Shelter Policy Blog | The problems for the Housing and Planning Bill are really just beginning…

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12 May 2016

The problems for the Housing and Planning Bill are really just beginning…

The Housing and Planning Bill completes its passage into law today.

The Bill first emerged in October last year. Eight months, forty odd parliamentary sessions, sixteen million pieces of data, almost as many government defeats in the Lords, three sessions of ‘Ping Pong’, one use of the phrase ‘unelected panjandrams’ and a mini-constitutional crisis later, the Bill finally limps over the line to receive Royal Assent this afternoon.

As the dust settles, what is the story of the Bill and the bigger picture?

Despite its contentiousness, there were always many positive aspects of the Bill, especially those related to tackling rogue landlords and encouraging private housebuilding.

Unfortunately it’s on those areas on which government ambition was confined. The rest of the Bill, the heart of it, is instead dedicated not to growing the overall sum of affordable housing but to a rather unseemly redistribution of existing resource away from homes for working people on low incomes towards those on higher incomes.

And it’s these areas which caused such controversy. A cross-party, cross-sector coalition alarmed by these aspects of the Bill emerged.

This group ultimately came to be spearheaded fearlessly by the brilliant Lord Kerslake, a respected independent Crossbencher. In the latter stages, as Ministers kept losing the argument to him, they had nothing left to do but to try and personally traduce him.

But the truth is he spoke for many people; many more than Ministers should be comfortable with. That coalition of the concerned took in most other Crossbenchers, Bishops, the tireless Labour and Lib Dem benches, numerous Conservative Peers and dozens of hard working Conservative MPs who, while staying loyal in public, worked behind the scenes to get improvements for their constituents.

Shelter and our supporters were at the forefront of that debate throughout, shaping its direction – no organisation was as regularly cited.

So what was won and lost in the process?

There were real improvements. The government built on their existing good work on improving private rented sector conditions, as we worked alongside Lord Tope to ensure no one will live in a home that is an electrical death trap. Elsewhere, the hard work of Baroness Hayter secured important consumer protections for private renters from unscrupulous letting agents. And Baroness Grender led the charge to win safeguards to stop private tenants being wrongly evicted.

Elsewhere, thanks in large part to the efforts of Lord Kerslake and Lord Bassam, amendments increased the length of the government’s new fixed-term tenancies for council tenants from 2-5 years to 10 years. Families will get 2-19 years, with the peace of mind of knowing they can at least stay in their home for as long as their children are in school.

Crossbencher Lord Best also secured important changes to limit the rent rises on those hit by ‘Pay to Stay’ measures, keeping hundreds of pounds in the pockets of those on modest incomes.

Then there’s the mass auctioning off of council homes without like-for-like replacement – a policy so stupid it almost single headedly broke the British constitution, as exasperated Peers sent it back to the Commons with revisions three times, pretty unprecedented for a manifesto issue with so-called ‘financial privilege’ provisions attached. Even here, Lord Kerslake successfully fought to get on the face of the Bill a pledge that homes will at least be replaced by some kind of affordable housing. And hard working Conservative MPs in London, led by Zac Goldsmith, secured a similar 2-for-1 agreement for London.

There’s some debate over whether or how this will be funded but, politically, the government is now on the hook to make it happen.

However, the fact remains that the fundamentals of the Bill remain. Expensive Starter Homes will be delivered by cutting genuinely affordable homes for those on modest incomes. Desperately needed council homes will be lost to future generations. The sword of Damocles that hangs over Peers – the looming threat to reform their powers  – eventually coerced many into backing down.

Ministers will no doubt be content with all this as they reflect this afternoon.

But the truth is the trouble for the Housing and Planning is just beginning.

Because it will not work as they think. Lord Kerslake and those amassed behind him will be vindicated.

Indeed by our reckoning, half of the people the government intend to help will over time be left with nowhere left to live but an increasingly unstable, expensive private rented sector, with increasing numbers holed up in temporary accommodation.

Round the corner from where i’m writing this is a large, beautifully maintained Peabody Estate, gleaming in the sun. Anybody that visits Shelter in London will walk or cycle past many similar in the heart of the capital. In a different era, it was these kind of homes that provided those on modest incomes with the dignity of a stable, affordable home; somewhere they could put down roots, bring up a family and save up for a deposit for a place of their own.

That order is now disappearing. If that is Minister’s intentions, that is fine. But something will have to replace it.

It’s incumbent on Shelter and others to come up with new, modern ideas to meet this challenge, and to win government over to them.

But it is for the government to rise to that challenge too.

Because whatever happens, those people – their struggles and aspirations – are not going away. ‘Be-spoke’ deals cannot be reached with them to buy them off; grandee Peers cannot be despatched to lecture them on their impropriety.

