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Martha Mackenzie
 
I’m the Stakeholder Relations Assistant at Shelter, I joined the Public Affairs team in July 2012. I have been working on a wide range of projects, most notably engaging with local authorities through our rogue landlords campaign. In my spare time I’m studying for a MA in legal and political theory. When not chained to a desk I can usually be found running or cycling around London.

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By Martha Mackenzie

Tackling revenge eviction is a political ‘no-brainer’

To borrow a phrase from Kevin Bacon, the government’s decision to tackle revenge eviction is a ‘no-brainer’. Or, as one recent observer termed it ‘gold-dust’ policy. One of those rare polices that as well as being extremely popular, also makes a lot of sense and costs nothing.

9 million people now rent their home privately. This includes 1.3 million families with children.

These families increasingly accept that they’ll be renting for the long term – but this doesn’t mean they are happy about it. Almost a third of renters with children (30%) believe they’ll be renting for the rest of their lives. Yet 69% say their main reason for renting is because they have no other choice.

A generation of families feel stuck in poor quality, unstable private rented homes; unsurprisingly housing is now a regularly a top five voter concern.

These voters are up for grabs. A recent poll, conducted on behalf of Generation Rent, found that 35% of private renters are floating voters.

And their political power is growing. The number of MPs with more constituents that rent rather than own their home has risen from 38 in 2001 (6% of MPs) to 65 in 2011 (10%). If this trend continues, renters will start to outnumber home owners in 104 seats by 2021.

Voters are angry.

The scandal of ‘revenge eviction’ is something that particularly exercises renters and voters. Over 17,000 people signed our petition calling on the government to end this practice. And thousands of our supporters have emailed their MP over the past couple of weeks, asking them to vote in Friday’s debate. Just talking about the issue, opened the flood gates.

You only have to glance at this Mumsnet thread to see how impassioned many parents feel about the instability of private renting. Shelter found that a heart-breaking 44% of renting parents believe their children would have a better childhood if they had more stability in their home.

But they believe politicians have the power to fix this.

In a YouGov survey for Shelter (which polled 3000 English adults) we found that 83% of renters think ‘the government has a responsibility to make sure that private renters do not live with a threat of eviction or sudden rent rises’.

But it is not just renters that feel so strongly. As more and more young families are priced out of homeownership, their parents’ generation fret about the unstable conditions forced on their children and grandchildren. The same survey found that almost three quarters (72%) of people who own their home outright agree.

Even landlords overwhelmingly support the need for new measures to tackle revenge eviction. Three-quarters of 1,059 landlords surveyed for us by BDRC Continental Research in September 2014 agreed that measures should be put in place to prevent rogue landlords from evicting tenants in retaliation.

More and more people are renting – and this isn’t about to change. Families will be spending the rest of their lives in private rented homes; they rightly expect politicians to stand up for them, and make sure their children have a safe and decent home. That is why taking on revenge eviction makes so much sense.

So, what’s to lose?

I often find, when explaining revenge eviction to someone who doesn’t rent, their first reaction is a shocked ‘but isn’t that illegal?!’. Followed up with ‘well, that’s absurd’.

To them, it is a no-brainer.

Not only does this bill have the backing of government, it has cross party support. MPs from all the main parties have pledged to vote on Friday to end revenge eviction.

We hope these MPs recognise just what a no-brainer this is, and honour their pledge to turn up. There will be 9 million renters waiting to thank them if they do.

This Friday, 28th November MPs will debate whether to vote in favour of the Tenancies (Reform) Bill and end revenge eviction for good. The government announced their support for the bill in September, but MPs from all parties still need to turn up and support it.

John Bibby
 
John is a Policy Officer at Shelter.

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By John Bibby

Why social house building could fall by a further 2,500 this year – at least

I’ve written twice recently about how social house building has fallen to historic lows and how that is playing out in different local areas.

Unfortunately, there is still more bad news to come. Although the level of new social rented house building has collapsed from over 35,000 to just 10,000 in the last four years, it still hasn’t fallen as far as it will.

We can realistically expect the number of new social rented homes built to fall again this year, perhaps by as many as 2,500 – or more.

The reason for this is that the full effect of funding cuts for new social rented homes has not yet been fully felt. This is despite the fact that the main cuts to funding for social rented homes took place way back in 2011, when the total pot for new affordable homes[1] was cut by 60% and the rules were changed to make it more difficult to build social housing with what was left.

