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Housing 2023 — a challenging time for registered providers

AuthorsEllen HawthorneHelen BrownRupert Gill

Housing 2023 a challenging time for registered providers

The annual CIH (Chartered Institute of Housing) conference is always a great yardstick for the state of the housing sector.

We were delighted to attend Housing 2023 and host a related networking event alongside our friends at Beever and Struthers to gain even more insight into the key challenges and opportunities on everyone’s minds. Here, we recap the major discussion points, from the ‘housing crisis’ to the 2024 election and beyond.

The housing crisis and Decent Homes Standard

In his keynote address, Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester) signalled the immediate need to improve housing conditions for social housing tenants across the North West and throughout the country. He acknowledged that a “housing crisis” is now truly upon us, despite discussions around this topic having been a common theme at the conference for many years. He referred specifically to the death of Awaab Ishak in 2020, which he quite rightly called a “moral outrage”.

Mr Burnham also spoke about the “trailblazing package of housing measures” that he plans to introduce for the region. This includes empowering councils to acquire properties from landlords in accordance with CPO (compulsory purchase order) powers if they cannot meet the Decent Homes Standard. These homes would then be brought up to the required standard and leased to those waiting for housing. As Mr Burnham put it, “good housing is true prevention”.

Speaking of the Decent Homes Standard, which launched in 2000, this is now under review to bring it up to date. The Government’s aim is to halve the number of non-decent homes by 2030 across the social and private rented sectors, yet many registered providers in attendance seemed concerned about how maintenance and improvement works will be funded.

Housing priorities

In a session titled ‘Election 2024: what should the next government be prioritising for housing’, the following priorities were outlined by the panellists:

What we heard from politicians and the CIH President in other sessions largely supported these views. Shadow Secretary of State Lisa Nandy outlined Labour’s intention to fix the planning system to give local authorities control of who can build what and where, while strengthening CPO powers, removing hope value and focusing on brownfield and scrub land as part of its ‘Rebuild Britain’ mantra. She added that ‘Right to Buy’ will be supported, unless it risks the diminution of social housing stock and touched on the concept of state-backed mortgage insurance to allow people with smaller deposits to access better mortgage rates.

CIH President Lara Oyedele talked about building new homes being a top priority for economic regeneration and called for social rented housing subsidies to be increased in a move away from the focus on home ownership.

Housing Minister Rachel Maclean focused on the need for collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as devolution and local leadership, and spoke about the ‘trailblazer’ deeper devolution deals agreed with Greater Manchester Combined Authority and West Midlands Combined Authority as being a blueprint for other regions across the UK.

When responding to questions from the audience, Ms Maclean would not commit to increasing the Local Housing Allowance but did accept its importance, given that it impacts on all housing issues. She also couldn’t commit to including the 300,000 new homes target in the Conservative manifesto for the 2024 election. While Ms Maclean received criticism for the statistics she provided on the number of new homes built or approved over recent years (due to a large proportion of them being unaffordable), she was clear that the more homes built inevitably results in more affordable homes, due to the strict rules about affordable housing provision in planning conditions and Section 106 agreements.

Housing regulator

The regulator focused on the need for registered providers to communicate with tenants and be accountable to them — essentially, that the focus should be on knowing your tenants, as well as your stock.

There is set to be consultation on the new Consumer Standards (including the Decent Homes Standard), with a focus on transparency, influence and accountability, neighbourhoods and communities, as well as an updated tenancy standard.

It also noted that wider economical issues are affecting registered providers’ business plans, with concerns about viability and compliance with standards.

On net zero, the regulator noted that this shouldn’t lead to stock loss. This will be interesting, as some properties will not be economic to bring up to net zero standard, necessitating a need to build to replace.

Low living standards

Other themes included the challenges that housing providers face in today’s economic and social climate and what needs to be done to restore public trust, as well as the Better Social Housing Review.

According to Group CEO of Places for People, Greg Reed, while funding is an issue and times are difficult, change must come from within. He mentioned a particularly haunting statistic that during the winter of 2022, thermal imaging on a particular estate found that over 60% of the houses surveyed did not have any form of heating on.

It was clear that, on the whole, living standards for social housing tenants are recognised as being substandard. Shocking and upsetting photos were shown to the audience of extensive black mould across the interior of a flat, caused by an untreated water leak, which a tenant had been forced to live with for over four years.

One speaker asked the audience to put their hands up if they currently live, or have ever lived, in a home that they couldn’t wait to get back to. As you would expect, the majority (if not all) of the audience raised their hands. The speaker then asked everyone to keep their hands up if they agreed that everyone had the right to feel that way about their home — and again as you would expect, not a single hand went down. This proved to be a particularly emotive moment for the audience.

According to Inside Housing, Eamonn Boylan (Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority), noted that “our planning system is designed to protect the interests of the landowner, and very little else”.

The ombudsman revealed that it received over 10,000 complaints in 2022, 68% of which were upheld. Further, it received its highest ever number of complaints in March 2023 — indicating that issues are worsening and registered providers have more work to do.

Looking ahead

While many of the themes at this year’s conference seem bleak, it must be taken as a small positive that there is widespread recognition of the issues and the need to take action.

The issues highlighted during this year’s conference are nothing new and the sector recognises the crisis situation and the desperate need to deal with it. It is an understatement to say that there is much to do, but — with political will and collaboration between all stakeholders — we must be confident that we will start to see positive change over the coming years.

Our full-service housing and regeneration team advises registered providers, housebuilders and private landlords at every stage of the housing project lifecycle — from governance, funding and acquisition to disposals and asset management.

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