The legacy of the 1988 Housing Act 30 years on

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Royal Assent for the Act that set the framework for the housing system as we have known it ever since – but as its influence wanes is it going into reverse?

The 1988 Housing Act led to lasting change in social and private rented housing. Not everything happened at once – some provisions were amended in later legislation and some took time to have an effect – but this was what set the basic ground rules for what followed.

In the social rented sector, it meant private finance, higher rents, stock transfer and housing associations replacing local authorities as the main providers. In the private rented sector, it meant the end of security of tenure and regulated rents and the arrival of assured shortholds and Section 21.

But it also created a system that was full of contradictions that are now only too clear. The stage was set for the revival of rentier landlordism but also the eventual decline of home ownership, the fall of municipal empires but the rise of mega housing associations and a belief that housing benefit could ‘take the strain’ of higher rents that always seemed unlikely and drained away with austerity.

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Private renting ten years on

Originally posted on September 10 on my blog for Inside Housing. 

So what is the state of the private rented sector – and what can be done about it?

Ten years on from their official review for the government, Julie Rugg and David Rhodes of the University of York are back with an update for the Nationwide Foundation.

Despite finding some progress – the average condition of rental property has improved, the average tenancy has got longer and Build to Rent investment is at long last producing results – the problems remain depressingly familiar and in many areas things have got worse.

The private rented sector is now 40% bigger but that growth is more down to the decline of home ownership and social renting than a wave of new construction or an expansion of choice. Perhaps half a million homes sold under the Right to Buy are now private rentals.

Thanks to Buy to Let, the sector is even more dominated by individual ‘investors’ looking to boost their wealth by getting tenants to pay the mortgage – mainstream commercial property companies account for just 3% of the stock.

The review estimates there are now 2.3m adults in England who are landlords – of those, 9% are themselves also private tenants and (surely some mistake?) 1% are social tenants.

And the bottom end of private renting – the only option for tens of thousands of tenants on benefit – is under such pressure from welfare reform that it is becoming ‘a residual slum tenure’.

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What the English Housing Survey says about private renting

Originally posted on August 2 on my blog for Inside Housing.

The second in a series of blogs looking at the latest English Housing Survey considers the state of the private rented sector in 2016/17.

Home to a fifth of us

The private rented sector has doubled in size over the last 20 years from 10% of households in 1996/97 (2.1m) to 20% in 2016/17 (4.7m). Most of the growth took place after 2003.

To put that growth into perspective, the private rented sector now accommodates a greater share of households than at any time since 1970. As recently as 1997, following rapid decline in the 1970s and 1980s, it was half the size of the social rented sector.

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The politics of longer private tenancies

Originally published on June 2 on my blog for Inside Housing.

When it comes to the private rented sector are we all Chavistas now?

Back in 2014, when Ed Miliband’s Labour proposed a standard three-year tenancy with limits on rent increases, Conservative party chair Grant Shapps was quick to accuse it of ‘Venezuelan-style socialism’.

Flash forward four years and the Conservatives have stolen Labour’s policy at the last two elections and announced plans of their own for three-year tenancies – and if they are not quite proposing limits on rent increases they are not ruling them out either.

Even two years ago it would have been unimaginable for them to propose anything like the proposals announced by housing secretary James Brokenshire on Monday and first reported in the Conservative-supporting Telegraph on Saturday night.

Indeed, far from increasing security for private renters, Conservative-led governments had spent the years since 2010 attempting to undermine it for social tenants.

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From housing ladder to housing treadmill

Originally posted on April 30 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Once upon a time the image of a ladder was a fair representation of the housing system. Not anymore.

The old days in which the home-owning majority saved for a deposit and got a mortgage, a significant majority put their names down for a council house and got one and the rest used the private rented sector as a temporary transition are long gone.

And a report out today from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) suggests a new image has replaced the ladder for people on low incomes struggling with high housing costs and insecure jobs and tenancies: a housing treadmill, where people ‘were running to stay and were worried about falling off completely’.

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April arrives with some rare good news

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.

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Where the money really goes in housing

Three comparisons leap out from the latest edition of the indispensable UK Housing Review published on Wednesday.

The first two are not new in themselves and the third is only a crude estimate but all three need repeating again and again for a real appreciation of where spending on housing goes and exactly who is subsidising who.

First comes the main one highlighted by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH): the shift from bricks and mortar to personal subsidies, or from grants for new homes and repairs to old ones to housing benefit.

This series of pie charts from the Review shows the change over the last 40 years and the total amount of housing subsidies in real terms:

Chapters tables charts 2018

Note first that supply subsidies have sunk to just 4.3 per cent of the total pie – this despite all the cuts in housing benefit seen since 2010 and the fact that the figures to not include continuing tax reliefs for home owners (see below for more on that).

Second, note that this does not save money. Total subsidies are now 48 per cent higher in real terms than at the turn of the century (when admittedly social housing investment was very low) but they are also approaching the levels of 30 years ago (when investment was significantly higher and the unemployment rate was three times what it is now).

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