The extended delayed reaction is caused by the length of time it takes to build a home. So the number of new social rented homes that we have seen finished over the last few years has been bolstered by homes that were started before the cuts were made.

The number of new social rented homes funded by the Homes and Communities Agency and Greater London Authority (HCA and GLA)[2] that were started fell by 90% from over 35,000 in 2011/12 to just over 3,000 in 2012/13. Since then the number of starts has hovered between 3,000 and 5,000.

However, the number of completions of HCA and GLA funded social housing still only fell down to 7,700 last year, leaving a gap of 2,500-5,000 homes that were completed in 2013/14 than were started in the years preceding.

Barring miracles and counting errors, homes do not get completed unless they’ve been started. So at some point the completions number must come down to the 3,000-5,000 range.

Just taking the gap between starts and completions into account, then, we can expect a further fall of at least 2,500, bringing the number of newbuild social rented homes nationally down from 10,000 to somewhere just above 7,000. This is equivalent of just 0.004% of the number of households on housing waiting lists across England.

This is not the end of the story, though, because social housing is also funded in other ways, as well as through national grant. Some may hope that these other funding mechanisms will step into the gap that’s been left by grant and soften the blow.

Unfortunately, levels of social rented homes delivered by other sources are at the very best likely only to maintain around their current level – and they may actually fall as well.

There are a number of different ways that new social housing is funded other than by national grant, but the largest of these is funding via obligations that are placed on planning permissions for new developments, called Section 106 obligations. Because these are tied to new developments, affordable homes delivered through Section 106 trend to track private house building.

Even when the private market was at it its height before the economic crisis, new social rented homes fully funded through Section 106 were only 1000 higher than they were last year.

So while the recent pick-up in the private market may lead to an increase, we shouldn’t expect it to fill the gap left by the absence of grant.

What’s more, there have been a number of changes to Section 106 in recent years (and forthcoming) that may actually decrease the number of social rented homes that it is able to deliver. These include provisions that make it easier for private developers to renegotiate Section 106 on the grounds that they make developments ‘unviable’ and a future change that will remove Section 106 obligations from developments of fewer than ten homes.

Social rented homes are a vital part of our housing market and provide long-term, affordable stable housing. Without more, the housing benefit bill will continue to spiral, homelessness will grow, total house building will remain below the amount we need and thousands of people will be left with little chance of finding a good home that they can afford.

We will be publishing a report this Thursday which sets out how many new social rented homes Shelter believes need to be built every year, as well as the numbers of new market and intermediate homes that are needed.

It will set out how we can reverse the downward spiral in social house building and deliver considerably more new homes of all types. Because we can’t conscionably go another Christmas with 90,000 children homeless and not have a plan for how we can make things better.


[1] Under the umbrella of ‘affordable homes’ comes:

  • Shared ownership homes (part-rent, part-buy homes)
  • Intermediate rent homes (short-term homes charged at up to 80% of market rents)
  • ‘Affordable Rent’ homes (long-term homes charged at up to 80% of market rents)
  • Social rented homes (long-term homes charged at social rents – typically about 50% of market rents)

[2] The HCA is the national body responsible for distributing government funding for new affordable housing except in London where the GLA is the responsible body

Pete Jefferys
 
I’m a Policy Officer at Shelter and interested in how we can get housing up the political agenda, secure a better deal for private renters and get affordable homes built. Outside of policy, I love exploring new parts of London, sport and going back home to Devon.

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By Pete Jefferys

Homes for people priced out of the market

We know that the housing market – whether renting or buying – is prohibitively expensive for many people on typical incomes, let alone those on low incomes. That’s why so many working people cannot pay the rent without support from housing benefit, 90,000 children are in temporary accommodation this Christmas and why homeownership has been falling since 2003.

With the market currently failing to provide enough homes we need to think hard about how to reform it (i.e. unlocking land and encouraging more small builders). But we also need a way of providing affordable and secure homes for those the market is failing now and hasn’t historically served.

This context is what makes proposals from the think-tank Policy Exchange to change the nature of housing associations (who are the main providers of affordable housing) rather worrying.

What exactly are Policy Exchange recommending?

