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THE United Kingdom could be on the brink of a housing revolution to rival Margaret Thatcher’s council house sell-off in the 1980s. It may prove just as divisive.
Plans by the ruling Conservative Party, including possible 40-year fixed-rate mortgages, are the latest part of the “property-owning democracy” idea championed by generations of UK politicians.
About two thirds of households are occupied by their owners, with the ratio barely budging over the past decade as prices soared while wage growth and new homes lagged behind.
The latest push, announced by Boris Johnson in June, for more affordable ways to buy a home will still go ahead despite the turmoil gripping the government as the prime minister departs, according to people close to the matter.
The candidates to replace Johnson have offered glimpses of their housing policies so far: Rishi Sunak has pledged to make it harder to build homes on the green belt, while Liz Truss thinks banks should look at a borrower’s rental payments to decide if they can afford a mortgage.
Over half of people renting their homes could afford monthly repayments on a mortgage, but only 6% could easily access a typical first-time buyer loan, according to government calculations.
Banks’ high deposit requirements and strict affordability checks, which were tightened after the 2008 financial crisis, stand in their way.,
Officials at the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are exploring savings products to allow renters to build deposits, as well as insurance programmes to cover riskier borrowers.
Thatcher’s “right to buy” that privatised almost two million social houses could be extended to housing association tenants, while loans lasting as long as 50 years could be passed down from parents to children. Lower down the agenda are ideas to build more affordable homes.
The policy at the heart of the work, and stirring some of the strongest feelings, is an embryonic plan to move away from the UK’s churn-dominated market.
Currently, banks compete fiercely to offer loans with rates fixed for just two or five years, meaning borrowers regularly switch products.
Instead, multiple-decade fixed-rate loans could be made mainstream, following countries such as the United States and the Netherlands.
The Treasury has shown no interest in copying Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, America’s government-owned entities that transfer the interest rate risk of long-term mortgages from lenders to taxpayers. Insurers could be used to shoulder some of the risk.
The UK has almost 3.6 million “resentful renters,” according to Graham Edwards, co-founder of property group Telereal Trillium and a board member at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) think tank.