The Roundup from Hough Bellis Communications - What you need to know about the election

Hi everyone,

It’s happening! After years of instability, the country will finally head to the polls on 4th July to choose our next government.

We’ll bring you up to speed with the state of the parties and everything that has been promised when the manifestos drop in the next couple of weeks. For now, we’ve tried to set out everything that you need to know about how the election period might impact your organisation.

Even though it feels like nothing else will be discussed until polling day, the world continues to move on and there are some significant changes for the sector worth taking note of. The Leasehold Reform Act 2024 managed to scrape through on the last day of term, bringing with it a raft of new responsibilities for landlords and freeholders. An important new consultation has also been launched on access to information in social housing.

As ever, if you have any questions or want to pick our brains on anything below, please drop us a line and we’ll do all that we can to help.

Take care and speak soon,

Ben, Bobbie, Nicola, Els, Will and the Hough Bellis team

What is going on?
The General Election will take place on Thursday 4th July. Nobody thought that this was going to happen, and nobody is quite sure why the Prime Minister has made it happen, but here we are. Over 20 points behind in the polls and staring an almost certain defeat in the face, all that Rishi Sunak had left in his armoury was the element of surprise – and I was indeed surprised.

And so, on Wednesday last week, he stood on the steps of Downing Street, drowned out by “Things Will Only Get Better” and almost drowning as things could only get wetter. His big pitch was that only he had a plan for the British people, as he very visibly did not plan for the British weather.

Who will win?
At this stage in the campaign, a Labour victory seems all but certain and only the scale appears to be up for debate.

But a lot can change in General Election campaigns and if the past few years have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. When the 2017 election was called, initial polling suggested that the Conservatives would win over 400 seats, with Labour on little over 150. When the votes were counted six weeks later it was 317-262.

That being said, it’d take an even bigger change in fortunes this time given the scale of Labour’s current lead. It is very likely that Keir Starmer will be our next Prime Minister.

We’ll send out another roundup before polling day with a more comprehensive take on what we can expect to see on 4th July and what the main parties have included in their manifestos.

What do we need to do?
As the media kicks into overdrive and social media is aflame with excitement, those of us with leadership or communications positions feel like we need to do something. We ask ourselves where our plan is. We question whether we should be inviting candidates to visit or writing our own manifesto. We panic about what we are actually allowed to do.

The truth is that as exciting as things are, you probably don’t need to do anything special and you’re probably not prevented from doing much. But obviously, things are a bit more complicated than that, so here are some top tips covering everything from the pre-election period (purdah) to boundary changes.

Pre-election period of sensitivity
We are now in the ‘pre-election period of sensitivity,’ commonly known as ‘purdah’. It is a time when there are restrictions on what the public sector can and cannot do, and there is ‘heightened sensitivity’ around publicity and balance.

Normally, there should be no new government/local government consultations, advertising, news releases etc that could be seen as partisan. The House of Commons Library and Local Government Association have great briefings.

While these rules impact what some of our public sector partners can do and say, it’s important to stress that these rules do not apply to housing associations. You can continue with business as usual and you can still publicise the great work that you are doing.

Any meetings with council officers can go ahead as normal. Strictly speaking, meeting with councillors can continue as normal too, but be aware that they are likely to be very busy working on their party’s campaign.

However, to avoid reputational damage, housing associations need to avoid the risk of appearing linked to one party over another. So, if a visit is arranged for a candidate of one party, the same opportunity should be made available to others. Photographs or social posts which appear to endorse a particular candidate should be avoided on corporate accounts.

Basically, ask yourself “how does this look?”

If in doubt – give us a shout and we can provide some advice.

Media priorities will be completely different
While there is nothing to prevent you from issuing press releases as normal in most cases, be aware that there will be big stories coming out of the election every day and it will be that little bit harder to cut through. This is particularly the case in regional and national news outlets. Things are a little bit different in the industry press and it’s well worth continuing to engage.

The main thing to note is that if you are planning on a major launch where you are hoping to engage key stakeholders and secure broadcast media coverage, it might be worth putting it back until after the election.

There are no MPs
From tomorrow (30 May) when Parliament dissolves, there will be no MPs until after the election. Sitting MPs who plan to recontest their seats will become candidates and any MPs stepping down will no longer be in the role from this point.

