UNISON member Eamon updates us on the Housing and Planning Act – a huge attack on social housing by the Tory government
Not as attention-grabbing as the assault on trade union rights, the NHS or the project to force all schools to become academies, the government’s attack on social housing is nevertheless a very serious issue and one that progressive-minded people need to be aware of. Life for social housing tenants and providers is about to become a great deal more difficult. With this in mind I have produced a summary of the more important (but by no means all) of the implications of this for the immediate future. I have tried to tack on a little bit of a happy ending in point five, where a glimmer of compassion and common sense can be glimpsed in the new mayor’s proposals.
1. The Housing and Planning bill 2015-2016 update
The Housing and Planning bill completed its journey through the House of Commons and House of Lords on 11 May. It received Royal Assent on 12 May. The final version of the bill will be available shortly. During the debates peers in the House of Lords made a number of amendments which were later rejected by MPs in the House of Commons. Among the suggested amendments were;
Pav to Stay— Pay to Stay should be voluntary for local authorities.
Pav to Stay —The Pay to Stay threshold should be increased to €50,000 in London, and f40,000 in the rest of the country.
Affordable housing development — developers should be required to contribute affordable housing on sites of ten homes or less.
Sale of “higher value” council owned homes — councils should be able to keep some of the payment which they receive from the sale of “higher value” council-owned homes in order to replace the council home with a “like-for-like” property.
Some very few concessions were made by the government among which were;
Lifetime tenancies; the government will allow social landlords to offer new tenancies of up to ten years, rather than five and is considering exemptions for people with disabilities. The government will allow families with children under nine years old to have a tenancy that lasts until the child’s 19th birthday.
Pay to Stav; only taxable income will be assessed. The thresholds will be reviewed and “uprated” annually to make sure they are in line with the Consumer Price Index.
Sales of high/higher value council stock; the government has put forward an amendment to ensure the one-for-one replacement of high value council homes sold to fund the Right to Buy extension. The amendment requires councils outside London to replace homes sold “with at least one new affordable home”. The bill also requires Greater London councils to provide two homes for every one sold.
The government has agreed that rules on council home sales to fund the Right to Buy extension will be decided by Parliament instead of ministers alone. Regulations setting out the definition of high value homes will now be subject to “affirmative approval”, meaning that both Houses of Parliament will be able to vote on them.
2. Implementation of the Housing and Planning Act 2015-2016
The government will soon release details of the timetable for the implementation of the new Act. Examples of the results will be;
Pay to Stav — Housing Providers will need to assess the extent of the impact of this new variation in rent levels. This will include the number of households who are affected, the degrees to which households will be affected, and any support and assistance they may require. They will need to examine the impact of Pay to Stay upon Local Authorities’ Housing Revenue Accounts and Housing Business Plans. The prognostications are not good.
Sale of higher value council-owned homes — Further detail is required on the definition of “higher value” council-owned homes. When this information is available it will be possible to examine the impact on Housing Revenue Accounts and Housing Business Plans. A disposal policy will then be devised, and a full plan will be produced on how properties which have been sold will be replaced.
Lifetime tenancies — The government will be issuing a new code of guidance on issues such as tenancy reviews and support for households whose tenancy will be ending. New tenancy policies will be required by all Housing Providers.
3. Extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants.
The Department of Communities and Local Government has presented Parliament with little information on the potential impacts of the legislation required to implement this policy. Parliamentary scrutiny will be severely limited. It is not clear how this policy will be funded in practice, or what its financial impacts will be. The commitment to replace homes sold under this policy on at least a one-for-one basis will not ensure that these will be like-for-like replacements as regards size, location and tenure. Increases in the value of discounts available under the Right to Buy have increased the risk of abuse and fraud.
4. Housing Associations — update
On 6 April three of London’s largest housing associations announced that they are planning to form a large 135,000 social landlord capable of building 100,000 homes per year. The housing associations are London and Quadrant, Hyde and East Thames. If the merger goes ahead, the new organisation will own more than 5% of the English sector’s total social housing stock. The three organisations hope that the merger will be completed by the end of the year, following extensive consultation with residents and lenders. We will be kept informed of the progress of the merger. It is likely that we will see more proposals for mergers between housing associations as they seek to minimise costs, increase efficiency, and maximise the value of their asset base.
It is obvious in the light of the above that the landscape of social housing provision in this country will be considerably altered, and not for the better. Local authorities in particular stand to lose housing stock and revenue at a time when budgets and resources are shrinking anyway.
5. The London Mayoral Election on 5 May 2016
The housing manifesto of successful Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan contained the following key pledges:-
To set up Homes for Londoners – a new and powerful team at the heart of City Hall— and building an alliance of all those with a stake in building new homes for Londoners. This will include councils, housing associations, developers, home-builders, investors, businesses, residents’ organisations. Homes for Londoners will bring together all the Mayor’s housing, planning, funding, and land powers alongside new experts to raise investment, assemble land, make sure Londoners get a fair deal form developers, and commission and construct new homes.
Building new homes on land owned by the Mayor, including Transport for London land, and bidding to develop other public sector land — with a proportion of homes on the capital’s NHS sites aimed at health service workers.
Supporting housing associations which build 40 per cent of all London’s new homes, and which have committed to double their construction pipelines from 90,000 to 180,000.
Long-term planning for new and affordable homes tied in with new transport infrastructure, including proposals such as Docklands Light Railway extensions, the Bakerloo line extensions, and Crossrail 2.
Exercise “use it or lose it” powers to make sure developers who have planning permission build homes and do not land-bank.
Setting up a London-wide not-for-profit lettings agency for good landlords, building on the work that councils have started, and ending rip-off fees for renters.
Require that estate regeneration only takes place where there is residents support, based on full and transparent consultation, and that demolition is permitted only where it does not result in a loss of social housing, or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders.
To set up a “No Nights Sleeping Rough” initiative —a London-wide taskforce to oversee the implementation of the Mayor’s rough sleeping work and funding priorities.
It is reassuring to some extent that the new mayor grasps the implications of the pernicious legislation and is taking steps to mitigate its effects. If we can expand this knowledge and commitment to the rest of the Labour party, trade union movement and progressive people generally we may still be able to negate the likely very serious effects of this provision which the government has largely succeeded in sneaking through “under the radar”.