Reopening estate agents ‘most radical restarting of an industry’ since lockdown

MPs have shared concerns about safety after the Housing Secretary declared the home-selling sector is “back in business”.

The Government has published guidance which eases restrictions on estate agents, to help with the “most radical restarting of an industry in the first phase of our national recovery road map”, Robert Jenrick told the Commons.

SNP housing spokesman David Linden was among the MPs to urge caution with easing the restrictions, which he said “doesn’t necessarily stack up”.

In a statement to MPs, Mr Jenrick said: “We want to be clear, each of the building blocks of the buying and the selling process are now back in business, as long as they can be done safely.”

He added: “This is the most radical restarting of an industry in the first phase of our national recovery road map.

“This was not an easy decision to make. With few if any transactions there is no visibility and no precedent with which to accurately judge the state of the housing market.

“But I do know that in every economic recovery in modern British history the housing market has been key.

“So let me be clear to all who work in the sector, have started a business in it, have invested in it, or rely upon it, I’m doing everything I can to help the industry bounce back.”

Mr Linden said the messaging had gone from “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, to four days later saying that you can traipse around any random stranger’s house”.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, said the Government had ignored those at risk of being forced from their homes.

She told the Commons: “This crisis has taught us that if anyone is struggling, we’re all affected.

“The announcement focused on those who want to move home but it ignored those who are at risk of being forced.

“(Mr Jenrick) talked of show homes but not about people with no homes and we’ve shown that when we work together we can virtually eliminate street homelessness in days. There must be no going back, but people in emergency accommodation face that.”

Mr Jenrick responded: “With respect to rough sleeping, well I pay tribute to everybody who has been involved in the tremendous national effort so far bringing 90% of those people who are sleeping rough on our streets at the onset of the crisis into safer accommodation.

“But now we are in the next phase of that challenge and I don’t underestimate how difficult that will be.”

The Labour chairman of the Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Clive Betts, called on the Government to consider Spanish-style low-interest loans to tenants to help them pay their rent, plus increasing grants to housing associations and councils to help the construction industry to keep building more social homes for rent.

The housing secretary replied: “Well we’re thinking very carefully about what more we can do to protect them.”

Mr Jenrick also announced that he is allowing construction sites to apply to extend their working hours “with immediate effect”.

Discussing his ministerial statement published on Wednesday, Mr he told MPs: “It will enable sites to stay open during the summer months, potentially to 9pm in residential areas, and longer than that in areas where there are no neighbouring properties.

“This is to help the industry to catch up if it wants to and, above all, to help it to put in place the social distancing rules that it will need to operate sites safely and reduce pressure on public transport.

“I hope that all of us across the country, and our councils, will support that and ensure that it is implemented smoothly.”

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