Plan launched to 'safely' reopen housing market and allow in-person viewings with 'immediate effect'

  • Video repot by ITV News Correspondent Stacey Foster

The communities secretary has set out a "comprehensive" plan to safely restart the housing market with "immediate effect", as he revealed some 450,000 buyers had put their plans on hold since lockdown began.

Robert Jenrick said he had a "clear coherent" plan which would "restart reopen and renew" most areas of the housing industry, including the essential parts of sales and lettings process, as well as construction.

He said from today (Wednesday) anyone in England who wants to move house, can do so as long as they follow new guidance.

If rules are adhered to, estate agent offices can reopen, in-person viewings can resume, show homes can open and so can removal companies.

"This can be achieved with all parties observing hygiene measures and social distancing guidelines," Mr Jenrick said.

But Mr Jenrick said a "vibrant" housing market not only requires the buying and selling of homes, but building of homes is also essential.

As such, building sites in England will be allowed to operate until 9pm Monday to Saturday in residential areas and beyond that in non-residential areas as part of the Government’s efforts to restart the economy.

Communities Secretary Jenrick said: “Varied start and finish times will make it much easier for sites to observe social distancing, take the pressure off public transport like the Tube in London and keep Britain building.”

In addition to the 450,000 buyers who have plans, it is estimated that each month 300,00 tenancies come up for renewal - experts say there is £82 billion worth of demand in the market.

Mr Jenrick said the need for many of these people wanting to move house had become "acute" for various reasons including health and finances.

"During an already difficult time these people have been stuck in limbo," he added.

He explained why it is permitted under government guidelines to look around a stranger's home but not to visit a loved one's home.

He said he could understand the "confusion" - "especially when people have been separated from their loved ones for so long" - but said specific guidelines meant the market could reopen "safely".

Requirements for in-person viewings include:

  • Visits must be by appointment only

  • Open house viewings should not take place

  • Speculative viewings where buyers or tenants are not serious yet are highly discouraged

  • All parties should follow strict social distancing guidelines

  • All internal doors should be opened where possible

  • The current occupier should vacate the property for the duration of the visit

  • All involved should wash their hands

  • Once viewing has taken place all surfaces, including door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned

He added how those who are self isolating or have coronavirus "should not be moving".

The housing secretary is speaking alongside England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries.

The pair were asked about the UK's growing coronavirus death toll, the situation in care homes, testing, and the various lockdown restrictions which have been lifted in England, as well as more minor changes across the rest of the UK.

When it was suggested the Government had not got a grip on the situation in care homes, Mr Jenrick said: “There is more that we can do and our whole focus now needs to be on ensuring that care homes are guided through the weeks and months ahead.

“And we protect as many people as we possibly can within them.”

He pointed to a £600 million cash boost announced by Boris Johnson earlier, which was for "infection control" in care homes.

In England, along with "unlimited" time outdoors, an encouragement to return to work, and the opening of garden centres, various Covid-19 mitigating measures have been lifted, including the reopening of the housing market.

Robert Jenrick is speaking alongside Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England. Credit: 10 Downing Street

But the policy has since come in for criticism, with many questioning why it is safe to view a stranger's property, with a view to buying it, but it is not safe to visit a friend's house.

The changes to lockdown in England come as the coronavirus death toll in the UK rose to at least 33,186 after a further 494 deaths were reported on Wednesday.

Many of these deaths are believed to have taken place in care homes, with Sir Keir Starmer earlier saying at PMQs that care home deaths for April were "three times" the average for normal times.

Responding to criticism, Boris Johnson pledged £600 million to help facilities stop the spread of the virus.

Only 87,063 tests took place on Tuesday, May 12, short of the 100,000 daily target.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know