Skip to main content

Housing: Cost of Living

Volume 826: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, given the increased cost of living, what actions they will take to ensure that housing is affordable in relation to household incomes in (1) the private rented sector, (2) the social housing sector, and (3) for homeowners with mortgages.

My Lords, the Government recognise the cost of living pressures that people are facing across this country, particularly this winter. Local housing allowance rates have been maintained at their increased level following a boost in investment of nearly £1 billion in April 2020. The Government have also capped social housing rent increases for 2023-24 at 7% to protect social tenants from higher rent increases, and last week we published a mortgage support statement setting out the support available to mortgage holders.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer to what I know was quite a broad Question. However, this winter nearly 1 million private renters are at risk of being evicted, many social housing tenants struggle despite the Government’s 7% social rent cap and home owners face high interest rates. If ever there were a need for a long-term cross-party housing strategy to address the lack of truly affordable housing, surely it is now. Will the Minister commit to developing such a strategy, as recommended by the Archbishops’ housing commission report, Coming Home?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question, and I think it is an extremely interesting opportunity. I would like to talk to her in further detail about that because I have read the report Coming Home and I think the idea of the five S’s—sustainable, safe, stable, social and satisfying housing—is a wonderful thing to aspire to. I cannot offer her a long-term cross-party review at this time, but I would like to talk to her further and talk to my officials about that.

My Lords, 20% of families in England now rent privately and one-third of them rely on housing benefit. That is capped by the local housing allowance, which was fixed on rents in 2019 and has been frozen for five years, although rents are rising rapidly—by 12% in the last year. This means that a family with a two-bedroom house faces a shortfall of some £1,500 a year that they have to meet out of the rest of their benefit. Does my noble friend recognise the difficulties that this can cause? Is there a case for the Chancellor, in his forthcoming Budget, reviewing the decision to freeze the local housing allowance?

I think my noble friend understands that I cannot offer anything on behalf of the Chancellor next spring, but I can say that it is something that we need to discuss. I shall be taking this issue back to officials to discuss it fully before we get anywhere near the Spring Statement.

My Lords, in 1980 some 30% of housing was available for rent as social housing; now that figure is down to 17%. Given that there are around 190,000 people on local authorities’ waiting lists for houses, what are the Government going to do about the acute shortage of social housing?

The noble Lord is right that it is a challenge for this country and this Government to provide more affordable homes. That is why we have an £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, which will deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes right across the country. It is important that we are delivering that, and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, what are the Government doing in relation to SMEs working in the housing sector, particularly given inflation and rising finance costs?

The Government have a number of schemes that we are using to support small and medium-sized house builders to help them to provide not only social housing but also private housing. I am happy to write to my noble friend with all that information.

My Lords, the Affordable Housing Commission, which I had the honour of chairing, has recommended a national fund to enable social housing landlords to acquire and modernise the properties of those private landlords who now want to exit from the market. Does the Minister agree that that would produce an enormously good bang for the buck? Not only would we swiftly get more social housing that was secure for those who lived in it, but we would see the modernisation of properties that need to be decarbonised, thereby reducing fuel poverty at the same time.

Yes, I agree with that. We are seeing some difficulties within the private rented sector because of the issues of the maintenance of these private properties, but also because of the expectations, as the noble Lord said, about the decarbonisation of those properties. That is why we are offering a number of funding streams to SMEs at the moment in order to do that.

My Lords, given the Minister’s earlier answer to the noble Lord, Lord Young, will she concede that the Government’s refusal to unfreeze housing benefit and raise the local housing allowance is ignoring a rental crisis that is already unfolding, particularly in the private rented sector, and that consequently this winter homelessness and evictions will increase? Have the Government done an impact assessment of that decision? More importantly, will they now consider a temporary ban on no-fault evictions, as happened during the pandemic?

As I think I have answered at this Dispatch Box, we are looking at Section 21 evictions, and we will certainly bring forward the private renters Bill in this Parliament. As for doing more to help people, we have done a huge amount as a Government. In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor offered £26 billion more in support for people across this country, added to the energy price guarantee that was already there. Then there is the council tax rebate. The result is that 8 million more vulnerable people will receive support of at least £1,200 this year. I do not know of an impact assessment regarding the HCA, but I will certainly find out if we have done one. Of course we will keep it under review; that is what we would continue to do at any time.

My Lords, to follow up on the noble Baroness’s question, we have heard that hard-pressed tenants are facing rent increases and people are really worried about affording their homes, particularly this winter. The Minister has mentioned the renters reform Bill. It is really important that we see that soon, so can she say when we are actually going to see it?

I cannot say exactly when, but it remains the top priority for this Government, as I have mentioned many times before. We will bring forward that important legislation as soon as we can within this Parliament.

My Lords, looking to the longer term, it is clear that there is a shortage of housing across the economy, particularly social housing. We have trillions invested in pension funds. Rather than the leveraged LDI products, would it not be sensible for the Government to facilitate and encourage more investment by pension funds in social housing, which can deliver a reliable income as well as benefiting the housing supply over the longer term?

My noble friend brings up a very interesting point. I have looked at that in the past from a local authority point of view. I will certainly take that point back and would like to talk to her more about it.

My Lords, leaseholders living in blocks that are under 11 metres are also at risk of losing their homes. They were excluded by the Building Safety Act from any grants for remediation for cladding and building safety works. The Minister has received from me a lot of emails from desperate leaseholders looking to the Government for support and help, to ensure that they do not have to fund the developers’ problems that were caused. They are at risk of losing their homes because of the high costs of cladding removal. Can the Minister now tell us what she and the Government intend to do to help these desperate leaseholders?

I am fully aware of the noble Baroness’s concerns about this issue. I have a large group of documents from her and am working my way through those with officials. I will come back to her to discuss it fully, as soon as I possibly can in the new year.