Industry news

Green Paper – what the experts said A

cautious welcome mixed with some disappointment is perhaps the best description we can give to the responses

given to the Green Paper, by representatives from across the social housing sector. On a school report the phrase “could do better” and a score of four out of ten would probably feature. Some of the most critical comments came from

representatives of the residents and families who survived the Grenfell Tower and clearly felt that not enough was being proposed to ensure tenants’ voices are heard and acted upon in the future. It was also clear that there was frustration at the repeated delays in the publication timetable and that the final version was not more detailed, ambitious and wide ranging. Jenny Osbourne, chief executive of tenant

engagement body TPAS, said: “We know from our landlord and tenant members that a renewed focus on empowerment, a more respected tenant voice and raising the standards, quality and safety on current homes will be welcomed by all. We also note so far there is little evidence of additional social homes investment within the headlines of the green paper which is frustrating. She added “The lack of link up to the issue of

welfare reform, so clearly articulated at the tenant roadshows as a major concern, is also disappointing

Benefit freeze puts private renting out of reach for low- income tenants

A new report by the Chartered Institute of Housing claims that even the lowest private rents are now out of reach for people on low incomes and are putting thousands at increased risk of homelessness, or going without life’s basics. In ‘Missing the target?’ the Institute’s research

shows that more than 90 per cent of Local Housing Allowance rates (housing benefit for private renters) across Great Britain now fail to cover the cheapest rents, as they were originally designed to do. LHA rates were frozen for four years in 2016 and

the CIH is warning that they have fallen so far behind even the cheapest rents that private renting has become unaffordable for most low-income tenants. This is putting them at risk of homelessness as they are forced to choose between basic living expenses and paying the shortfall. The organisation is calling on the Government to review the policy and to end the freeze immediately. The findings are consistent with recent warnings

from RICS and ARLA who say that private sector rents are rising because there are more people chasing a limited supply of properties for rent. Buy

and misses a fundamental problem.” Meanwhile Campbell Robb, chief executive of the

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said families on low incomes are still not being helped. He said “Families up and down the country are being trapped in poverty because of high housing costs. The Social Housing Green Paper was an opportunity to right this wrong and deliver a plan that would build a new generation of social housing that would loosen the grip of poverty on families and help people to build a secure future.”

INDUSTRY VOICES “While the plans to empower tenants and give them a real voice are very welcome, the lack of concrete plans to build significantly more truly affordable homes risks failing a generation. Against a backdrop of rising foodbank use, families on low incomes will continue to face impossible choices about whether to pay the rent or put food on the table. We urge the Government to invest in 80,000 genuinely affordable homes a year at the next Spending Review to put things right,” he added. Industry professionals generally tried to put a

positive spin on the Green Paper’s content. They welcomed plans to give tenants more influence over their landlords and quicker redress when services

to let investors and small-scale landlords are reportedly leaving the rental market because of increased regulation and tax changes. This in turn is pushing up rents across the private sector. LHA rates are meant to cover the cheapest 30 per

cent of homes in any given area. But the CIH point out that rates have not been increased in line with local rents since April 2013 and they remain frozen until April 2020. As a result, renters are facing gaps ranging from £25 a month on a single room in a shared home outside London to more than £260 a month on one to four-bedroom homes in some areas of London. Over 12 months, those gaps rise to £300 and £3,120 – making it increasingly likely that renters will be forced to choose between paying for basic necessities like food and heating or their rent. The Government introduced targeted

affordability funding in 2014 to bridge the biggest gaps but CIH’s new report has found that its impact has been negligible, covering only a handful of the shortfalls completely. Although not part of this research, the CIH estimates that a full realignment of LHA rates with local rents would cost around £1.2 billion.

GROWING HOMELESSNESS CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE said: “Our research makes it clear just how far housing benefit for private renters has failed to keep pace with even the cheapest private rents. We fear this policy is putting thousands of private renters on low incomes at risk of poverty and homelessness. “We are calling on the Government to conduct an immediate review and to look at ending the

6 | HMM September 2018 |

went wrong, but there was a strong consensus that the real solution is in building more new homes for rent that families on low incomes can afford. David Orr, chief executive of the National

Housing Federation, said the consultation process must address concerns about the shortage of affordable homes and welfare reforms. “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. He added “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.” Gavin Smart, deputy chief executive of the

Chartered Institute of Housing, welcomed proposals to strengthen the Regulator of Social Housing and tackle stigmatisation. “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.” “This is why we have called on the Government

to rebalance the £53bn funding for housing so that affordable housing gets a fairer share than the 21 per cent it has now,” he added.

freeze on Local Housing Allowance.” CIH say that LHA rates should be restored to the 30th percentile rent with immediate effect. Matt Downie, director of policy and external

affairs at Crisis, said: “This report highlights just how much housing benefits for private renters are falling short of the levels needed, leaving many homeless people stuck in a desperate situation and putting yet more people at risk of homelessness. “There are 236,000 people across Britain

experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – this includes those sleeping on the streets, living in unsuitable hostels, and sofa-surfing. In many of these cases, people simply can’t find a home because there isn’t enough social housing and housing benefits are too low to cover private rents.” “Homelessness is not inevitable – there is clear

evidence that it can be ended with the right policies in place. The Government must urgently reform housing benefits for private renters, so they not only match the true cost of renting but also keep pace with future rent changes.” CIH claim the policy is hitting single people aged

under 25 particularly hard, because they are only entitled to LHA to cover the rent on a bedroom in a shared home. Even small gaps between their LHA and their rent can be serious because the levels of other benefits they may be entitled to (for example Jobseeker’s Allowance) are also much lower. CIH policy and practice officer Sam Lister, who wrote the report, said general benefit rates for single people aged under 25 are too low to contribute towards any gap without putting them at significant risk of homelessness.

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