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Making history

The Housing (Wales) Act will make a positive difference to people’s lives, says Carl Sargeant, former minister for housing and regeneration

History has been made this Autumn with Wales’ first ever Housing Act.

The sealing ceremony for the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, which took place last month, marks the end of a journey started by my predecessor, Huw Lewis. It is the culmination of a considerable body of work that has involved extensive public consultation and engagement with stakeholders. By the time this article is published, I will have taken up a new portfolio as the minister of natural resources, with Lesley Griffiths taking on responsibility for housing and regeneration.

The Housing (Wales) Bill setting out the Government’s proposals was published in late 2013 and has been subject to robust scrutiny by several committees and by the full Assembly. Along the way, I made some changes to its provisions after listening to the views of other Assembly Members and stakeholder organisations.

The Act will make a positive difference to people’s lives. The mandatory registration and licensing requirements will improve the private rented sector, which is becoming an increasingly important part of the housing scene. There will be benefits for tenants from better working practices by private landlords and lettings agents. Importantly, it will help good landlords by improving the sector’s reputation, which has been damaged by the existence of some rogue landlords.

The new legislation for homelessness places a much greater emphasis on preventing homelessness from happening in the first place, thus avoiding the considerable negative impact that becoming homeless has on the lives of adults and children alike.

The Act will help our Gypsy and Traveller communities and will, at last, abolish the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system so that in future, local authorities have the prospect of investing in new homes as well as improving existing ones. It also includes a discretionary power for local authorities to increase the rate of council tax as another tool to tackle the problem of long- term empty homes and to help deal with pressures that can exist locally where there are numbers of second homes.

Tackling inequality, poverty and social justice are at the heart of the Act. It has received widespread support from organisations and individuals from inside and outside the field of housing and is something of which we should be proud. As Shelter Cymru so aptly put it, it is without doubt one of the most important developments for people and homes in Wales for a generation.

I have on many occasions expressed my thanks to everyone who has contributed to the Bill. This issue of Welsh Housing Quarterly allows me to say it again but this time to the whole housing sector.

Of course, the Act coming into being is but the start of a considerable body of work to implement it. I know housing and regeneration and the vital role these play are very important to Lesley, who is passionate about making a positive difference to people’s lives. I know she is totally committed to working closely with organisations inside and outside the field of housing to ensure all play their part to the full to help deliver on our common goals.

Social housing is a major factor in tackling poverty. Through the day to contact landlords and other providers of support services have with people in all our communities, they provide an important means of reaching those who need help to build stronger communities.

Action to implement the different parts of the Act is already underway and my officials will be in touch with many of you over the coming months.

Thank you once again for all the contributions to developing the new legislation. 

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