If you regularly work on casework for local MPs, this work can continue, but they will not be able to use their parliamentary email address during this period and any correspondence should reflect the fact that they are a candidate, not an MP.

New boundaries
Parliamentary constituency boundaries will change at this election, in an effort to equalise the number of electors in each constituency. This means that even where an MP that you deal with regularly gets re-elected, the patch that they cover might still change significantly. It might also mean that part of your operating area now falls into different constituencies. A really helpful guide to the new boundaries can be found here.

What happened to the Bills before Parliament?
When a General Election is called and particularly where one is called much earlier than expected, there are suddenly only a few days left to deal with all of the business that Parliament was considering. This means that Bills that are not well-progressed will no longer proceed, while any other Bills can only become law if a deal is done between all parties to allow them to proceed.

On this occasion, it sadly meant that the Renters Reform Bill was abandoned. This means that really important provisions like a ban on s.21 evictions will not come into force unless the next government decides to reintroduce them.

Until the eleventh hour, it looked like leasehold reform was going to suffer the same fate. But after a huge amount of lobbying and campaigning (including by me), a deal was made to save the Bill, albeit in a watered-down form, and the Leasehold Reform Act 2024 has been added to the statute book.

Leasehold Reform Act 2024
Even if it doesn’t contain everything that was initially promised, the new Act is still a landmark moment for campaigners and will introduce some new responsibilities that freeholders need to be aware of.

Here are a few key highlights included in the Act:

  • The standard lease extension term has been increased to 990 years, up from 50 years for houses and 90 years for flats.
  • The sale of new leasehold houses is now banned, except in exceptional circumstances, ensuring that every new house in England and Wales will be freehold.
  • Owners on private and mixed-use estates are entitled to standardised information on service charges, making it easier to challenge the reasonableness of these costs.
  • Leaseholders can extend their lease or buy their freehold immediately upon acquiring the property, without having to wait two years.
  • The limit for “non-residential” floor space has been increased from 25% to 50%, allowing more tenants in mixed-use properties to qualify for collective enfranchisement or the Right to Manage.

IMPORTANT: Access to Information is (STILL) nothing to fear
Given we’ve all been struck down with a bad case of election fever, you could be forgiven if you’ve missed a hugely important consultation on the government’s proposed Social Tenant Access to Information Requirements.

Firstly, a tip of the hat to the civil service team who clearly spent hours trying to shoehorn the policy into the acronym, STAIRs.

The proposals have been promised as part of the Social Housing Act’s commitment to increased transparency and to provide better access to information for tenants.

They are essentially a trimmed down version of the Freedom of Information legislation local authorities currently have to follow, but are specifically for housing associations (and potentially a few other groups).

While it’s likely to take some time for STAIRs to become law, there’s lots to do to prepare.
You can check out our blog on what the consultation means for landlords, along with our handy guide to the proposals and the difference between STAIRs and FOI here.

Board away day sessions – could your organisation deal with a media storm? 
Landlords are in the spotlight like we’ve never known, and that scrutiny is only likely to intensify again after the election in July.

We’ve been working with lots of landlords and charities over the last year to make sure that they are well prepared to respond to a crisis that may bring a media or political storm, and have the right processes and systems in place to spot and address issues before they make headlines.
As you plan topics for your Autumn away days you might consider putting the management of reputational risk at the top of your agenda. It could be one of the most important things you do.
We’ve got plenty of speakers and engaging exercises to challenge leaders and ask tough questions:

  • Hannah Fearn, national journalist – How the newsroom has changed and why housing became a national story
  • Ben Powell, Hough Bellis – Engaging with politicians and reframing housing’s narrative post-election
  • Amanda Coleman, crisis communications specialist – Preparing for the worst – how can we identify and mitigate reputational risks across our sector
  • Andrew Carapiet, media trainer – How we respond when the cameras are rolling
  • Pete Apps, journalist and author – Lessons from the Grenfell tragedy

Drop us a line at hello@houghbellis.co.uk if you want some help planning your day.

Date for your diary: Grenfell Tower enquiry
The Grenfell Tower Enquiry Phase Two report will be published on Wednesday September 4.
Phase 2 of the Inquiry examines the causes of the events, including how Grenfell Tower came to be in a condition which allowed the fire to spread like it did.

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications