Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on August 7.
Step away from planning reform for a few moments and grim news out today (Thursday August 6) reveals a more immediate crisis in the benefits system with even more alarming implications for the future.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of households subject to the benefit cap almost doubled to 154,000 between February 2020 and May 2020. Of those, 140,000 had children.
More households have moved on to Universal Credit over time so the grey line for total capped households is the one to watch – note that the increase is much bigger than when the benefit cap was reduced in 2016.
Originally posted on March 19 as a blog for Inside Housing.
It was only last week but already it seems a lifetime ago since BC – Before Coronavirus
With schools closing, London facing lockdown and, who knows, troops on the streets by the weekend, the impact on housing may seem minor by comparison.
But beyond parochial organisational concerns, the situation is critical for millions of people faced with losing their income or their job and wondering if they will lose their home too – and a matter of life and death for those living and working in care homes, extra care and sheltered housing and those who already have no home.
With the government twisting the arms of mortgage lenders to offer payment holidays, help arrived for home owners first. Now it is promising help for renters with emergency legislation to ban private and social landlords from evicting anyone for three months and no new possession proceedings to be allowed during the crisis.
Originally published on March 11 as a blog for Inside Housing.
This is a Budget that does not live up to its own hype and has some glaring omissions but still brings some good news for housing.
There are three big positives: a £12.2bn Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) over the five years from 2021/22; an additional £1bn for a Building Safety Fund to remove dangerous cladding; and £650m to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation.
Add the reversal of an interest rate hike for borrowing for new council homes, extra funding for housing infrastructure, £1.2bn in consequentials that other UK nations can invest in new homes and an extension of Shared Accommodation Rate exemptions to young rough sleepers and other vulnerable groups, and this looks like one of the best Budgets for housing in the last 10 years.
However, that’s not setting the bar especially high, and you don’t have to look very far below the surface before the questions start to mount up.
Originally posted on September 4 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Austerity may be over, according to the chancellor, but it remains to be seen what that really means for the spending programmes that matter most to housing.
What Sajid Javid meant by that boast in Wednesday’s Spending Round speech was that all departmental budgets will be increased at least in line with inflation in 2020/21.
But it soon became clear – if it wasn’t already – that housing is not one of the so-called ‘people’s priorities’ of crime, education and health and so does not qualify for any headline-grabbing investment.
The only housing-related announcement in the speech itself was a £54m increase in funding for homelessness and rough sleeping to £422m in 2020/21, which Mr Javid said amounted to a 13% real terms increase.
Originally published on March 5 as a blog for Inside Housing.
The way that responsibility for housing is split between different government departments means that sometimes the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.
The classic example of this came in parliament yesterday when even as MPs were approving another year of frozen working-age benefits, the housing secretary was making a written statement attacking landlords for refusing to let to tenants on housing benefit.
The vote means that the local housing allowance (LHA) will be frozen for the fourth year in succession and the benefit cap will stay stuck at the reduced rate of £20,000 (£23,000 in London).
The impact of that will fall directly in the ‘thousands of vulnerable people and families’ mentioned by James Brokenshire in his written statement and will be felt most by families with children and those living in the most expensive areas.
And it will come on top of the continuing impact of the transition to universal credit and all the problems with waiting times, delays in payment and supposed simplicity for tenants and landlords that it brings in its wake.
If it reinforces the sense of relief among social landlords that the government abandoned plans to cap housing benefit for social and supported housing at LHA rates, it means many social tenants face a freeze on the rest of their incomes despite rising prices.
But the freeze will give private landlords yet more reasons to think twice about letting homes to tenants on benefits.
And the move by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) comes at precisely the moment that ministers at the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) give their backing to a campaign by Shelter on ‘No DSS’ adverts.
Originally published on August 29 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The freeze on the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is a £1.2 billion question for which the answer seems obvious.
The problems detailed in analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) published on Wednesday are severe and they are getting worse.
LHA rates are midway through a four-year freeze that is the culmination of seven years of austerity. The result is that they have completely lost touch with the rents they were meant to cover.
The CIH analysis shows that 90% of LHA rates now fail to cover the rent of the cheapest 30% of private rented homes (bear in mind that this was itself a cut from the 50th percentile and that LHA was originally designed to enable tenants to ‘shop around’ for cheaper rents).
That leaves tenants facing rent shortfalls that grow larger with each year of austerity: outside London, two out of every three LHA shared accommodation rates have a weekly shortfall of £4 or more and half of other LHA rates are short by £10 or more; in London, the shortfalls for shared accommodation are more than £10 a week in every LHA area and at least £30 for all other homes.
Originally published on March 29 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve written a blog at this time every year with the headline ‘April is the cruellest month’.
It’s not that I have a TS Eliot fixation nor (I hope) that I endlessly repeat myself but because ever since 2010 the start of the financial year seems to have meant yet another benefit cut or housing policy change to cope with.
This year is a bit different not so much because there is no bad news but because there is some good news as well. Here are some examples:
- The u-turn on the withdrawal of support for housing costs for 18-21 year olds under universal credit announced on Thursday. This was a cumbersome policy that required significant exemptions and barely saved any money but it’s still a significant change to the original pledge to make young people ‘earn or learn’.
- The Homelessness Reduction Act passed in 2017 applies from April 3. The legislation should be a big step forward in ensuring that more people get help earlier but despite a recent announcement on funding there are still well-founded concerns about whether councils have the money to implement it.
- Claimants already getting housing benefit who move on to universal credit will from April be paid an additional two weeks of housing benefit. That may not be much consolation for the (in theory) five-week wait for their first universal credit but the payment (worth an average of £233) should ease the transition a bit –and it is not recoverable.
- It will be unlawful for landlords to give new tenancies on the least energy efficient property from April 1 – all rented property will have to qualify for at least an Energy Performance Certificate rating of E so (in theory) tenants will no longer be stuck paying high heating bills for the worst F and G property.
- More measures introduced against rogue landlords in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 come into force, including powers for councils to issue banning orders against the worst offenders and implementation of a database of landlords and letting agents convicted of some offences.
Bear in mind too that it’s not so long ago that I would have been writing about plans to apply a Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap to social and supported housing from…April 2018.
For all that good news, though, the suspicion remains that it will at best mitigate the impact of policies already implemented and still in the pipeline.
Philip Hammond’s Budget contains some big numbers and ambitious promises on housing but you don’t have to delve very far to find the real priorities.
Contrast, for example, what’s happening with housing, tax and welfare, two different measures that were heavily predicted and one that was desperately needed.
Stamp duty is being cut, but the chancellor has gone further than the expected holiday by abolishing it completely for first-time buyers of homes worth up to £300,000 or the first £300,000 of homes worth up to £500,000. The cut applies from now and will cost £3bn by the end of 2022/23.
Problems with universal credit are being addressed with measures including the scrapping of the seven-day waiting period, making advances easier to get and allowing continued payment of housing benefit for two weeks after a universal credit claim. The total cost is £1.5bn by 2022/23 and there is another delay to the rollout.
The universal credit changes are welcome but will still leave claimants potentially facing destitution and people in work thousands of pounds a year worse off than they would have been under the previous system.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on May 20.
Some very big questions on housing, welfare and tax are looming ahead of this Budget.
If there is not the same sense of raised expectations that surrounds the prospects for land and investment, the answers given by Philip Hammond on November 22 will still go a long way to determining what type of housing system we will have going into the 2020s.
I’ve written many times before about the way that the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 and the policies adopted under George Osborne since 2010 have combined to create a system in which older and better-off home owners have gained at the expense of younger and poorer renters.
A piece in the Financial Times last week used figures from the Resolution Foundation to quantify just how much: housing costs for households below average incomes rose by £714 between 2007/08 while they fell by £271 for those on above average incomes. The biggest gains went to the richest 10% of households, whose average housing costs fell by £1,206.
And that these figures do not include substantial increases in housing wealth over the same period as house prices have risen.
So what could Hammond do to redress the balance?