The Labour Party is urging the government to effectively close down the property market in England.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday said he wanted to put a halt to moving house, renting apartments and all property viewings by estate agents.

His reasoning rested on the closure of schools which, he said, made no sense when property viewings were still permitted and garden centres remained open. In fact, allowing both were adding to the government’s already mixed messaging and confusing the public even more, he insisted.

Property market should follow first lockdown’s example

Sir Starmer also highlighted that the COVID-19 infection rate was higher now, with more people in hospital today than in March to May. At that point, during the first lockdown, all property viewings were banned under lockdown restrictions. Instead viewings were conducted via recorded videos or agents livestreaming their own viewing via mobile phone.

He told BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg: “We are in at least as serious, if not a more serious position than in March of last year, [and yet] we’ve got fewer restrictions in place.

“I think we are going to have to look in the next 24 hours or so, what are the other measures that could be put in place, and hear from the scientists as to which of those that they think are more effective, and then all pull together and support those measures if they’re needed because the numbers are still, as everybody knows, heading in the wrong direction.”

Some estate agents have agreed with Mr Starmer with at least one business in Kent halting all face-to-face viewings with staff and clients, citing ‘moral’ reasons.

Johnson admits tougher restrictions an option

Mr Starmer may yet get his way since even Prime Minister Boris Johnston admitted yesterday that tightening down of the rules – including halting property viewings – may still be necessary. 

“We’re going to keep the rules under constant review, where we have to tighten them, we will,” he said. “Of course, if we feel things are not being properly observed, then we may have to do more.”

Many agents, surveyors and conveyancers are currently working overtime trying to get house transactions through in time to meet the Stamp Duty Holiday deadline on March 31. A sudden halt to the property market would effectively put an end to many of these sales immediately. Or, it could mean the deadline being extended. This had been ruled out by Chancellor Rishi Sunak prior to the Christmas lockdown.

The Government hasn’t confirmed any intention to tighten up rules and have dismissed the Labour Leader’s criticism of their handling of the pandemic, insisting they have always been ‘fast to act.’

However, guidance on the government’s website says that it “may become necessary to pause all home moves… for a short period of time to manage the spread of coronavirus.” It also provides information for tenants and letting agents.