2014 has been a big year for housing and homelessness – and consequently a big year for Shelter.
As well as helping people on the front-line of bad housing and homelessness, our job is to campaign for change on the root causes of these problems. Often this means that you hear from us about bad things that are happening. As they say, “good news is no news”, so successes don’t tend to get much publicity – especially as they’re often behind-the-scenes steps towards a bigger goal. Nevertheless, we are making changes that have a huge impact on people’s lives.
Before we head into the general election demanding action from politicians on our housing crisis, let’s take a moment to recognise what we’ve achieved in 2014.
Politicians are starting to listen
- Housing has consistently been in the public’s top 5 national issues with YouGov – above crime, pensions and Europe.
- Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband talked about the need to build more homes in their party conference speeches this year.
- For the first time in a generation, housing is a key issue heading into the election.
Defending the housing safety net
Welfare benefits and legal protections for those facing homelessness have been hard hit in recent years, with terrible consequences for people already struggling to make ends meet. In 2014, we have campaigned hard to reverse some of the worst of these changes, as well as prevent others happening.
- Stopped the Legal Aid residence test
This year, the government attempted to introduce a strict, complex residence test for Legal Aid, which would have meant a person would have to prove their immigration status in order to receive Legal Aid in a housing case. This could have meant that British citizens who didn’t have the correct paperwork would be unable to get Legal Aid. Shelter gave evidence in a case that led to the withdrawal of this test, and the courts judged the restrictions as “unauthorised, discriminatory, and impossible to justify.”
- Secured amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
This Bill would make it difficult for Shelter and other organisations to challenge any unlawful decisions made in homelessness cases. Shelter effectively lobbied members of the House of Lords to make amendments to this bill, meaning that we can keep on challenging unlawful council decisions and help thousands of people avoid homelessness.
- Helped grow opposition to the “Bedroom Tax”
We’ve intervened to challenge the bedroom tax in court in an attempt to make it less harmful to the most vulnerable households. Thanks partly to our influence, even more organisations and politicians now oppose the “bedroom tax”.
- Made sure people got help with housing costs they were entitled to
Earlier this year, a glitch in the government’s computer system meant that some people suddenly stopped receiving housing benefit payments that they were entitled to. After these people came to us for help, we alerted the government, who have now pledged to stop this happening.
- Eased debt collection for struggling renters
This year, the government proposed to increase the amount of people’s benefit that could be deducted to pay back rent arrears from 5% to a shocking 40% – leaving people desperately short of money to live on. With the help of thousands of Shelter supporters, we helped to secure a reduction in the rate from 40% down to 10%-20%. Still too much, but it could have been much worse for some families if the original proposals had gone ahead.
- Stopped the removal of Housing benefit for under 25s
In partnership with others, we successfully stopped this proposal becoming policy when it was first proposed in 2012 and 2013. Although this idea has recently been revived, its scope has been reduced, meaning it would only impact 18 -21s, rather than under 25s. This is something we’ll continue to challenge next year to prevent it becoming government policy.
Getting affordable homes built
House-building rates have been low over the last thirty years but this year we made some very important first steps towards turning things around.
- £2bn more for building affordable homes
The government announced £2 billion of funding to increase affordable housing by two years to 2020. This is an important sign of housing’s growing importance, and we’re still keeping up the pressure to get more money spent on affordable homes, including social housing.
- Setting the agenda on getting affordable homes built
We published a report with KPMG that shows ways that politicians can build the homes we need. The report has helped shape the policy debate in the run up to the election and lots of our recommendations are already part of the agenda for government and political parties.
- Promoting different building styles
Shelter helped Richard Bacon MP to draft the Self-Build and Custom House Building Bill 2014-15, which would make councils keep registers of people and community groups who want to design and build their own homes, and provide land for them. The bill had its second reading debate on 24 October 2014.
- Space standards in new homes
In 2013, Shelter joined RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) to campaign for minimal space standards (to stop developers building new housing that is too small) Happily – and against the odds – the Government have now agreed, and the standards will come into force early this year.
- Wolfson Economics Prize
In October Shelter came runner-up in the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 – the second largest economics prize in the world – to design a new garden city. Our proposal, prepared with KPMG, Legal & General and PRP Architects, showed that the government can deliver properly affordable housing and all the infrastructure needed for a great place to live, with minimal government spending.
Improving the Private Rented Sector
- Tenancies Reform bill
Following a successful campaign from Shelter, with support from other organisations, Sarah Teather MP took forward a Private Members Bill to protect renters from revenge evictions. This bill had won government and cross party support. Unfortunately, the Bill was blocked at the second reading by two MPs who chose to talk it out. However the Liberal Democrats have now added amendments to the Deregulation Bill, which, if approved, would protect renters from revenge evictions.
- Long-term tenancies
After finally agreeing that something had to be done to improve stability for renters, the government launched family friendly tenancy agreement in October. The Labour party have also said they will introduce mandatory three year tenancies if they form the next government.
- Letting agency fees
The Government has followed our recommendations by making sure that letting agents now have to publish a full tariff of their fees on their websites and in their offices. Letting agencies who do not comply with these new rules will now face a fine of up to £5000. Meanwhile, Labour have announced that they will ban letting agent fees for renters if they are elected in 2015.
- Regulating letting agents
In response to our calls, the government now demands that all letting agents are required to be a member of a redress scheme; an independent agency that renters can complain to if they aren’t happy with their letting agent. Letting agencies who fail to do this could face a maximum fine of up to £5000.
- Immigration Act
The Government planned to introduce a law that would force landlords to investigate the immigration status of renters. Shelter argued that landlords should not be doing the job of border officials and that this could cause many British citizens and legal migrants to be discriminated against. The law is now only being piloted in one area.
While we’re still a long way from ending our housing crisis, Shelter, our supporters and partners can be very proud of important progress in 2014, which forms a strong base for us to build on as we head into the 2015 election – and beyond.