Opinion piece: Moving beyond Covid in the Spring Budget

The latest budget is a great opportunity in helping the country get back on its feet as we emerge from the pandemic over the coming months. Stonewater is well placed to help the sector play a vital role in rebuilding and levelling up Britain’s economy, says our Chief Executive, Nicholas Harris.

Nicholas Harris

Tackling domestic abuse

Home is supposed to be a safe place for everyone. But the ongoing pandemic has brought an even sharper focus on the frightening reality that for those affected by domestic abuse, it can often be a place of danger and fear. Having somewhere safe to stay can be the first, vital step forward for someone fleeing from domestic abuse.

Figures before the coronavirus pandemic showed that a staggering one in four women and one in six men are reported to experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

During the first lockdown, calls to domestic abuse helplines surged with Stonewater seeing a 131% increase in cases during this time.

We welcome the government’s pledge of an additional £19m of funding to domestic abuse programmes on top of the £125m announced in the Spending Review last year. Any extra funding ensures we can continue to provide our specialist support to those fleeing domestic abuse through our person-centred approach.

Scheme and uplift extensions

News of further support for those on minimum wage and also the self-employed is also very welcome.

The pandemic led the government to put in place restrictions on businesses and households, leaving many people temporarily unable to work, which resulted in an increase in the number of people needing to claim Universal Credit – some for the first time.

We’ve been working to help our customers who face hardship during the pandemic by providing information on how to navigate the benefits system and offer flexible rent payment arrangements to those in challenging financial circumstances.

Through our proactive calls with 30,000 customers over the last year, 124 customers are now on deferred payment plans and 1336 discussions about furlough have taken place with our customer support team, relating to income concerns.

We have 7,500 verified customers who are recipients of Universal Credit. The government’s roadmap outlines that we may not return to some form of normality, with everyone being able to return to work properly until summer.

We know many Stonewater customers will be reassured to know that the additional financial support either from the furlough retention scheme or Universal Credit will be extended in the meantime.

New mortgage guarantee

The budget also provided some good news for aspiring homeowners. The availability of more mortgage products to expand the affordability of buying a home to more aspiring homeowners is positive news for potential buyers, particularly as it is not restricted to new homes.

A government backed mortgage guarantee scheme will help first-time buyers get on the housing ladder at a time when for many owning a home seems an impossible dream.

Alongside the extension of the stamp duty holiday, this new scheme will go some way towards addressing the size of deposits currently required, which is beyond the means of many prospective homebuyers.

Stamp duty

For our new and existing shared ownership customers, the stamp duty holiday extension will be a huge relief for some.

Before today’s announcement, we had 40 transactions aiming to complete ahead of the March deadline with 12 of these at real risk of not completing in time to benefit from the stamp duty holiday.

When originally set, the deadline of 31 March was in line with other incentives to stimulate the UK economy, but increasingly in recent weeks it has become obvious that a number of sales expected to complete in time wouldn’t meet this deadline.

Now, both in-train buyers expected to complete this month, and at least another 10 sales in progress at the moment could benefit from the extension, which will no doubt make their first property purchase more financially attractive.

Further to this, with the nil rate band transitioning from the current £500,000 threshold after June 30 to £250,000 until the end of September before a return to the usual £125,000 rate band in October we expect many prospective customers to benefit from the extension.

This will particularly be the case for those customers in more affordable parts of the country where the purchase price falls into the lowest stamp duty bracket.

Staircasing

Since the stamp duty holiday announcement last year, we have been running a campaign to further incentivise customers who are in a position to staircase and could benefit from the stamp duty holiday to do so. This has included waiving the standard £240 admin fee and offering £250 cash back on completion.

As a result of this campaign, we’ve had 33 customers staircase and have a further 18 staircasing transactions currently with solicitors that are aiming to complete before the end of March. The three-month extension will enable us to support an additional 19 staircasing transactions to benefit from the stamp duty holiday, should they all complete as expected.

Moving forward

With many sectors of the economy hit particularly hard by Covid-19, we weren’t expecting this to be a ‘housing budget’. Today’s announcement will, however, have provided the much-needed reassurance to those who have been hit hard financially throughout the pandemic.

You can read the full article on the Housing Quality Network website.