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Policy update


UN calls for reversal of benefit cuts

A United Nations official accused the UK government of presiding ‘the systematic immiseration of a significant proportion of the British population’.

In a hard-hitting report, Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, said the consequences of the government’s cuts in welfare were ‘obvious to anyone who opens their eyes’.

He said ‘radical social re- engineering’ had removed much of the glue that had held society together since the Second World War and replaced it with ‘a harsh and uncaring ethos’.

Universal credit was like ‘a digital and sanitised version of the 19th century workhouse made famous by Charles Dickens’.

While crediting work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for softening some of the harshest elements of the new benefit, he found ‘a striking and complete disconnect’ between what he heard and saw from people across the UK and the picture painted by the government.

And he recommended the reversal of ‘particularly regressive measures’ like the benefit freeze, two-child limit, benefit cap and under-occupation penalty.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the report was ‘completely inaccurate’ and ‘a barely believable documentation’ of a Britain that was ‘one of the happiest countries in the world in which to live’.


May hails her government’s record on housing

Outgoing prime minister Theresa May boasted of a legacy on housing with ‘results that speak for themselves’.

Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester, she hailed the government’s record on housebuilding and action to restore ‘the dream of home ownership’.

But her ‘truly radical reforms, our biggest break with the past, have come in work to support those who rent’.

She said the government was ‘rebalancing the relationship between tenant and landlord’ with the capping of rental deposits, abolition of letting agent fees and promised end to Section 21 evictions.

And she said an action plan and timetable for implementing reforms to social housing would be published in September and would include stronger consumer regulation and
‘a commitment to further boost the supply of high-quality social housing’.

She also called for national space standards for new homes but acknowledged that ‘it will be up to my successor to deal with this’.

As WHQ went to press, the contest between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to be that successor was entering its final few days.


Changes to intentionality and local connection tests for homelessness

Homeless people in Scotland will get better protection under new legislation coming into effect this year.

Two key changes follow recommendations from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and a consultation by the Scottish Government.

The first replaces the current duty on local authorities to assess whether a homelessness application is intentional with discretion for them to investigate intentionality. This will make it easier for people with problems in their lives, such as financial or mental health issues, to receive support.

The second removes the requirement for people facing homelessness to demonstrate that they have a local connection with a council area before they can receive support from that local authority.

The detail of the changes will be developed in collaboration with councils and others.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: ‘Scotland has some of the strongest homelessness rights in the world and these changes to the law will allow more people to benefit from the support available. We want to make sure that anyone facing homelessness is supported into permanent, settled accommodation that meets their needs as quickly as possible.’


Plan for broader definition of affordable housing

The Department for Communities launched a consultation on proposed changes to the definition of affordable housing.

The move is aimed at improving access to suitable housing and reducing housing stress and follows recognition in the Programme for Government that challenges are broader than just social housing.

The current definition of affordable housing was drafted to reflect the affordable housing products available at the time of its development, namely social housing and shared ownership housing.

The Department wants a revised definition of affordable housing that incorporates a wider range of intermediate housing products.

The new definition of affordable housing will not impact on access to social housing but a new and broader definition of affordable housing would be able to take into account the needs of a wide range of groups, some of whom are not currently finding their needs adequately met by the market.

It would also provide the framework for housing associations and other potential affordable housing delivery partners to commence work to develop new products for affordable housing that would in turn enable government to further meet housing needs and demand, thereby reducing housing stress.

The proposed new definition is:

‘Affordable housing is housing provided for sale or rent outside of the general market, for those whose needs are not met by the market. Affordable housing which is funded by Government must remain affordable or, alternatively, there must be provision for the public subsidy to be repaid or recycled in the provision of new affordable housing.’


Review backs improved rent policy

A review of rent policy for Welsh Government concluded that the current system is meeting its objectives, is accepted by a range of stakeholders and should be retained.

Emerging findings from a team led by Heriot-Watt University say there is little to be gained from revisiting the underlying principles of rent-setting but that elements of the design and operation of the policy should be kept under review and improved.

The review rejected calls for housing associations to be granted autonomy over their own rents, arguing that it was difficult to see how consistency and fairness could be achieved without some co-ordination.

It described the annual uplift
for social rents as ‘fundamentally a political choice’ but argued that any increase of more than CPI plus 0.5 per cent would see Welsh rents exceed those in the north and midlands of England and even CPI-only increases would see rents continue to move ahead of earnings.

Regulation warning for Welsh Government

Current arrangements for the regulation of housing in Wales are ‘unsustainable’ and risk being compromised by a lack of resources.

Welsh Government in a performance report just published by the Regulatory Board for Wales (RBW), which says a fundamental debate is needed about plans for the future.

