Time for ministers to listen on the LHA cap

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

When not one but two all-party committees of MPs call on ministers to think again about a controversial policy you might think they would listen – but will they?

The Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government Committees say the government should scrap its plan to impose a Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap on supported housing and pay top-up funding via local authorities and devolved administrations.

Ministers claim the intention is not to save money but to ensure better value for money and monitoring of the quality of services.

But the MPs conclude that ‘the funding proposals, as they stand, are unlikely to achieve these objectives’ and that LHA is ‘an inappropriate starting point for a new funding mechanism’.

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Support and protect

Originally posted on September 15 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

There is good news, bad news and some continuing uncertainty in today’s long-awaited government announcement on the future funding of supported housing.

Originally expected before the summer recess, it finally came in a written statement from work and pensions secretary Damian Green. This follows the deferral of implementation of the LHA cap and 1% rent cut on the sector to allow more research and consultation.

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Looking for clues

Originally published on July 26 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

After a month of turmoil and political change, suddenly everything is on hold.

I was on holiday for the week that saw yet another new housing minister and a concerted effort by housing organisations to persuade Theresa May’s new government to change course but also the non-appearance of crucial details of previous policies.

The delays obviously reflect the political fall-out from the Brexit vote followed by the appointment of a new prime minister and an almost entirely new Cabinet. Old certainties have gone, apparently including the entire economic framework for policy, but the outlines of the new approach remain unclear.

As I blogged before I went away, Theresa May’s speeches during the brief Conservative leadership campaign can be read in two different ways. Signs of change on, for example, workers on company boards do not necessarily mean change everywhere.

Do her comments on housing signal a new ‘One Nation’ approach or one that continues to see the housing crisis solely in terms of home ownership? Is it to be business as usual or will the government listen to the critique of the previous Tory government published by an influential House of Lords committee?

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In the bag

Originally posted on June 7 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

With the Housing and Planning Act safely in the bag, ministers must be feeling pretty pleased with themselves – and it shows.

Complaints about controversial parts of the act were swatted away again and again at Communities and Local Government (CLG) questions on Monday with a mix of barely concealed contempt and dodgy statistics. But there were also some reminders of issues that may prove more intractable than the legislation assumes and of one big problem that is about to come to a head.

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The turn of the screw

Originally posted on April 4 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

You’d never guess it from the sound of the violins playing for Buy to Let but there were other significant changes to benefits and tax on housing this month.

As ‘investors’ rushed to beat the April 1 deadline for higher rates of stamp duty on second homes, the orchestra reached a crescendo after new affordability tests were proposed by the Bank of England.

All that noise meant much less was heard about their tenants facing up to the first year of an unprecedented four-year freeze in their local housing allowance and other benefits and tax credits.

After three years in which LHA increases were restricted to 1 per cent, housing benefit rates for private tenants will now stay the same until 2020. Whatever the problems faced by their landlords, that means tenants will inevitably see rising shortfalls between their benefit and their rent. Equally inevitably, you would think, evictions will rise.

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Going rogue

Originally published on January 9 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

This week’s Communities and Local Government questions featured rogue policies, rogue landlords and a rogue house builder.

Rogue policy number one is the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap and its impact on supported housing. As Labour MPs lined up to criticise it, housing minister Brandon Lewis pointed to the review expected in the spring and pledged:

‘The changes will come in in 2018, but we are very clear, and have always been very clear, that we will make sure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.’

That was not good enough for Labour’s Roberta Blackman-Woods, who quoted estimates by Newcastle-based Changing Lives about the losses it and other providers will suffer and argued that the discretionary fund will be inadequate. Lewis responded by pointing to the £400m of funding for new specialist affordable homes in the Spending Review (not much use if housing benefit won’t cover the rent) and the £5.3bn Better Care Fund (which is about health and social care, not housing).

But it was not good enough for Tory MP Peter Aldous either, who called for urgent clarity on whether the cap applies to homeless hostels and foyers. ‘If it does not, there is a real worry that many will close and that, as a result, there will be an unnecessary rise in the numbers of young homeless people.’

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Looking on the bright side

Originally published on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

There was a depressingly common theme at a conference in London on the future of housing organised by Shelter this week.

Speaker after speaker felt the need to apologise for what would be a litany of gloom and doom and attempted to find something, anything, to lighten the mood.

Toby Lloyd of Shelter started with the good news on the Housing and Planning Bill. There is some, believe it or not, in the small steps towards tackling bad private landlords. But even then there’s a worry that measures to help genuine landlords tackle abandonment could turn into a fast track for evictions for more unscrupulous ones.

Then it was time for the real gloom. From Starter Homes to Pay to Stay and fixed-term tenancies to forced council house sales, the bill looks set to accelerate the slow death of social housing. As Toby put it, up to now all forms of affordable housing provision have had two things in common: they remained affordable in perpetuity; and the subsidy was recycled into more housing. Housing Bill-style ‘affordable’ (Starter Homes and whatever Greg Clark says) does neither. What hope there is now rests on what improvements (if any) can be won in the House of Lords.

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