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Shelter Cymru sponsorship feature

The New Housing Bill – Shelter Cymru’s wishlist

The Welsh Government’s intention to introduce a Housing Bill has been widely welcomed as a valuable opportunity to create a fairer housing system that meets the needs and aspirations of the people of Wales.

The big question now of course is what the Housing Bill will encompass. Now that the LCO process is mercifully behind us, there is a fresh enthusiasm and determination among the housing sector for distinctively Welsh policies to address the specific issues here.

There will no doubt be extensive discussion about the content of the Bill, however Shelter Cymru believes that to be effective and fair a number of key elements are essential.

1. A universal right to homelessness assistance

The Welsh Government has already expressed support of the principle of universal service provision in its Ten Year Homelessness Plan, which states that services ‘should be framed around the principle of being able to assist all people in housing need to access accommodation that is appropriate for their needs, rather than being shaped around the implications of the duties and processes of the framework itself.’

We believe that this ‘citizen-centred’ approach needs to be underpinned by a legal duty on homelessness prevention services to provide appropriate advice, assistance and support for anyone who needs help with housing, whatever their circumstances.

However, homelessness is not just a housing problem, so this responsibility cannot rest solely with housing services. We need to involve wider factors such as education, training and employment opportunities – which are crucial for people to sustain their accommodation in the long term – so that homelessness is recognised and dealt with as a corporate issue.

Accepting that everyone has the right to assistance would also address the inequality between service users and providers and help to free up some of the resources that are currently tied up with determining eligibility.

2. A new form of tenure for the private and social sector

A significant proportion of Shelter Cymru’s caseload arises from a failure – on the part both of landlords and tenants – to understand what their rights and obligations are regarding tenancies.

The ways in which tenancy agreements are set out clearly needs a rethink and we would like to see the approach advocated by the Law Commission given serious consideration.

A single social tenure to enable local authorities, housing associations and those private sector landlords who so wish to rent on identical terms, would provide greater security for tenants, while a new form of contract between landlord and tenant based on consumer protection principles of fairness and transparency would make the transaction clearer for both parties.

3. Making the most of the private rented sector

The Communities and Culture Committee in the last Assembly term made a series of recommendations to improve the contribution and potential of the private rented sector, some of which would be appropriate to address through statutory change, in particular:

  • that the Welsh Government researches the potential effectiveness and feasibility of a mandatory licensing or registration scheme for all managers of private rented sector accommodation (including landlords) in Wales, and
  • that the Welsh Government takes appropriate legislative action to enable the introduction of statutory regulation of all letting agencies in Wales.

In addition, there needs to be legal protection from eviction for tenants who challenge their landlords on matters such as disrepair, and a requirement on landlords facing possession proceedings to notify local authorities so homelessness prevention work can be carried out for their tenants.

4. Better joint working between health and housing

The links between poor housing in ill-health have long been acknowledged and recent research commissioned jointly by us and the BRE strongly demonstrates the potential for health-related cost savings from housing investment.

To maximise these, the Welsh Government should create clear statutory links between health and housing in Wales, including a statutory duty for Public Health Wales, NHS Health Boards, local authorities and their partners to:

  • assess the status and inequalities in health and well-being of local and national populations in relation to housing and homelessness
  • provide and share usable information on known interventions from within the international research and evaluation field of health, housing and homelessness
  • collaborate and pool resources to provide effective services and programmes to improve health and well-being within the field of housing and homelessness, and to facilitate others, including third sector and private sector bodies, to do the same.

5. Legislation on empty homes

While there is a lot that can be done to bring empty properties back into use through existing legislation, the processes are often complicated and time consuming.

Some simple measures we’d like to see would be a new legal device to replace Empty Dwelling Management Orders that would be quicker and easier to use and the streamlining of Compulsory Purchase Order procedures to allow local authorities to force the sale of vacant private sector properties without taking ownership of the property.

The Housing Bill shouldn’t be about making legislation simply for its own sake, but it is clear that our current body of housing law, developed, patched up and added to over decades, is littered with anomalies, inequalities and outdated concepts that need to tackled.

This is our wishlist – what’s yours?

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