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Time to fill the evidence gap

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has launched a campaign for a Welsh Housing Survey with support from across the housing sector. Chris Norris explains.

Anybody who has watched the on-going legislative proceedings for the possession reform Bill going through the Welsh Parliament over the last few months – or, indeed, the three other housing Bills to have passed the Senedd since 2014 – will be well aware of the dependence of policymakers on anecdotal evidence and limited data.

Although I am proud of the research the NRLA and its predecessor organisations have conducted over the years to fill that gap, it is time for Wales as a self-governing nation to have its own comprehensive, government-commissioned data set for housing.

That’s why the NRLA is today launching its campaign for a Welsh Housing Survey, calling on all parties that aspire to form the next Welsh Government after next spring’s election to adopt the commitment into their manifestos.

We are very grateful the campaign has been backed by CIH Cymru, RICS, Tai Pawb, TDS, ARLA-Propertymark, and Homes for All Cymru [https://www.nrla.org.uk/download?document=1212]. This demonstrates the wide range of support for our proposal that only aims to improve data collection on housing in Wales so that policymakers are better informed and can have confidence in the evidence before them.

The Housing Conditions Evidence Programme and National Survey for Wales marked a good start to collect information on the state of housing in Wales, but this does not go nearly far enough in capturing other important information.

That’s why we believe that the long-running English Housing Survey (EHS), in place since 1967, is an aspirational model due to the volume of data it collects and its adoption will allow for greater comparison and accountability between the nations. The EHS collects a wealth of information such as data on the proportion of private rented sector (PRS) tenancies ended by the tenant, the levels of satisfaction among social renters, and the percentage of owner-occupied homes that are under-occupied.

With Covid-19 forcing prioritisation of public spending, I can understand some being anxious about spending money on a survey rather than elsewhere. However, we want to reassure others that the survey will provide value-for-money: the EHS cost less than £20 million to deliver five annual rounds over seven years and, with Wales being significantly smaller than England in both area and population, a Welsh survey would inevitably cost less. Having a survey and its report will pay for itself in producing data that will lead to improved policymaking.

Our call is timely as it comes days after the Welsh Government accepted a Senedd committee’s recommendation, itself a result of NRLA testimony, to commission a report on the lack of data surrounding the private rented sector in order to identify solutions to the overreliance on anecdotal evidence.

With that, the NRLA and all the others backing our campaign call on the Welsh Government and all parties that aspire to form the next, to commit themselves to introducing a Welsh Housing Survey, similar to that in place for England. We hope this will lead to more informed and evidence-based policymaking, improving the lives of everyone in Wales.

A Welsh Housing Survey has wide-ranging support and would fill a significant evidence gap, will bring comparability and equality in relation to England, and does not distract policymakers or interfere with their other priorities. Indeed, it could help politicians achieve them.  What have they got to lose by supporting our call?

Chris Norris is policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association

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