They will still be here and ultimately, as the recent elections in London – the epicentre of the crisis but by no means its sum- showed, if their aspirations are not met they will eventually turn up at the ballot box, where they will cost the government dear.

FURTHER READING:
Shelter: Housing and Planning Bill: Second reading briefing (House of Lords)

LGA Summary | Housing and Planning Act 2016

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13 May 2016

Housing and Planning Act 2016 

BACKGROUND 
On Thursday 12 May, the Housing and Planning Act received Royal Assent. The Housing and Planning Bill (the Bill) was introduced in the House of Commons on 13 October 2015 by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP. It followed an announcement made in the 2015 Queen’s Speech that “legislation will be introduced to support home ownership and give housing association tenants the chance to own their own home.”1

The Housing and Planning Act 2016 (the Act) contains provisions on new homes (including starter homes), landlords and property agents, abandoned premises, social housing (including extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants; sale of local authority assets; ‘pay-to-stay’; secure tenancies), planning, compulsory purchase, and public land (duty to dispose).

The full text of the Act will be available here

KEY AMENDMENTS 
The LGA worked with a number of MPs and peers during the passage of the Bill to provide background information and research on the proposals, support and table amendments to the legislation.

Our campaigning on behalf of local government, developed with the support from and input of councils from across the country, led to a number of positive changes in the final Act.

Higher value council homes 
 The Act requires councils to sell higher value housing as it falls vacant. We worked with parliamentarians to put on the face of the Bill a requirement to ensure that where the Government makes an agreement with a local authority outside London about building new homes, at least one new affordable home is provided for each dwelling that is assumed to be sold.

 Parliamentarians secured a commitment from the Government that the change of wording from ‘high’ to ‘higher’ value would not be used to raise additional funds from local government.

 Peers sought to include a clarification that councils would be able to retain sufficient receipts from the sales to fund the provision of a replacement property, but this was overturned.

Secure tenancies 
 Enabling local authorities to grant longer-term tenancies of up to 10 years in certain circumstances with potential for longer tenancies for families with children. The legislation originally limited this to five years, with no concession for families with children.

Starter homes discounts 
 The Government will introduce in regulations restrictions around the resale of Starter Homes so that owners cannot ‘cash in’ the discount after a few years. The regulations may prevent the home being sold at full price for a specified period of time, or could require the seller to make a payment to the Secretary of State, local planning authority or another specified person.

Pay to stay 
 For tenants above the high income thresholds (‘pay to stay’), rent increases will be tapered. Every £1 they earn above the threshold will mean a 15p increase. The income thresholds will increase annually in line with CPI. Amendments that would have increased the income threshold to £40,000 (and £50,000 in London) were overturned.

 The Government committed to councils being able to keep the costs of administering pay to stay and to consider exemptions where the costs outweigh the additional rent collected.

Competition in processing planning applications 
 The Government will carry out time-limited pilots on competition in processing planning applications, which will be fully evaluated.

The LGA Chairman Lord Porter spoke on the role of local government in housing provision in a number of the debates. The LGA also worked closely with our President and Vice-Presidents, as well as a large number of MPs and peers from all political parties, to update and inform throughout all stages on the legislation.

GET IN ON THE ACT 
The LGA will produce a Get in on the Act guide to the legislation shortly, summarising the impact of the legislation on local government and the work of the LGA in influencing the legislation as it passed through Parliament.
http://www.local.gov.uk/get-in-on-the-act

FURTHER READING:
LGA Amendment Statement: Housing and Planning Bill – Lords consideration of amendments [04 May 2016]

LGA BriefingHousing and Planning Bill – Consideration of amendments [May 2016]

Private Eye | Housing and Planning Bill

Private Eye logo

No 1418 |13 May – 26 May 2016

Housing News

A small change to the Housing and Planning Bill is set to make a huge difference to the Government’s scheme to force councils to sell their most valuable homes to pay for Right to Buy discounts for housing association tenants.

The scheme was at the heart of the Conservative election manifesto, but as the bill neared its final Parliamentary stage, the Government still hadn’t published much detail about how it would work. The original plan was set out in a Tory press release during the election campaign, and involved forcing to pay a levy based on the sale of “high value” homes [in the most valuable third of properties in their region] as they fell vacant.

There were tow problems with this: first, independent analysis soon showed this would raise much less than the £4.5bn a year the party said it needed to pay for Right to Buy discounts, replacement “affordable” homes and a brownfield regeneration fund; second, Tory MPs woke up to the fact that many of the most valuable homes were concentrated in their seats.

The Government introduced an amendment in the Lords changing “high value” to “higher value” after recognising that areas facing the highest housing pressure, such as inner London, Oxford, Cambridge and Harrogate, would have to sell a high proportion of their vacant homes. True to form, no detail has yet been published on the impact of their change – Housing Minister “Bungalow” Brandon Lewis argues that his department has to examine “16m pieces of data” on council homes first.

