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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.

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Friday, January 7

Social Housing and the Localism Bill

The Localism Bill has now been published and is currently out for a short consultation period. There are several proposals contained in the Bill, but I just wanted to concentrate on those which impact on social housing. There have been many comments concerning the various rights and the wrongs of the government's plans, but the ones that I have read seem to highlight the negative aspects of the plans. The key changes that are being proposed in the Bill are:

  • Allowing housing associations to charge a rent of up to 80% of the market rate for their area. This, it is argued, will generate additional resources which will provide more building of new homes. This is being described as an 'affordable' rent, even though in some areas where private sector rents are relatively high, this is unlikely to be the case. In other areas where rents are low, the plan will be a non-starter as social rents are likely to be higher. Even in areas where additional cash will be generated, the number of extra new homes (that can also be let at this 'affordable' level) will be low. The Housing Minister has said that the new affordable rent model falls within the broad definition of social housing, but this does seem to me to be more akin to private renting by a private landlord. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but let's make sure that we are not using incorrect terminology to descibe something.
  • Another proposal in the Bill is to permit councils and housing associations to let their new tenancies for a fixed term of a minimum of two years. This is the so-called 'flexible' tenancy. I was recently reading a blog in The Guardian on this subject, where a posting from a council tenant summed up the issue very clearly.              It read as follows:
"I am lucky to be able to live in council housing with my family and we have done so for a number of years. Neither I nor my ex earn enough to get a mortgage (despite working for that fabulously paid area: the public sector), nor do we earn sufficient to make a move to the private sector without claiming housing benefit. As it is we have only ever had to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit (or Working Families Credits prior to that) as so many families better off than ourselves do.
The benefits have been immeasurable for the family: our son has had a stable upbringing, he is now in further education with his sights set on university. He has a strong network of friends and family. We have been able to remain in our socially useful jobs and I have put down some roots for the first time in my life. Our neighbours (composed of council and ex-council stock occupants) have also been remarkably stable so we do know most people on our street. This would not be possible if we had all had to move on after a few years. Our street is not what people would think of as typical of social housing; our local council put a lot of effort into maintaining the stock and it is appreciated.
I fear that many people do not appreciate stability sufficiently: I had moved house so often that even now, with 15 years council tenancy under my belt in one property I average moving house once every 2 years of my life. It's extremely stressful when you are single and more so when you are a child or have a child.
I expect to move later when I no longer require a 2 bed semi for myself: but it won't be to my own property as that is out of the question. I certainly don't feel that I am undeserving of this housing; I feel that there should be increased social housing so that people do not feel that owning your own property is essential with all the stress it can bring."

I don't think that there is a need for further comment here...

The article and discussion can be found at:

  • Another proposal that I have some concerns about is the power for councils to be able to discharge their legal responsibilities to homeless families by offering a 12 month tenancy in the private rented sector. Whilst this may seem fair (at the moment this requires the consent of the homeless family), many people have expressed concerns about the condition of some privately rented homes, and the lack of investment in the properties by their landlords. This is clearly not the case everywhere, but safeguards need to be put in place in order to protect the most vulnerable from more exploitation by bad landlords. 

There are some more positive elements within the Bill, such as the reform of the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system, which has effectively robbed the majority of councils and their tenants of significant amounts of rental income for years.

I would be interested to hear the views of others on these measures, particularly on whether there is a cohesive policy here, or a collection of policy proposals without any clear direction.

David Wardle, Jan 7, 2011.