What does the Labour manifesto say about property? Key 2024 general election pledges

The Labour manifesto has made several promises on rental reform, the leasehold system and housing market support. Here’s what a Keir Starmer government means for property.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer Campaigns In Wales Ahead Of Senedd and Local Elections
(Image credit: Polly Thomas / Stringer)

The Labour Party unveiled its general election policy pledges on Thursday (13 June).

Its lengthy manifesto document, which the party titled ‘Change’, makes several major pledges, including plans to cut NHS waiting times, recruit more teachers and set up a publicly-owned green energy company. There were also several money policies.

Personal finance commitments include keeping the triple lock on state pensions, ending a VAT tax break for private school fees, and closing inheritance tax loopholes. But the manifesto was as much about what Labour didn’t say, as what it did.

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According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank, the party has joined the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats in a “conspiracy of silence” about public spending cuts. Meanwhile, the document’s own silence on capital gains tax and the lifetime allowance has suggested neither measure will be off limits at Labour’s first Budget event - should it form the next government. However, there appeared to be little basis for the Tories’ £2,000 tax hikes claim in the manifesto.

Alongside its money pledges, Labour also revealed several housing market reforms. Some, like Freedom to Buy, had been announced in advance of the manifesto launch. But there were one or two property-related surprises in the document too. So, what are they - and what do they mean for housing?

Labour manifesto rental reforms

One of the more eye-catching pledges Labour made was a plan to extend Awaab’s Law. The law is named after the toddler Awaab Ishak, who died of a respiratory condition that was caused by excessive mould in the social housing he lived in. At present, it forces social landlords to investigate safety hazards in their accommodation within a certain time frame. Labour’s manifesto suggests it could be extended to include private landlords.

However, the most attention-grabbing commitment from Starmer’s party was a pledge to resurrect key elements of the Renters Reform Bill. The legislation, which formed a key part of Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, was first watered down - and then axed when Parliament dissolved for the general election.

Labour would “immediately” abolish section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, if it gets elected on 4 July. The party says it will also give tenants the power to challenge unreasonable rent hikes, force landlords to implement minimum energy efficiency standards by 2030, and give renters greater protections against exploitation and discrimination.

These measures are unlikely to have come as a surprise to landlords given the Renters Reform Bill broadly had cross-party support. “All of the main parties are committed to ending section 21,” said Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association. “What matters is ensuring the replacement system works, and is fair, to both renters and responsible landlords.

“Given this, we agree with [Labour’s argument] that landlords need robust grounds for possessions in legitimate circumstances, and they need the system to operate quickly when they do. We stand ready to work constructively with a potential Labour government to achieve this and ensure a smooth transition to the new system. This needs to include giving the sector time to properly prepare for it.”

Nathan Emerson, chief executive at estate agent trade body Propertymark, agreed. He added: “Any aspiration to reintroduce the Renters Reform Bill must come with full disclosure and a realistic timeline regarding the required court reform before the removal of Section 21 evictions should ever become a reality.”

Leasehold reforms

Rishi Sunak’s government had aimed to bring in large scale reform of the leasehold system. But the election announcement meant the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act was watered down so it could be pushed through by MPs ahead of Parliament being dissolved.

Labour wants to go further than this legislation - and the Conservative manifesto - and “bring the feudal leasehold system to an end”. It says it will enact the Law Commission’s recommendations for enfranchisement, right to manage and commonhold. In terms of its more immediate priorities, it says it will set out to ban new leasehold flats and ensure commonhold is the default for apartment blocks. The party also wants to crack down on “unregulated and unaffordable” ground rents and maintenance charges, as well as end ‘fleecehold’ private housing estates

The National Leasehold Campaign has called on Labour - and the other major parties - to set out “clear time frames” for when they will enact their pledges, if they get elected.

First-time buyer support

One of Labour’s key pitches to younger voters in advance of the manifesto announcement was its Freedom to Buy scheme. This would extend the existing mortgage guarantee scheme, which is designed to help people who can’t save enough for a deposit but can afford mortgage repayments.

This scheme also ties in with a policy to give first-time buyers (FTBs) first dibs on new build developments. It claims new estates are currently being “sold off to international investors” before a shovel enters the ground.

