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Welcome to the learning4housing blog. I will be posting my thoughts and opinions on a range of issues facing the social housing sector. You are more than welcome to post your comments, whether you agree or disagree on the points. The aim here is to stimulate some debate on these issues, whether they are about current government policy or about best practice in housing management or strategy.

is an independent training provider for the social housing sector. We cover a wide range of subject areas, including anti-social behaviour, homelessness, resident involvement, void control, choice-based lettings, and complaints management, as well as personal skills development around communication, negotiation, assertiveness, influencing, managing people, etc. Please visit the main website for more information at

Please call David on 07986 246406 to discuss your training needs and how we can help, or email at

Thursday, December 2

Mr Shapps and Housing Waiting Lists

So Mr Shapps sees the long waiting lists for social housing and claims that this is evidence that there is need for reform. Well, I suppose not many of us who work in the social housing sector would disagree with that, but when we look at the reforms that he proposes, there might just be some parting of opinions.

What do long waiting lists tell us? It may seem pretty obvious, but perhaps we need to take a closer look. Waiting lists are an indication of housing demand, not necesserily of housing need. Social landlords have methods - either by banding systems or points systems - to determine the relative degree of housing need of their applicants. So, there may be people on the waiting lists who are not in serious need for rehousing, whilst there will also be people who are homeless, and who are in dire need due to severe overcrowding, medical conditions, etc. People on waiting lists are not a homogeneous group of people. One thing they do have in common though in their desire to live in a home owned by either a local authority or a housing association. 

Since the right to buy was introduced by Mrs Thatcher in 1980, over 2 million council homes have been sold to sitting tenants. At the same time, the government stopped councils from building new homes and passed this responsibility to housing associations. So, how did they do? Well, as they were dependent on government subsidy to build, they managed to build about 1 million. The result is easy to calculate - a net reduction in the national social housing stock of about 1 million since 1980. 

The right to buy was a very popular policy and clearly enabled many people to realise their aspiration of home ownership who would otherwise have had little hope. The sale of those 2 million homes was the largest privatisation of them all, generating millions in capital receipts for councils. However, many people objected to the policy which said that councils could only (and this is still the case) spend 25% of the proceeds - and that did not have to be spent on housing. There are many leisure centres and plush council offices around the country that have been built from the sale of council homes.

The net loss in the national social housing stock of about 1 million has clearly had some effects and poses some questions. Is it any surprise that waiting lists are longer than they used to be? Would the lists be as long if councils had been forced to spend their right to buy receipts on building new replacement homes? Why were housing associations not provided with enough grant to enable them to fill the shortfall? 

So is there a need for reform? Clearly yes. But Mr Shapps' reforms are based on reducing the security of tenure for new tenants, raising rents to 'affordable' levels of 80% of market rates, and enabling landlords to deceide who can go on their lists. 

Previous policies can easily be criticised, and we are were we are. But to propose new policies which fail to address past mistakes (by Tory and Labour governments) is only going to compound the problems and to place more people in greater housing need. Real investment in building new social homes - by councils and housing associations - at genuine affordable rents has to be the way forward. The spin-off benefits are also clear in terms of employment opportunities, skills development, tax revenues etc.