The report says that: ‘The RBW believes regulatory resources are below the minimum level needed to continue to deliver the existing framework safely and adapt to regulatory needs and demands.’

It also warns of ‘an increasingly- recognised inconsistency and inequality in the nature of housing regulation between the local authority and housing association sectors, increasingly seen as disadvantageous to local authority tenant participation and access’.

Plan to extend Section 21 notice period

Welsh Government is to consult on extending the notice period for no- fault evictions of private renters from two to six months.

The plan announced by housing minister Julie James at the Shelter Cymru conference in Swansea would involve an amendment to Section 173 of the Renting Homes Act (Section 21 in the previous legislation).

First minister Mark Drakeford signed up to a pledge to end no-fault evictions in April. This would follow the example already set by Scotland, which introduced secure private tenancies at the end of 2017, and match action planned in England, where Theresa May pledged to abolish Section 21 in her final weeks as prime minister.

However, the extension of the notice period is now seen as a more deliverable policy for Wales. Julie James explained that the alternative would be another delay in implementation of the Renting Homes legislation and the other benefits it will bring for renters.

‘We want to do something now,’ she said. ‘I can definitely do this. We are not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’

Shelter Cymru director John Puzey said: ‘We welcome what we hope will be an interim measure, to extend the notice period for a no-fault eviction from two to six months. This will offer a measure of additional security to tenants and should trigger local authorities to begin early homelessness prevention work.

‘However, we will continue to call for no-fault evictions to be ended completely. We believe this is the most effective way to increase security of people in private rented homes and help create stable communities.

‘We also believe that ending no-fault evictions should include social housing, where section 21 notices are used to evict tenancies in their first year of their tenancies without having to provide the court with evidence of the reason for the eviction.’

However, Residential Landlords Association director for Wales, Douglas Haig said: ‘This is scandalous move that is essentially introducing 12-month contracts by default.

‘Creating a situation where a property cannot be repossessed within the first six months and then introducing a further six-month notice period could cause huge problems for landlords. They will be left powerless when it comes to problem tenants, who will be legally allowed to stay in the property for a year. If tenants are not paying rent, huge arrears could build up in this time.

‘We will be warning government that this move could cause serious damage to landlord confidence and the availability of homes to rent in Wales, at a time when demand continues to increase.’

Homelessness Action Group starts work

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, is chairing a Homelessness Action Group that will advise Welsh Government on homelessness and rough sleeping.

The agenda will include the approaches needed to end homelessness in Wales and action needed to reduce rough sleeping eliminate it altogether as well as the delivery of rapid and permanent rehousing and collaboration on homelessness prevention.

Housing minister Julie James said: ‘We are committed to ending homelessness in Wales. I want to be clear that our strategy is first and foremost prevention. But, if homelessness cannot be prevented,

we must ensure that it is brief, rare and non-recurrent.’

The group will meet 12 times between June and March 2020 and will report directly to the minister at key points during their work but will work independently to provide policy recommendations on the actions and solutions required.

Jon Sparkes said: ‘I am convinced that it is possible to end homelessness with the right government policies and the right practices in place to prevent and tackle homelessness. I firmly believe it can be done in Wales and I look forward to quickly getting to work alongside all members of the Action Group.’

Members of the group are:

  • Jon Sparkes – chair, chief executive, Crisis
  • Peter Mackie – Cardiff University
  • Katie Dalton – director, Cymorth Cymru
  • John Puzey – chief executive, Shelter Cymru
  • Tamsin Stirling – freelance housing expert
  • Naomi Alleyne – director of social services and housing, Welsh Local Government Association
  • Lindsay Cordery-Bruce – chief executive, The Wallich Frances Beecher – chief executive, Llamau
  • Bonnie Navarra – Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, seconded to the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner
  • Glynne Roberts – programme manager, Well North Wales, BCUHB
  • Clare Budden – CEO, Pennaf Housing Association
  • Clarissa CorbisieroPeters – director of policy, Community Housing Cymru

Overwhelming need for affordable homes

New Welsh Government estimates of housing need indicate that almost half of the homes built in Wales over the next five years should be affordable.

The estimates of housing need in Wales by tenure (2018-based) are split into estimates of the need for market housing (owner-occupied and private rented sector) and affordable housing (intermediate and social rents).

They include existing unmet need and newly arising need and have been produced for the first five years of estimates (2018/19 to 2022/23). Forecasts such as future household income growth and future change to private rent prices are required to produce the split of estimates by tenure.

Under the different variants of household projections, the annual estimated requirement of market housing units ranges from 3,400 (zero migration) to 5,200 (10-year migration) each year. Affordable housing units range from 3,300 (zero migration and lower variant) to 4,400 (10-year migration).

