Councils are proud of their housing and the families that call it home, they are committed to improving standards, to empowering and supporting tenants, and to expanding the stock of social housing for those in need of a secure, quality, affordable home.
The Social Housing Green Paper offers a welcome opportunity to set a new direction for the critical role that social housing will play in a future economy and society that is fair, happy and productive.
As an introduction, our submission makes the following headline points:
- Expanding supply and supporting home ownership (chapter 5)
Councils are ambitious to build new homes. As a country, we should have an ambition to build 100,000 social homes a year. The removal of the Housing Revenue Account cap is extremely welcome. The Government has estimated this will lead up to 9,000 new homes a year, this is a significant contribution although still a conservative estimate. Further reforms will enable councils to achieve greater value for money from new borrowing freedoms. In particular councils should be able to reinvest 100 per cent of Right to Buy (RtB) receipts into new homes, and they should have local discretion on setting RtB discounts. A long-term framework providing certainty and local flexibility on council social rents is also especially important for providing confidence to invest. Furthermore we recommend a number of measures for how to increase the supply of good quality social housing through the planning system, an area not adequately covered by the Green Paper.
- Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities (chapter 4)
Councils are positive about social housing and tenants. It is upsetting but not surprising that stigma was the most consistent theme raised by residents at the engagement events. The Green Paper’s recognition of how tenants feel is a valuable step in itself but beyond that the measures proposed do not go far enough, for instance they do not adequately address welfare reforms which have been a huge concern for tenants. Furthermore, it is important that the effort to identify what is great about social housing is not contradicted by other policy and funding decisions.
- Ensuring homes are safe and decent (chapter 1)
It is critical that councils can take swift and meaningful action to help social tenants feel safe in their homes. Tenants of all tenures should expect their landlords to consistently work towards improving conditions. Significant progress has been made in bringing council owned housing up to the Decent Homes standard. A stable long-term financial framework will be crucial to enabling councils to plan investments into making homes safe and decent and any reviews to standards will need to be funded.
- Effective resolution of complaints (chapter 2)
Councils are good landlords and seek to rapidly deal with complaints from tenants. However local government is always looking at opportunities to develop and improve, and there are advantages to looking at the redress process with a view to making it clearer, equitable and accessible. It is important, however, not to undermine existing good practice but to build on it through peer learning and development.
- Empowering residents and strengthening the regulator (chapter 3)
Councils understand their tenants and local housing circumstances best, recognise there will always be room for improvement, and want to improve performance through positive productive relationships locally. It is crucial that any reform to the role of regulator is focused on offering genuine added-value to tenants locally, and in our view there is a risk that a new role for the regulator with council housing will not deliver value for money. National performance regimes inevitably generate perverse incentives leading to unforeseen consequences, and so we would caution against over prescription through national Key Performance Indicators.