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Housing: Social Homes for Rent

Volume 801: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2020


Asked by

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

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

My Lords, this Government’s priority is to boost the housing supply. We remain committed to increasing social housing, with £9 billion in the affordable housing programme delivering around 250,000 new affordable homes, including homes for social rent. We have fully supported local authorities to build by removing the HRA borrowing caps and setting a long-term rent deal, and are committed to renewing the affordable homes programme.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but I point out that social rented housebuilding has decreased over the last year, and only 6,287 new social rented homes were delivered in England in 2018-19. Despite increases in housebuilding overall, social rent made up only 2.5% of all homes delivered in England in 2018-19. Of the affordable homes delivered, to which the Minister refers, only 11% were for social rent, while 51% were for affordable rent and 37% for intermediate tenures, including shared ownership. Do the Government accept that the housing crisis will never be solved unless more homes for social rent are built?

The Government accept that councils and housing associations need to play their part in building the number of homes we have outlined—there are 4.14 million homes in this country that are housing association or local council owned—and that is why the Government have reintroduced the grant for affordable homes, with a minimum of 12,500 social rent homes within the affordable homes programme. That is in addition to local authorities now having the borrowing cap removed, so that they can build more, particularly on those small and medium-sized sites that I have outlined.

My Lords, the number of people aged over 65 in the UK—many of whom need and deserve social housing—will rise by over 40%, to more than 16 million, in the next 17 years. The number who have four or more diseases is expected to double by 2035. The fact that two-thirds are unable to invite a wheelchair user into their home is absolutely appalling. The government consultation on mandating accessible and adaptable housing was promised in the autumn, but we are still waiting for it. Will the Minister confirm when that consultation will start? We have now been waiting for eight months since the initial announcement.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. A specific question I asked of officials was about accessibility for older people and disabled people. However, I may disappoint her by saying that all I can tell her is that we will consult shortly on raising the minimum standards for accessible housing in all new homes. The revised National Planning Policy Framework in July 2018 strengthened policy in this area. It is the responsibility of local authorities, which know the demographics of their area, to include in local plans the amount of housing that they need for older people and adults with learning disabilities.

My Lords, many of the social homes for rent referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, are built under Section 106 agreements by developers with local authorities. My noble friend will know that, once development has started, quite often the developers, using a so-called viability assessment, then wriggle out of the commitment to build social homes. Is my noble friend aware of this loophole? What action are the Government taking to close it?

Noble Lords have previously raised this issue in debates on this topic. Social housing in this country comes from the budget in the affordable housing programme and the borrowing that local councils can now do, and, yes, under Section 106 agreements. There has been a problem with developers then saying that they are not economically viable. In the plans I have mentioned, there are now requirements that landowners and site purchasers will know the likely costs up front, so they will know the types of affordable housing provision they have to provide and the levels of it. They will know that up front, before they buy the land, so they cannot then come back to the council and say, “Oh, we purchased the land for a different sum of money, and it is now no longer economically viable”. I hope that that will close the loophole.

My Lords, I note with some caution the noble Baroness’s confidence about private sector housing. From my knowledge of places such as Tower Hamlets, I know that huge development has not necessarily yielded a social rent market in any meaningful way. What are the Government doing to ensure that her department is working with the housing associations, which have a long, honourable history of creating quality housing for social rent purposes? I declare my interest as on the register.

Both councils and housing associations can bid to the affordable homes programme for that money. Housing associations now have the benefit of a 10-year secure, £2 billion-worth of funding; they have never had that, under any Government. They should be able to plan to deliver the homes that we need. We recognise that, particularly for those at risk of being homeless and for particular families, we need to increase the number of homes available for social rent. We want to see a new generation of council housing, built both by housing associations and by local councils.