Under-22s lose right to housing support
Despite heavy speculation that it would change its mind, the UK Government pressed ahead with the removal of automatic entitlement to housing support for 18-21 year olds throughout the UK.
Regulations published just a month before the cut took effect at the start of April mean that it will only apply in ‘full service’ areas for universal credit. Shotton is the only one of these in Wales at the moment but the government expects this to apply to all areas by September 2018.
Exceptions laid out in the regulations include cases where the claimant is responsible for a child or does not have parents in the country and where someone is earning the equivalent of the Minimum Wage for 16 hours a week. People facing a ‘significant risk’ of harm if they live with their parents or where this would be ‘inappropriate’ will also be exempted.
However, charities say the exemptions are not wide enough and that 9,000 young people could be at risk of homelessness. And a survey by the National Landlords Association found that 76 per cent of its private landlord members would be unlikely to rent to under-22s in future.
The Department for Work and Pensions says the measure will ensure that young people ‘do not slip straight into a life on benefits’.
See articles by Frances Beecher (p9) and Paul Langley (p42).
Javid pledges fix for housing
The Westminster Government published a White Paper to fix what it called the ‘broken housing market’.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid said the last few years had seen an improvement in housing starts and more people getting on the housing ladder. But he went on: ‘We now need to go further – much further – and meet our obligation to build many more houses of the type that people want to live in, in the places where people want to live. That is exactly what this White Paper delivers.
‘It will help the tenants of today who are facing rising rents, unfair fees and insecure tenancies; it will help the homeowners of tomorrow to get more of the right homes built in the right places; and it will help our children and our children’s children by halting decades of decline and fixing our broken housing market.’
Key proposals include:
- Replacing a manifesto pledge to build 200,000 starter homes with a pledge to create 200,000 new homeowners via a range of different ownership schemes and dropping a requirement that starter homes make up 20 per cent of homes on all new developments
- Setting out a new rent standard for social landlords after 2020 ‘in due course’
- Making affordable housing built by council local housing companies subject to the Right to Buy
- Giving councils new compulsory purchase powers to speed up housebuilding
- Introducing a standard method of assessing housing need in local plans.
- Encouraging longer private tenancies on Build to Rent sites and introducing a new category of ‘affordable private rent’ to count as affordable housing in the planning system.
Holyrood calls for halt to universal credit
Scottish Government ministers requested a halt in the introduction of the ‘full service’ version of universal credit over concerns that it is pushing people into hardship and debt.
The way the new benefit is paid means new claimants have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment, resulting in tenants building up rent arrears and being pushed to seek crisis or hardship payments.
Delays in payments have seen landlords, including housing associations, reporting financial difficulties, with councils reporting record rent arrears.
Communities and social security secretary Angela Constance said: Ms Constance said: ‘It is clear that the system simply isn’t working and the UK Government is not prepared to make the necessary changes.
‘The six week delay in receiving a payment – with longer delays for some being experienced – is a completely unacceptable situation and one which has the potential to push low income households into further hardship and homelessness.’
The UK Department for Work and Pensions said it had been ‘rolling universal credit out gradually so that we have time to ensure it works in the right way for everyone involved’.
More homes, more homelessness
There was mixed news on housing and homelessness as Northern Ireland awaited confirmation of a new government following the Assembly elections.
The Northern Ireland Housing Bulletin published in February showed a 12 per cent increase in housing completions in the July-September 2016 quarter compared to the previous year.
However, there was also a 16 per cent increase on the previous quarter in the number of households who are homeless and qualify for full assistance. Nicola McCrudden, CIH director for Northern Ireland, said: ‘Today’s statistics highlight the two very different sides to our housing market. More houses are being built but increasing numbers of people are unable to maintain a home.
‘We’re likely to see more people becoming homeless unless urgent action is taken. The Housing Executive has responsibility for addressing the problem but we need a change in the law to not just tackle homelessness, but to prevent it from happening in the first place with more resources for early intervention and support for vulnerable people.’
Bill launched to end the Right to Buy
Communities secretary Carl Sargeant introduced a bill to abolish the Right to Buy in Wales in the National Assembly.
The Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Bill will abolish the Right to Buy for council tenants and the Right to Acquire and Preserved Right to Buy for housing association tenants.
The aim is to preserve the social housing stock from further reduction, ensuring it is available to provide safe, secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to take advantage of the housing market to buy or rent a home.
Given support from both Labour and Plaid Cymru, the Bill should complete its passage through the Assembly by the end of the year. The Right to Buy would end after a period of at least a year following Royal Assent.
If it does, Welsh Government will inform councils and social landlords within a month of Royal Assent, and they will have to inform tenants within one more month. Qualifying tenants will then have a further ten months to decide whether to apply to buy.
Another provision in the Bill would protect development programmes by ending the Right to Buy for new homes within two months of Royal Assent. The aim is to help social landlords build without fearing that they would have to sell off the homes as soon as they are built.
The Right to Buy has already been abolished in Scotland and Northern Ireland could end the equivalent for housing association tenants. In contrast, the English government has increased discounts and has pledged to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants and sell council homes to pay for it.
Welsh social landlords have sold off 139,000 homes – almost half the social housing stock – since the introduction of the Right to Buy.
