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Council Housing (Disrepair)

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

In 1997, we inherited a £19 billion backlog of disrepair in council housing. To tackle that, we committed to making all social housing decent, which includes tackling disrepair. By 2010, more than £40 billion will have been invested in improvements to social housing, and work will have been completed on more than 3.6 million properties, improving the homes of 8 million people, including 2.5 million children.

I very much appreciate the track record that my hon. Friend has set out. Is he aware, however, that 31 local authorities, including Northampton borough council, will not meet the decent homes standards until after 2010, and that another 19 have arm’s length management organisations that do not yet have an investment programme, and no date has been given? What is the Department going to do to put pressure on those local authorities to deliver decent standard houses by 2010? I have to say that their failure to do so means that some of my constituents live in unacceptable standards of housing and some of the most vulnerable families live in harsh poor conditions.

My hon. Friend is a true champion on behalf of Northampton and a real expert on housing issues. I have visited her constituency and we also discussed this matter in an Adjournment debate last year. I understand that, in January, Northampton borough council completed a consultation on a borough-wide housing strategy in which the priorities for housing in the borough were identified as increasing supply and improving the condition of the housing stock. I know that she is providing strong political leadership in her borough on this matter. I ask her to continue to flag it up to me so that we can continue to work together to minimise further slippage on disrepair.

Does the Minister agree that for people living in council areas where there is a history of disrepair and deprivation, there is a knock-on effect on the well-being of tenants, which often leads to low self-esteem, low educational attainment, depression and a reliance on drugs? Does he agree that it is therefore necessary for the Government to have a robust and external cyclical maintenance scheme in operation on a regular basis in order to improve the quality of life of people living in council houses?

The hon. Lady makes a really important point, because housing is a key indicator of life expectancy, educational attainments and general feelings of well-being. It is right for the Government to have moved forward by investing unprecedented sums of money in decent housing so that this generation does not have to face the enormous backlog of disrepair left by the previous Tory Administration.

Will the Minister use a departmental circular to remind local authorities of their moral obligation—quite apart from their legal obligations—to ensure that when they allocate houses, the fixtures and fittings are there and the house is clean? Far too often, my constituents and, I think, those of other hon. Members, complain to us about the callous disregard of housing departments, including Thurrock borough council, that allocate dirty and squalid housing units that are falling apart as a result of inadequate fittings. That has got to stop, as these people are under a lot of—

My hon. Friend has made an important and serious point. When there are voids and when housing is reallocated by a council or housing association, that provides a good opportunity to ensure that any necessary repairs are carried out and any necessary health and safety measures undertaken. I shall go back to the Department and consider what he has said.

Given that the Government’s expenditure of £12 billion on decent homes standards has increased the number of homes that meet those standards by only 14 per cent., given that they now admit that there is no chance of their meeting the 2010 target on decent homes, and given that a record 1.7 million families are on council housing waiting lists, is it not about time the Minister admitted that the Government are letting down the very people whom they claim to represent?

I may have misheard what the hon. Gentleman said, but I do not think he declared any interests in housing policy in regard to private contractors.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is missing a trick. We ought to consider where we have come from, and what we have achieved over the past 11 years: 580,000 new kitchens, 440,000 new bathrooms, 910,000 new central heating systems and—here I follow the trail of answers given by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda)—the rewiring of 630,000 council houses to ensure that they meet fire and safety requirements. The hon. Gentleman’s party created an appalling backlog in repairs and maintenance, but this Government have tackled it.

I welcome the decent homes target, but does my hon. Friend accept that council house management and maintenance allowances are far too low and below the level required for the decent homes standard to be met? Incidentally, we inherited that legacy from the Opposition.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s expertise in housing matters. His local arm’s length management organisation, Bolton At Home, is a fine example of what can be achieved in the context of decent homes. I can tell him that management and maintenance allowances per dwelling have increased from about £1,031 in 2001-02 to £1,721 in 2008-09, which constitutes an average real-terms increase of 4.6 per cent. per annum.

We are examining the whole principle behind the financing of council housing, and will report shortly. One of the issues that will be examined is management and the maintenance allowance.