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Living Home Standard

Volume 776: debated on Thursday 17 November 2016


Asked by

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, declare that I am an elected councillor of the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, good-quality housing is an absolute priority for this Government. Shelter is a valued partner in this area and we welcome its contribution to the debate. The figures quoted in Shelter’s report are of course based on the perceptions of those surveyed rather than the actual standards in people’s homes.

My Lords, I read with interest in Inside Housing this week that several meetings of the DCLG had been cancelled, including those of the “pay to stay” working group, and I hope that it never meets again. Rather than following the divisive measures in the Housing and Planning Act, we need to get on and build thousands and thousands of homes of all tenures. Does the noble Lord agree that affordability is a huge problem and that we need to reduce the cost of housing in the long term? Does he also agree that, if we are to deliver on the Government’s housing commitments, there must be a big increase in the number of council homes at truly affordable social rents?

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord welcomes the measures that we have taken in relation to “pay to stay”. I assure him that the measures against rogue landlords in the Housing and Planning Act were welcomed by Shelter. I will be reporting him to Shelter because it is very pleased with the measures in that regard.

My Lords, the noble Lord rightly said that the 39 attributes of Shelter’s Living Home Standard are a useful benchmark against which to measure perceptions about the housing stock in Britain. However, will he give the House—if not today then in writing subsequently—details of the number of homes in Britain that are formally sub-standard, the number that are still not properly insulated and the number that still have no inside sanitation in the way of running hot water or bathrooms?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to concentrate on what is important in relation to the standard of homes. I can tell him that in 2014 20% of homes were regarded as below standard by the English Housing Survey, which is the recognised gold standard. That is a considerable improvement on the position in 2006, when, using the same measure, the figure was 35%.

My Lords, I was disturbed to hear the Minister say that the figures are regarded as based on only perceptions. Can he tell the House what steps the Government are taking to increase the number of houses that meet what is often a very minimum standard?

My Lords, as I have just indicated, there was a considerable improvement from 2006 to 2014, including the period when the noble Lord’s party was part of the coalition. We will obviously keep this matter under review. New measures were introduced in the 2016 Act to tighten up the battery of powers that are available, but the prime powers relating to property in the private rented sector are contained in the Housing Act 2004, and very useful tools they are too.

Did my noble friend manage to read the Financial Times earlier this week, which said:

“Housebuilding has risen to its highest level for eight years, bringing the UK government’s target of 1m new homes by 2020 within reach”?

Is that not exceedingly good news?

My Lords, to paraphrase Kipling cakes, it was exceedingly good news. It is true that there is more to do, as the Government have readily acknowledged. This area has been recognised as a key priority for the Prime Minister and that is reflected in the attitude taken by the department. Of course, we are anticipating a forthcoming housing White Paper, which will again stress the importance of housing as a key priority.

My Lords, do we not need far better and more effective policing of our housing, including better inspection and enforcement? Is not that the way to get the houses up to a decent standard?

My Lords, of course enforcement of the existing powers is important. The Government have made available £12 million since 2011 to help local authorities enforce action against rogue landlords. This includes raids, inspections and actions against beds in sheds.

My Lords, I note what the Minister said about Shelter perhaps not getting it exactly right. I declare a past interest, having been a councillor, and I think that Shelter is considerably undermarking the levels of disgraceful housing conditions across the country. What is the Minister doing to ensure that not only local authorities but the housing associations that are building many of these properties have a consistent standard?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to re-emphasise the importance of housing standards. The social sector is subject to a slightly different regime, in which standards apply. As I have indicated, we have provided more money for raids and inspections, and the measures in the Housing and Planning Act that will be brought into force next year will tighten up the position in relation to rogue landlords.

My Lords, is not it necessary for councils to make some sort of charge in order to inspect a property? All councils are very hard pushed for money and find it extremely difficult to carry out the necessary inspections.

My Lords, I have referred to the £12 million that the Government have made available. I have looked at the evidence to see whether local authorities are making use of that in relation to raids and inspections, and they are. In addition, a database of rogue landlords will be brought in next year following the 2016 Act.

My Lords, in considering the White Paper, will the Minister keep to the forefront of his mind the importance to families of having stable, not overly crowded accommodation, bearing in mind the risk of family breakdown, of mothers and fathers separating, and the terrible impact that can have on their children?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to stress the importance of that. Local authorities have existing powers under the Housing Act 2004 relating to the overcrowding of houses.