A Yearly Round Up

Amid one of the warmest summers and England’s World Cup stormer, our December issue was a fond look back at 2018.

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As we run through some of the announcements and statistics over the past year, has any real progress been made or is it all just baby steps?

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January – Nick Walkley, CEO at Homes England takes us through the importance of 2018 for the association.

After a fresh start, they have real impetus behind them – as well as the housing sector at large.

Launching at the beginning of the year following the Chancellors 2017 Autumn Budget commitment to fund a new, more muscular, activist agency, the publication of a new 5 Year Strategic Plan set out an ambitious approach to drive housing supply across the country.

A real indication of how they intend to operate differently is the 15 strategic partnership deals agreed with 17 housing associations in two phases in the last six months, set to deliver an additional 27,755 homes by March 2022.

“This is just the start of the Homes England journey, and we’re looking forward to working with more ambitious individuals and organisations to make homes happen in 2019 and beyond”, CEO, Nick adds.

In case you missed it – Andrew van Doorn, CEO at HACT takes a lot at what 2018 meant for them.

The year began and ended with the launch of their UK housing data standards: version 1 arrived in January, and version 2 (featuring reactive repairs) arrived in November.

In between saw the launch of the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment, a new version of the UK social value bank calculator and a new conference on Innovation in Practice.

They also helped redesign a new model of care between housing associations and NHS organisations in south London, which has the potential to impact the lives of thousands of people living with complex mental health needs.

Developing new clinical models within supported housing for mental health as a way of transforming community rehab services, HACT also co-hosted a conference on mental health and housing with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, NHC and UCL.

February – The private landlord battle, David Smith, Policy Director at RLA.

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For many landlords, 2018 was a year of challenge.

It was filled with concern about what potential tenure reforms might mean for them, uncertainty about what a no deal Brexit could mean in respect of being able to rent to EU citizens, and there were worries about the roll-out of Universal Credit.

That said, there are signs of encouragement for landlords.

Ministers have pledged to consult on establishing a new housing court to speed up justice for landlords and tenants when things go wrong.

The debate around longer tenancies has shifted to discussing incentives for landlords to offer them through tax reliefs, rather than imposing them on the sector by law.

And the debate around regulation has begun to shift, with Karen Buck’s Bill looking to improve the enforcement of existing regulations to root out those criminal landlords who tarnish the name of many landlords providing good housing and a decent service to their tenants.

As we look ahead to 2019, the focus needs to include a relentless effort to root out the crooks and support the development of new rental housing to meet ever growing demand.

March – Fighting for Shelter, Polly Neate, CEO at Shelter.

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At the beginning of the year, we established our independent commission on the future of social housing, in partnership with the Grenfell community.

We end the year anticipating its report in January.

At last, social housing came firmly onto the agenda as the only way to end the national housing emergency.

While our long-term aim must be ensuring it’s delivered for all who need it, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering right now – so immediate change is also vital.

In 2018, we’ve seen the Homelessness Reduction Act implemented, letting fees will be banned and soon all properties must be ‘fit for human habitation’.

We welcomed announcements to tackle homelessness in both Budgets. And after months of lobbying, housing benefit will be restored to 18 to 21-year-olds on 31st December.

Shelter’s local services are seeing huge need and outright deprivation.

In this context, discrimination in housing is unforgivable. Yet 61% of landlords say they either bar or prefer not to let to people on housing benefit, which affects over a million private renting households in England.

That’s why we’re campaigning to stop ‘No DSS’ discrimination – these policies disproportionately affect women and disabled people, meaning they’re likely violating the 2010 Equality Act.

This year, Shelter also launched an ambitious three-year strategy. A safe home is a fundamental need, as vital as education or healthcare. Our sole focus must and will be to defend that right.

April – Diversity reawakened, Raj Patel, CEO at Housing Diversity Network.

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My best man once said to me: “if ever you wake up, you would be a genius.”

Since the start of 2018, our sector has been stirred to active diversity after a lengthy slumber.

No small thanks are due to the efforts of a few individuals and a few housing providers; to media campaigns by 24 Housing (24 Diversity), and Housing Diversity Network (#housingdiversityday); to positive action initiatives; and to conferences, summits and awards.

The enforced gender pay reporting compelled us both to look at the cold hard facts but also surfaced some of our reasoning for the disparity, which some would say are excuses.

The ethnicity pay gap reporting is pending and will nudge us to make improvements.

It has also become evident that our sector, maybe due to the long sleep, has lost diversity confidence.

We have realised, too, that our diversity intelligence needs enhancing, so that we understand complexities, sophistications, distractions and divisiveness to make real change that reaches our primary stakeholders.

I am relieved it has been a good year that has relaunched active diversity.

I am hopeful as the commitment to diversity is widening – not just for 2018, but for several years to come.

May – Hackitt’s proposals.

2018 saw the construction sector build a case for consensus toward full implementation” of recommendations from the Hackitt Review.

Acknowledging a “massive need” for culture change, many in the sector saw the fundamental adoption of Hackitt – with its call for responsibilities clearly defined at every stage of a building’s lifecycle – as a once in a generation opportunity to recast construction

Over the year, the sector got started to drive change with shifts in practices and working relationships already voluntarily introduced by many.

The government published its response to this review and, following consultation, has confirmed that it was banning the use of combustible materials on all residential high-rise buildings above 18 metres.

The proposals –
• New regulatory framework
• Clear ‘duty holder’ with responsibility for building safety of the whole building
• Clearer rights and obligations for residents
• Construction and fire safety sectors to demonstrate effective leadership on competencies
• More effective product testing
• More rigorous enforcement to prosecute ‘major deficiencies’
• Better procurement, devising contracts that state safety requirements must not be compromised for cost reduction

June – Costing homelessness

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In June, 24housing revealed a single cash-strapped council spent more than £61m on temporary accommodation over a single year – articulating a need for housing the homeless to be as much a social responsibility as a political priority.

Even the sample sum from the responses to our FoI requests on temporary accommodation spending was an eye-watering £487,712,733.

Exposing the extent of temporary accommodation spend added perspective to the government’s intention to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

The London boroughs may have been way out ahead, but – on a per capita basis alone – councils across the rest of the UK have the capital in sight.

Causes have been obvious for some time: reduced funding and increasing homelessness duties, a diminished stock of council housing and the impacts of welfare reform and an unaffordable private rented sector.

Housing associations are looking at more holistic approaches to building new homes of all tenures, and in London they are pressing a case for increasing LHA rates, so they are more reflective of the local housing market. Progress is being made, and change may well be on its way.

July – Building safe havens, Tina Wathern, Director of National Engagement, Stonewall Housing.

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Stonewall Housing celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2018.

Worryingly, this year we continue to see cases where private rented accommodation has been advertised as ‘no gays or lesbians’.

Despite this, there was some good news, such as the creation of a night shelter in London for homeless LGBT individuals.

Along with the Outside Project, the shelter has been funded by the Greater London Authority to work jointly on a project that will make this a permanent fixture along with a much-needed community space.

Stonewall Housing works with partners to provide more safe housing for LGBTQ people, and this year we have successfully piloted and launched our National Inclusion Standard for all Housing and Homelessness providers, with Notting Hill/Genesis the first to receive their award.

The number of people approaching Stonewall Housing for advice and support continues to grow, reflecting the current changes to welfare benefits and the rise in homelessness.

Stonewall Housing hopes that more LGBTQ people will find safe, secure housing in 2019. We will work hard to develop more through our own services and by supporting other organisations to be more inclusive.

August – Jenny Osbourne, CEO at Tpas asks, what has the Green Paper done for tenants and the housing sector in our August issue.

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In normal circumstances, the question ‘What has a Green Paper done for a sector?’ is nonsense because by its very nature a Green Paper is just a consultation document and doesn’t commit to actual action.

But at the very least, the launch of the Green Paper has stimulated conversations between government, tenants and landlords in a positive, well overdue and unprecedented move.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government coordinated 19 tenant roadshows, which saw over 1,500 tenants attending and around 7,000 people responding to their online survey. In terms of meeting Ministers, tenants have chance to meet not one – but three!

