The Laws That Brought Us Rent – Chapter 3

Blake Hayek
Written by Blake Hayek

The Addison (1919), Chamberlain (1923), and Wheatley (1924) Acts

This week’s instalment in the saga outlines three acts which oversaw the construction of many of the properties today’s renters still occupy. As the debate over Britain’s housing crisis rages on – bumping between questions of housing costs, stamp duty, and regeneration – maybe it’s worth retracing how we tackled this all before?


When WWI finally ended, the need for housing was about as high as it would ever be. Throughout the 1920s, many attempts were made to strike a balance between private and public investment into building new homes. During this particular decade, due to high construction costs, equally high unemployment, and under-developed mortgage schemes, the private rental sector was somewhat sidelined. However, between Addison’s Housing and Planning Act of 1919, Chamberlain’s 1923 Housing Act and finally the ‘Wheatley’ Housing Act of 1924, over a million new builds were brought into the market. These would later of course be introduced into the private rental sector when regulations were rolled back in the ‘80s.


With the wounded returning home from France, the Liberal party of Lloyd George campaigned their housing policy under the slogan Homes fit for heroes. Successful in their efforts at election, they oversaw the introduction of the Addison Act, the premise of which being that local councils would be given subsidies from central government to build cheap rented houses. Fronted by the namesake of the Act, Christopher Addison, it was conceived as only a short-term measure until  the country had sufficiently distanced itself from the war and the market had stabilised. By the end of its course, this state-subsidised building programme introduced almost half a million homes. That said, the eventual costs of the properties precluded their initially envisioned occupants (those on the poorer end), and instead ended up predominantly homing the lower-middle classes and blue-collar workers. Most lastingly, the Addison Act is credited with hailing in the original ‘garden suburbs’. What a claim to fame, ey?


A few tweaks were then made by the Conservative government which took power after the 1922 general election. Instead of allocating funds to local councils, this time private builders were granted government subsidies to carry out construction. In fact, the Chamberlain Act specifically required local councils to demonstrate that the private sector was not able or willing to meet the housing needs of a given area before they were granted permission to carry out projects themselves. Nevertheless, recognising the persistent obstacles in the effort to get everyone indoors, as it were, council housing remained on the cards through the Tory tenure, but in a backseat role.


The Wheatley Act of 1924 met these two somewhere in the middle, reintroducing the emphasis on state-subsidised council properties, but retaining the use of private contractors. The need to demonstrate no other viable option was removed as a condition for local council’s to get the go-ahead, and the focus switched instead to improving the overall quality of the digs. However, whilst this intention was directed at a long-term investment in well-built affordable homes, Britain’s poorest were still left out in the cold, continuing the seeming inability for any party on either side of the floor to execute an efficient and effective housing plan. Even so, the Act had a lasting impact on the market in as far as it accompanied a negotiation by the government with trade unions in the building industry to remove certain obstacles and forego particularly restrictive building practices, thereby paving the way for the housing boom which followed in the ‘30s.


Watch this space to find out what happened next…

Image credit: Paul Townsend

About the author

Blake Hayek

Blake Hayek

Blake Hayek lives and works in London where he is completing a part-time MA in English. His thesis looks at how experimental literature of the last century has responded to the abstraction of finance capital. When he's not reading about debt, you'll find him trying to write himself out of it.

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