  • They want to create a new category of Free Housing Associations, which gradually pay back the investment that’s been put into them from government in exchange for being able to set their own rents and choose their own tenants. On the latter, this means breaking the link between ‘nominations’ by a local council based on housing need.
  • They want to give these Free Housing Associations the power to sell-off Social Rented homes (which typically charge 40-50% of market rents) when they become available, as a way of funding the construction of expensive “Affordable Rent” homes (up to 80% or market rents).
  • They want Free Housing Associations to be able to build market rent and market sale homes on a much bigger scale than currently, as a way to cross-subsidise.
  • They want to use the Help to Buy scheme to fund the construction or acquisition of Affordable Rent (80% market rent) homes, with the government taking an equity stake in the property which is paid back either through rents or by selling the property after 15 years.

There’s certainly a lot of food for thought in the report. Many of the recommendations have been welcomed by the National Housing Federation: although it’s perhaps not that surprising social landlords want more freedoms for social landlords. There are also some ideas, such as how to reduce borrowing costs for housing associations, use public land and improve shared ownership, which are more attractive.

However, if we bring the debate back to how people on normal or low incomes will be able to afford secure and decent homes in the future the picture looks less rosy.

The implication of the Policy Exchange recommendations is that ‘Free’ Housing Associations would shift from building homes which are affordable for those on low incomes into organisations focused on higher rent homes and sales. They would be building homes that many of their existing residents simply would never be able to afford.

Equally, by breaking the link with local council waiting lists, it would become even harder for homeless families to ever find a settled home – surely not a situation anyone wants to see.

Housing associations are being forced into a fundamental debate between what is good for their balance sheets and what is good for the people they were set up to help. With some private landlords starting to discriminate against less financially secure renters (such as families and those on zero hours contracts), who will provide the new homes needed for people who can’t afford the market? From a purely balance sheet perspective it makes sense to avoid people who can’t afford the rent: but if everyone is thinking that way, where will they live?

Policy Exchange’s approach to affordable housing presents another challenge. Consider that the reforms would make housing associations ever more reliant on market rents and sales as a source of income. This makes their financial model vulnerable to future cuts to the safety net or a fall in house prices – much like private landlords and private developers. In this situation, if one part of the housing system catches a cold, such as we saw with house prices in 2008, the illness will spread much quicker and more seriously into housing associations.

Fundamentally though, I feel that the question Policy Exchange never answer is what has changed about the situation of people who cannot afford homes which justifies this shift in the role of housing associations. I can see no justification at a time in which more and more people find that the private rented sector does not provide them with a decent, settled and affordable home.

Ultimately, we must never forget that homes are for people. They must be affordable, attractive and designed to improve the lives of those who live there. Financial innovation to build more homes is fine, so long as it doesn’t become the purpose of housing.

We need whoever forms the next government to make building more homes a national priority, with an emphasis on homes affordable to those priced out. This must be done through increasing land supply, diversifying the building industry, increasing public and private investment and devolving power to city-regions.

Policy Exchange have recognised this broad approach in much of their work on housing, from supporting new garden cities to encouraging the development of self-build. However on affordable housing I think we need a bolder approach than they have outlined which would allow housing associations to build many more homes, but with the bulk of those new homes being low-rent and secure rather than high-rent with short contracts.

There are few more important questions in housing than how do we support those who can’t afford what the market is currently providing – and these ideas are not the answer.

John Bibby
 
John is a Policy Officer at Shelter.

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By John Bibby

In 60% of the country, social house building has effectively stopped

Given how awful the levels of affordable house building were in 2013/14 nationally, it’s difficult to imagine they could get worse by looking at them on a local level.

They do.

Not only has the total level of social rented house building fallen to its lowest since the Second World War, but in much of the country last year no new social rented homes were built at all.

In 117 council areas – over a third of the 326 in England – not a single social rented home was built in 2013/14.

In a further 82 there were only between 1 and 19 social rented homes built, meaning that in 199 council areas there were fewer than 20 social rented homes built last year.

Effectively, in more than 60% of the country’s districts there was no meaningful social house building last year.

This is despite new polling for the National Housing Federation finding that 58% of people support new social house building in their area.

This lack of building is not due to an absence of need.

Seven of the council areas where no social rented house building took place last year are in London.

In those boroughs alone over 70,000 households are on the waiting list for a social rented home. The overwhelming majority of them won’t ever get one unless more homes are built.

Even more worrying: in those London boroughs over 8,000 households are homeless and in temporary accommodation. Over 3,700 of these are families with children. Without new social rented homes, it will continue to be difficult to find a suitable long-term home even for people who are homeless.

