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Blog 27th May 2021

May 27th, 13:05

Blog 27th May 2021

In this blog I consider reports on the poor quality of housing by ITV News, the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, and the Centre for Ageing better. I also consider how the Local Government Association is helping local authorities to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The ITV News has recently highlighted poor housing, not only in the private rented sector, but also, more shockingly, in local authorities and housing associations. Surely, in the twenty-first century local authorities and housing associations, that present themselves as organisations with a mission to provide excellent homes, should be beacons of good practice rather than landlords of sub-standard housing!

It is also rather concerning that the Regulator for Social Housing in England, that is supposed to police the social housing sector including the statutory requirement to provide homes that meet the decent homes standard, has only been prompted to act against landlords because of what they saw on the television! Surely, their own monitoring systems should have identified problems before the news reporters did.

Houses awaiting demolition as part of a regeneration scheme.

The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence has published a report that concludes that a lack of effective and sustained government action and funding is to blame for the crisis in the quality of England’s homes.

The report, ‘Past, present and future: housing policy and poor-quality homes’, finds that while the government has a crucial role in protecting the nation’s housing stock, dramatic funding cuts and failure to act have left England’s homes in a poor standard.

Readers of this blog will remember:

  • In 2010 the government reduced their housing budget by 60%.
  • In 2012 the government introduced the ‘self-financing’ system for local authority housing that hard wired a lack of funding for major repairs.
  • In 2015 the government obliged local authorities and housing associations to reduce their rents by 1% a year in cash terms for four years, even though business plans and the self-financing settlement had all been based on a real term increase in rents of 1% a year based on previous government advice.

This left local authorities and housing associations short of resources. The government then pressurised them into focusing on building new homes (very few of which were for social housing) leading to a squeeze on resources for existing homes.

The fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 sounded alarm bells, but they were not heeded in government. So now we are in the disgraceful situation identified by ITV News and the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.

The government is now, quite rightly, considering the decarbonisation of Britain’s homes. However, all the signs are that they will expect local authorities and housing associations to deliver this without any additional funding thus compounding the financial problems that already exist.

Past, present and future: housing policy and poor-quality homes’ was commissioned to inform the Good Home Enquiry that was set up by the Centre for Ageing Better into England’s housing policies to determine causes of, and solutions to, the country’s current housing crisis. According to the Centre for Ageing Better, ten million people in England are at risk because they live in a home that does not meet basic standards, with most of these homes posing a serious risk to their inhabitants’ health or safety.

Previous research by the Centre for Ageing Better and the King’s Fund had highlighted the link between poor-quality housing and COVID-19, with those who are most at risk of the disease more likely to be living in non-decent homes. A high proportion of the ‘excess deaths’ that are recorded in Britain are caused by people living in poor housing.

The report warns that reducing investment in housing improvement is a false economy, leading to greater pressure and spending on health and social care and undermining efforts to meet carbon reduction targets and tackle the climate emergency.

It also calls for a co-ordinated national strategy to reinstate enforcement of housing standards, the development of local hubs to coordinate holistic home improvement and retrofit and long-term national funding for locally delivered improvements to the quality of homes for the benefit of current and future generations.

David Orr, Chair of the Good Home Inquiry, told THIIS that:

“This report shows that while in theory there is a national framework in place to keep homes up to a decent standard, a lack of action and funding has let this fall by the wayside… As the government moves forward with its ambition to decarbonise homes, attempting to address energy efficiency in isolation would be a big mistake. Instead, all the elements of a good home should be addressed through a holistic retrofit strategy… The government must ensure that improving England’s housing stock is part of a co-ordinated effort to improve the quality of all our homes– so that no-one is forced to live in a house that is cold, damp or inaccessible.”

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association has launched a new programme of sector support and improvement offer for councils in 2021/22. Their new sector support summary outlines the wide range of tools and resources that all councils can access. This updated offer includes enhanced offers relating to climate change, financial resilience, and economic recovery; that Councils have identified as priorities in the coming year.

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Leeds Civic Hall. COVID-19 has impacted heavily on council finances.

COVID-19 has impacted heavily on council finances and local economies across the country. The Local Government Association’s newly expanded financial resilience offer, Economic Growth Advisors programme and Economic Resilience programme provide councils with support to ensure effective financial resilience and economic recovery. Further support is available through their procurement and commissioning, behavioural insights and transformation offers that provide councils with tools and resources to commission and buy services more efficiently and effectively and to achieve transformational change in ways that contribute to positive local outcomes.

The newly expanded financial resilience programme provides all councils with access to tools and support to achieve greater financial resilience, access to advice and guidance, alongside bespoke targeted support for those facing the most significant challenges. The offer includes:  

  • Finance reviews (peer challenges), a specialist financial peer challenge, which involves working closely with councils over an extended period to support them to improve their financial situation
  • Bespoke targeted support, for those councils facing the most significant challenges. This is provided by experienced, financially qualified senior finance associates (FISAs) and includes support around financial strategy, planning and forecasting
  • Formal learning opportunities, including online and through member peer support
  • Finance Leadership Essentials, a development opportunity and event for councillors with a particular focus on COVID-19 financial issues
  • a new sounding board of Section 151 officers, providing councils with access to collaborative finance panels and best practice sharing events for member peers. 

For some years I have assisted the Local Government Association with their sector support and improvement programme, mainly by providing financial briefings for peer review teams. For further information on the work that AWICS does to support the Local Government Association, please click here.

We have a wide programme of webinars on subjects of interest to those who care about public services including local government and housing. For further information or to make a booking, please click here.

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