Readers respond to an article by George Monbiot and a recent letter and editorial on housing inequality
Last modified on Fri 25 Jun 2021 11.59 EDT
George Monbiot is absolutely right (Second homes are a gross injustice, yet the UK government encourages them, 23 June). A housing crisis that has been brewing for decades has been hugely exacerbated in tourist areas by the likes of Airbnb, and further compounded by the ludicrous subsidies, incentives and tax breaks made available to second home owners by successive governments. Owners of two (or more) properties are clearly in a relatively comfortable financial position; there can be no justification – financial or moral – for the grotesque package of government handouts and subsidies outlined by Monbiot.
It has taken years of health warnings and significant tax rises to bring about a significant drop in the number of cigarette smokers. As a first step, rather like the health warnings on a packet of cigarettes, every document/brochure relating to the sale/purchase of a second home should, alongside the usual aspirational guff, be required to carry a prominent strapline quoting Monbiot: “a luxury that deprives other people of a necessity”.
Linlithgow, West Lothian
George Monbiot is right to rail against the privileges given to second home owners and their impact on the availability of housing. But the privileging of first home ownership over other forms of capital potentially has a much greater adverse effect. Already the inheritance tax allowance is increased by 54% if your home is passed on to your family. Now the government wishes to ensure that nobody has to sell their home to pay for care. The effect of these measures is to discourage old people living in family houses (full disclosure: I’m one of these fortunate people) from downsizing, as they will then be left with cash which might be taxed or – horror – used to pay for care. This prevents younger people with growing families from getting the bigger houses they need. Joined-up government this is not.
Re George Monbiot’s article, it is worth noting that one person in Britain has six large homes. One, for example, Buckingham Palace, has 775 rooms and 78 bathrooms. Elizabeth Windsor also has ample room at Windsor Castle. At the same time, there are people homeless in London without shelter or bathrooms. Surely it is time to look at the question of royal residences and work out what is necessary and what is surplus to requirements?
Littleborough, Greater Manchester
George Monbiot makes a strong case for reviewing the impact of second homes on the housing position. There is another issue that requires attention, namely the impact of the right of council tenants to buy, which all too often leads eventually to their homes ending up in the hands of private landlords charging much higher rents than the previous local authority owners.
Labour, House of Lords
Further to Peter Walker’s letter (22 June) about empty properties being requisitioned in wartime, the Housing Act 2004 allows local authorities to take out an empty dwelling management order to ensure empty property is used for housing. Unfortunately this regulation is very rarely enforced. In Labour-run Hackney, where I live, the order has never been used, despite the borough having more than 1,000 empty homes, including, near me, a three-bed house that has been unoccupied for seven years.
Your editorial on second homes (21 June) does not reach the conclusion it should. Policymakers need to distinguish between a home used as a primary residence and one used as a second home or short-term let.
When building new homes, we need to do that in planning terms so that holiday homes can be designed as such and “real homes” remain primary residences. If we are to continue allowing existing property to effectively change use class from primary residence to a second home use, then we need to distinguish in taxation so that second homes become the underutilised luxury they are.
Perhaps it is time that English councils were offered the powers available in Wales to increase council tax on second homes and ringfence receipts for the provision of genuinely affordable housing for local people in housing need; that would be a start, if only a very conservative one.
We also must recognise, given the huge inequalities in wealth in this country, that a luxury tax may only be a partial solution. If we really want to see any of the 1 million empty and underutilised properties in England brought back into use for the 100,000 families in temporary accommodation, or the 1.1 million on social housing waiting lists, that may require more radical measures and a change in what we build and whom we build it for.
Action on Empty Homes
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