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Social Homes for Rent

Volume 822: debated on Thursday 26 May 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan 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 interests in the register.

The provision of affordable housing is a central pillar of the Government’s plan to level up the country, which is why we are investing £11.5 billion in affordable homes over the next five years. Our affordable homes programme, which began last year, aims to deliver 32,000 homes for social rent—double that of the previous programme.

The Minister talks about 32,000 homes for social rent, yet 1.2 million households in this country are on council house waiting lists. The Government recently published their levelling up White Paper, which has 12 missions. Not one of those missions talks about affordable or social housing for rent. Can the Minister explain why?

We have a commitment here, specifically within the affordable homes programme, to build more homes for social rent. We have also introduced a number of mechanisms that enable councils to build again. A generation of councils has not built any homes, or very few, but we have seen far more in the last decade. The levelling-up missions are clear, but we also have very clear missions to build more homes of all types and tenures.

Will the Minister look very kindly at the idea of sociable housing, where you get sociable mix? The problem we now have is social ghettos of poverty. We need to create a mix, as well as addressing the problem that the children of the middle classes are also unable to get housing, so why do we not try to mix the two crises together?

The noble Lord is always on the money. We need to create places and not just homes on mono-tenured estates. That is why the affordable homes programme is looking to increase the number of social homes for rent, but also other forms of subsidised housing such as affordable rent and low-cost home ownership, so that people of all incomes can live in the same place.

My Lords, when are we going to have a housing policy that takes account of the fact that we have an ageing society? How can you level up when we are expecting a new generation of elderly people in poverty who will go on paying rent as long as they live? If we can plan for an ageing society, why can we not plan to have flexible and adapted housing, systematically provided and spatially planned, which can allow for people to age in place? That would save enormous social and economic costs.

We do recognise that we have an ageing society, which is why a chunk of the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme will go towards subsidising housing for the elderly. We recognise in our planning policies that areas need to do their bit to house people, and also to enable people to remain in their homes if that is what they choose to do.

My Lords, the promotion of shared ownership homes has helped some people get on to the housing ladder. However, the terms of resale are onerous, particularly for those who wish to move swiftly for new work. Some families default on the mortgage element of their shared ownership, which is likely to increase as a result of increased mortgage costs. Does the Minister agree that, if housing associations are expected to buy back such flats and houses in these circumstances, they could be put back into the social home rental market quickly?

I recognise that there are issues with shared ownership tenure. One of the problems has been that many shared owners own only a small amount of the equity and are often faced with heavy remediation costs. I certainly take that point on board, and we should allow flexibility, where it makes sense, to shift from shared ownership into social housing. I shall take that point away and discuss it with my officials.

My Lords, one of the unexpected consequences of the Covid lockdown period is that people are discovering that they do not need as much office space as they used to. Everyone is downsizing and there is a glut of office accommodation on the market these days which, I suspect, will remain. Might the Government look at the planning required to convert office to residential? That might be a quick fix to create a lot of new homes.

I thank my noble friend for raising that issue. Of course, we went through an era of liberalisation around change of use from office to residential, and that is a factor that local authorities should look at as they develop their local plans: to get the right balance between economic development and providing housing for their communities.

Is the Minister aware of the Select Committee’s unanimous report Meeting Housing Demand, which said:

“Those living in the private rented sector are more likely to live in poor quality, overcrowded conditions than owner-occupiers, and often have limited forms of redress”?

Does the Minister agree and, if he does, what is he doing to assist people to move out of very highly priced and often poor private rented accommodation into more affordable housing?

The Government do recognise the issue that the noble Lord describes. That is why in this Session we are bringing forward a private renters’ Bill and applying the decent homes standard to the private rented sector so we can raise the quality of the stock. However, we also recognise that we need to bring in more affordable housing, including more social housing.

My Lords, what action are the Government taking to address the need for more accessible housing, and when can we expect a response to the consultation on raising accessible housing standards?

As the noble Baroness indicates, we have just carried out a consultation on raising accessible housing standards, and I shall write to her to give more details on that point.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a big problem with not enough social homes for people who have wheelchairs? Is this not one of the reasons for bed blocking in hospitals?

We do recognise that the perennial issue of bed blocking . It is important to get the balance of who accesses social housing, with proper regard for people who require wheelchair access to homes. The noble Baroness makes a very important point.

The Government built only just under 6,000 social rent homes in 2020. That was a 12% decrease on the previous year and an 85% decrease on 11 years ago. With shortages of materials and labour, many see the target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s as almost impossible. Does the Minister still think that target is achievable?

We try to set specific, measurable and achievable targets. I do not want to trade statistics, but I point out that in the last decade, we have seen local authorities once again building homes for social rent—18,300 homes for social rent. In the 13 years from 1997 to 2010, local authorities built merely 2,994 affordable homes. So, with councils able to build more social rented homes, we will have a very good chance of meeting those targets.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government get incredible value for money investing in the acquisition and modernisation of existing rundown privately rented properties? This converts them into affordable, safe, secure socially rented homes, but it also addresses fuel poverty, hits the decarbonisation and climate change agenda and tackles health inequalities, because people are in cold, damp and hazardous conditions. It serves the levelling-up agenda as well, because it produces jobs, employment, training and apprenticeships. It does all these things at once, and the Government get most of their money back in lower housing benefit costs.

The noble Lord is right that we have seen a spiralling increase in housing benefit costs—staggering increases over the past decade or so. Of course, taking poor-quality private rented accommodation and turning it into high-quality affordable housing is a good thing and provides value for money for the taxpayer.

The Government’s recent announcement that right to buy is being extended to housing association properties will even further deplete the stock of homes for social rent. Is it now time to allow councils to keep 100% of their receipts from right to buy in order to rebuild and to give them the ability to set the discounts locally that their particular circumstances dictate?

I have some sympathy with the point that the noble Baroness makes, but we should point out that there are now greater flexibilities around right-to-buy receipts—not necessarily 100%, but they are greater. We have also removed the cap on borrowing for the housing revenue account, and that is why we are seeing councils building far more homes than they previously did.