on why the subletting cannot be done up to a maximum of £7,000 a year. We have young people in London working in the public sector who are totally unable to afford the overheads of facility costs and council tax but who are keen to get into shared ownership.

Shared-ownership leases prohibit subletting by the leaseholder, as mentioned earlier, to protect public funds and to ensure that applicants are not entering shared ownership for commercial gain. Landlords can make an exception in exceptional circumstances and they have to consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what proportion of homes in Great Britain today are under shared ownership? I wonder if the Government are doing any research to find out how successful this sector is. I know, for example, that when you want to move it is no simple matter. The legal attitudes to this are really quite difficult. Can the Minister inform us what research the Government are doing into this?

Yes, indeed. I will have to write to the noble Baroness with the actual statistics but we are looking at this as one of several serious options for ensuring that young people get a hand on the housing ladder. The noble Baroness may know that a shared owner can come in and purchase a share of between 25% and 75%. We are following up on the current statistics but this is a future policy that we are working on.

My Lords, if the Minister cannot tell me now, will he write to me with information about the current rate of shared ownership in London and the south-east and the Government’s prediction of what it will be in the light of their housing policy? Is the Minister aware that many people, such as nurses and police officers—lots of people working in the public sector—despair of being able to take jobs that are available in London, and that staff recruitment is very weak?

Indeed, this is the very thinking behind our policy, which is to enable those who do not earn too much to get a hand on the housing ladder by buying a share. This would include the very people who the noble Baroness has mentioned, such as teachers and particularly those who work in the very important healthcare and NHS sector. It is exactly what the policy is about. It is obviously more expensive in London—we have had many discussions on that in the housing Bill—but we believe that it is possible. If someone bought a 25% share of a two-bedroom house in London the deposit they would put down would be £3,800, which I understand could still be quite high, but is possible.

Will the Minister clarify the position with regard to the actual term “lodger”? Even the Revenue now has a special provision and has increased the amount you can have if you have a lodger. I would have thought it logical that everyone would want people to be able to afford these properties. Can he therefore explain the position, and whether the point to which he has just referred will be amendable in the housing Bill?

I mentioned that people who take a share in a house in a shared ownership scheme can take in a lodger, but I will answer the noble Baroness’s question by saying that there is no statutory definition of a lodger. The term is known in case law, where the test as to whether someone is a lodger or a subtenant is determined by the degree of control retained by the householder over let rooms.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the House’s understanding of the care with which he has approached this issue of home ownership and the question of shared space, and how it contrasts with the way in which the Government introduced the bedroom tax?

I think the noble Lord will know that the Government’s main aim is to increase the supply of houses across all tenures. We are focusing today on one of many aspects of our policy, which is to ensure that more people, particularly young people, are able to get on to the housing ladder. It is an urgent and important part of what we are doing.

My Lords, in the rent-a-room scheme, to which the Minister referred earlier, there is a cap. Is that cap costing the Revenue very much; and if so, how much is it actually costing?

I do not have a figure for the cost, but the noble Lord might like to be reminded that the income cap for this shared ownership policy has gone up from £60,000 to £80,000 in England, and I am pleased to say that it has gone up to £90,000 in London. That means that we are allowing 175,000 more households to have access to shared ownership.

My Lords, is the fact that London houses are going up in price by £500 a day, according to the January figures, likely to have an effect on how many people can afford even a shared home?

Obviously when prices go up it has an effect. However, we have put a lot of thought and research into this particular policy, in conjunction with other policies, and we believe that it is affordable. In London, for example, we look at a two-bed house costing £275,000, and we believe that the figures show this to be affordable.