Andrew Stunell MP Writes: Your Chance to Influence Coalition’s Housing Policy

There have been plenty of Housing posts on Lib Dem Voice over the past few months. Social and affordable housing is rightly a hot issue and has been the subject of much debate. I have been keen to get stuck in myself, so I’ve had face-to-face meetings with party members, conference calls with my local government colleagues, and been online in this forum, all aimed at us having an informed and full dialogue.

The next step of that begins today with the Coalition Government’s Social Housing Consultation paper, which I launched this morning.

So far a lot of the housing debate has been speculation based (often rather loosely!) on the bare bones announcements in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Today, I am able to add flesh to those bones and provide real detail of our plans.

In drawing up our proposals, we’ve aimed to deliver three key reforms: make the system fairer, striking a proper balance between the needs of new and existing tenants; ensure that the support which social housing provides is focussed on those who need it most for as long as they need it; give local authorities and housing associations new powers so that they can make best use of their housing, in a way which best meets the needs of individual households and their local area.

The CSR announcement outlined proposals to build 150,000 new social homes over the next four years. That will see the first net increase in the social housing stock in thirty years. Previous Tory and Labour governments finished their periods in office with fewer social homes than they started with. In contrast we will have added well over 100,000 more homes net to the social housing stock. All because of Lib Dem influence in government.

But with money extremely tight, and housing waiting lists at their highest ever there have to be some tough choices made to ensure we get the most new homes possible for the lowest cost to the taxpayer, and the best match between the needs of those who depend on social housing, and the actual stock of homes we have.

That is why in addition to the retention of lifetime tenure, we will be introducing a new fixed term tenure option for new tenancies. Local authorities will have the freedom to introduce this if they wish, though they will be under no obligation to do so. In the longer term this policy will allow for a more efficient use of our social homes, and will help free up more homes for people in need.

Combined with the plan for a national home swap scheme (which will make it easier for tenants looking to downsize to swap with tenants who are looking for bigger properties), we will begin to tackle the twin problems of overcrowding and under-occupation within the housing stock.

These proposals protect lifetime tenure for all existing tenants, and it will still be an option for new tenants as well.

But we do need to build more homes and coming out of a recession, when money is tight, we need new mechanisms to be able to achieve this.

This is why we are introducing the new affordable rent, still below market level, but at a higher rate than typical social rents, designed to help Housing Associations raise money to build more social homes.

Again, this will just be an option for RSLs, who will have the ability to decide how much is charged (up to a maximum of 80% of Broad Area Reference Rent), what proportion of the stock will be offered at the new affordable rent, or if they even introduce it at all.

Eligible tenants paying such rents would still generally be below the ceiling for full reimbursement through Housing Benefit even after the DWP reforms.

I recognise that these proposals have proved controversial with some people, and I am keen to listen to views. That’s where you come in. The Social Housing paper published today both provides information on our plans, and solicits views as to how we can improve them. The closing date is 17th January at 5pm.

These proposals won’t end the housing problem overnight, we understand that. But they are a positive first step in the right direction. We do have to make some difficult choices, I think we all recognise that, but Liberal Democrats in government are already on the way to delivering more affordable housing than Labour or the Tories managed on their own.

I would strongly urge you to read the consultation document, and to submit a response. With your help, we can make sure the proposals accurately reflect the needs of our local communities. I look forward to reading the continuation of this debate when the responses hit my desk in a few weeks time!

You can find the consultation paper, “Local decisions: a fairer future for social housing” at the Communities and Local Government website here.

Andrew Stunell is the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government

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23 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Nov '10 - 8:45am

    “These proposals protect lifetime tenure for all existing tenants, and it will still be an option for new tenants as well.”

    Do you really mean new tenants will have the option of a protected lifetime tenure? From what I’ve heard elsewhere this will be an option for _landlords_, not tenants.

  • David – I think that is most unfair – I am sure we can all either celebrate or decry Andrew’s potential or actual vote in this debate, but he is a minister in DCLG with responsibility for housing, and we should respond to his call for a debate on the proposals there independent of any issues with student fees.

  • Well Andrew – lets start with a few facts.

    The coalition will be building fewer affordable houses than either the Conservatives or Labour managed – and they had a pretty awful record, I’m sure your agree.

    Secondly, 80% market rents are no in any real sense “affordable” and for most people will be paid for out of housing benefit.

    It is also an appalling bit of spin to compare 80% market rents with proper low rent housing.
    Also, you know the reason there will be a net gain in housing is that the right to buy has run out of steam as most people who can have used it and it has been withdrawn and the terms changed – none of which has anything to do with the Lib Dems.

    I really don’t mind the bit about tenancies not being for life – but there are a number of issues that have to be addressed and

    Firstly, it is incredibly hard to judge some people’s incomes – especially in these days of “flexible” work, short-term contracts etc

    Secondly, as we all know, income is a poor indicator of wealth and outgoings. Someone in debt for instance has a lower disposal income.

    So what happens to the person who gets promoted and is told their tenancy is up and they have to move out, only to find a few months later they have lost their job and their partner has left them ? Back to the bottom of the waiting list with 5 million others?

    You know most people who can afford it, get a mortgage.

    The real poverty trap is not the am I £5 a week better off after all the hassle – the real poverty trap is not
    having enough disposable income to save or to spend on maintainance or ona few luxuries and these proposals will in that sense make the poverty trap worse.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Nov '10 - 10:48am

    Andrew,

    Thanks for keeping us informed.

    Overall I support the general direction of your proposals. I think it is reasonable for there to be an upper limit on how much the state will pay to support housing costs, that RSLs should have the ability to better fit the available housing stock to need, and that they should be able to charge rents at a level which allows them to reinvest in more housing stock.

