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Housing: Social and Affordable Rents

Volume 783: debated on Monday 11 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many homes to be offered for let at a social rent as opposed to an affordable rent they expect to be built in the next 12 months.

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

My Lords, on a daily basis social rent will continue to be delivered by developers and housing associations across England through agreed Section 106 contributions with local planning authorities. The number and tenures of homes to be built outside government funding will depend on housing providers’ assessments of local needs and markets, which are agreed through negotiation of a Section 106 contribution. The Government’s current £7.1 billion affordable homes programme runs affordable rent. The Government introduced affordable rent in 2012 to maximise government investment, enabling us to build more homes for every pound of public spending. This has allowed us to build around 333,000 affordable homes since 2010.

My Lords, the English Housing Survey produced by the noble Lord’s own department and published earlier this year tells us that:

“The number of families in the private rented sector has increased; and the number of families in the social rented sector has decreased”.

It goes on to say that those in the private rented sector,

“spend a significantly greater proportion of their … income on their housing costs”

than do social renters or those buying with a mortgage. Of the 46,328 building starts in the housing association sector up to June 2017, only 3,726 were at a social rent.

Can the noble Lord tell the House why the Government are so opposed to social rented housing playing its full role in dealing with the housing crisis, as evidenced by the Government’s own funding programmes and policies?

My Lords, we are not opposed to it. We are discussing it frankly with the London mayor—indeed, we discussed it with him last week. I absolutely accept that more needs to be done, but there has been an increase in affordable housing starts. We are looking at the social housing programme, particularly in the larger cities, and particularly in London. In the meantime, we are increasing the number of houses being built.

Can my noble friend say what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to support those who need help accessing housing?

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the recent housing White Paper sets out many of the things that we are doing. In addition to the affordable homes programme to which I referred, there is a housing infrastructure fund of £2.3 billion, new town development corporations delivering garden towns, and a land release fund that was launched in August 2017—just last month. Increased planning fees are coming on stream, which will help, and we are doing bespoke housing deals as well.

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point. Affordable housing is at about 80% of market rates. That is the rough assessment.

My Lords, I remind the House of my entry in the register of interests. Is the Minister aware that the number of government-funded new homes built for social rent fell in 2016-17 to just 1,102? Does he agree that there is a much bigger role for local government in driving forward the building of social housing? Will the Government lift the cap on borrowing so that local authorities can build a great deal more social homes for rent?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that there is a difference between social housing and social rents. The amount of social housing is something to which we have committed in the White Paper, and we are looking at that. As I indicated, we are discussing the situation in London with the London mayor. In the meantime, most social housing—about 94%, I think—is at social rents. The noble Lord referred to the borrowing limit. At the moment, there is plenty of headroom for local authorities in that regard, and there is no indication that it needs raising. We are obviously alive to the fact that in the future that might be the case but it certainly is not at the moment.

My Lords, has the Minister heard, as I have, the housing associations say with great regret that although they were founded to house the poorest people in society, increasingly they are having to move upmarket and are having to turn away the poorest households because rents have risen with lower grants and benefits have been cut? If the housing associations cannot house the poorest households, how can we expect private landlords to do so, and does not that simply mean more homelessness?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to raise the considerable housing challenge that we face. In the meantime, we are building more than has been built in the years since 2008. I think that we are now running at record levels in relation to new starts. The noble Lord is right about particular issues with people and affordability. We are analysing the consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework, which is about building in the right place. I believe that that will make a difference when we respond to that consultation.

My Lords, can we go back to the original Question of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, in which he asked not about affordable rents, which is what the Minister has emphasised, but about social housing and social rents? Will the Minister confirm the figures given just now on the number of new starts in social housing at social rents? What is the Government’s estimate of how many we need in the next three years and how many the Government expect to see provided?

My Lords, to reiterate my point, there is of course a difference between social housing and social rents. The question is about social rents. I indicated that these are being delivered via Section 106 contributions. In 2015-16, the last year for which we have figures, 6,800 of the homes delivered by such contributions were for social rent. I will endeavour to find figures for the earlier years, if that would be helpful. I will write to the noble Lord on that and will circulate it. However, there is a big difference between social housing and social rent.