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Policy update



Benefits cut by £12 billion in real terms

Chancellor Rishi Sunak resisted pressure to increase benefits to compensate for the cost of living crisis in his Spring Statement.

Most benefits increased by just 3.1 per cent in April, reflecting the rate of inflation last September even though prices are now increasing by around double that and rising.

The 5 per cent gap will see the real terms value of benefits cut by more than £12 billion and unemployment benefit fall to its lowest level for 50 years.

The statement also confirmed plans to freeze Local Housing Allowance at 2020 levels for another 12 months regardless of what happens to rents. The overall benefit cap will also remain frozen at the level of £20,000 a year for families (and £13,400 for single people) outside London set in 2016.

In measures billed as ‘helping families with the cost of living’ the chancellor introduced a temporary cut in fuel duty, a cut in VAT on energy efficient materials and a £500 million increase in the Household Support Fund for vulnerable families run by local authorities.


New transparency on land ownership

A new register will give communities the right to find out who has a controlling interest in land in Scotland.

The Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest came into operation on April 1 and provides key information on who ultimately makes decisions about the management or use of land even if they are not necessarily registered as the owner, including overseas entities and trusts.

Environment and land reform minister Mairi McAllan said: ‘The new register will make Scotland a frontrunner in Europe and deliver greater transparency than any other part of the UK. It enables the public to look behind land ownership and identify those who ultimately make decisions.

‘We have committed to bring forward a new Land Reform Bill over the course of this parliament which will further tackle Scotland’s historically iniquitous patterns of land ownership and use.’


Intermediate rent plan approved

Leaseholders were set to make a last-ditch attempt to secure further amendments to the Building Safety Bill as WHQ went to press.

The legislation went back before the House of Commons on April 20 after significant changes in the Lords. The government introduced amendments giving more protection to leaseholders in lower-value flats and buy- to-let landlords as well as existing caps for leaseholder contributions.

However, rebel peers including two Conservative former ministers also extended protection to buildings under 11m, protected leaseholders who also own the freehold and reduced the cap on leaseholder contributions. A broader ‘polluter pays’ amendment was defeated.

Meanwhile the Westminster government says it has reached a wide-ranging agreement that will see housebuilders contribute £5 billion to fixing building safety problems.

Under the deal, over 35 of the biggest UK developers will commit a minimum of £2 billion (£1 billion more than they had already agreed) to fix all buildings over 11m that they played a role in developing over the last 30 years.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said time was running out for companies that have not yet signed up and that they will face consequences if they fail to agree.

The industry will also pay a further £3 billion over the next ten years through an expansion to the Building Safety Levy. This will be chargeable on all new residential buildings in England and the government says it will ensure that no leaseholder faces crippling bills, even where the developer of their building cannot be traced.

The agreement with developers means they will:

  • Act as quickly as possible to fix buildings
  • Implement new proportionate guidance on building safety
  • Regularly report to leaseholders and government on their progress
  • Respect an independent dispute resolution process established by government; and
  • Refund money already received from the taxpayer to fix their buildings.

New powers in the Building Safety Bill will give the secretary of state powers to block companies that breach the agreement, or fail to sign up, from building and selling new homes.

The government is still pressing cladding and insulation manufacturers to accept their share of responsibility and come forward with a proposal.


Second homes face big increase in council tax

Local authorities will be able to charge 300 per cent council tax premiums on second homes and apply new tax rules for holiday lets under Welsh Government plans to ensure people can find an affordable home in the place they have grown up.

The measures are part of a wider commitment to address the issue of second homes and unaffordable housing facing many communities in Wales, as set out in the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.

The maximum level at which local authorities can set council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty properties will be increased to 300 per cent from April 2023.

Welsh Government says this will enable councils to decide the level which is appropriate for their individual local circumstances. Councils will be able to set the premium at any level up to the maximum, and they will be able to apply different premiums to second homes and long-term empty dwellings.

Premiums are currently set at a maximum level of 100 per cent and were paid on more than 23,000 properties
in Wales this year. Local authorities opting to apply premiums have access to additional funding, and the Welsh Government has encouraged councils to use these resources to improve the supply of affordable housing.

The criteria for self-catering accommodation being liable for business rates rather than council tax will also change from next April.

