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Policy update


Osborne tones down cuts

Chancellor George Osborne delivered a Spending Review that was less harsh than feared. In the wake of higher forecast tax receipts, he u-turned on his plans to cut tax credits, maintained some departmental spending that was under threat and increased capital investment.

However, he will still deliver his welfare savings through cuts in universal credit that will apply from later in the parliament.

And he imposed a new cut in housing benefit by limiting social sector payments to the same rate as the local housing allowance and applying the shared accommodation rate to single tenants under 35 without children. This will cover all tenancies signed after April 2016 and apply from April 2018. The cut could price young people out of social housing and put supported housing projects at risk, although the government has indicated it will use discretionary housing payments to mitigate this.

Osborne also announced a UK-wide increase in stamp duty on buy-to-let landlords and second home owners.

ONS reclassifies housing associations

The Office for National Statistics reclassified English associations in England as public rather than private sector in the national accounts in a decision with implications for the rest of the UK.

The decision means that English associations’ borrowing, and their 
£60 billion worth of outstanding debt, transfers on to the public balance sheet. It follows detailed consideration of
the regulatory system for associations that looked in particular at rules on the appointment of board members, asset disposals and the restructuring and winding up of associations.

It sparked fears that the
government would look either to control the spending and borrowing
of associations or else find a way to privatise them. However, ministers introduced amendments to the Housing Bill in a bid to get a new decision on classification.


Westminster accelerates reform of social housing

The Conservative government at Westminster continued its radical shake-up of affordable housing with a series of announcements on housing, finance and planning policy.

Under a deal agreed between communities secretary Greg Clark 
and the National Housing Federation, the right to buy will be extended to housing association tenants on a voluntary basis. The right to buy will not be imposed through legislation but the Housing and Planning Bill proposes ‘grant’ to compensate associations and fund replacement homes. Associations will also be able to offer portable discounts rather than a right to buy in some circumstances.

The rest of the Housing and Planning Bill includes a series of other changes:

  • Reform of the planning system so that Starter Homes to be sold to first- time buyers at a 20 per cent discount count as affordable homes
  • A levy on local authorities based on the sale of their ‘high-value’ council homes to fund housing association right to buy discounts and replacement homes
  • Higher ‘Pay to Stay’ rents on all social housing tenants with a ‘high income’ (defined as £30,000 household income in most of England and £40,000 in London). This will also be ‘voluntary’ for housing associations
  • Regulatory reform for housing associations following the ONS decision on reclassification
  • The end of security of tenure for
new council tenants, with fixed-term tenancies of two to five years instead.

In the Spending Review in November, chancellor George Osborne promised to double investment in affordable homes. However, almost
all of the money will go into Starter Homes and shared ownership.


SNP promises 50,000 affordable homes

The Scottish National Party has pledged to invest £3 billion to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes over the next five years if it wins the Scottish Parliament election in May.

The pledge was originally made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the party conference speech in October. Housing minister Margaret Burgess said in a housing debate in November that the 50,000 would represent a 67 per cent increase in affordable housing supply and that 35,000 of them would be for social rent.

The homes are expected to support 20,000 jobs a year and generate £10 billion in economic activity over the course of the parliament. Margaret Burgess said: ‘Housing is a key priority for this government and is fundamental to tackling poverty. We are determined to work with the entire housing sector to ensure that we deliver more quality affordable homes that people and our communities need.’

Writing in this issue of WHQ, Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland welcomes the new target and adds: ‘We also understand that other political parties in Scotland are now looking more seriously at the significance of politically prioritising affordable homes and the vital role they play in delivering on issues such as improving the economy, delivering on the preventative spending and social justice agendas as well as tackling inequality and child poverty.’


Minister launches consultation on private rented sector

Social development minister Mervyn Storey published a discussion document on ways to help make private renting a more attractive and viable housing option.

Launching the document in November, the minister said the private rented sector had grown and there was an increased focus on how it should be regulated.

The four main themes in the consultation running until February are:

  • Role of the private rented sector – 
what support is appropriate for both 
landlords and tenants?
  • Supply and investment – should the 
private rented sector have a role in addressing housing supply and, if so, should government incentivise growth and investment?
  • Housing and tenancy management – what, if any changes, are needed to current regulation?
  • Property standards – should there be improvements made to current property standards?

