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Welcome changes but more still required

Patrick Mooney, News Editor

Over the late Summer months while the country was basking in an unusually long spell of hot weather, the Government launched a series of new policy papers which taken together demonstrated a welcome change in its approach to social housing. Some of the most divisive housing policies developed under David Cameron’s premiership are being quietly dropped or amended. Alongside the generally positive reactions from the social housing sector was a sense of frustration and a desire to see the Government go even further. Above all else, people from all political persuasions and none want Ministers to commit additional resources for building the homes that people so badly need and to provide them with good quality services at a reasonable price. Brexit has been an all-consuming issue over the past year for our politicians. Whether this accounted for any of the delays in producing the Social Housing Green Paper it is hard to say. But the absence of any money from the Green Paper for developing 90,000 new social homes a year was a huge disappointment and it does put a question mark over the Government’s commitment to reviving the social housing sector. Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire were understandably critical of the Green Paper, or parts of it at least. They felt it was not bold enough to ensure the tragedy could not be repeated elsewhere and it will not lift the stigma of social housing from the millions of households living in it. Much depends on what changes are made to the draft legislation when it emerges as a White Paper, but after a year of waiting it is clear that people wanted to see more concrete and radical proposals to put tenants safety and their views centrestage.

RESOURCES RATHER THAN GIMMICKS REQUIRED Establishing league tables for housing associations has rightly been seen as something of a gimmick, but it’s one that this Government appears to like using where publicly funded services are concerned – think of schools and hospitals. The trouble with the idea is that tenants will struggle to use the league tables to transfer to another landlord, or to hold their landlord to account in any meaningful way. Unless of course a new regulatory framework focussed on tenants’ views is delivered to replace the current landlord friendly system and a reformed regulator can be transformed into a pro-active and interventionist champion of tenants’ rights. On a positive note the Government has shown some willingness to rethink and listen to alternative views by delivering a u-turn on the funding of supported housing, as well as dropping its commitment to force local authorities to sell their most valuable houses when they become empty. It is also rethinking the use of Right to Buy receipts so councils can use more of them to build replacement homes. Ministers have also listened to campaigners in the development of its new rough sleeping strategy, but once again experts and lobbyists fear that the policy will fail to deliver on its ambitions unless more money can be found for the range of support services it promises. Strangely it has found more money to fund the pilot of extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants in the West Midlands than it has for delivering its rough sleepers strategy. This decision smacks of ideology triumphing over sound policies and pragmatism.

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PRESSURES ON SAFETY, RENTS AND TENANCIES Progress in removing combustible cladding from residential tower blocks is moving at a snail’s pace, but when the Grenfell Tower inquiry resumes you can be sure that Ministers will come under pressure from all quarters to deliver on a variety of safety measures. While James Brokenshire appears to have made an assured start as the Housing Secretary, it is how he deals with the aftermath of the Grenfell fire that could define his time in office. The housing phenomenon of the past 20 years has surely been the growth of the private rented sector. It has doubled in size and is now bigger than the social rented sector, but there are some signs that its growth is slowing considerably or it is actually shrinking. This is happening at a time when demand is still growing so inevitably this is forcing up rents. This situation is not sustainable (especially while social rented numbers are growing so slowly) and maybe the Government needs to reflect on whether it needs to revisit some of its tax and regulatory changes which are causing a number of BTL investors and small-scale landlords to sell up and withdraw from the market. At the same time it will need to look at housing benefit rates for private renters as the Chartered Institute of Housing is warning that these have fallen so far, that thousands of tenants are going without life’s necessities in order to pay their rent, or they face homelessness. This of course could put even more pressure on the Government’s new rough sleeping strategy and I am sure Ministers do not want to face cries of “We told you so” before the ink has even dried on the strategy.


09.18 Patrick Mooney

Cool reception for Green Paper

Supported housing funding u-turn

Rough sleepers strategy launched

Campaign to end retaliatory evictions

Call to stop lettings discrimination

On the cover...

Chris Miles of UL discusses how a new international alliance aims to shake up the UK fire testing industry.

Better fire testing and certification for the UK

Chris Miles of UL discusses how a new international alliance aims to shake up the UK fire testing industry. See inside

Read more on page 35... 4 | HMM September 2018 |

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