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Housing: Social Rent

Volume 798: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase the number of new homes built for social rent.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and remind the House of my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, in October 2017 we announced £2 billion towards the now £9 billion affordable housing programme, which will support the delivery of at least 12,500 social rent homes in areas of high affordability outside London. We have also removed the HRA borrowing caps for local authorities, announced a further £2 billion of long-term funding for housing associations, and are setting a long-term rent deal for councils in England from 2020. It is now for housing associations and local authorities to accelerate delivery and build more homes.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware that there is a difference between affordable and social housing. He will also be aware that this year marks the centenary of the housing Act 1919, which created council and social housing. Given the scale of homelessness today, and given that waiting lists for social housing stand at over a million households, does the Minister accept that a new generation of social housing is required, rather than just a few thousand new homes a year?

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord that there is a challenge. We have just had the best year of housing delivery for 30 years, bar one year, but that is not to be complacent. There is certainly a challenge; I accept that we need to build more social homes. The raising of the £2 billion budget will certainly help in that regard, as will the elimination of the HRA borrowing caps.

My Lords, the Affordable Housing Commission, which I have the honour of chairing, has been looking at issues around affordability. Our evidence clearly demonstrates that rents, not just in the private sector but increasingly in the social sector, are leading people into all kinds of serious difficulties, such as debt, arrears, personal problems and indeed homelessness. Does the Minister agree—with the CSJ, the housing commission, Shelter and so many others—that we need more social housing but at genuinely affordable rents, which are less than the rents that housing associations are required to charge today, otherwise this will cost the Government greatly in housing benefit, homelessness, temporary accommodation and, indeed, the misery of the people affected?

My Lords, as always, the noble Lord makes a powerful point and speaks from great experience. He is right that the current welfare budget, excluding pensions, is £119 billion per annum—a large amount. We have to be conscious of the link between housing and welfare, so I take the point. However, I am sure he will appreciate that the affordability measure enables us to provide more housing. It is about getting that balance right.

My Lords, is it not encouraging that shared purchase, as a concept and now as a practical arrangement, is increasing? Are the new figures for council housing, which my noble friend has mentioned, not equally encouraging? But what exactly is happening with garden towns? They are the catalyst that could help part of the problem in our great urban areas. The new towns projects—and I had the privilege of sitting for a new town—were highly successful in moving people out of conurbations so that those who had to stay could move into the vacated homes.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there are encouraging features, and about the garden towns concept. I am conscious that I owe him a letter; I checked just before leaving and it should be with him tomorrow. It is right to say that this is the successor to the new towns programme. There are many exciting features, not least the Oxford-Cambridge arc, which we will appoint a business manager to oversee. It should provide many of the homes that we need for the future.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that, in recent years, local authorities have spent over £1 billion on temporary accommodation over three or four years. He talked about getting the balance right; surely this is not getting the balance right. That amount of money is going on accommodation that will not last, and children in those families will suffer hugely: their education and home life will be damaged. This is a matter of real urgency. The Government’s programme is not sufficient in the funding being made available to local authorities and housing associations to solve the problem of social housing.

My Lords, I have already acknowledged that it is important to deal with this issue. I am sure the noble Baroness is aware that the Homelessness Reduction Act has resulted in a lowering of the number of people who are homeless. It is difficult to make the comparison with the statistics, but the evidence tends to suggest that. Yes, there is work to be done, not least on the provision of homes at social rent. As I have indicated, that is something we are determined to do.

Does my noble friend envisage that the solution to the need for social housing would be met by nationalising all available building land throughout the country, including presumably land owned by charitable trusts, Church Commissioners and others?

My Lords, I think my noble friend is referring to the policy initiative of the leader of the Opposition, and I tend to agree that that will not help solve the problem. We are intent on getting the balance right and ensuring that, in tenancies, there are the right measures to deal with disreputable landlords. However, the compulsory purchase of people’s property is not the way forward.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. How many homes for social rent have been lost since 2015 by the conversion to the affordable rent model?

My Lords, I do not have that specific figure to hand, but I will write to the noble Lord with it. As I have indicated, it is important that we build more homes for social rent, and we are intent on doing that outside London. Within London, there will be provision of affordable homes at the level of social rents; that is part of the programme and we are delivering that with the Greater London Authority.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government’s own social rent policy is a key component in creating a sustainable funding model for building social housing? As this policy is due for review in 2021, will the Government take this opportunity to provide renters, housing providers and investors, including councils, with some clarity, predictability and stability in this market, which at the moment they do not feel they have?

My Lords, I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness said that. As I indicated, we removed the HRA borrowing cap, which was a substantial barrier to provision of housing for social rent, as was acknowledged across the board. It has been widely welcomed, not least by her own party, and will make a real difference. I am not sure what additional clarity she is referring to, but I am happy to meet her separately if it is helpful.