For more information see www.dsdni. gov.uk/consultations/review-role-and- regulation-private-rented-sector


Draft Budget boost for housing

Welsh Government protected the Supporting People programme and increased Social Housing Grant in its Draft Budget for 2016/17.

Housing organisations welcomed this good news in the wake of a UK Spending Review that saw significant reductions in departmental funding. There will also be a second phase of the Help to Buy Cymru equity loan scheme to help home buyers.

However, this was balanced by disappointment over an apparent cut in funding for homelessness prevention.

Later in December communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths confirmed that the current social rent formula will continue to apply in Wales in 2016/17 despite the 
cut imposed in England. She said: ‘Maintaining our social rent policy provides stability for social landlords and enables them to continue to provide the good quality, affordable housing Welsh families need.’

Supporting People plays a key role in tackling and preventing homelessness and supporting vulnerable people to live independently. In April, Cymorth Cymru and Community Housing Cymru launched the ‘Let’s Keep on Supporting People’ campaign to protect funding. It will now be protected at 2015/16 levels with no further cuts in 2016/17.

Auriol Miller, director of Cymorth Cymru, welcomed the news: ‘We
are absolutely delighted that Welsh Government have recognised Supporting People as a key priority in next year’s budget, and we are grateful for the support that Communities Minister Lesley Griffiths, and the other parties in the Assembly, continue to show this vital programme.’

Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, welcomed what he called ‘a good budget for affordable housing’ as Social Housing Grant was increased by £5 million
on last year to a total of £68.8
million: ‘Financial support from Welsh Government is needed now more
than ever. Investment in housing helps stimulate the economy and provides job and training opportunities for
local people, as well as funding new affordable homes.’ He also welcomed confirmation of the rent settlement.

John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, also welcomed the news on Supporting People but he added that: ‘An 8.1 per cent cut to homelessness prevention is going to have worrying consequences – and is going to make it much harder to successfully implement the Housing (Wales) Act, Wales’ first piece of housing legislation.’

Renting reforms pass

The Renting Homes Bill passed its final stage in the Assembly in November and was expected to gain Royal Assent as WHQ went to press.

The legislation will replace the different types of tenancies and licences currently available with just two types of contract – one for the private rented sector and one for social housing.

Communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths said: ‘This Bill will ensure both landlords and those renting their homes are aware of their rights and responsibilities from the outset, and will provide additional protection against the poor practices of some landlords.’

‘A huge amount of time and effort has already gone into the development of the Bill, but now is when the hard work really begins. I look forward to continuing to work with partners to prepare for the implementation of this landmark legislation.’

Rent Smart Wales launched

The new registration and licensing scheme for private landlords and agents in Wales came into effect at the end of November. The key part of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 means that everyone who owns and rents out private property in Wales has to register with the central licensing authority via Rent Smart Wales. All managing landlords and agents also has to obtain a new type of licence.

The new legislation sees Wales become the first country in the UK where managing landlords and agents are obliged to undertake training to ensure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Help to Buy – Wales extended

The Welsh Government is investing up to £290 million in a second phase of its scheme offering equity loans to buyers of new homes.

The funding will support construction of up to 6,000 homes
in Wales between 2016 and 2021.
The existing £174 million scheme has already helped 2,400 families to buy with another 650 applications in the pipeline. Help to Buy – Wales will continue to offer 20 per cent equity loans on new properties up to a value of £300,000.

Communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths said: ‘Today’s £290 million investment clearly demonstrates this Government’s commitment to encouraging housebuilding and helping people achieve their goal of owning their own home.’

Consultation papers


Housing and health team up on wellbeing

Community Housing Cymru and Public Health Wales have signed a new agreement to work more closely together on improving the lives and health of people in the most deprived communities in Wales.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed at the CHC conference in November they will work to identify common problems and develop joint solutions. The focus is on prevention and early intervention and ensuring that work is informed by the 
best national and international evidence to empower communities to improve health and wellbeing.

A joint Health and Housing Public Health Task Group will include key representatives from health, housing, community and social care.

Tracey Cooper, chief executive of Public Health Wales, said: ‘Our homes are at the heart of our communities and our daily lives, and we know
that the quality of housing is closely linked with health and wellbeing.
By sharing resources and working together towards combined goals with Community Housing Cymru, we can make a real and meaningful difference to the lives of people across Wales.’