    I would far rather more of the HB bill went to RSLs with which they can build more houses, than into the pockets of private landlords.

    There has been a lot of comment about the proposals, and I think there are a few points which still need to be answered:

    1 How can you guarantee that 80% of broad market rent will be below the 30th centile limit for HB purposes? It would be a little odd if ‘social housing’ wa smore expensive than your own rent limits for HB.

    2 How will you support households that have to move to cheaper accommodation when many of those on Housing Benfit will not have the necessary cash to move property? I have no problem with some households having to move to cheaper acommodation if they are currently living in expensive accommodation, but they may need help to move.

    3 What is the rationale behind people on JSA for more than a year losing 10% of their HB? There are plenty of rules to ensure that JSA claimants are actively seeking work, so this looks punitive rather than helpful.

    All the best,

    Neil.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Nov '10 - 10:52am

    One other point:

    How will the system support people in the short term after they become unemployed? Will there be a short period, say six months, while they can find more work before all the limits kick in?

  • The party is desending further into a joke.

    What happened? Did the Tories give all the positionsi n Govt. so that their ideology driven policies will be delivered by LibDems so as to not damage their image, but destroy that of the Liberal Democrats. Look at the polls, half he article writers are in absolute denial!

    Social housing does need reformed sure, but not to a policy that to me says: We want to make work pay, but if it pays too much, we’ll evict you!

    Wheres the incentive to make a house a home?

  • Having just seen the BBC news about the proposal especially the ‘two year’ rule my first reaction was ‘Workhouse’ but instead of a house or building we will have ‘areas’.
    Within these ‘areas’ there will be high concentrations of the disabled and elderly as well as the unemployed and unemployable, the long term unemployed able-bodied will be required to undertake manual work to continue to receive the subsistence financial support that will be provided, other sanctions that will be made on the able-bodied unemployed will include be a 10% cut in their housing costs and any shortfall arising will have to be made up by the individual person therefore increasing the overall poverty of the area, failure to comply with the mandatory period of work or that your unable to make up the shortfall of rent, all housing and/or financial support will be removed.

    In other words these proposals combined with welfare reform will result in a cross between a workhouse and a ghetto, how very progressive, how very Liberal!

  • Dominic Curran 22nd Nov '10 - 11:48am

    Thanks for your article, Andrew.

    As others have noted, I wouldn’t be so pleased about the proposal to build 150,000 affordable homes. It isn’t building more than Labour – it is still only 30,000 a year, half of what Labour built in its last year of government – it is simply appearing to build more because it is a NET gain, and so many have been sold off that there’s very few homes left now that can be sold under right to buy. To be honest, it’s a fairly pitful number. The housing need in this country is higher than at any time since WW2, and yet you’re asking us to be pleased about building less than a sixth of the number of council homes that were built each year in the fifties. Forgive me if i keep the champagne on ice for now.

    Again, as others have noted, any home where you pay 80% of market rent is NOT AFFORDABLE. To call it such invites prosecution under the Trades Descriptions Act. In central London this is especially so – Westminster Council’s homes are one sixth the market rent, so 80% of market rent still means horrendously expensive. Please desist from such verbal slights of hand.

    Finally, Andrew, you have still not dealt with the disincentive argument. What incentive is there for a tenant with a two year tenancy to better their economic situation if they are going to be thrown out of their home in doing so? You are just guaranteeing that council estates will become increasing ghettoes of poverty, as if they’re not bad enough already. Please answer how you think this policy won’t have that effect over time.

    I’m reading the consultation document in full this afternoon, Andrew, but from what i’ve read and heard so far, I’m bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

  • So under these proposals councils and housing associations will be able to offer contracts of just two years.
    Tenants whose financial circumstances imporve could then be evicted, although they would be entitled to at least six months’ notice.

    Could all decent minded Liberals look at the above paragraph – your Liberal reps in government are seriously thinking of supporting a proposal that would mean anybody who has the spirit to get on, do more for their kids, improve their prospects and their neighbourhood will then be told – well done but now we are going to pull the rug out from you but hey, we will give you 6 month’s notice.

    I find the whole prospect sickening.

  • I’ve never seen the point of council houses. Why not just give people housing benefit? There need be no waiting list for that.

  • A huge hike in rent; an end to permanent tenure; the prospect of losing your home if you improve your lot in life; and if you are disabled and your financial situation changes you could be forced to move from your specially adapted accommodation in the social housing sector to totally unsuitable accommodation in the privately rented sector. And then there’s the slashing of housing benefit! This is not a housing policy: it’s a policy for increasing homelessness. It’s a policy for making the poor and the vulnerable even more anxious and fearful. How much longer are you going to go on being the Trojan Horse for the Tories and their insane and socially divisive ideas?

  • @Andrew…
    Please advise how this process of consultation has influsenced coalition housing policy to date . has there been one idea from a party member or the public that you have taken back to the coalition and has actually led to a change of policy?

  • David Wright 23rd Nov '10 - 11:56pm

    In today’s Guardian, Lib Dem councillor Richard Kemp is quoted on Council’s new ability to let council houses on 2-year tenancies as saying: “I would be going to barricades to stop this if I thought a single council was going to do what the coalition has suggested, but it won’t happen.”

    If so – and I hope it is – why is a Lib Dem minister supporting this part of the proposal? It’s politically damaging, and likely to be ineffective. Furthermore, if if rents are to rise, supported by housing benefit for those who need it, the taxpayer will no longer be heavily subsidising those few council house tenants who could afford to buy their own house but don’t do so.

  • Ruth Bright 24th Nov '10 - 9:38pm

    Minister, in your LDV article of October 21st on the coalition’s housing policy you referred to “money in there” to “restart the gypsy site building programme”. Is there still money “in there” for such a purpose?

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