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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

2017: a year in review by CIH's policy and practice team

18/12/2017


An election, a change of housing minister and a raft of major housing policy changes – as an eventful 2017 comes to an end our policy and practice experts take a look at the big changes and their hopes for 2018.

An election, a change of housing minister and a raft of major housing policy changes – as an eventful 2017 comes to an end our policy and practice experts take a look at the big changes and their hopes for 2018.

Melanie Rees on supply and affordability

Looking back on 2017 it’s clear that there’s been a change of key in government housing policy. Indeed it feels like we might have turned a corner in a number of important ways.

First of all the government is talking about housing. We cannot underestimate how important that is. In fact it seems housing is starting to form a central part of the government's commitment to make 'a country that works for everyone'. It was the centre piece of Theresa May’s conference speech and Philip Hammond chose to put housing at the heart of his recent budget.

Furthermore the government is talking about homes for rent and has publicly recognised solving the housing crisis is about much more than boosting home ownership. Theresa May has even started to talk about the importance of new homes for social rent. That feels a million miles away from where we were even last year.

But we need a reality check here. As we come to the end of the year how much progress have we actually made? The latest house building figures showed we are building more homes, but still nowhere near the 300,000 the government says we need.

And though the government has outlined new investment in affordable housing and we’ve seen other measures to support house building, the stats show just how far we still have to go.

In November we learned that the number of social rented homes delivered dropped to just 5,380 in 2016/17 down from 39,560 in 2010/11. That’s at a time we desperately need more, not less, of these homes.

Our 2017 UK Housing Review revealed the imbalance in housing funding, with just 20% of the 40 billion earmarked for housing going towards affordable housing, and the new investment announced is yet to substantially shift that.

But we have to be realistic and leaving 2017 with a government willing to listen to us on housing, having just committed to building 300,000 new homes a year, recognising the need for new homes of all tenures and even going so far as saying we need more homes for social rent has to be seen as progress.

Hopes for 2018: It feels like the landscape has shifted and we’re having a different conversation. But the government needs to back up its words with action which will really get us building the right homes, in the right places that people can afford.

Faye Greaves on homelessness

I hope that when we look back on 2017 we see it as a momentous year in our efforts to tackle homelessness. This was, after all, the year that the Homelessness Reduction Act received unanimous support in Parliament, meaning it will come into effect in 2018.

We cannot underestimate the significance of this piece of legislation, which has the potential to mark the biggest step forward in homelessness prevention for decades.

It was also pleasing to see the government support Housing First and announce some regional pilots - our recent research guide showed how this model can really work

But we cannot let our excitement about this progress cloud the scale of the problem and the task on our hands. To have so many thousands of people homeless is nothing short of a national disgrace and it’s particularly worrying that as of September homelessness had increased 50% compared to 2009.

The Homelessness Reduction Act has the potential to bring about real progress but councils need resources and support to be able to deliver their new duties.

Meanwhile, though the government has committed to tackling homelessness it still feels like there is a real lack of strategy which is undermining its commitment.

A lack of affordable housing and welfare policies which are forcing people further into difficulty need urgently addressing if we’re really going to tackle our homelessness problem. Our research with the University of Sheffield showed the majority of housing organisations feel welfare policies undermine their efforts to tackle homelessness.

Hopes for 2018: We’ve reduced homelessness before and we can do it again. The government needs to look again at whether it is giving enough support to councils to deliver their new duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act. And we need a cross-departmental government strategy to make sure the mission to end homelessness becomes a reality.

Sarah Davis on supported housing

There’s little doubt that many providers of supported housing end 2017 in a much better place than where they started it.

At the turn of the year the LHA cap and proposals to change the way supported housing would be funded were looming large. We know that as a consequence many providers decided to pause new developments of supported housing as they couldn’t be sure of its viability. Indeed, many had concerns about whether existing supported housing would continue to be viable.

We had to wait until October but finally, and for many unexpectedly, the decision was made to scrap the LHA cap for all of social housing.

This was excellent news, giving many supported housing providers certainty and hope to people who need this crucial form of housing. In fact the impact for some was immediate – Home Group announced straight away that they would invest £50 million in three new supported housing schemes as a result.

When the details of the proposals on funding for supported housing were released a week later it was pleasing to see that the government had taken on board some of the suggestions that CIH and others had made during the consultation period.

But it’s not all plain sailing. There’s rightly a very real concern about the funding proposals for specialist housing that provides immediate and short-term support to some of our most vulnerable people.

Hopes for 2018: Most providers of supported housing can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their future is secure for now. For providers of specialist accommodation it’s not so clear. We will be making the case for a funding model which properly supports them.

Sam Lister on welfare

Let’s start with the positives. The decision to scrap the LHA cap, which Sarah discusses above, is a really positive move, not just for supported housing providers and people who need it but for all social housing tenants. It’s worth remembering that the cap would also have applied to general needs social housing tenants, which our research showed could leave many people, particularly under 35s, with a significant gap between their housing benefit can their rent.

In the budget the government also announced some concessions on Universal Credit, including cutting the waiting time and smoothing the transition for those on housing benefit.

But that’s about it sadly. There’s no doubt the government still has a long way to go on welfare policy to stop its housing ambitions being completely short-circuited.

Melanie goes into detail on the affordability crisis above and there’s little doubt that welfare policy is one of the biggest issues.

Take local housing allowance levels, which our research has shown are increasingly out of step with actual rents. The government has recognised that rising private rents are causing many people problems and the end of a private sector tenancy remains the leading cause of homelessness. Yet so far the government has opted to do nothing about the LHA freeze which is currently in place.

Neither too has it done anything to alleviate the effects of the benefit cap, which our latest research highlighted again in November, a year on since the lower cap was introduced.

Even the changes to Universal Credit, though they are welcome, don’t really tackle the problems with the administration of the benefit which members have repeatedly told us about, and which we told the Department of Work and Pensions about in a letter back in July.

The government has bold housing ambitions and that is great, but if the new homes we build remain unaffordable to many people then we simply will not solve the housing crisis.

Hopes for 2018: The government needs to urgently take a strategic look at its housing policies and its welfare policies and join the two up. Specifically we want to see the LHA freeze dropped, the lower benefit cap axed and Universal Credit slowed down so that the government can learn and adapt its rollout.

Melanie Rees, Faye Greaves, Sarah Davis and Sam Lister are in CIH’s policy and practice team.


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