Monday, 4 December 2017

A (retrospective) Gold star

So, it was the budget that promised so much for the social housing sector, something we have pressing for so many years, but did it deliver?

On the whole I would say yes. Overall, the budget formalised a welcome change of heart from this Conservative  Administration, compared to the last one headed by David Cameron and George Osborne which was decidedly antipathetic towards social housing. 

Theresa May’s Government has recognised that social housing contributes a very important part of the housing needs of the UK, particularly as a large proportion of the population still cannot, and probably never will, be able to buy their own homes.

There’s has been very little funding for affordable social housing to rent but over the past few months, we have seen a huge change in direction, and now we see mention of several billion pound being allocated again to supply new homes of this tenure type.

A (retrospective) gold star to the government for finally listening and responding to what a lot of people and organisations have been telling them for years!

It’s good to see the need for “regeneration” (demolition of old stock and replacement with admittedly fewer, but unarguably better, homes) in the North East has at last been recognised again, having been a dirty word since 2010. There are even stories of ministers and Whitehall mandarins getting out of their ivory towers and being taken around housing estates in the North and shown what exactly is needed up here and how it is so very different from what is needed in the South East where they live. Let’s hope this happens.

Another measure that is welcome is the announcement of £42m new money to support Disabled Facilities grants.  These are grants administered by the Local Authorities to fund adaptations in peoples’ homes so that they can continue to live there and not move into hospital, specialist accommodation or a care home.  Clearly this makes an awful lot of sense and the backlogs that have been building up because of recent cuts to LA budgets in this area are scandalous and make no economic sense.  Clearly it is in everyone’s interest, taxpayer included, if people can continue to live in their own home, rather than move into expensive and unfamiliar accommodation, or stay in hospital “bed blocking”  following the onset of a disability!  Is £42m enough?  Again, we shall see!

Whilst the Government has announced changes in Universal Credit, they don’t quite go far enough for me.  The administrative problems of the UC system have always been “unfit for purpose”, with smaller housing associations and almshouses in particular being vulnerable to the negative cash flows that were caused due to a high level of rent arrears in pilot areas.

It appears that the designers of the original system were not appropriately trained in the facts of housing law and practice in the UK, so these late stage fixes are welcome, but should never have been necessary in the first place if the DWP and the Treasury had actually consulted properly in the first place 7 years ago! 

The LHA cap removal is of course the biggest thing, and a very, very positive step.  As is the previously announced rent settlement post-2020.  This is hugely welcome, however only restores us to the position we were in in 2015 before George Osborne announced his war on housing associations! More needs to be done in relation to long term funding for supported and sheltered housing, and the government is consulting well and wisely on this.  We are participating in the consultation and trust that the government will listen well and come up with a workable system for the long term to secure accommodation of sufficient quantity and quality for this vital sector.

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