Under the central estimates, an average of approximately 4,400 market housing units and 3,900 affordable housing units would be required each year from 2018/19 to 2022/23.


Joint call for right to adequate housing

Three leading Welsh housing organisations are calling for the right to housing to be recognised in Welsh law.

Tai Pawb, CIH Cymru and Shelter Cymru launched a jointly- commissioned report looking at the positive impacts that incorporating the UN-enshrined right to adequate housing would have in Wales in helping to tackle the housing crisis.

The call comes two years after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, where 72 people lost their lives as a direct result of inadequate housing.

The report was at an event in Cardiff sponsored by John Griffiths AM, chair of the Senedd Equalities, Local Government and Communities committee. Written by Dr Simon Hoffman of Swansea University, it makes a strong case for the recognition of the right to housing in Wales, demonstrating how it would help address key housing issues such as homelessness and the severe shortage of affordable and accessible housing.

The report demonstrates how the right to housing would help solve issues such as the lack of accessible homes, requiring there to be a focus on those most in need of housing.

In adopting a rights-based approach to housing, Wales would follow a growing number of countries where the right to housing is a constitutional principle, including Finland, where homelessness has fallen by 35 per cent since 2010. In a similar period, homelessness in Wales has risen by 63 per cent.

Report highlights health costs of poor housing

Poor quality housing costs the NHS in Wales more than £95 million per year in treatment costs, according to a new report, and action to tackle it could see a return on investment within six years.

Those are the conclusions of a report published in a partnership between Public Health Wales, Community Housing Cymru, and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) that looks at the impact of housing quality, unsuitable homes, and homelessness on health and well-being in Wales, and identifies value-for- money priority areas for action.

Some 18 per cent of homes in Wales pose an unacceptable risk to health, and poor housing costs Welsh society over £1 billion a year, it says. There is strong evidence that poor housing is associated with poor physical and mental health.

The report also highlights significant savings from investing in action to prevent homelessness, as well as reducing the human cost. This could result in savings of around £9,266 per person compared to allowing homelessness to persist for 12 months. Every £1 invested in lifting people out of homelessness could lead to a £2.80 return on investment, according to the report.

Louise Woodfine, principal public health specialist and housing lead for Public Health Wales, said:

‘The case for investing in housing to improve health and wellbeing has never been stronger. Wales has the oldest housing stock in the UK, and proportionately the highest treatment costs associated with poor housing.

‘However, this means that there are real opportunities for us in Wales to make significant improvements to health and well-being by taking priority action in the housing sector.’

The report is available at phw.nhs.wales/news-and-publications/publications/making-a-difference-housing-and-health-publications1/phw-making-a-difference-housing-and-health-a-case-for-investment-executive-summary-pdf/

Trivallis will be building 16 new homes as well as upgrading six of their existing properties in Pentre village to provide affordable and modern homes in the area. Development for the Llewellyn Place and Forge Lane properties began in April 2019 and the works to demolish the derelict Pentre Hotel will begin during the summer with plans to start on site in early 2020. Social housing grant has been awarded to the Forge Lane and Pentre Hotel developments and Trivallis will work in partnership with the local authority and Welsh government to deliver the new homes.


1 The Right to Adequate Housing in Wales – feasibility report

Tai Pawb, CIH Cymru, Shelter Cymru, June 2019

www.taipawb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/ RightToHousing-Full-ENG.pdf

2 The 2018 Financial Statements of Welsh housing Associations

Community Housing Cymru, May 2019 chcymru.org.uk/uploads/general/CHC_Globalaccounts_2018.pdf

3 Understanding Social housing Evictions in Wales

Welsh Government, July 2019

gov.wales/sites/default/files/statistics-and- research/2019-0/understanding-social-housing-evictions-in- wales.pdf

4 Forms and Mechanisms of exclusion in contemporary housing systems

CaCHE, June 2019


5 Scaling up social lettings? Scope, impact and barriers

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, June 2019


6 Cover the Cost: how gaps in local housing allowance are impacting homelessness

Crisis, May 2019


7 Shining a Spotlight on the Hidden Housing Market

Housing LIN and Shakespeare Martineau, June 2019


8 Defining and measuring housing affordability – an alternative approach

Affordable Housing Commission, June 2019

www.affordablehousingcommission.org/news/2019/6/6/ defining-and-measuring-housing-affordability-an-alternative- approach

9 Grounds for Change – essay collection

Shelter, June 2019


10 Capital cities. how the planning system creates housing shortages and drives wealth inequality

Centre for Cities, June 2019

www.centreforcities.org/reader/capital-cities-how-the-planning-system-creates-housing-shortages-and-drives- wealth-inequality/


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