English | Cymraeg Tel: 029 2076 5760 Connect: Twitter

Time for action on reclassification

Welsh Government must learn lessons from England to get the ONS decision on the status of housing associations reversed, says Aaron Hill.


Doing things differently to England has so often been the defining mantra of post-devolution politics in Wales. In housing in particular, we have followed a distinctly Welsh path, continuing to invest heavily in social housing, but today Wales and the other devolved nations must all look to England for how to clear the latest hurdle in the housing crisis.

Some 11 months after the ONS decision to reclassify English housing associations into the public sector, English providers are joined by the housing associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Once English associations were reclassified last year, the review of the devolved nations was always going to come, and the outcome should come as no surprise to associations in Wales. It might have been Right to Buy, a rent cut and some loose lips at PMQs that attracted the attention of ONS in England, but these were not the government controls they identified, and those set out in the ONS’ judgment today have a spooky resemblance to those we saw on Halloween last year.

On the face of it, this is a technical accounting matter that will add £2.5bn of Welsh debt to the national accounts, but the impacts could be wide ranging.

The housing association sector called for an ambitious plan to tackle the housing crisis in Wales, and we are committed to ensuring Welsh Government can deliver their 20,000 affordable housing target, but the crux of the reclassification decision is that this target could be in danger. If housing associations remain in the public sector in the long term, it opens the door for Treasury control over borrowing.

Not only should this concern those of us who want to tackle the housing crisis, but those of us who believe that devolution should allow us to continue to make decisions specific to our own needs as a nation.

It is great news that Welsh Government has indicated its willingness to act on this issue, but their action must be swift and decisive.

UK Government used a Bill that was already in progress – now the Housing and Planning Act – as a vehicle for the legislation to deal with reclassification in England. With a Bill on its way that will end the Right to Buy in Wales, Welsh Government can continue to deliver a Welsh solution to make the housing market work. To ensure it works for all, they must learn lessons from England, and use that Bill to reverse today’s reclassification.

Aaron Hill is public affairs manager of Community Housing Cymru

Sign up to our email newsletter

Every two months we'll email you a summary of the latest news & articles on the WHQ website. Better still, if you're a fully paid up magazine subscriber, you'll get access to the latest members-only articles as well.

Sign up for the email newsletter »

Looking to advertise in our magazine?

Advertising and sponsored features are a great way to raise your profile with our readership of housing and regeneration decision makers in Wales.

Find out more »