And while the picture is particularly bleak at a local level with regards to social rented house building, it would be a mistake to believe that everything is fine when it comes to building levels of other types of affordable home.[i]

There are, for example, ten council districts where levels of affordable house building were so low in 2013/14 that they don’t even register on the more general set of local statistics (Live Table 1008, where numbers are rounded to the closest 10).

Again, the lack of building is not driven by a lack of need.

For example, in some of the districts average house prices are almost ten times the average income.

As such, there is a compelling case for affordable home ownership like shared ownership – and yet barely any of these types of home are being built. In the Communities Secretary’s local council area of Brentwood, for example, only 1 shared ownership home was built last year, and that was the only affordable home built in that borough. Need in Oxford is almost as high as in parts of London and yet no affordable homes of any kind were built.

Even in somewhere like Oadby and Wigstone, a district in Leicestershire, where prices are relatively affordable, there are still over 1,300 people on the housing waiting list.

Building more of every type of home – including affordable homes – is the only way that we will sustainably tackle homelessness and help bring the benefits of home ownership to people who’ve been priced out.

Later this month Shelter will publish a report on how we can do this, and increase building of all types of home, including social rented and intermediate homes (like shared ownership).

Until that increase has happened, Shelter’s advisers will be on-hand to help those most in need access this ever-more-scarce resource.

You can donate to Shelter so that we can continue to give people advice and access a home this Christmas by texting SHELTER to 70060.

 

 


[i] Under the broad umbrella of ‘affordable homes’ comes a wide variety of different intermediate and social homes, including:

  • Shared ownership homes (part-rent, part-buy homes)
  • Intermediate rent homes (short-term homes charged at up to 80% of market rents)
  • ‘Affordable Rent’ homes (long-term homes charged at up to 80% of market rents)
  • Social rented homes (long-term homes charged at social rents – typically about 50% of market rents)

 

Zorana Halpin
 
Zorana Halpin is a Policy Officer at Shelter

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By Zorana Halpin

90,000 children will be homeless this Christmas

Britain’s homelessness crisis is getting worse.

90,000 children across England, Scotland and Wales, will wake up homeless this Christmas – even worse, that’s thousands more than last year.

You won’t see them on the street, because councils have a duty to find families that are legally homeless somewhere to stay.

But they’re still homeless – just hidden away. They’ll spend Christmas Day in temporary accommodation, like a bed and breakfast or hostel. Some will have no access to cooking facilities, and very little furniture.

Imagine eating your Christmas dinner in bed or on the floor. That’s reality for many homeless families.

And it gets worse. Because of the growing housing crisis, councils are being forced to stray further afield to find temporary accommodation – so these children may have been placed in temporary accommodation miles away from their schools, their extended family and friends.

Make no mistake – they may be out of sight but these 90,000 children are bearing the brunt of Britain’s housing crisis.

Why is this happening?

The single leading cause of homelessness, accounting for nearly a third of homelessness cases, is the end of a tenancy in the private rented sector. The proportion of homelessness cases involving the end of a tenancy in the private sector has been steadily rising over the last few year, and continues to rise.  

Private renting is insecure.  There’s nothing in the law to stop landlords asking families to leave at the end of their short fixed-term tenancy, even if they’ve lived in a home for years.

Sometimes people are evicted just for asking for the boiler to be fixed.

And because so many people are trapped renting, renting is expensive. It can be a struggle to find somewhere affordable, especially if your wages are low and you need housing benefit.

Sadly, this trend is likely to continue because we simply don’t have enough affordable homes to meet demand.

For decades, we’ve failed to build enough homes.

Until we have enough, thousands of families will have no alternative but to rent privately, and be at the mercy of the private rented sector. They’ll be immediately at risk of homelessness if they are asked to leave by their landlord and can’t find anywhere else to stay.  

Until we have enough affordable homes, we’ll see more and more families homeless and spending Christmas in temporary accommodation.

This isn’t a problem without a solution though. In fact, it’s a pretty simple problem to solve – build more homes.

First though, we need to give immediate help to the families facing homelessness this Christmas – which is what Shelter advisers do day-in and day-out.

Our expert legal advisers work directly with homeless families to try and stop them ever becoming homeless in the first place. And if the worst happens, we help them find and settle into a safe, secure new home.

But the need for our services is growing, which is why we’ve launched an emergency appeal today.

Over the long-term we need to solve the crisis by getting the government to build the affordable homes we so desperately need. And we need changes to the private rented sector so it’s more stable and secure.

90,000 children shouldn’t be homeless – let alone at Christmas.

Shelter is fighting to make sure they won’t be.

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