A weekly round-up of the most important headlines for housing professionals
There was a significant moment for housing this week, as the stay on evictions came to an end.
After 14 months of extensions and permutations to the ban, landlords again have the power to remove tenants from their homes.
It will be a moment of truth. Charities such as Shelter and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation were quick to warn that hundreds of thousands of private renters could now face eviction, with the Local Government Association and the National Residential Landlords Association also voicing concerns. Meanwhile, the National Housing Federation has promised that its members will not evict tenants who work with them to fix rent arrears – a noble pledge, which will come with scrutiny.
Inside Housing analysis of official statistics showed that eviction claims by private landlords have outstripped those by social landlords for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, but that the gap narrowed significantly in the first three months of 2021.
No one can know for sure whether the feared surge in homelessness now the ban is lifted will come to pass. Either way, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the coming months have the potential to be a defining juncture for the housing sector.
Staying with pandemic-related policy, an examination of furlough data by Inside Housing this week revealed that 27 housing associations received up to £6.38m through the scheme over the winter months.
And the pandemic is set to impact the sector in other ways as well. It has emerged that a combination of COVID-19, Brexit and the Suez Canal blockage has led to dwindling supplies of building materials holding up social landlords’ development schemes.
That’s a worry, not least in the context of another reminder about the huge challenges facing housing associations – and therefore their residents – regarding the ever-deepening cladding crisis. One Manchester-based provider looks set to pass on a £100,000 fire safety bill to shared owners and leaseholders at one of its blocks, in a grim example of the scandal’s practical impacts. Affected residents spoke of their desperation at the news.
As the sun made a welcome appearance earlier in the week, BBC footage of the ‘Sky Pool’ at Ballymore’s Embassy Gardens development in Nine Elms, London, went mega-viral on social media. On the same day, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) released a report on the recent fire at New Providence Wharf, another Ballymore scheme across the capital, which has gained particular attention as a result of the continuing presence of Grenfell-style cladding on the building. LFB investigators found that a serious failure of the block’s smoke ventilation system had caused it to act “like a broken chimney” and urged building owners to check their own apparatus.
Which brings us to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Hearings were cut short this week due to a bereavement suffered by a member of the inquiry’s counsel team, but it stayed in the news for two reasons.
One, bereaved relatives of a victim of the fire are threatening legal action against the government over a Home Office plan to change guidance on evacuation plans for disabled residents.
And two, it has emerged that five former government ministers will be called to give evidence to the inquiry in autumn – including Eric Pickles, Gavin Barwell and Brandon Lewis.
Finally, there was another update on the continuing saga surrounding supported exempt accommodation. Inside Housing reported that there are now more than 22,000 people living in this kind of housing in Birmingham – with that figure more than doubling in just three years. Expect to hear much more about the exempt accommodation sub-sector as time rolls on.
Nathaniel Barker, deputy news editor
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