Currently, properties that are available to let for at least 140 days, and that are actually let for at least 70 days, will pay rates rather than council tax. The change will increase these thresholds to being available to let for at least 252 days and actually let for at least 182 days in any 12-month period.

Rebecca Evans, minister for finance and local government, said: ‘These changes will give more flexibility to local authorities and provide more support to local communities in addressing the negative impacts that second homes and long-term empty properties can have. They are some of the levers we have available to us as we seek to create a fairer system.’

Expert panel to review homelessness legislation

Climate change minister Julie James has confirmed plans for an Expert Review Panel on homelessness legislation in Wales.

This follows the commitment in the Programme for Government to reform housing law and implement the Homelessness Action Group’s recommendation ‘to fundamentally reform homelessness services to focus on prevention and rapid rehousing’.

A green paper will be brought forward later this year to examine the required legislative reform and the expert panel will develop proposals and advice.

The legal reform panel will be chaired by Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University, who has worked with the Scottish Government on its homelessness prevention legislation.

Julie James said: ‘The panel will be representative of key sectors and include skills that will allow for effective consideration of any necessary reforms. This will include partners from local government, housing associations, third sector homelessness and equality organisations and experts from academic and legal fields. In addition, I am particularly keen for those most affected by homeless services, those with lived experience of homelessness, to have a voice in this process.’

New scheme to help leaseholders

Applications will open in June for a new Leaseholder Support Scheme to help people who are struggling financially and unable to sell their properties because of escalating costs associated with fire safety issues.

The announcement came as work started to deliver a £375 million programme to address building safety issues as part of a whole-building approach, which goes beyond replacing just cladding defects.

The scheme will give eligible leaseholders an option to sell their property and, where appropriate, to either move on or rent the property back.

The Welsh Government has worked with partners and housing sector experts to identify an appropriate route for property valuation, with clear eligibility criteria to create a comprehensive property purchase process for leaseholders.

Work is ongoing to finalise the
details, complete the legal checks and establish agreements before the scheme is launched. The Welsh Building Safety Fund, which covers the cost of fire safety surveys, has identified more than 100 buildings from the first 248 applications where further more extensive and intrusive surveys are needed.

Meanwhile the Joint Inspection Team – a multi-disciplinary group, which will work in partnership with local authorities and fire and rescue authorities to raise standards – will have a strategic lead in post in the summer.


Almost half of Welsh households now in fuel poverty

Up to 45 per cent of households in Wales – and almost all of those on the lowest incomes – could be in fuel poverty following the energy price cap increase this month, according to new estimates for Welsh Government.

The updated estimate represents 614,000 households now meet the definition of fuel poverty of spending more than 10 per cent of their income on maintaining a satisfactory heating regime, compared to 196,000 last October. A further 201,000 households (up to 15 per cent) are judged to be at risk of fuel poverty.

The number of households in severe fuel poverty (spending more than 20 per cent of their income on keeping warm) has trebled since October to 115,000 (up to 8 per cent).

Households on the lowest incomes are obviously at most risk because they spend a higher proportion of
their incomes on energy bills. Welsh Government estimates that 217,700 (98 per cent) are now in fuel poverty and 91,700 (41 per cent) are in severe fuel poverty.

National Energy Action (NEA) warned that more support is needed to offset a ‘catastrophic impact’ on those in severe fuel poverty who are hardest hit by the energy crisis.

Ben Saltmarsh, head of Wales at NEA said: ’These statistics are worse than feared. The energy crisis is having a catastrophic impact on households across Wales, with almost half of all households estimated to be in fuel poverty. Over 217,000 are living on the lowest incomes, struggling to keep warm and safe at home.

‘Worryingly, up to 115,000 households are in severe fuel poverty, having to spend more than 20 per cent of their income just to keep warm. These people can do very little, if anything at all, to improve their own situation. Those on the lowest incomes, living in the leakiest homes, are simply being priced out of having essential warmth and power. With no slack in their budgets and nothing left to ration, their quality of life is plummeting. When the cold weather strikes this coming winter, it will have a grave impact on health and well-being.’

Fears that legal window could increase evictions

Shelter Cymru warned about a surge in evictions of private renters in Wales as coronavirus restrictions come to an end.

The charity fears that some private landlords and agents will see a four- month legislative window between
the end of March and July as a final opportunity to evict tenants at short notice, whether to sell a property or let it to new tenants on more insecure terms.

