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Lib Dems unveil 'rent to buy' pledge for first time homeowners

May 17, 2017 11:13 AM
By Jessica Elgot, Political reporter in The Guardian
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Party's manifesto contains wealth of offers aimed at enticing young voters back after tuition fees furore, including referendum on final Brexit deal

Tens of thousands of young renters will be offered "rent to buy" deposit-free homes as part of a Liberal Democrat manifesto aimed at enticing a younger generation to back the party.

The announcement is the flagship policy among a number of reforms expected to be announced by the party on Wednesday aimed at attracting younger voters, also those most likely to be receptive to the party's hard remain message and a promise of a referendum on the final Brexit deal to allow voters to opt to stay in the EU.

Tim Farron has admitted that his party has had issues with regaining the trust of the younger generation after it voted through a rise in tuition fees during the coalition years, although Farron himself rebelled and voted against the measure.

Farron also said the election was the "last chance saloon" for voters who still believed the UK was better off in the EU, and insisted that there was still a chance to change course. "We are pitching to people who think the direction of our country isn't settled," he told the Guardian. "Don't be despondent, because there is a party offering you, unequivocally, the chance to turn this around, and you need to grab it."

Under the "rent to buy" pledge, young professionals and working families unable to afford a home would be able to buy their first home for the same cost as renting, with each monthly payment steadily buying a share in the home.

The party said it would hope to deliver 30,000 properties a year by the end of the parliament via housing associations, costing approximately £300m through grant finance. Renters would own their homes outright after about 30 years, or take the accrued capital with them when they move.

The properties would only be available to those able to meet the criteria of a conventional mortgage and afford to pay market rent, without the help of housing benefit. Policy chiefs said it was not intended as a replacement for affordable rented properties or social housing, and tenants would have the right to sell their property at any time, cashing out their share of the home.

The Lib Dems have struggled to gain momentum during the election campaign, with a poor set of local election results that saw the party lose seats in councils across the UK and a faltering poll rating that has dipped into single figures.

Farron will hope that his offer to young voters, the only demographic to currently favour Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over Theresa May, will be enough to cloud memories of the anti-tuition fee pledge dropped by then-Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in government, which saw vast numbers of younger voters desert the party.

Other offers to young voters and families include restoring housing benefits for 18-21-year-olds, a young person's bus pass for a two-third discount on travel, and votes for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The party has also promised a benefit of £100 a week for startup entrepreneurs for the first six months of their business, and has said it will hike income tax by a penny, ringfenced to give a £6bn boost to the NHS and social care.

With the under-30s also disproportionately in favour of remain, Farron will hope the manifesto offer, as well as a pledge for another EU referendum, will be enough to boost his party in some key seats, such as Bath, Cambridge and south-west London constituencies. The manifesto will unusually be launched in the evening, which the party said would allow more working voters to attend, at a venue in east London.

Farron said remainers had a chance now to send a signal by voting for his party. "We are in the last-chance saloon," he said. "This is the opportunity for everyone in this country to bang their fists on the table and say, 'I didn't vote for this, I didn't vote for this mean, narrow vision of the future.'"

The Lib Dem leader said his party would "refuse to be cowed" into accepting that an exit from the EU was inevitable, citing his opposition to the article 50 bill in parliament. "Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party went into the lobbies with the Conservatives and the one Ukip MP to trigger article 50 and start the most extreme version of Brexit," he said.

"To shrug because you think it can't be changed is to give up on our children's future. It won't be very many years before we look back on this era and think, 'What the heck were we playing at?' I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and say I did everything I could."