Feeble progress on decarbonisation

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

The prospect of underspent decarbonisation funding for social housing being sent back to the Treasury is worrying enough in itself – and that’s before you consider the bigger picture.

The warning from a senior civil servant at the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy was delivered at the Housing 2022 conference this week as he urged landlords to bid for the upcoming second wave of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF).

In the wake of alarming lack of progress by councils who received funding from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, the fact that the money is being released in one-year tranches may be part of the problem. There are also  still major concerns about skills and capacity to carry out the work.

However, at least the fund is there. The really alarming thing is that this is just about the only part of plan to decarbonise housing as a whole that is even close to on track to achieving the progress needed to achieve net zero.

A sobering report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published on Wednesday reveals the scale of the challenge and the lack of progress so far.

Absurdly, as CCC chair Lord Deben says in his introduction, we are still building new homes that will not meet minimum standards of energy efficiency and will require significant and expensive retrofitting. This is six years and counting after the original target for all new homes to be zero carbon.

The Future Homes Standard will not apply to new homes in England until 2025 and the CCC is ‘not confident’ that interim measures will drive sufficient change before then since they will still add to the stock of gas boilers that will need to be retrofitted.

But progress is even slower on existing homes and the vast majority of the housing stock that will exist in 2050 has already been built.

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White paper reverses Tory orthodoxy on renting

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

The fairer renting white paper could mark a turning point for tenants and landlords but there is still a long road ahead.

If enacted by this Conservative government, the proposals will mean the abolition of the Section 21 no-fault evictions and assured shorthold tenancies that were at the heart of the 1988 framework designed by the Thatcher administration to bring the market back into the private rented sector.

The damning verdict of the white paper is that this has led to a sector ‘that offers the most expensive, least secure, and lowest quality housing to 4.4 million households, including 1.3 million households with children and 382,000 households over 65. This is driving unacceptable outcomes and holding back some of the most deprived parts of the country.’

In future, all tenancies will be periodic tenancies that can be ended by the tenant with two months’ notice or by the landlord only with a valid ground for possession.

The new system will also see a reversal of more recent trends towards less security in the social rented sector. Probationary, fixed term and demoted tenancies are now set to be abolished on the grounds that there should be parity between sectors.

Contrast that with what happened in the 2010s under David Cameron. The government enabled social landlords to offer fixed-term tenancies in 2011 and legislated to make them mandatory for new council tenants in 2016 (although this was later dropped). Ministers regularly implied that ‘tenancies for life’ were somehow part of a ‘dependency culture’.  

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Johnson’s lame cover version

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing.

How exactly should we take Boris Johnson’s plans to ‘bring back Right to Buy’ and ‘turn Generation Rent into Generation Own’?

Many housing association tenants will welcome the chance to own their own home and private renters may welcome official recognition that they are stuck paying more in rent than for the mortgage they can’t get.

Equally, most social landlords will feel that they have no choice but to take very seriously a major change for housing associations and what could be yet another threat to council housing.

And anyone with even the vaguest interest in seeing more genuinely affordable homes will greet the latest guff about one for one replacements with a groan. 

But it’s also very hard not to be cynical about this latest cover version of Margaret Thatcher’s number one from the 1980s. The suspicion is that this is all about a lame duck prime minister having something catchy to announce regardless of how  – or even if – it will work out in practice.

Even so it’s impossible not to wonder about the practicalities of a plan to finance mortgages from housing benefit in the middle of a cost of living crisis, with interest rates about to rise at the peak of a housing market bubble that could be about to burst.

And it’s hard not to contrast Boris Johnson’s tired old rhetoric about social tenants on housing benefit being ‘dependent on the state’ with the plans announced just 24 hours earlier for a Social Housing Regulation Bill that will ‘mean more people living in decent, well looked-after homes enjoying the quality of life they deserve’.

Calling the plan ‘benefits to bricks’ looks like trolling of those who have genuinely attempted to find ways to shift subsidy to new homes.

And all of these reactions are subject to the politics of a wounded prime minister desperate to send the right signals to his party after 41 per cent of his own MPs said they have no confidence in him.

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