Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

Published: 21st Sep 2016

House building: higher or lower depending on the date

“I’m pleased that house building has been up under a Conservative Government, compared to a Labour Government.”

Theresa May, 7 September 2016

“Actually, Mr Speaker, house building under this Government is 45,000 a year less than it was under the last Labour Government.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 7 September 2016

There are a lot of different ways of looking at house building figures over time. Change the dates you’re looking at, and you can easily find support for each of the leaders’ claims above.

Another difficulty is deciding how to separate different governments’ records. Houses built early on under one government will have been started under the previous one, and it can take time before a new housing policy is introduced and has an impact on completions locally.

With that caveat, a straightforward way to look at it is to take the average number of houses built in England under the whole of the last Labour government compared to the governments since. It makes sense to single out England as housing policy is run by devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Around 150,000 houses a year were built under Labour Prime Ministers between 1997 and 2010, compared to 120,000 under Conservative ones since 2010.

Labour told us that it was looking instead at homes completed across the UK, per calendar year. On average 190,000 a year were built between 1997 and 2010, compared to 145,000 between 2010 and 2015.

That’s where Mr Corbyn’s 45,000 claim comes from.

By contrast, when Labour left office, housing completions were running at around 120,000 a year, whereas it’s more like 140,000 now. House building fell sharply during the 2008/09 recession.

That may explain Ms May’s statement. We’ve asked the government for a source.
No recent administration has seen enough homes built to keep up with demand.

Right to Buy on target, but one in six sold off is replaced

“The former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable  Member for Witney promised that there would be a one-for-one replacement for every council house that is sold under Right to Buy. Sadly, the reality is there is only one for every five that are sold.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 7 September 2016

“I have to say to the Right Honourable Gentleman that he is wrong about the figures on council houses. We have delivered on the one-for-one replacement under Right to Buy”

Theresa May, 7 September 2016

Theresa May is correct to say that the government is meeting its own target for building new council houses to replace those sold by right to buy.

And, confusingly, Jeremy Corbyn is also about right to say that only one in five council houses that are being sold off are being replaced.

The misunderstanding is about what the government’s one-for-one replacement target actually means.

The government didn’t commit to replacing every home sold under the Right to Buy scheme, only the extra sales which have been created by recent government policies.

Right to Buy has been around since the 1980s, but in 2012 the government aimed to ‘reinvigorate’ the policy by making bigger discounts available for council housing tenants who wanted to buy their own home.

The government has pledged to replace homes sold under the scheme on a one for one basis. The rule is that local authorities or housing associations have three years to start building a replacement for each one sold.

But here’s the catch: the pledge only covered additional homes sold under the new discounts—over and above the sales they predicted would happen without the new policy.

The government is meeting that target at the moment, although some bodies have expressed concerns about whether it will be able to do so in the future.

All the homes sold three years ago are being replaced. But the National Audit Office has said there would need to be a five-fold increase in the number of houses being started by 2017/18, to replace the number of additional homes sold in 2014/15.

The House of Commons Library has discussed in more detail how the number of homes being made available needs to increase.

Labour told us Mr Corbyn’s figures came via research from the Local Government Association, which uses the latest figures on Right to Buy. That research actually shows a slightly larger disparity than the one he quoted: about six times as many homes sold under Right to Buy last year as were started, and also six times as many in total since 2012/13.

If the government wants to keep meeting the target, it needs to step up the number of houses being built.

Update 21 September 2016

We've removed a sentence that said when a council house is sold, that means one fewer for everyone else. This over-simplified the issue.

£9 billion in housing benefit to private landlords

“Devastating figures released over this summer show that £9.3 billion of public money is paid through housing benefit directly into the pockets of private landlords.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 7 September 2016

£9.3 billion in Housing Benefit spending was for payments to private sector renters in 2014/15, if you adjust for inflation. This is the latest year there are confirmed figures for.

Technically this doesn’t go directly to private landlords. The housing charity Shelter says that most private renters get the money paid into their bank account.

By contrast, Housing Benefit is usually paid directly to the landlord when it comes to council or housing association homes.

In the same year £9.4 billion was paid in Housing Benefit on behalf of housing association tenants, and £6.1 billion to councils in their role as landlords. So payments to private tenants made up 37% of all Housing Benefit payments that year.

It’ll be a similar proportion in 2016/17, according to government forecasts.

This is slightly higher than the proportion of Housing Benefit recipients, who make up 31% of all recipients. They account for a greater share of Housing Benefit payments by value because they receive more on average: £110 per week, compared to £89 per week for tenants in the social rented sector.

Charity says 67% of refuges might close

“Women’s Aid has said that two thirds of women’s refuges are going to close because of the benefit cap when it comes into force and that 87% of women and children who are in those refuges will suffer as a result of it.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 7 September 2016

Mr Corbyn is correct that domestic violence charities have raised concerns about proposed changes to Housing Benefit.

Women’s Aid, a charity focusing on women suffering domestic abuse, has said that “67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England will be forced to close” unless they are exempted from the changes. The charity also said that in Wales the figure is 69%.

But it’s not correct to say that 87% of women and children in these refuges will suffer as a result. What Women’s Aid said was that 87% of refuges in England won’t be able to keep “their current level of provision” as a result of the benefit change. In Wales this figure increases to 100%.

We’ve asked Women’s Aid for more information about their findings.

In 2015 plans were announced to change the amount that families living in social housing can receive in Housing Benefit.

Women’s Aid has expressed concerns that refuges may be included in the proposed changes, affecting their ability to cover their running costs through Housing Benefit.

The government has exempted refuges for one year, but has made no final announcement on what happens after that.

Courts decide who triggers Article 50

“Will she [the Prime Minister] confirm that there is really no basis in law to require the government to seek the permission of Parliament before invoking Article 50?”

Bernard Jenkin MP, 7 September 2016

“He’s absolutely right. The government’s position is very clear. This is a prerogative power, it’s a power that can be exercised by the Government”

Theresa May, 7 September 2016

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out how a country leaves the EU. The UK won’t begin the process of leaving until it sends an official notification under Article 50.

There’s a legal dispute about who in the UK has the power to do this. The Prime Minister’s statement reflects the advice of government lawyers that the government can send the Article 50 notification. Many other legal experts agree.

But equally respected lawyers argue that Parliament has to pass a law authorising this—giving MPs and Lords a vote that could block Brexit.

In the end, the courts will decide what the law requires, as Theresa May mentioned. A case on the issue is going be heard by the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges in October, with the losing side likely to be able to appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

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