Would a tax-efficient scheme help solve the housing crisis?

It’s hard to deny the UK Government has a lot on its plate at the moment, not least of which is the responsibility of delivering Brexit (whatever shape or form that will eventually take).

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But stepping to one side, there are a number of other policy issues that demand urgent attention.

One of these challenges is the ongoing housing crisis, with one key statistic standing out to illustrate the scale of the problem – according to official data, we need to be building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s if we are ever to strike a balance between supply and demand.

Steps towards realising this goal have certainly been made, with housebuilders across the country working feverishly to put more homes on the market.

However, the current target remains somewhat of a pipe dream if no reforms are pushed through; in 2017/2018, only 222,000 houses were added to the market.

So, what’s standing in the way of achieving this goal, and could creative tax incentives help reduce the pressure on the nation’s developers?

Access to funding

The slow progress being made largely boils down to funding. Or, rather, a lack thereof.

Indeed, in a survey of UK SME developers, 57% identified access to finance as the biggest obstacle that they currently face when taking on a new project.

For a government that is encouraging these developers to lead the way in nationwide construction efforts, this statistic should serve as a wake-up call.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, this trend has been all too common; at this point, traditional lenders began implementing more stringent borrowing criteria, forcing smaller developers to turn increasingly to alternatives avenues such as project finance.

Not only is this option risker for the developers, it is also extremely inefficient for both the lender and borrower.

The problem has only one clear solution – much more needs to be done to support the country’s smaller housebuilders.

This could prove pivotal for increasing output, with research by the Home Builders Federation in 2018 suggesting that reviving the number of SME housebuilders to 2007 levels could see as many as 25,000 more homes built a year.

The promise of tax-efficient schemes

Creative ways of delivering much-needed finance to SMEs have already been explored in other sectors, and the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) in particular serves as a powerful case study.

Created by the UK Government to encourage private investment into early-stage businesses through tax incentives, this initiative has played a vital role in helping Britain’s startups get off the ground.

In turn, this has had a positive knock-on effect on the wider UK economy.

Since the scheme was launched in the mid-1990’s, nearly 30,000 companies have received investment, with over £20 billion worth of funds raised.

What if we could mirror this in the property sector?

I strongly believe that by linking private investors to SME developers, there is huge scope to increase funding avenues and ultimately give smaller housebuilders the confidence they need to pursue new projects.

While Brexit has dominated the public agenda since 2016, it is time to divert focus on underlying problems that are stifling progress in the UK.

I would urge the government to consider initiatives like this in order to lend greater support to the long-term prosperity of SME developers and accelerate housing delivery.

Let’s embrace creative thinking.

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