Government’s ‘new deal’ for social housing offers welcome reforms but lacks ambition on supply

AFTER months of waiting for the Government’s “new deal” on social housing, the resulting green paper evidently lacks ambition – and, crucially, enough in the way of more homes.

That sums up some of the initial reactions to the green paper, announced today by the Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire MP.

While industry figures were quick to offer welcome to the document – it does, after all, signify the tenure is getting ministerial attention after years in the seeming wilderness – but there was a general feeling that it doesn’t go far enough.

“The green paper rightly recognises the importance of new supply but we are concerned that the plans for new affordable homes are not ambitious enough,” said Gavin Smart, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

“Research shows we need a minimum of 78,000 of the most affordable homes each year, but in 2017/18 just over 5,000 were delivered – and we estimate that between 2012 and 2020 we will have lost 230,000 of these homes in total.

“This is why we have called on government to rebalance the £53 billion funding for housing so that affordable housing gets a fairer share than the 21% it has now. This is essential if we are to make sure that everyone has a decent, affordable place to call home.”

At the time of writing, the green paper document itself has yet to be made available, but the announcement from the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government talks up the ‘new deal’ document as being part of the Government’s “commitment to make a housing market fit for the future”.

According to the ministry, the social housing green paper aims to “rebalance the relationship” between tenants and landlords, tackle stigma and ensure that social housing can be both a safety net and springboard into home ownership.

The paper is said to be based around five core principles:

  • A safe and decent home which is fundamental to a sense of security and an ability to “get on in life”
  • Swift and effective resolution so that when residents have concerns about the safety or standard of their home they see results
  • Empowering residents and ensuring their voices are heard so that landlords are held to account
  • Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities, challenging the stereotypes that exists about residents and their communities
  • Building the social homes that we need and ensure that those homes can act as a springboard to home ownership

Clearly, from this it would seem that home ownership remains very much the focus of ministerial minds, rather than social housing being allowed to be a valid tenure in its own right, but if nothing else it at least acknowledges that social housing can and should have a role to play in building strong communities.

A “tougher regulator”, meanwhile, is presented as part of the package to “help drive up standards and ensure social homes are well managed and quality places to live”.

“Providing high quality and well managed social housing is a core priority for this Government,” said communities secretary, James Brokenshire.

“Our green paper offers a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety for residents living in social housing across the country. Regardless of whether you own your home or rent, residents deserve security, dignity and the opportunities to build a better life.”

Among the measures highlighted in the ministry’s announcement are:

  • Steps to speed up the complaints process, providing access to effective dispute resolution when something goes wrong and giving tenants more support in accessing the redress options available to them
  • New reforms to make it easier for tenants to progress into home ownership, such as allowing them to purchase as little as 1% of their property each year through the Government’s Shared Ownership programme
  • Strengthening the Regulator of Social Housing so it can focus on issues that matter most to tenants and has ‘sharper teeth’ to intervene when needed, ensuring social homes are well managed and of decent quality
  • Allowing councils to continue to have choice over their use of fixed term tenancies, enabling them to offer residents greater security in their homes
  • The introduction of performance indicators and new league tables, rebalancing the landlord/tenant relationship to hold bad practice to account and ensure residents are treated with dignity and respect
National Housing Federation
David Orr, chief executive, NHF

“For 40 years we have failed to build anything like enough social housing. It is time the country had a proper conversation about the role and importance of social housing in ending the housing crisis,” said David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF).

“Our members fully share the Government’s commitment to ensuring tenants get the quality services they need – and that they can hold their landlords to account if they don’t.

“We know that social housing residents like the quality of their homes, they’re concerned about the shortage of genuinely affordable homes and they feel that recent welfare reforms have caused real hardship. There must be space within the green paper consultation to address these wider concerns.

“We also know that many tenants believe the quality of services from their landlord could be improved. We know people want to feel listened to and influence the kind of services they receive. We have been leading a national conversation with our members and tenant organisations to understand where and how we can do better. Housing associations are committed to putting the people we serve at the heart of everything we do. We want to ensure this is the reality in all our homes and communities across the country.

“Without significant new investment in the building of more social housing, it is very hard to see how it can be a safety net and springboard for all the people who desperately need it. Our ambition for the green paper is that it sets a course for a future where everyone can access a quality home they can afford. To do that we need to build 90,000 new social rent homes every year.”

CIH’s Gavin Smart added: “The social housing green paper makes an important contribution to the critical debate about what we think social housing is, what it does and what we want it to be in the 21st century.

“Proposals to strengthen the role of the regulator for social housing where housing providers’ services fall short of what their tenants deserve is something CIH argued for in our Rethinking Social Housing report and it’s good to see Government thinking in the same way.

“We welcome the aim to tackle the stigmatisation of social housing, an issue which our report highlighted. Our Ipsos Mori public opinion polling showed that 65% of those interviewed felt that the negative view of people living in social housing is unfair.

“We are also pleased to see that Government plans to consult on the rules on how local authorities can use the money they receive from Right to Buy sales as well as dropping plans to force local authorities to sell their most valuable homes.”

“CIH has long argued for the removal of the barriers that prevent councils playing a full part in building the new affordable homes we so badly need.”

The Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, Councillor Judith Blake, said: “This green paper is a step towards delivering more social homes but it is only a small step, compared with the huge and immediate need for more genuinely affordable homes.

“There is a desperate need to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades. The loss of social housing means that we are spending more and more on housing benefit to supplement expensive rents instead of investing in genuinely affordable homes. It has also come alongside an increase in homelessness, with 79,000 families, and almost 125,000 children, stuck in temporary accommodation.

“Councils are proud of their housing and their tenants and continually work to improve how they empower their tenants to achieve a positive and responsive relationship. However, they need the freedoms and powers to invest in new and existing housing that communities want for themselves and their children.

“The Government must go beyond the limited measures announced so far, scrap the housing borrowing cap, and enable all councils, across the country, to borrow to build once more. This would trigger the renaissance in council house-building which will help people to access genuinely affordable housing.

“We have long called for reforms to Right to Buy to allow councils to build more homes, and there are some positive signs in the consultation. But we must go much further so that councils can deliver the affordable homes that our residents need and deserve, including allowing councils to set discounts locally and to keep 100% of receipts from homes sold.

“It is good that the Government has listened to our concerns and dropped plans to force the sale of council homes. We have worked hard to demonstrate the need to scrap this policy which would have forced councils to sell off large numbers of the homes desperately needed by low-income families in our communities.”

NH

 

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