State of the housing nation

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

So where next? The publication of the UK Housing Review this week is a chance to take stock and ask where the housing system may be heading.

The sense is one of considerable flux, for home ownership as the housing market downturn continues, for private renting as the momentum behind increased regulation grows and for social housing as landlords face competing demands for scarce resources.

The paralysis of policy signalled by a Budget that mostly ignored housing could be just a temporary lull ahead of a UK general election.

As ever, the review puts all that into context. For starters, John Perry’s chapter on housing expenditure shows where total government support (in grants, loans and guarantees) for housing is going. The balance between the private market (59 per cent) and affordable housing (41 per cent) may not be quite as skewed as it was in the heyday of Help to Buy but it is still tilted in one direction.

The good news is that public spending on affordable homes has risen in real terms since the dark days of the coalition government. Investment under three Affordable Homes Programmes is set to peak this year – but the looming cliff edge is an indication of the big decisions that lie ahead:

Current spending plans (as in the Budget) rely on eye-watering (and unrealistic) austerity after the next election so that they comply with the chancellor’s fiscal rules. Key decisions lie ahead in the spending review after the next election regardless of who wins.

What is getting built is also skewed. There were 59,175 affordable housing completions in England in 2021/22, the highest for 11 years. However, more than 20,000 of those were for affordable home ownership and 28,000 for affordable rent, leaving just 7,528 for social rent (plus another 3,080 for similar London Affordable Rent).

Contrast that with Scotland, which managed 9,757 affordable completions in 2021/22 including almost as many social rent homes (7,306) despite having a population about a tenth of England’s.

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Budget leaves housing frozen out

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

In a Budget where everything had to begin with E there was little hope for housing.

Neither Rishi Sunak’s economic priorities nor Jeremy Hunt’s e-list (enterprise, employment, education and everywhere) left much room for an issue on which the Conservatives appear to have given up.

On energy, there was good news for tenants on pre-payment meters and for everyone with the extension of the price guarantee.

However, there was no more support for a policy that would do more than anything else to reduce dependence on unreliable overseas energy supplies and Vladimir Putin.

Investment in the decarbonisation  of existing homes would cut energy demand at the same time as it cut carbon emissions and bills for tenants and home owners and delivered on the government’s new priority of energy security.

Energy efficiency even begins with the right letters but that either counts as a double negative or was quietly forgotten.

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Making (some) things right

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

‘Making things right’ is the government’s theme of the month for housing and two new pieces of legislation represent significant steps in that direction.

Unfortunately they also beg some real questions about what’s happening, and not happening, elsewhere.

The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill passed its final hurdle before Royal Assent with its third reading in the Commons on March 1. The proactive consumer regulation regime and inspections that were dropped in 2010 will now be restored.

While its long-term impact remains to be seen, the Bill was considerably strengthened by last-minute government amendments to implement ‘Awaab’s Law’ time limits for landlords to investigate and fix damp and mould problems and to mandate professional standards for social housing staff.   

On March 3, the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill got its third reading in the Commons before moving on to the Lords.

The private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Bob Blackman (also the architect of the Homelessness Reduction Act in 2017) aims to stop the exploitation of vulnerable tenants by rogue landlords in the exempt accommodation sector.

The two Bills, and the spirt of cooperation in the debates on them, highlight a significant change in attitudes within government since Grenfell.

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