With a general election and the start of a new parliament, 2015 has been incredibly busy. We’ve barely had a chance to stop and reflect on what we’ve achieved. But it’s important to make time to do that – it’s what makes campaigning worth it – so here we are.
2015 launched with our 5-month general election campaign, calling on all party leaders to commit to building more affordable homes. We worked relentlessly to put housing on the agenda and were delighted to see it become a top-4 election issue.
As soon as the new government came into power, we sent them a giant housewarming card, signed by 60,233 Shelter supporters, to remind them to fix the giant housing crisis…
More affordable homes
The start of parliament is always a key opportunity for change, which is why we campaigned hard to make sure that funding for affordable homes was protected in the government’s financial plans for the next five years. With handwritten letters to MPs and a petition of over 23,000 signatures (hand delivered in our own red budget briefcase), we were successful: in his Comprehensive Spending Review, George Osborne not only protected the Affordable Housing Programme, he doubled it!
The government also committed £400 million for 30 new housing zones, intended to deliver 50,000 new homes in London between 2015 and 2018.
As you’ve heard us say many times before: the only sustainable solution to the housing crisis is to build more affordable homes: The measures introduced by the new government still don’t meet the scale of building necessary to fix the housing crisis, and are dangerously lacking in commitments to build genuinely affordable homes. But the Chancellor’s determination to increase building rates is a promising start – now we need to make sure his programme includes plenty of homes that are really affordable for ordinary families.
Worryingly, the government is also pushing through changes that will undermine affordable housing – just when it is needed most. We’ve been campaigning hard to get the government to rethink its plans to force councils to sell off their social homes, and to reduce security for social tenants – and we’ll continue to fight these moves in the new year.
Fixing the private rented sector
This year we’ve also seen key victories in our work to improve the private rented sector and make sure there is enough housing support for people who need it.
- After a campaign involving 17,000 Shelter supporters, the government banned revenge evictions. This now means that renters who complain about bad conditions are better protected from eviction.
- The Housing and Planning Bill 2015 (currently making its way to become law) contains measures to tackle rogue landlords that we’ve been demanding for years, including banning orders, penalty fines for rogue landlords, extension of the use of rent repayment orders to conditions cases and stronger checks for HMO landlords.
- The Co-Operative Group, The Ministry of Defence and Starbucks adopted our Rental Deposit Loan Scheme, where employers loan staff the money for a rent deposit, just like they would a season train ticket.
A housing safety net to catch those of us who need it
- We worked tirelessly to highlight the impact of cuts to date to make sure the safety net wasn’t shredded beyond repair in fresh Budget cuts.
- We put relentless pressure on the government to drop their plan to cut housing benefit for 18-21 year olds – and have received assurances that the change will not affect the most vulnerable young people, including care leavers and those fleeing abuse.
- We managed to save local welfare schemes (vital pots of money for people facing homelessness) from being abolished, so some people were still able to get help from their local safety net in 2015.
- The government have heard our calls for them to do more to prevent homelessness, and are encouraging councils to spend money on local homelessness prevention. Giving households early advice and advocacy greatly increases the chances of preventing them losing their home, so this is a vital step toward reducing homelessness.
Changing the law
As well as public campaigning, our legal and policy teams work within the justice system to change the way that homelessness is dealt with in courts. We intervene in landmark cases (cases that influence how the law is applied in similar situations in future) to make sure that homeless people are better supported and protected.
- In May, we won greater legal protection for vulnerable homeless people by intervening in a test case that sets a new precedent for the way ‘vulnerability’ is defined by local councils.
- We successfully intervened in a landmark test case to reunite a family and ensure that councils have to think more carefully when moving families out of their local area. This will help protect some families from disruption, and forces councils to factor in the impact on children’s lives when housing homeless families.
- We helped protect disabled tenants from eviction in a case that dramatically changes the way courts deal with eviction. Before, as long as landlords followed correct procedure, courts had no choice but to make an order for possession. Now, where an equality defence can be made, a landlord will have to justify the eviction as necessary and proportionate, otherwise the Court can decide that eviction should not go ahead.
On top of all of this, our efforts didn’t go unrecognised. We were shortlisted as Britain’s Most Admired Charity at the Third Sector awards (sadly we didn’t win, but it was enough of an honour to be shortlisted!).
We couldn’t have done any of this without our fantastic supporters, so thank you all. If you’ve ever signed a Shelter petition, written to your MP or responded to a government consultation, thank you.
We’ll be just as busy in 2016, and we’ll need your help.