Eviction notice periods reduced from six months to two months when Coronavirus Act 2020 restrictions came to an end.

However, notice periods for no-fault evictions will go back up to six months permanently for new tenants when the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 comes into force on July 15.

Shelter Cymru said its casework is already showing a 78 per cent rise in no-fault eviction notices compared to the period before the pandemic and that it feared a further rise and increased pressure on homelessness services.

Parties make their pitch

Housing will be a key issue when voters go to the polls on May 5 to elect 1,254 local councillors in 22 county and county borough councils across Wales.

At the launch of Plaid Cymru’s local government election campaign, party leader Adam Price promised to tackle the housing crisis by building more energy-efficient and carbon positive social and affordable housing and taking ‘radical action’ on second homes and homelessness.

Among Welsh Labour’s local promises, the party in Swansea has pledged to build thousands of new homes for people on the waiting list or for sale as affordable homes, the refurbishment of two tower blocks and a 10 per cent saturation limit on homes in multiple occupation in new areas. In Carmarthenshire, it is promising 2,500 new homes over the next five years in partnership with housing associations and the private sector.

The Welsh Conservatives say they would enable local communities to create Local Neighbourhood Plans, ‘so that local people can take the lead on where new housing and services should be built’.

CIH Cymru has urged all local election candidates to ‘Think Housing’ ahead of the polls.

Vision set out for health and well-being scheme

Grŵp Cynefin published a vision document detailing plans for a major £38 million health and well-being scheme in Penygroes, Gwynedd. The housing association is leading on the project, provisionally called Canolfan

Lleu, with partners Gwynedd Council, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Theatr Bara Caws playing a pivotal role.

The document outlines its vision for a community hub in the centre of Penygroes, to serve the village and the communities of the Nantlle Valley and beyond. Canolfan Lleu aims to strengthen communities across the valley, supporting people’s health and wellbeing through a range of traditional and preventative services. It will offer a place to socialise and connect people, a single point of access to health, housing, community and council services and aims to strengthen the local economy.

The site itself will offer:

  • 36 bed residential home
  • 17 flats that facilitate independent living
  • Core general medical services with shared facilities, a community pharmacy and dental service
  • Traditional and preventative community health services
  • Multi-purpose spaces for young people, support services andspaces for third sector to deliver outreach provision
  • New Grŵp Cynefin offices incorporating suitable spaces for modern, flexible working
  • A new home for Theatr Bara Caws including offices, rehearsal space and a theatre
  • Spaces to promote intergenerational activity.

Tenants have moved into the first new council homes to be built in the Caerphilly county borough in 19 years. The homes, on the Bedwellty Field site in Aberbargoed, are owned and managed by Caerphilly County Borough Council and were secured through a Section 106 agreement with developer Llanmoor Homes. There are six social rent homes on the 55-property development owned and managed by the council, as well as two low cost home ownership properties.

Leader of Caerphilly Council, Cllr Philippa Marsden, recently visited Mr and Mrs Huxley, new tenants at the development. Mr Huxley said: ‘It’s so peaceful and quiet here it has helped my wife’s health issues. This move has really been life changing for our family.’ Cllr Marsden added ‘With ever increasing demand for affordable housing in the county borough, finding a range of methods to help meet this need is a key priority for us. In addition to working with private developers, such as Llanmoor, we have also embarked on our own exciting journey to build innovative new homes with the highest levels of energy efficiency.’


1 UK Housing Review 2022

Chartered Institute of Housing and University of Glasgow, March 2022


2 Wales’ Housing Crisis: making the LHA work for Wales

Bevan Foundation, March 2022


3 Covid-19: Housing market impacts and housing policy responses – an international review

UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, March 2022


4 Climate Crisis/Housing Crisis: How can social landlords reconcile safety and energy saving?

LSE Housing and Communities, February 2022


5 Housing is a human right – How Labour can make it a reality

Labour Housing Group, March 2022


6 Where next for the private rented sector?

Social Market Foundation, March 2022


7 Delivering a Step Change in Affordable Housing Supply

Legal & General and British Property Foundation, March 2022


8 The Bottom Line – an investigation of rent arrears in social housing

Demos, February 2022


9 Self-build and Custom Housebuilding in the UK

Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, February 2022


10 Our Land – Communities and Land Use

Institute of Welsh Affairs, February 2022












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