In response to its release, we’ve also seen interviews with social housing tenants on national news channels, Theresa May announcing investment in social housing and, even more remarkably, offering a personal pledge to end social housing stigma.

We’ve seen new tenants join platforms like Twitter and skilfully use it to join in debates, openly engage with their landlords about the services they are receiving and raise fears and concerns about safety and repairs.

The Green Paper has certainly thrust the whole ethos of tenant empowerment right into the consciousness of landlords again, creating a new shift on building new homes AND building better relationships with current tenants.

We are still only at the starting blocks of any long-term change, both legislatively and culturally. The question for landlords is, do you want to be leading from the front or are you willing to be way off the pace at the back of the field?

September – A year of government announcements, David Montague, CEO at L&Q.

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10 years ago, when the recession bit hardest, we couldn’t have foreseen the extraordinary changes social housing would see. Going back just 12 months, we couldn’t even have foreseen some of 2018’s extraordinary events.

From the word itself being added to the department name for the first time since 1951, to the long-awaited publishing of the Social Housing Green Paper, it has been a remarkable year.

In committing £2bn of long term funding to housing associations, the PM provided the most security our sector has seen since the late nineties. Simply giving a speech at our trade body’s conference for the first time was a significant move, signalling her faith in our ability to deliver new homes.

This was perhaps the most significant announcement of 2018, but there was plenty of other good news too.

The sector and our friends breathed a sigh of relief when we heard the welfare system would continue to support housing funding.

A new rule book for planning was introduced, too, which makes minor but much needed changes to our complicated planning system.

Homes England also dominated the headlines with wave after wave of strategic partnerships announced.

In 10 years’ time, we will likely look back in amazement at how much has changed again.

Who knows how many Housing Ministers we’ll have had by then or who will oversee our country? But one thing’s for sure – housing associations are unlikely to be far from a government housing announcement.

October – Long way to go on Universal Credit, Sally Thomas, CEO, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

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Since Universal Credit began in 2013, the four national housing federations of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have worked hard with the UK and devolved governments to make it fit for purpose.

We actively contributed to some significant changes – such as the reversal of the seven-day wait – but it’s not enough. More improvements and more money is needed.
UC must have a third-party payment system that synchronises managed payments to landlords (and, in Scotland, UC Choices direct payments) with housing cost deductions from a claimant’s UC payment.

The current use of a four-weekly payment system, that was never designed for Universal Credit, creates acute distress for far too many claimants and an arrears nightmare for landlords.

The second is provision of implicit consent.

Managed migration is expected to involve the most vulnerable of claimants. For them to make the transition successfully from legacy benefits to UC, they will need the help and support of housing and other advice staff to intercede on their behalf.

Further concessions have been announced in the Chancellor’s autumn budget.

Welcome as these are, they do not address shortcomings in the systems undermining Universal Credit administration.

These changes cannot be ignored or set aside if Universal Credit is to stand any chance of working for our members and tenants.

November – A year as a social housing tenant, Phil Murphy.

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I began the year claiming UC (and housing benefit), getting 35p of every £1 I earned. But before the end of January I’d won a contract to work self-employed 20 hours a week. So, I signed off.

I continued to pursue a complaint first made almost three years ago regarding our landlord, who raised the cost of our energy supply, first by 50%, then by a further 100% – taking it to more than double the average domestic rate.

Eventually, we won a refund of the difference between the true cost and what we’d been paying. But we’re still owed half of our energy costs over two years.

In October, Jane Eyles and I, with TPAS, delivered a workshop for landlords and tenants, demonstrating meaningful ways to work together and improve fire safety and fire safety management.

It was heartening to be asked to contribute to a forthcoming addendum to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, especially for tower blocks.

Some do value the contribution that tenants want to and are qualified to make.

I’m currently in the final beta testing phase of Real Voices.

Soon, I’ll be asking selected organisations, individuals and publications to support a formal launch.

Dozens of people and organisations told me they wanted something like this.

I sincerely hope it works as intended for them. We have a lot to gain by working closely together and, more importantly, so do those who need our help with housing-related issues.

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