Analysis by housing charity Shelter suggests what the impact might be if the Government wants to raise £4.5bn from an even split of council house sales from around the country. Councils with small numbers of “high value” homes [like Westminster] would have to sell fewer of them, while those with larger stocks [such as Birmingham, Leeds and Southwark] would have to sell and pay more.While this is not a point made by Shelter, there are no prizes for guessing which party runs which areas…

APSE Direct News | The Housing and Planning Bill – what’s the problem?

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 March/April 2016

The Housing and Planning Bill – what’s the problem?

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, and Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE, comment on the the key issues in the controversial Housing and Planning Bill.

Currently, the Government’s new Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 is in the second reading stage in the House of Lords. The Bill has been seen as hugely problematic by many, including APSE and the TCPA, because it is still unclear how the actions described in it will help relieve the housing crisis facing the UK, despite the Government claiming their plans will kick-start a ‘national crusade to get 1m homes built by 2020’ and transform ‘generation rent into generation buy’.

Keen to gauge how others working in local government felt about the proposed changes, APSE teamed up with the TCPA to create and distribute a survey to local authorities across the country. This generated some very interesting, and some rather concerning, results. However, before we look at those in depth, it would help to first contextualise the Housing Bill and look and the problems it raises.

The Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 aims to speed up the current planning permission process, working on the premise that less bureaucracy means more housing can be delivered quickly. This, the Government expects, will encourage people to self/custom build their housing, as well as giving developers some extra opportunities to build more commercial housing. This is welcome news as it gives authorities, private firms and the general public more freedom to build the houses they require. However, many believe this has come too late; though the permission is there, we will struggle to meet the country’s demand of 250,00 homes each year due to a shortage of workers and supplies.

Alongside this, the Government intend to build more Starter Homes for first-time buyers, namely people under the age of 40 who have not previously owned a home. Offering 200,000 homes by 2020, the Government has said there must be a discount of at least 20% to the buyer. These homes, which should be targeting teachers, police officers, nurses and other professional roles, will have a discounted price of no more than £250k outside London and £450k in London, making these properties unaffordable for most of the target workers. These are the kind of people that starter homes should be accommodating, yet they are the ones who will be unable to afford them.

In terms of social housing, the Bill details a Pay to Stay scheme, in which social tenants with incomes of over £30k – over £40k in London – will have to pay market rent on their properties rather than their current social rent. For local authorities, the money this generates must be given to the Government, whilst Housing Associations are able to keep the extra rent money. Moreover, it is considered unviable by many councils who see this as adding to the ongoing problems of a poor private rented market – so forcing people on affordability terms from secure council tenancies into the private rented sector – will do little to alleviate local problems.

As well as this, the Right to Buy scheme is being extended to housing association tenants. This move is deeply worrying as it will lead to a decrease in the amount of social homes available for those in most need. Despite allowing these properties to be sold off, the Government have no plans to give local authorities the funds needed to build more and replace them. This is a major concern for the already-sahky future of social housing.

So what did the APSE and TCPA survey tell us? Well the headline news is that others share our concerns.

We found that 93% of councils do not think that Starter Homes will address affordable housing need.

Moreover, almost 80% of local councils do not think that Starter Homes should be classified as affordable housing, and only 7% of councils think they will address the need for affordable housing in their local authority areas.

We also found that over two thirds of respondents anticipate that they will be building less social and affordable housing as a result of the Government’s plans to reduce social rents by 1% a year for the next 4 years.

This is against a backdrop of 96% of councils describing their need for affordable housing as ‘ severe or moderate’.

Moreover, nine out of 10  councils are concerned that the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants will mean that there will be well socially-rented homes available.

Most starkly for the Government, 53 of respondents are from Conservative-controlled councils – this clearly shows a huge difference of opinion between Conservative Councils, charged with delivering more homes at a local level, and central Government policy.

So with the House of Lords scrutinising key measures in the Housing and Planning Bill, and pressure to deliver the Bill, is there room for concessions?

The answer has to be yes – there is a growing cross-party consensus for a series of amendments to be tabled which may yet ‘gut’ the worst excesses within the Bill.

APSE and the TCPA hopes that with cross-party working, more sensible approaches can be taken to delivering the homes our communities desperately need. It is time now for the Government to listen to local councils; they are best placed to really know and appreciate the impact of housing policy within their communities.

More details can be found at www.apse.org.uk and www.tcpa.org.uk.

The Great London Clearances

A great commentary on the threats to #SocialHousing contained within #HousingBill

Joan Twelves

The Tories want to clear the working class out of London. The people who built our city, who create its wealth, who turned it into one of the greatest cities in the world are to be evicted so that the Tories and their friends can turn it into a heartless, soulless ghetto for the rich and useless.