Ahead of the Bill’s introduction, communities secretary Carl Sargeant said: ‘Our social housing is a valuable resource, but it is under considerable pressure. The size of the stock has declined significantly since 1980 when the Right to Buy was introduced. The number of sales is equivalent to 45 per cent of the social housing stock in 1981. This has resulted in people in housing need, many of whom are vulnerable, waiting longer to access a home they can afford.
‘I recognise the proposal affects existing tenants and we will ensure tenants are made aware of the effect of the Bill in good time before abolition takes place. The Bill will require the Welsh Government to publish information, which social landlords in turn must provide to every affected tenant, within two months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent.’
However, David Melding, Conservative spokesperson for planning and housing, told the Assembly: ‘This is a very sad day for Wales. After all, nearly 140,000 families have benefitted from the right to buy since 1980 and home ownership is an aspiration that tens of thousands continue to have across Wales. Now, an important route for them will be closed.’
Councillor Dyfed Edwards, Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson for Housing and Plaid Cymru group leader, said: ‘At a time of acute shortages of social rented homes, and with many thousands of people currently on housing waiting lists, the proposal from the Welsh Government to abolish right to buy is a welcome step in tackling a growing problem in Wales. It is essential that people’s access is improved to good quality social rented housing in order to enhance people’s lives, and also to revitalise local communities.’
The maximum Right to Buy discount in Wales was halved to £8,000 in 2015.
Four councils – Carmathenshire, Swansea, Anglesey and most recently Flintshire – have successfully applied to suspend sales for five years in their areas under previous legislation. Cardiff and Denbighshire have also applied for a suspension and other local authorities, including those that have done a stock transfer, could also apply if they wish.
Matt Dicks, director of CIH Cymru, said: ‘We have a huge shortage of affordable housing in Wales and CIH Cymru supports any measure that will stop the further loss of social housing stock which is what this bill intends to do.
‘However, the main issue is that we have failed to sufficiently replace the social housing stock that we have already lost to schemes such as the Right to Buy. The Welsh Government must ensure that building new homes, and getting the mix of those new homes right, remains at the top of its agenda moving forward, particularly if we are to meet the Welsh Government target of 20,000 new affordable homes.
‘There may also be a direct impact on many of our members from the local authority and stock transfer sector in terms of a possible flood of applications during the year-long run-in period, and we will need to work closely with them to negate any negative impact on resource.’
Innovative homes get £20m
Communities and children secretary Carl Sargeant has announced a new programme to deliver innovative models of housing to help increase the number of homes built in Wales.
The programme, which will initially be funded by £20 million over the next two years, will contribute to the 20,000 affordable homes target the Welsh Government aims to provide over this term of government. The hope is that innovative homes will help to significantly reduce or eliminate fuel bills and inform the Welsh Government about the type of homes it should support in the future.
The cabinet secretary made the announcement at the Innovative Housing Design Conference at the Cardiff City Stadium in February. This was jointly hosted by the Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association and Community Housing Cymru.
Welsh Government consultation papers of interest to WHQ readers include:
- Draft circular for the planning of Gypsy, Traveller and showpeople sites – Responses by May 22
- Changes to the frequency of Help to Buy Wales statistical outputs – Responses by May 24
- Renting homes (Wales) Act 2016 – Guidance related to supported accommodation – Responses by April 28
Consultations are online at consultations.gov.wales
The Housing Advice Centre in Ebbw Vale was officially opened by Blaenau Gwent Mayor, Councillor Barrie Sutton in February.
The centre, which is run in partnership with United Welsh, Linc, Tai Calon, Melin and Hafan Cymru, is a one-stop shop for housing advice for people living in Blaenau Gwent with the facilities to provide a range of services and advice.
The centre had been empty for more than 15 years but has been brought back to life thanks to a significant programme of refurbishment. An investment of more than £400,000 including funding from the Welsh European Funding Office and the housing associations involved in the project has seen the transformation of the building.
Skills and science minister Julie James, visited new Cardiff housing development to meet local young people taking their first steps into a career in the building industry through The Prince’s Trust’s Get into Construction programme.
Housing developer Lovell, Tirion Group and Cadwyn Housing Association are partnering with the youth charity to help local unemployed people aged 18 to 25 launch their construction careers.
The Mill, Canton is a £100 million housing development 800 homes for sale and rent on the former Arjo Wiggins Paper Mill site in west Cardiff.
PUBLICATIONS: 10 TO LOOK OUT FOR
1) 2017 UK Housing Review
Chartered Institute of Housing, March 2017
2) The Experience of Universal Credit: A tenant’s perspective
Community Housing Cymru/Cardiff Metropolitan University, March 2017
3) Faulty Towers: Understanding the impact of overseas corruption on the London property market
Transparency International, March 2017
4) Second Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2017
FEANTSA/Fondation Abbé Pierre, March 2017
5) No One Should Have No One – tackling loneliness and isolation in Wales
Age Cymru, March 2017
6) Our Housing Agenda: meeting the housing aspirations of older people
Expert Group on Housing an Ageing Population for Welsh Government, March 2017
7) Homelessness Monitor England
Crisis/Joseph Rowntree Foundation, March 2017
8) English Housing Survey 2015 to 2016: headline report
Office for National Statistics, February 2017
9) New Civic Housebuilding
Shelter, March 2017
10) Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2016-17 to 2021-22
Institute for Fiscal Studies/Joseph Rowntree Foundation, March 2017