Exclusive: Boris Johnson's 'Benefits To Bricks' Policy Fails To Get Off The Ground

The idea was derided as a “red meat” policy designed to shore up the former prime minister's leadership.
Boris Johnson during his speech at The Fylde College in Blackpool where he announced new measures to help millions onto the property ladder. June 09, 2022.
Boris Johnson during his speech at The Fylde College in Blackpool where he announced new measures to help millions onto the property ladder. June 09, 2022.
WPA Pool via Getty Images

Boris Johnson’s “benefits to bricks” pledge to help welfare claimants get mortgages has failed to get off the ground, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Seven months after the former prime minister announced a raft of Thatcherite housing policies, sources say they remain “under consideration”.

In June, the struggling leader unveiled a huge housing shake-up in a speech in Blackpool - designed to reset his premiership after he survived a humiliating vote of no confidence.

He vowed to turn “benefits to bricks” by allowing the £30 billion currently spent on housing benefit to be used to help people secure and pay for mortgages.

Johnson also promised to extend Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy, so 2.5 million tenants renting their homes from housing associations could buy them outright.

“We are going to look to change the rules on welfare so that the 1.5 million working people who are in receipt of housing benefits - I stress working people - and who want to buy their first home will be given a new choice: to spend their benefit on rent, as now, or put it towards a first-ever mortgage.”

- Boris Johnson - June 2022

The government said they would also launch an independent review of access to mortgage finance for first-time buyers that would report back in the Autumn of 2022.

HuffPost UK asked the Department for Levelling Up if they were still pursuing these policies under Rishi Sunak’s premiership.

We asked if any work had been done on the proposals, if anyone had benefited yet and who was conducting the independent review.

The Levelling Up Department said they wanted to ensure more families and young people have a “chance to own their own home”. However, they did not directly address the questions asked.

Sources said that the plans had not been abandoned but were “under consideration”.

They said they were “considering the next steps” on the “proposed” extension of Right to Buy and that they would announce more details “in due course”.

For people on benefits, sources said they were focusing on “immediate home ownership measures” to help those in need and pointed towards help for existing homeowners on Universal Credit.

There was no information available on whether Johnson’s planned review of the mortgage market had ever started, let alone concluded in the Autumn.

Asked if Sunak was committed to the policies or if they had been junked, a government spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister is committed to helping first time buyers to get onto the housing ladder.

“The government demonstrated this commitment recently by extending the mortgage guarantee scheme which enables more people to access low deposit mortgages.”

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary, described it as a “complete shambles” and accused the Tories of rushing out “half-baked ideas” to distract from a crisis.

“What a complete shambles,” she told HuffPost UK. “These plans always fell far short of what is needed to fix the housing crisis, and now even they have been junked.

“This is the Tory pattern, whoever is prime minister – half-baked ideas are rushed out to distract from a crisis, before being quietly thrown in the bin by ministers who hope nobody notices.

“Britain deserves so much better than this sticking plaster politics.

“That’s why Labour has set out a comprehensive plan to target 70% homeownership, including a state-backed mortgage insurance scheme to support first-time buyers, as well as plans to build more affordable and social homes and give new protections to private renters.”

The ideas were ridiculed at the time as “baffling” by housing experts.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation questioned the “feasibility” of the plans, said an extension to Right to Buy would be “expensive” and pointed out that the government would have to change the rules of Universal Credit.

The charity Crisis said that to suggest benefits could be used to secure mortgages without a costly investment in the system was a “fallacy”.

Charity Shelter said: “The prime minister’s housing plans are baffling, unworkable, and a dangerous gimmick.”

Financial experts questioned how people could save their benefit money while still needing to put it towards rent.

The idea was described at the time as a “red meat” policy designed to shore up the former prime minister’s leadership.

And just days after Johnson’s announcement, the secretary of state Michael Gove admitted that they had not conducted a “full” impact assessment beforehand.

Asked if an assessment of the impact on social housing stock had been carried out, Gove told MPs on the housing committee: “We haven’t conducted a full equalities impact assessment yet. We will do, as ever, when we bring forward policy.”

The government itself even admitted that “most” people would not be able to take up Johnson’s “benefits to bricks” scheme.

The Department for Work and Pensions admitted “that it is likely most will not be in a position to take up the new policy”.

They made the comment in answer to a written parliamentary question from Nandy.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We want to ensure more families and young people have a chance to own their own home.

“Since 2010 more than 819,000 households have been helped to purchase a home through Government-backed schemes including Help to Buy and Right to Buy.

“As part of our drive to help more people into homeownership we are investing £11.5 billion to build more genuinely affordable homes, including for social rent.”


What's Hot