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New Welsh Housing Quality Standard ‘raises the bar for social housing’

Climate change minister Julie James has launched a ‘bold and progressive’ new Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) that will see major changes to social housing in Wales.

WHQS 2023 is the successor to the original WHQS introduced in 2002 that saw billions of pounds invested in improving and maintaining the quality of the existing social housing stock .

The final version is published today (Tuesday) following a formal public consultation and is informed by the 200 responses that were received. The focus is firmly on decarbonisation and affordable warmth, with social housing now expected to achieve Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C by 2029 as a step towards achieving EPC A.

Julie James said the new WHQS will replace the existing standard to ‘better reflect changes in the way people live, work and feel about their homes’.

The minister said: ‘This is a bold and progressive standard that sets ambitious targets to make a difference to the overall quality of people’s lives, raises the bar for social housing and reflects the voice of tenants in Wales.

“The standard will address decarbonisation in the social housing stock, ensure that homes are of a higher quality, affordable to heat and fit for the 21st century and beyond.

‘It is vital that we continue to lead the way in decarbonisation of housing and learn how to upgrade social housing effectively and efficiently, in ways which reduce carbon emissions, and energy bills for tenants.’

The minister added that learning from upgrading 230,000 social homes in Wales would drive how the nation decarbonises the 1.2 million privately owned homes in Wales.

She said: ‘The challenge of retrofitting the existing housing stock is vast. Every single house has a different history and therefore, our mission is to reduce carbon emissions home by home, and street by street.”

WHQS 2023 sets out a new and challenging set of standards for social landlords to meet but has left many of them asking about funding. A report for the Future Generations Commissioner in 2021 identified a £2.7 billion funding gap for social housing to achieve EPC A by 2030 after taking account of anticipated investment by social landlords and UK and Welsh Government programmes.

Welsh Government says that funding in the region of £270 million over this term of government is already available through the Optimised Retrofit Programme to help social landlords with meeting new elements relating to affordable warmth and decarbonisation.

This financial year £70 million has been indicatively allocated to landlords on a formula funding basis and there is a commitment for a further £70 million next year.

However, the minister added on Tuesday that ‘to provide further support I intend to make available a further £22.5 million across this year and next, targeted at supporting social housing meeting the new Wales Housing Quality Standard’.

WHQS 2023 also includes provisions to address concerns that some landlords could look to sell or demolish homes that are most expensive to upgrade as a way of meeting the targets. It is understood that they will be expected to take into account carbon emissions from any demolition and replacement new build.

As well focusing on affordable heat and decarbonisation, the standard also looks to improve homes in a variety of other important ways. These include requirements for suitable floor coverings at the change of tenancy and social justice issues such as tackling damp and mould, broadband access and building safety.

The minister continued: ‘I am confident that this is the right standard at the right time, but implementation will not be without its challenges.

‘As a government we will continue to work collaboratively with the sector, in the same way we have developed the standard. One of the key areas will be finding suitable long-term funding solutions in partnerships with social landlords.

‘It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge of upgrading social housing.

‘We have done it before, and together we can do it again.  We need to be pragmatic, rise to the challenge – Welsh tenants are counting on us.’

Welsh housing associations welcomed the ambition to improve the quality of social homes for tenants and deliver decarbonisation. Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru said: ‘Welsh housing associations now stand ready to support these new aspirations – but to achieve them we need long-term funding certainty and a deliverable plan. One which takes advantage of technology, develops a Wales-based supply chain and provides an economic boost to our communities.

‘We also welcome Welsh Government’s commitment to work closely with the sector towards implementation. It is vital that we are able to identify funding, policy solutions and a reporting approach that not only ensures the standard is deliverable, but also allows vital tenant services to continue, along with development of the new social homes that our country badly needs.

‘The immense task for not-for-profit housing associations should not be underestimated. They are poised to continue supporting tenants and investing in their homes; we now need Welsh Government to provide the essential tools and funding needed to do this.’

David Wilton, chief executive of TPAS Cymru, also welcomed the ‘exciting’ new standard but added that programmes need to be co-produced with tenants. He said: ‘TPAS Cymru congratulate Welsh Government in sticking with this ambitious decarbonisation plan when other neighbouring nations are backtracking on decarbonisations plans.

‘Whilst there are lots of positive initiatives in this standard, and we particularly pleased to see the inclusion of new flooring standards. This was something TPAS Cymru and Tai Pawb have been lobbying for 3 years.

‘Through the consultation process, TPAS Cymru have held many tenant sessions to discuss the proposals, and the tenant response has been positive.  However, the key message from tenants which comes through in every session is that tenants don’t want to be ‘guinea pigs’ for unproved solutions and they want real and meaningful discussions – an involved voice in taking this forward.’

Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru (CIH Cymru) national director: Matt Dicks said: ‘Whilst the sector is committed to working in partnership with Welsh Government, lenders, and other stakeholders to find innovative ways to draw in the investment required to make this shared ambition a reality, meeting the WHQS 2023 standards will be challenging for the housing sector in Wales. Whilst we welcome the Welsh Government’s aim in building on the successes of the original WHQS, ensuring the provision of good quality homes, this cannot be done without sufficient funding.

‘There must be long-term certainty from Welsh Government linked to financing activity to decarbonise existing homes at pace. The level of funding outlined is not likely to be able to meet this aim due to ongoing inflationary pressures of housing organisations’ wider operating environment. If we are to ensure that social housing in Wales can meet the high standards outlined in the new WHQS, then we need to ensure that social housing providers are provided with the adequate level of certainty around the financial support needed to meet our shared ambition.’

  • Look out for the Autumn issue of WHQ, which will be published this week with standards in general and WHQS in particular as its theme.


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