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Consultation Response: MHCLG Social Housing Green Paper

By: Deborah Garvie
Published: February 2019

Consultation Response: MHCLG Social Housing Green Paper: A new deal for social housing

Shelter welcome the opportunity to respond to this vitally important green paper. Our housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing this country.

In January 2018, we launched10 an independent Social Housing Commission to examine the state of social housing in modern Britain and its future role in ending the housing crisis and addressing the crucial issues highlighted by the Grenfell Tower fire.

YouGov polling revealed many of the challenges described by Grenfell residents in the aftermath of the tragic fire are faced by social housing communities right across England:

▪ Almost half (48%) of families in social housing who reported issues around poor or unsafe conditions felt ignored or were refused help. Problems included fire safety, gas leaks, electrical hazards, mould and pest problems, among others

▪ Almost a quarter (24%) of families in social housing said they feel looked down on because of where they live, compared with only 8% of families who are private renters or homeowners

Our Commission is chaired by Reverend Mike Long of Notting Hill Methodist Church near Grenfell Tower. Among the other 15 commissioners are Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Ed Miliband MP, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Lord Jim O’Neill, and Grenfell tower survivor Edward Daffarn.

A major aim of the Commission is to give social housing tenants across the country, starting with the Grenfell community itself, a far louder say in the future of social housing. So, alongside the launch of the Commission, we started a Big Conversation – a national consultation giving people the opportunity to get their voices heard, and collectively identify how to make a bigger and better social housing sector. In response, over 30,000 people took our survey on social housing.

This was followed by a series of five workshops in different parts of England, four public debates and four research and policy workshops with Shelter’s service users to provide opportunities for social tenants, as well as their neighbours and people on waiting lists, to share their thoughts and experiences – both good and bad.

The Commission was also supported by an extensive programme of original research and analysis. Working with the research agency Britain Thinks we undertook qualitative and quantitative research with social renters, groups who could be social renters such as private renters, and the wider public.

In January 2019, the Commission will launched its report and presented  its recommendations to government sharing the full findings of the research, and the full extent of the Commission’s recommendations.

As set out in this response, we welcome many of the proposals contained in the green paper. We strongly support the announcement that measures in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, allowing government to levy councils for vacated high value council homes, will be repealed ‘when Parliamentary time allows’. And the Act’s requirement that council landlords let on fixed-term tenancies will not be implemented ‘at this time’. Shelter oppose both measures and had argued strongly that they would deny people the settled homes they need.

Also welcome is the suggestion of ‘regulatory change’ so that consumer standards in social housing are enforced in a similar way to the economic standards, with abolition of the ‘serious detriment test’ if it prevents the Regulator from taking a proactive approach. Social housing must have a regulator with teeth if tenants are to have decent homes. And the service provided to tenants must be a big priority for inspection and enforcement.

There are also welcome suggestions to set timescales for landlords, and the Ombudsman, to more quickly deal with complaints so that tenants receive a speedy resolution to their concerns. This should help in individual cases.

But this is underpinned by the idea that tenants can exercise consumer choice: if they see their landlord is providing a poor service under proposed new performance indicators and league tables, then they can vote with their feet. But, as survivors of the Grenfell fire have pointed out, social renters can’t simply move to another landlord in the same way that a patient can move to a new GP.

Once in social housing, the shortage of homes, combined with massive demand, means that it’s extremely difficult to move. We’re advising many families in the shadow of Grenfell Tower who are severely overcrowded and with dreadful disrepair. But there are few suitable homes for them to move to. So, the big disappointment is the green paper doesn’t commit a single extra penny to social housing.

Without more funding to build far more homes for the thousands trapped in temporary accommodation and expensive private rentals, and to ensure that existing social homes are safe and healthy to live in,  too many people will be at risk of being trapped in bad housing.

If the Government is serious about the future of social housing, it must be recognised as a vital part of our national fabric in the same way as the NHS. We want to see we the Government commit to  investing in the future of social housing via the building of a new generation of millions of new homes for social rent. This will provide new hope for those in greatest housing difficulty, such as homeless families and struggling private renters who will never be able to afford to buy a home, as well as ensuring that existing social homes and neighbourhoods are safe, healthy and happy places to live.