The government’s social housing reforms will make the sector fairer - Newham’s approach to allocations will not, says Grant Shapps
The future’s bright
With some of the biggest social housing reforms in a generation coming into force in the past month, it’s worth reflecting on what this will mean for councils and their tenants in the years to come.
For decades, a lazy consensus about social housing left millions of families languishing on council waiting lists with raised expectations but little chance of a home. A radical solution has long been needed to end this unfairness and ensure the right people are in line for this country’s invaluable social homes.
That’s why we’ve given councils the power and flexibility to determine who qualifies to join their waiting list, and the freedom to offer new tenants fixed-term tenancies so they can help people when they need it, for as long as they need it.
The new affordable rent tenancy means landlords can now set rents to reflect local market rates, and the extra rent revenue will help them to build more affordable homes.
All of this will help landlords tackle their waiting lists, and our reforms will help ensure that tenants continue to get the help they need.
By scrapping the centralist Tenant Services Authority and introducing new tenant panels, we’re putting local tenants at the heart of decision-making in their local area, and ensuring tenants looking for housing help or answers are represented by people on the ground, whether it is their next door neighbour or their local MP.
For those who want to upsize or move closer to work or family - without losing security of tenure - homeswap direct is giving tenants access to a much wider selection of properties than ever before and boosting their prospects of moving through a home swap. With 1 million searches recorded to date, it is clear the service is proving popular and fills a much needed gap.
Investing in housing
We are continuing to deliver investment in affordable housing, with £4.5 billion from government and more than £15 billion in private investment helping to build up to 170,000 more affordable homes for rent and affordable homeownership by 2015.
And it’s getting easier for councils to invest in new stock. Our commitment to one-for-one replacement for each additional home sold under the right to buy, the new homes bonus premium of an extra £350 for each affordable home built and the added income from affordable rent, all mean housing capital is becoming more readily available.
This government has been working hard to reform social housing and improve the lives of tenants, and we’ve prioritised limited public finances to deliver more affordable homes - we now expect councils to do the same.
Anyone working in the housing world would have been saddened by the recent attempts by Newham Council to relocate their tenants out of London.
I’ve been very clear that this is wrong and totally unnecessary. We have provided £190 million of funding for discretionary housing payments to help local authorities with the benefit changes and rents are actually falling in real terms. So there is absolutely no need to send tenants en masse to a different part of the country.
Councils should also consider that the rules are clear - such a blanket policy would be illegal as councils must take into account local connections and associations.
Our social housing and benefit reforms are fair, put the needs of the most vulnerable people first and ensure a sustainable future for our social housing system.
We’ve put strong foundations in place and we’ll continue our work to support them and build more homes. Councils and landlords should now take up the baton and ensure that social tenants get the homes they need, want and deserve.
These major reforms have been delivered thanks to the dedicated work of housing professionals across the country. After two years of social housing reform I would like to thank them for helping us bring them to fruition.
Grant Shapps is minister for housing and MP for Welwyn Hatfield