Wales is taking up professor John Hills’ proposals that England chose largely to ignore
Gold in the hills
England may now have largely rejected the recommendations of the 2007 review into the role of social housing by professor John Hills, but elsewhere his proposals are falling on more fertile ground.
Perhaps none more so than Wales, where housing minister Huw Lewis plans to focus on an area that was first highlighted by Professor Hills five years ago: housing options advice.
At first glance this may not seem to carry the force of pledges to build 7,500 affordable homes across Wales by 2016 but it could be every bit as significant. In his report Professor Hills identified a need for members of the public in housing need to be offered a ‘more varied menu’ of housing options to ensure they could maximise their earning potential.
Mr Lewis hopes that the creation of an effectively nationalised housing options and welfare advice service will mitigate the impact of the cuts in welfare spending being implemented across the UK. He is also keen for this new ‘NHS-style’ approach to be more proactive in preventing homelessness. This would build on the work already begun in Wales and the rest of the UK in recent years, but the key difference with Mr Lewis’ plan is its potential for offering ‘one-stop-shop’ housing advice to anyone, not just those in acute housing need.
For instance, a young person keen to get on the property ladder could be directed to shared ownership, rather than an unsustainable mortgage; or an older person struggling with a larger home could be helped to downsize. The benefits of helping people improve their circumstances while benefiting the wider economy are obvious. These services could be provided within a consistent framework stipulated by the Welsh Government, but delivered by experts such as Citizens Advice, Shelter, social or even private landlords and estate agents. For this to work and to ensure advice is given on an impartial basis, however, funding is required. Mr Lewis could do worse than heed a call from Paul Diggory at North Wales Housing to use funds raised through a potential clampdown on the owners of properties empty for more than six months.