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Housing bill ‘death knell of social housing’

Wil Hatchett11/05/2016 - 13:30

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John Healey speaking at CIEH housing health conference
John Healey speaking at CIEH housing health conference

John Healey, shadow housing minister, told the CIEH’s housing and health conference this week that the Housing and Planning Bill, which has now passed its final stages, marks the ‘death knell of social housing’.

Describing it as the worst piece of legislation of his 20-year Parliamentary career, Mr Healey said that it was a ‘blinkered and unbalanced bill’ with ‘the sole purpose of promoting home owners'.

Mr Healey said the bill would reduce the national stock of affordable rented housing in three ways. Firstly, councils would be required to sell off their higher value council homes on the open market, to subsidise right-to-buy discounts for housing associations.

Secondly, few housing associations granting the right- to-buy to tenants would be able to make one-for-one replacements and replacement homes would often be for market sale or rent. Thirdly, the requirement for a fifth of new homes to be ‘starter homes’, would prevent councils from requiring developers to provide affordable rented or shared ownership housing on new sites.

Mr Healey said that the bill would make it harder for councils to cater for vulnerable people, would increase homelessness and lead to longer waiting lists, storing up many problems for councils in future years.

Shelter had estimated that the measures in the legislation would cause the loss of more than 180,000 affordable rented homes in five years. The Chartered Institute of Housing said that a third of a million would be lost by 2020.

The bill represented the first time since the Addison Act of 1919 that there had been subsidy from government to councils to build affordable housing.

On the 200-page bill’s new powers, in part two, to regulate rogue landlords, Mr Healey commented: ‘Councils will be able to impose banning orders on convicted landlords but that’s it.’

He added: ‘This bill is a huge missed opportunity to reinforce the statutory enforcement powers that local authorities need to deal with problems in private rented housing, especially as it’s the most rapidly growing housing sector. For many people it’s the only kind of housing that they have any prospect of living in.’

He said that the best way for councils to tackle bad landlords was through selective private landlord licensing, crossing whole council areas, but that the government had made this far more difficult to introduce, since secretary of state permission was now required. Redbridge had already been refused permission.

The legislation, he said, had placed all of its bets on one idea – ‘starter homes’. These were designed for people under-40 to help them onto the property ladder. But such homes, he said, would be well beyond the price range of people on average incomes – a home outside London would require a £53,000 deposit and a £58,000 a year salary.

Mr Healey said that it was part of his job to persuade people to believe that, if Labour were elected, the housing crisis could be tackled and that things could get better.

Tough economic conditions in the past five years had required councils to be creative and resourceful. He paid tribute to the highly professional work of EHOs to tackle bad landlords and praised local authority measures to increase affordable and low-energy housing in Birmingham, Reading, Exeter, Oxford and Plymouth.

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