Dec 11th 2017, 16:47
Blog 11th December 2017
In this week’s blog, I refer to: Housing in all parts of the UK, Social Rent increases, ‘Inside Housing’, Government Policy Making, Rory Stewart MP, the ‘Cumberland & Westmorland Herald’, the Homes & Communities Agency, Supported Housing, Cumbria County Council, the Oaklea Trust, the Departments for Communities & Local Government and Work & Pensions and Service Charges.
We have just published the December 2017 edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’. This edition includes articles on:
Last month’s edition prompted the Chief Executive of a Housing Association to write to me as follows:
"Great stuff. It's like reading the Guardian Weekly- a periodic potted summary of the shambles that is English housing policy......."
Last week’s edition of ‘Inside Housing’ included a letter from me about the affordability of social rents that reads as follows:
“The government’s decision to return to increases in social rents based on the consumer prices index plus 1% a year has been generally welcomed in the sector. However, while I will be pleased to see real increases in rents bringing additional resources to housing associations and local authority housing services, I do have my reservations.
“From the 1980s to 2015, social rents were regularly increased by more than general inflation. This was based on the assumption that real incomes were increasing by 2% to 3% a year so that tenants who were ineligible for housing benefit would be able to afford the increases; while tenants who were eligible for housing benefit would have their rents paid for them in full.
“However, this situation is no longer the case. Real incomes are forecast to fall by at least 1% a year over the next few years, while benefits are now ‘capped’. This means that the new rent policy will lead to rents taking up an increasing proportion of the incomes of tenants who are not eligible for housing benefit, while tenants who are eligible for housing benefit may find that the ‘benefits cap’ means that not all their rent is covered by benefits.
“I would have expected that the government would have carried out an assessment of the implications of this rent policy on affordability for tenants, but apparently not. Neither am I aware of any housing associations or local authorities that have carried out such an assessment. Perhaps such an assessment should be carried out.”
If anyone does carry out such an assessment I will refer to it in a future blog.
My local MP, Rory Stewart (Conservative), who is also Minister of State at the Department for International Development and Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office writes an occasional column in my local newspaper the ‘Cumberland & Westmorland Herald’. Last week he shared some interesting thoughts about policy making in government. An extract follows:
“I had hoped to discover… what the British people wanted but there did not seem to be a thing called the ‘British people’. Every household seemed to be defined by different experiences, and very different ideas… But many people still implied our problems could be summed up in simple words like ‘poverty’, ‘austerity’ or ‘inequality’.. and that we could be saved by a hero with big ideas.
“And I began to see how politicians played to these expectations through ‘big projects’… and with ‘big ideas’ (such as) ‘Big Society’ (and) ‘America First’. Some of these ideas were unworkable, few addressed the fundamental problems and some meant nothing at all. But the demand for big projects and big ideas seemed insatiable.
“Meanwhile, the real solutions for real problems seemed to rely on a thousand detailed and complicated initiatives. (For example) while politicians produced the phrases for flooding ‘no more cuts’, ‘this must never happen again’ the real progress required reforms on hydrological modelling, weather reporting, water company reservoirs, dredging, soil absorption, tree planting, bridge design, pumping, insurance, resilience measures.
“I began to feel that in public life… there are very few big ideas and simple solutions… Politics at its best is a practical activity, not an ideology… Yet every democracy in the world votes for people who promise so much more.”
I tend to agree with his conclusion that public services are more likely to improve if there are detailed policies based on evidence rather than grand plans based on ideology. Unfortunately, I can see little evidence that either the government or the opposition is moving towards this approach.
I have just assisted a housing company in preparing an application to be registered with the Homes & Communities Agency as a registered provider. This included preparing a rent policy and business plan. The company specialises in providing long-term supported accommodation for which there is considerable need. I hope that their application will be successful.
The floods of 2015 resulted in the closure of Cumbria County Council’s Edenside Residential Care Home in Appleby near where I live. Subsequently, I argued in letters in the local press that the building should be converted into extra care elderly housing for which there is some need in the area. I am now pleased to see that the Oaklea Trust has come forward with a proposal to do just that with financial support from Cumbria County Council.
Luckily, the Departments for Communities & Local Government and Work & Pensions have now withdrawn their proposals to cap housing benefit at the level of the local housing allowance for sheltered and supported housing schemes thus removing some of the uncertainties that affect the sector. I have written a briefing paper on the government’s policy statement and consultation on the future funding of supported housing that can be downloaded from here.
I am currently putting the finishing touches to an in-house training session on service charges that I will be presenting for a London Borough Council next week. This is a popular in-house session that I have delivered successfully for many local authorities and housing associations. I am looking forward to this next session.
Our next seminars are on: