Things can only get better?

26 Feb 2024


By Jack Barber

For the first time in 14 years, there is a prospect of a Labour government being ushered in following a general election pencilled for the second half of 2024. Over the last year, the party in opposition has enjoyed a consistently massive poll lead. Labour leader Rt. Hon. Sir Keir Starmer has set out plans for a “mission-driven government”.[1] What would this mean for the future of housing law and policy?

Based on previous speeches and recent announcements, these key priorities might well become manifesto commitments and form part of any new administration’s agenda:

  • Housebuilding: At party conference in October 2023, Starmer promised 1.5 million new homes within five years of a Labour government. This reflects the current government’s target. Talk is cheap; delivery is key. Labour’s commitment is supported by several proposals including a “housing recovery plan”, a generation of “new towns”, greater devolution to mayors empowered with greater control over housing investment.
  • Affordable housing: Labour’s deputy leader and shadow housing secretary Rt. Hon. Angela Rayner MP has pledged that Labour will deliver the “biggest boost to affordable, social and council housing for a generation”, and that Labour will hold developers to account to “deliver on their obligations to deliver affordable housing” (sic).[2]
  • Social housing: First and foremost, Labour wants to be seen as the party of home ownership.[3] Labour’s previous commitment to restore social housing as the second biggest tenure was decidedly absent from the party’s most recent National Policy Forum document but is said to remain a “long term aspiration”. However, Labour has also pledged to go ‘net positive’ on social rented homes by delivering 150,000 social / affordable homes per year.[4]
  • Right-to-buy: Labour’s shadow housing minister, Matthew Pennycook MP, has said that the party would seek to ensure that tenants who buy their council home through the right-to-buy would see discounts slashed to a fraction of the current rate, back down to 2012 levels.[5] Labour would also increase the length of time new tenants in social housing would have to wait until they take part in the scheme.
  • Rent control: Labour is unlikely to back rent control. Last year, Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for powers to introduce a rent freeze in the capital, but the front bench has made it clear that there are no plans to frighten the horses in supporting such a plan.[6]

These key priorities are purely indicative and are not set in stone.[7] After all, former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics. A lot can change between now and polling day.

Legislative change

Before we head to the ballot box, there is potential for far-reaching legislative change. The Renters (Reform) Bill is currently at report stage in the Commons, but the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP, recently indicated that the ban on no-fault evictions will come into place this year.[8]

In any event, the wash-up period – i.e., the last few days of Parliament before dissolution – has the potential to see significant legislation enacted. Any unfinished business is lost at dissolution, but with cross-party cooperation, existing Bills can be progressed quickly in altered form. For example, just before the 2010 General Election, the Commons considered Lords amendments to the Equality Bill and went on to enact the Equality Act before Gordon Brown left Downing Street. [9]

Post-election, if Starmer moves into Downing Street, we can expect further reforms. Shadow minister for housing and planning, Matthew Pennycook MP, has described a “huge potential legislative agenda in the pipeline” to address housing and planning issues.[10]

Some reforms are obvious. Angela Rayner has said Labour will immediately scrap section 21 “no-fault” evictions.[11]

Elsewhere, Labour is pinning a lot on planning reform to boost economic growth. For housing professionals, relevant potential planning reform would include “strengthening” enforcement of section 106 obligations for new housing developments with a view to ensuring that required affordable housing materialises as promised by private sector developers[12], and training local authorities on section 106 negotiations.  However, the extent of legislative reform – and the impact of such changes in addressing the UK housing crisis – is perhaps understandably not clear from Labour’s raft of policy announcements.

Labour’s position on further housing legislation is relatively vague. This is partly due to the glacial progress of the Renters (Reform) Bill. If that Bill is not granted royal assent before the General Election, we can fairly expect sweeping legislative changes from an incoming Labour administration. Otherwise, we have to wait and see if there are further proposals outlined in the party’s manifesto.

More specifically, on anti-social behaviour, Labour has promised to introduce new “Respect Orders”, described as a “tough new order with criminal sanctions for persistent anti-social behaviour”.[13] Originally announced in February 2023, Respect Orders appear to be a resurrection of conventional Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.[14] Critics have pointed out that breaching civil injunctions can already lead to a prison term, and that ASBOs were replaced for good reason.[15] It is somewhat doubtful that this proposal will ever be implemented.


Politicians of all parties find rare consensus in diagnosing a UK “housing crisis”. As we approach the General Election, many embattled housing practitioners might ask if things can only get better for the sector. If Labour win (either with a majority or as a senior partner in another coalition) there is potential for radical legislative and policy change. Whether such change addresses the myriad problems facing the sector – and society more widely – remains to be seen.

Jack Barber
February 2024