Would it be pushing one’s luck too much to request further concessions over the welfare budget, including lifting the freeze on the overall benefit cap and the Local Housing Allowance?

At the moment councils are busy preparing for the Homelessness Reduction Act to go live at the beginning of April. Councils’ responsibilities towards people threatened with the possibility of becoming homeless will grow significantly. An additional £74m to help with discharging these responsibilities was welcome but given that it’s being spread over two years, this is a relatively modest sum. Councils are more than happy to help, but really need the resources if they are to make a significant impact for the good here. With homelessness on the rise and almost 80,000 households in temporary accommodation, the local government sector believed the case had been made for them to build tens of thousands of homes, let on social rents.

The spectre of the Grenfell Tower tragedy still hangs over us and it is remark- able that seven months after the fire only 20 per cent of the families made homeless by the fire have actually been found a replacement home. All the rest are either staying with family and friends or in some form of hotel accommodation. Kensington

& Chelsea Council has committed to rehousing all of the families by no later than June 2018.

None of us thought this would be the case in the days and weeks after the fire. To compound the collective misery the Government is still refusing to provide funding for any additional fire safety measures in tower blocks across the social housing sector.

Instead the Chancellor announced that a

pilot to extend the Right to Buy to HA tenants will take place in the Midlands from July, but he stopped short of announcing anything on the controversial policy of forcing councils to sell off their most valuable housing assets when they become free.

GREEN PAPER By one of life’s many coincidences the Welsh Assembly closely followed the Chancellor’s decision by ending the Right to Buy in Wales. The move will come into effect in one year’s time, but the debate neatly demonstrated the polarised stances on this topic – the best way to resolve this in a way that would satisfy all sides would surely be for the supply of new affordable housing to outstrip the loss of social housing through sales, demolitions and transitions to ‘affordable’ rents.

At least the pilot is to be funded by the Government, which means the Treasury will reimburse HAs the cost of the discount given to tenants who purchase their homes, rather than raiding councils’ coffers. As one major supermarket says, “every little helps!”

So can we look forward to the promised Green Paper with any confidence? That’s a tricky question to answer. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower the answer would have been a resounding “Yes” but now we’re really not so sure. It is to be hoped that the Green Paper addresses the future provision of new housing at social rents. Building of truly affordable new homes has stalled and is now down to about 5,000 new homes in the latest year’s figures.

As a recent report from Savills has shown

– charging lower rents will feed through into a lower housing benefit bill. Surprise, surprise – so who knew that? It would also have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of tenants struggling to make ends meet and losing their homes because of rising debts, including rent arrears. Building more homes, at truly affordable rents to reduce the reliance on temporary housing would provide the bones of a sustainable housing policy. What’s not to like about that?


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