Experts have pointed out that while the scheme may address one of the obstacles facing FTBs, high mortgage rates and high house prices relative to incomes are bigger hurdles that need attention.

For example, Rightmove said Freedom to Buy would make the mortgage guarantee scheme more “attractive to lenders” and added that its continuation would be “helpful”. But the property listing site also said it should be the “first step amongst many” for FTB support.

Its property expert, Tim Bannister, said: ‘We welcome policies and innovations which are trying to help more first-time buyers onto the ladder. Creating a permanent mortgage guarantee scheme would at least give first-time buyers the certainty that the option will be there.

“However, we know from our own research that policies like the mortgage guarantee scheme have limitations, and are only able to help a very small pool of future first time buyers that fit specific requirements. One of the biggest barriers for first time buyers is being able to borrow enough from a lender, which a mortgage guarantee scheme doesn’t address.”

House building and planning reform

The main Labour pledge in this area is a plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament. It says it will get there by bringing in mandatory housing targets, as well as reforming the planning system. New builds will also have to meet higher standards and sustainability targets - although it appears to have committed to watering down nutrient neutrality protections.

It has identified that a lack of planning officers at local authorities is holding up development. So, it plans to increase the stamp duty surcharge on purchases by non-UK residents by 1%. While the amount raised - £40m - is peanuts in fiscal terms, the party claims it would be more than enough to appoint 300 new planning officers (a pledge that would cost £20m).

While Starmer’s party says it will “ensure local communities continue to shape house building in their area”, it has not ruled out intervening if it believes developments are being blocked. Likewise, while it says it will prioritise unlocking the ‘grey belt’ - i.e. old car parks and concrete wasteland - and will take a “brownfield first approach”, it says it will also take a “more strategic approach” to greenbelt development.

Alongside these pledges, it has committed to building another generation of new towns, and finding new ways in which different tiers of local authority can work together on housing across their boundaries.

The Institute for Government think tank described the house building programme as “ambitious” but added that its success would hinge on whether new MPs could be kept on board. It said: “Successive governments – of all stripes – have made ambitious promises but failed to deliver them in a country that wants more houses built nationally but doesn’t want to build them locally. This manifesto signals that Labour are serious about setting a better record.

“It makes no bones about prioritising new houses above local objections. The question is whether Labour’s plans will survive contact with Parliament, whatever size its majority. In recent years, backbench MPs made short work of first defeating Boris Johnson’s proposals to reform the planning system, then pressuring housing secretary Michael Gove into downgrading local housing targets to ‘advisory’ status (and many local areas have since taken this opportunity to scrap proposed developments).”

Also reacting to the planning reforms the party has proposed, head of policy and market insight at the National Federation of Builders, Rico Wojtulewicz, said: “Labour appears to understand how damaging a broken planning system is for society, the economy and growth. For the construction industry this means businesses will finally be able to plan, rather than operate hand to mouth. Such a change will ensure cashflow certainty for businesses’ reinvestment, which in practice means a reduction in construction insolvency, more directly employed labour and apprenticeships, and businesses getting back to constructing, rather than spending ninety percent of their time getting permission to start building.

“However, we have been here before with [ex-Housing Secretary] Robert Jenrick’s ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, which was shelved after the Conservative government lost a by-election and backbenchers revolted over land use.”

Wojtulewicz added that there were some concerns about the “lack of detail” on some key policy proposals. For example, around biodiversity and nutrient neutrality.

Henry Sandercock
Staff Writer

Henry Sandercock has spent more than eight years as a journalist covering a wide variety of beats. Having studied for an MA in journalism at the University of Kent, he started his career in the garden of England as a reporter for local TV channel KMTV. 

Henry then worked at the BBC for three years as a radio producer - mostly on BBC Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine, but also on major BBC Radio 4 programmes like The World at One, PM and Broadcasting House. Switching to print media, he covered fresh foods for respected magazine The Grocer for two years. 

After moving to NationalWorld.com - a national news site run by the publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post - Henry began reporting on the cost of living crisis, becoming the title’s money editor in early 2023. He covered everything from the energy crisis to scams, and inflation. You will now find him writing for MoneyWeek. Away from work, Henry lives in Edinburgh with his partner and their whippet Whisper.