Memorandum by Christine Pointer, SOLACE
Housing Spokesperson (HOU 11)
The Government's Housing Green Paper and subsequent
policy initiatives taken with the recent CSR announcements have
recognised the contribution that local affordable social housing
makes to creating sustainable communities. The Government needs
to recognise however since 1977, when the last green paper was
issued, that the proportion of public finance for housing has
This short paper outlines areas of concern worthy
of more detailed consideration as they affect local authorities
(1) Right to Buy and Law Commission Proposals.
(3) Role of Local Authority.
(4) Housing Corporation and RSLs.
(5) Role of Private Sector.
1. RIGHT TO
Since the introduction of the Right to Buy in
the Housing Act 1980 many tenants have become homeowners. In many
areas this has resulted in more balanced communities, in terms
of tenure, rather than monolithic landlord owned estates. However,
communities have lost the opportunity to reuse the housing sold
in terms of relets or to replace affordable homesparticularly
in rural areas and areas of very high demand. The current pressures
to meet local housing needs in many parts of the Country would
be greatly assisted were the Government to modify or repeal this
supposed right. This could be allied to the current Law Commission
proposals in terms of Housing Law Reform and the development of
an alternative equity stake as detailed by the Chartered Institute
Since 1980 local authorities have been prevented
from fully using the proceeds from council house or land disposals.
It is therefore not surprising that the local authorities have
been unable to replace or secure replacement of the affordable
housing lost. A number of the proposals in the Local Government
Bill again redistribute capital and revenue resources according
to Government prescription. In particular the pooling of "surplus"
housing subsidy could be used to meet the need for new housing,
regeneration or Decent Homes investment. Local Authorities need
to be trusted to use local assets and resources to meet locally
identified needs and priorities the potential inability to do
so potentially undermines the value of community planning and
Local Strategic Partnerships.
Many Local Authorities have issues of private
sector renewal as well as regeneration and the New Deal for communities
fund should be more widely available not simply for those apparently
"most deprived" neighbourhoods.
The recently published proposals for Housing
Capital Finance detail the ways in which local authorities are
being deprived of resources and decisions in terms of democratic
local accountability. Firstly the Government's pooling of RTB
receipts and secondly its treatment of debt free authorities.
The Government's exchequer contributions to National Funding of
Housing 2001-02 was only £332 million out of a total of £1,580
million through HIP and ADP with £1,248 million representing
set aside receipts from locally generated RTB's. The Capital Receipts
Group of over 50 cross party authorities has submitted a response
to these proposals and the LGA has belatedly accepted that it
is an issue to which it should respond.
3. ROLE OF
Local Authorities embrace and support the Green
Paper's proposals to develop a more strategic role to local and
regional housing markets. Many Local Authorities are developing
strong local plans, enabling and supporting RSLs to deliver affordable
social housing. A matter of key concern is the requirement placed
on other bodies to obtain best consideration in respect of land
disposal. Too often health and other public agencies readily recognise
the contribution that affordable housing makes to recruiting and
maintaining a public sector workforce (nurses, teachers, police,
fire, care workers etc) especially in London, South East and along
the South Coast. However, budget pressures on these very same
organisations and the inflexible rules about land/property disposals
mean that opportunities to secure affordable housing for key workers
are simply being lostwhen, for example, Health Trusts are
selling off assetsincluding former nurses homes and other
empty property, which could be readily used as affordable homes.
A thorough review of statutory guidance to ensure adequate affordable
social housingindeed, a joined-up approachis now
required. The current mixture of unitary, metropolitan, county
and district is unhelpful to providing a coherent local sub regional
and regional local government view.
4. HOUSING CORPORATION
Since the Housing Act 1988 Registered Social
Landlords have had to mortgage their assets, and housing benefit
has taken the strain. The recently introduced Rent Restructuring
proposals could lead to increasing inability of RSL to fund additional
housing. Increase in the SHG rate whilst requiring capital subsidy
would mean that more affordable rents could be achieved. It is
believed that Local Authorities currently provide more SHG than
the Housing Corporation. However, the proposed changes to the
LA SAG regime is likely to significantly reduce the attractiveness
of funding RSLs by Local Authorities.
The Housing Corporation and other Regional Agencies
cannot be expected to respond to the varying local needs across
the Country. Local Authorities should be allowed to continue to
utilise and benefit from LA SHG. The voluntary housing movement
of earlier decades has now become a social housing business without
always meaningful local accountabilities. Consideration should
be given to allow board members to received some remuneration
as this would help overcome many difficulties experienced by RSLs
and the corporation in managing these social businesses.
5. ROLE OF
The Governments lack of intervention in the
private rented sector has produced a slight renaissance in investment
started in the 1990s by the BES initiative. Compared to mainline
Europe there has been little institutional investment in long
term rented housing. The recently published research by OPDM Fiscal
Measures etc outlines the various models that could be applied.
The major financial institutions need to be encouraged further
to take a wider more socially responsible perspective for the
The Government's Shared Ownership initiatives
need reviewing in terms of stair-casing and homebuy limits. Employers
in many parts of this country have recognised how house price
affordability is affecting their business.
At the same time the Government has devolved
economic issue to Regional Development Agencies with very few
incentives for business to get involved in housing issues. The
industry as well as Government local and national need to review
and improve the buying and selling of homes.
Local Authorities are willing, able and generally
capable of assessing and securing improvements in their local
housing markets. The Government now has alternative tools ie CPA
to address those authorities who are failing. The current proposals
in the Local Government Bill do not recognise the maturity of
Local Authorities to be allowed to play their part to meet local