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A Thriving PRS is Vital to A Vibrant Economy

Exclusive new research commissioned by the NRLA shows a vibrant PRS is vital to the social and economic wellbeing of the country.

Here, in his regular column for Property Notify®, Ben Beadlechief executive of the NRLA, explains the importance of the findings – and what the Government needs to do next.

Soaring costs, rising interest rates and the promise of yet more regulation up ahead make this a difficult time to be a landlord and as a consequence, a tenant.

The gap between the supply and demand is growing, with latest figures from property platform Zoopla showing supply has fallen by 38%, while demand is up 46%.

At the same time more and more landlords are planning to sell off at least some of their properties – just over a quarter according to the NRLA’s latest survey.

This is bad news for everyone – especially tenants.

We commissioned Chris Walker, of economics consultancy form Chamberlain Walker, to produce a research report going right back to basics, examining what the PRS in this country looks like, what its function is and who lives in it.

Chris, a former Head of Housing at thinktank Policy Exchange and ex-Government economist, concluded the sector is playing a vital role in supporting labour markets and providing much-needed homes for people who are actively choosing to rent, as well as those for whom home-ownership is out of reach.

The findings

The resulting report, A housing market that works for everyone: Rethinking the role of the private rented sector’ proves the PRS is a tenure of choice for many renters.

Of the 2,000 renters interviewed, while many agreed they would like to own a home one day – 76 per cent, just 17% of that figure said that – given the option they would have already taken that step. The remaining 83% per cent want to be there.

This confirms what we at the association already know. That rental homes fill a vital need. People rent for all kinds of reasons.

They may want to strike out and try out life a new town or city, move in with a new partner for the first time, flat share with friends after leaving university.

Without the PRS their only option would be to take on a mortgage they neither want or need.

And, contrary to the messages in the media, we found the vast majority are satisfied with what they pay, with 80% of private renters that consider their rents fair, good or excellent.

For those who cannot afford to buy their own home – and are not eligible for social housing the PRS is their only option.

Yet they are the very people the Government, in its blinkered attempt to boost home ownership by punishing landlords, is hurting the most.

Fewer landlords mean fewer properties to choose from and higher rents.

This is turn makes saving for a deposit even more challenging.

The PRS should not be treated as a poor relation to owner occupation, and in fact often acts as a springboard to home ownership, a stopgap for many, between leaving home and buying their own place.

What happens next?

The findings of the report, which can be accessed in full here will inform NRLA campaigning for pro-growth policies from the Government to encourage landlords to remain in the sector and continue to invest.

This includes the reversal of Section 24 changes to mortgage interest relief.

Chris concludes that a high quality PRS is ‘likely to be a good thing both socially and economically’, and I couldn’t agree more.

The report makes clear the positive and vital role the rental market has to play in the economic and social life of the country.

  • Copies of the report have now been forwarded to Government officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, HM Treasury and Number 10, along with invitations to discuss the findings.

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Farewell radiators? Testing out electric infrared wallpaper

Look carefully and you will notice there is something slightly different about Kris Bilski’s house in Hull.

It has no radiators.

Yet even on a -2C winter’s day, it’s nice and warm inside.

This is because Kris is an early adopter of electric infrared wallpaper.

Thin, metallic sheets are hidden behind the plaster of his walls, which are connected to the mains electricity of his house.

These sheets emit heat by infrared waves.

Heat camera

Radiators in a central heating system heat rooms by what is known as convection heating, warming up the air in rooms, which then circulates.

This infrared technique warms up solid objects in the room directly, including us humans.

It also means you can easily choose to heat only one room at a time, using an app. Why also heat the bedroom, for example, when you are going to be watching Happy Valley in the sitting room for the next few hours?

Kris, 31, runs a video production company and lives at the property with his wife. He heard about the technology through a colleague, and as a tech enthusiast he decided to become an early adopter.

He ripped out his gas-powered radiators before fitting the wallpaper. At the moment the new method of heating his home isn’t any cheaper, but he plans to install solar panels on his roof to power the wallpaper, which he thinks will make his home greener, and save him money, in the long term.

“It makes me happy that I don’t rely on gas,” says Kris. “It’s a new technology that should help us as a country.”

The wallpaper system that he is using was made by a local firm called iHelios. As well as being available for private installation, the company is currently trialling the technology with landlords that provide social housing in Hull, and also housing groups in Wales. These organisations want to save money and meet green targets.

iHelios paper

Around 23 million homes are currently connected to the gas grid in the UK. But the government wants all homes in the UK to have phased out gas-fired boilers by 2035. Homes currently account for about 17% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and this fossil fuel-based way of heating our homes is responsible for much of it.

As well as not requiring gas, electric wallpaper is also thought to produce better air quality in properties. It doesn’t dry out the air so much and generates less mould, for instance around windows. Poor air quality has been linked to health problems in some social housing properties.

Philip Steele is future technologies evangelist at Octopus Energy. Part of his job is to test out new gadgets, and he has been looking at another version of the wallpaper, made by British company Nexgen Heating .

“Electric wallpaper is a really good way of heating your home,” he says.

“It has two copper strips down each side of it and then a graphene layer, and when it’s powered [with electricity] the graphene emits infrared, which is like the heat you get from the sun.”