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Nye Bevan’s vision of council housing when, as a key member of the post-war Attlee government, he led the building of a million homes was of a living tapestry of a mixed community where “the working man [sic], doctor and clergyman live in close proximity to each other”. His vision had at its heart a desire not only to provide decent homes, but also to enhance people’s life chances and help them make the most of their talents and abilities. It’s no surprise that the founder of the National Health Service should have…

View original post 2,228 more words

LGA First | Making sense of housing policy

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No. 597 | March 2016

Features | Making sense of housing policy

Cllr Peter Box

Councils are keen to build more homes and the LGA is working hard to ensure proposed housing reforms don’t make that job more difficult.

Councils share the Government’s ambition to increase house building and enable home ownership.

From the outset, the LGA has been working privately and publicly to try to mitigate any of the potential negative impacts and unintended consequences of Government housing reforms on behalf of councils and local communities, But it is clear that the Housing and Planning Bill has wide-ranging implications for local communities.

Measures within the Bill – currently being debated in the Lords – risk combining to reduce the number of existing council homes, which local authorities will be forced to sell and then struggle to replace.

This could lead to an increase in the Housing Benefit bill as more people are forced to move into the more expensive private rented sector. This will do nothing to help councils reduce homelessness and the use of temporary accommodation.

The LGA has opposed plans to force councils to sell off homes to fund the Right to Buy extension to social housing, and a mandatory Pay to Stay policy [see below] and the provision of Starter Homes at the expense of affordable homes to rent. Meanwhile, we have been working at real estate services provider, Savills to understand the impact of these housing policies, as part of our effort to make the case for additional flexibilities to Government, Parliament and partners.

Plans for Starter Homes at discounted prices, for example, will help support home ownership in some areas but will nbe out of reach for all people in need of affordable housing in 220 council areas, according to Savills. We have argued that councils must have the flexibilities to shape the number, location, types and quality of Starter Homes to ensure that they meet local need, alongside other affordable homes for rent.

The LGA also strongly opposes the proposal to require councils to charge mandatory market-based rents to higher income tenants, and to take a sum of money from councils based on a national estimate of the additional income from higher rents. Many social housing tenants across the country will be unable to afford market rents or take up the offer to by their council house under this policy.

This Pay to Stay policy needs to be voluntary for councils – as it will be for housing associations to protect social housing tenants, and avoid hard-working families being penalised, people being disincentivised to work and earn more, and key workers, such as nurses, teachers or social workers, having to move out of their local area. Councils must also retain any additional income generated from rents to reinvest in new and existing homes.

The LGA insists the extension of Right to Buy to housing association tenants must not be funded by forcing councils to sell off homes. As a minimum, the LGA forecasts councils would be forced to sell 22,000 ‘high value’ homes in order to fund this extension.

This number could be much higher depending on how the Government chooses to define ‘high value’. Councils should always be free to manage their assets to meet the needs of local communities and must retain 100% of all receipts to reinvest in new and existing housing.

The LGA will continue to firmly make the case – in both private and public – regarding the importance of councils playing a  lead role in house building, reducing homelessness and benefits, and enabling home ownership.

Cllr Peter Box is Chair of the LGA’s Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board.

Analysis: Impact of the Housing and Planning Bill

Savills and the LGA project that 66,000 council homes will be sold to tenants under the existing Right to Buy scheme by 2020.

Local authorities could then be forced to sell a further 22,000 ‘high value’ homes by the end of the decade to fund plans to extend the scheme to housing association tenants. This could vary depending on how the Government defines ‘high value’ for different areas.

Required rent reductions, of 1% a year for the next 4 years, take £2.2bn from council housing budgets by 2020 – making building replacements extremely difficult.

There is a risk that of the 88,000 homes sold up to 2020, 80,000 will not be replaced. This will add £210m to the Housing Benefit bill.

Forcing councils to sell off homes to fund the extension of Right to Buy to housing association tenants could cost councils £6bn by 2020, according to Savills. A total of 5,500 homes would be sold each year should ‘high value’ be defined as the top third value of the regional market.

Discounted starter homes will be out of reach for all people in need of affordable housing – defined as those who would have to spend 30% of their household income to buy or rent a home – in 220 council areas [67%], and for more than 90% of people in a further 80 [25%] council areas.

Should the Pay to Stay policy be mandatory for all social tenants, around 50% of tenants deemed high income in the South East, East of England and London would not be able to pay market rents or take up Right to Buy, and would need to move out of the area to find a similar property.

SavsMa_451
The areas of the country that need affordable housing that can afford a Starter Home

FURTHER READING:
LGA Media Release Starter homes will be out of reach for majority of families in need of affordable homes in England  [17 February 2016]