Cardiff names developer for regeneration programme

The City of Cardiff Council has appointed Wates Living Space as the developer to help it deliver its ambitious plans for 1,500 new homes in the city over the next 10 years.

The Housing Partnership programme will include construction of up to 600 council houses funded and managed by the authority and will help to regenerate communities, enhancing environments and improving the quality of life for residents.

All the properties built will meet high levels of sustainability and energy efficiency, ensuring that we help to tackle fuel poverty. It is also anticipated that a ‘Passivhaus’ pilot project will be delivered in the first phase of development.

One of the key objectives is to deliver community benefits including the creation of long-term, sustainable local training and employment programmes as well as creating opportunities for local businesses, community groups and local people.

Cabinet member for health, housing and wellbeing, Cllr Susan Elsmore, said: ‘With over 10,000 people on
the housing waiting list this is an extremely important scheme that will play a key role in tackling Cardiff’s housing need. The project will also enable first time buyers to get that important first step on the housing ladder.

‘The scheme will help revitalise areas of the city for the future by investing in sustainable communities as well as creating local jobs and training opportunities.’

Newydd Housing Association’s Tenant Scrutiny Group are celebrating two prestigious awards in a few months. At the Customer Scrutiny Inspection Awards in Liverpool in October they were named ‘Most Inspiring Scrutiny Group in Wales’. That followed their receipt of TPAS Cymru’s ‘Tenant Scrutiny Award’ in June. Pictured are Heather Douglas, Emma Newbury, Cath Kinson and John Phillips with their awards from recent ceremonies.

Joining the healthy conversation

A community in Rhondda Cynon Taf
has come together to have a ‘healthy conversation’ about lifestyle choices, diet and exercise. As part of the Gwalia Healthy Conversations programme, a Health Action Day was held in Rhydyfelin to promote the importance of keeping fit and well.

People attending the event were
able to have informal discussions with
specialists from agencies such as TEDS, Drink Wise Age Well, Filter Cymru, Fareshare Cymru, Stop Smoking Wales, Street and health practitioners.

Healthy Conversations aims to provide people with the understanding, opportunities and support networks to improve the health and well-being of themselves, their peers and the communities in which they live.

Nathan Harding, Gwalia support worker, said: ‘We received an extremely positive reaction people saying the day made them consider their own health and that they planned to make life style changes following the conversation that they had.’

Top social housing photographer named

Earlier this year CIH Cymru laid down a challenge for amateur photographers in the sector: help us prove that social housing can be beautiful. The judging panel, Martin Asquith, Alison Inman and Jason Wroe, selected Tracy James’s photo of Newydd Housing Association’s Thornley House in Barry (centre, right) as the winner.

Tracy’s photograph won the honour of being the
front cover of CIH Cymru’s Good Practice Compendium. Download the Good Practice Compendium at www.cih.org/cymru/welshhousingawards. For more details of the winners and shortlisted contenders in the Welsh Housing Awards, see p38-39.

Five other photographers were also highly commended by the judges: Ben Hennessy, Gareth Thomas, Helen Matthews, Louise Blackwell and Rachel Gardiner-James. You can see all the entries and full descriptions on the WHQ website at whq.org.uk.

If think you’ve got the photo skills to show off social housing’s best side, watch out for next year’s competition.


  1. Is Wales Fairer?

Equality and Human Rights Commission, December 2015


  1. Future Need and Demand for Homes in Wales

Public Policy Institute for Wales, November 2015


(see feature p30-31)

  1. Homeless People’s Experiences Of Welfare Conditionality And Benefit Sanctions

Crisis, December 2015


  1. Can Welfare Work for Wales: Baseline Report

Bevan Foundation, November 2015


  1. Year 8: The Socio‐Economic Impact of the Welsh HA and Community Mutual Sector

Welsh Economy Research Unit/Community Housing Cymru, November 2015


  1. The Role of the Private Rented Sector in Wales

Public Policy Institute for Wales, November 2015

ppiw.org.uk/publications/(see feature p46)

  1. Towards Zero Carbon Housing Futures

University of Sheffield, December 2015


  1. International Lessons on Tackling Extreme Housing Exclusion

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, December 2015


  1. Paying a High Price for a Faulty Product

Citizens Advice and New Policy Institute, December 2015


  1. An Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe

FEANTSA and Fondation Abbé Pierre, November 2015


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