The graphene material he refers to is a thin layer of carbon atoms that can conduct electricity, first discovered by researchers at Manchester University. The version in Hull, which has also been used in other parts of Europe, like Scandinavia, uses a carbon paste layer to similar effect.

With the aid of a thermal-imaging camera you can see the hidden wallpaper, warming up and in turn heating up other objects in the room. It can heat objects within a range of about 2 to 3 metres.

Of course homes also need hot water for washing up and showers. In homes that use exclusively electric wallpaper, this can be provided by an electric immersion heater.

So is this potentially a greener and cheaper way to heat our homes?

Dr Tina Fawcett of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute is not so sure.

“It could certainly be greener, especially as we use more renewables [like solar and wind power] to generate electricity,” she says. Currently gas is used to generate a significant proportion of our electricity supply.

“But I think the running costs could be quite high, as electricity costs three to four times as much as gas,” she says.

She points out that air source heat pumps are a more efficient way to use electricity to heat the home.

Heat pump

However, these pumps come with higher upfront costs than electric wallpaper and are not always straightforward to install – there can be issues with planning permission, for instance.

Some versions of the electric wallpaper, on the other hand, can be fitted while a tenant is still living in the property, making refurbishment easier.


The cost: Electric wallpaper or air source heat pump?

An electric wallpaper system would cost around £4,000 to install in a typical three-bedroom home, according to Nexgen Heating, a British manufacturer of the paper. However, you also need to factor in the costs of removing the existing central heating system and investing in an electric immersion heater for hot water.

In comparison, an air source heat pump would cost on average around £8,000 to install in a typical three-bedroom home, according to Octopus Energy, though depending on your type of property and the area where you live, it could be significantly more. However, you may be entitled to a £5,000 grant towards that from the government. In some cases you may also need to invest in bigger radiators to make the system work.

New-builds, of course, can be purpose-built for these systems. The housebuilder Redrow recently announced it will switch to air source heat pumps in its new developments, while Barratt has trialled electric wallpaper in its show homes.

Presentational grey line

Individual homeowners as well as councils, providers of social housing and developers will have to take all these factors into account.

This infrared, electric wallpaper technology may not be particularly glamorous or visible – but it could potentially have a big impact on the UK’s carbon footprint and ability to meet climate targets.

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NEW: Gove sets sights on scrapping leasehold ownership

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has promised to scrap most leaseholds in England this year.

The government will make it much easier for leaseholders in flats to take over their buildings and bring them into common ownership, avoiding high management fees and ground rents.

It is also preparing to scrap rules that prevent owners from buying the freehold to their property if a small part of the building is given over to commercial use, including shops.

Speaking on Sky News, Gove said it planned to introduce legislation in the final parliamentary session, later this calendar year.

He explained: “The fundamental thing is that leasehold is just an unfair form of property ownership. In crude terms if you buy a flat, that should be yours. You shouldn’t be on the hook for charges which managing agents and other people can land you with.”

Feudal system

Gove described leaseholds as “an outdated feudal system” following growing criticism of the rules after the Grenfell cladding scandal.

Many homeowners have faced crippling bills and cannot sell their properties after buying leasehold flats that the freeholders refuse to make safe.

The government tasked the Law Commission to study the sector in 2020, which had, “far too many problems including disproportionate costs to extend leases; poor value property management; and a slow and costly sales process”.

Its subsequent report proposed an overhaul of the right to manage process and suggested that landlords’ legal costs should not be passed to leaseholders, blaming costs as the prime reason why applications fail.

Since then, solicitors have reported a rise in the number of enquiries from leaseholders about taking over their freeholder’s management functions under The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, better known as right to manage or RTM claims.

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Mortgage guarantee scheme extended: initiative to help buyers with small deposits will run until December 2023

The mortgage guarantee scheme — the initiative designed to turn generation rent into generation buy by helping first-time buyers get a foothold on the property ladder — has been extended for 12 months, the Government has announced.

Launched in April 2021, the scheme protects lenders against losses when lending to first-time buyers and movers with low deposits.

It enables buyers to put down five per cent of the total value of a home worth up to £600,000 as a deposit, while the remaining 95 per cent is covered by a mortgage.

The initiative, launched during the pandemic as lenders cut back on low-deposit loans, is designed to help households with good credit who are struggling to save for high deposits. It offers a financial guarantee to lenders on a portion of the mortgage.

The scheme was originally due to run until the end of December 2022 but ministers have now delayed closure until the end of 2023.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen said: “For hard-working families facing today’s challenging economic conditions, it is right that we continue to help them secure their first home or move into their dream house.

“Extending this scheme means thousands more have the chance to benefit, and supports the market as we navigate through these difficult times.”

The Government added the scheme has helped over 24,000 households get on the property ladder so far, with 85 per cent of buyers being first-time homeowners.

Trinity Finance advisor, Amit Patel said: “This is a much-needed policy announcement that will enable buyers with a smaller deposit to get onto the housing ladder in the turbulent times we are going through. It would have been naive to withdraw the scheme given the dip in housing activity and the prevailing sentiment that house prices will drop in 2023/2024.”

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