The coming Queen’s Speech isn’t just about the pomp and grandeur of the occasion, it’s a major opportunity to tackle the housing emergency laid bare by the pandemic.
This Queen’s Speech offers the government a chance to reset; to lay out their intentions for the year ahead. In this blog, we will set out what we expect to see and how we think the government should use the Queen’s Speech to make renting fairer and tackle our national shortage of social homes.
Putting Social Housing First in Planning Reform
It’s been widely trailed that the government will announce a bill to plough ahead with planning reform. The planning system is far from the biggest barrier right now to delivering more social housing, which are the kind of homes we need to tackle our housing emergency.
So, focussing on planning – instead of funding or getting more land for social housing more cheaply – is the wrong priority.
But it’s potentially even worse than that. In our response to the Planning White Paper, we detailed how the new ‘Infrastructure Levy’ could threaten existing social housing delivery and said that to develop an entirely new system much more evidence and testing is needed.
The government has committed that the change will lead to at least as much affordable housing delivered through the new planning system as through the current system. And the prime minister made an explicit commitment to at least as much social housing being delivered.
But there’s no detail of how those promises will be kept. Unless that detail is produced before the legislative process begins, the risk is that the promises amount to little more than ‘best intentions.’
Fixing Social Housing Regulation
Since the fire at Grenfell Tower, Shelter has campaigned alongside Grenfell United and many others to reform how social housing is managed – to ensure that no residents are ever again put at risk in their homes. The government produced their proposal for how to do this in the social housing white paper, and the Queen’s Speech is the opportunity for it to be put into action
While it won’t be a new, independent social housing regulator of consumer standards – as campaigners have been calling for – the white paper does propose once in a generation changes to social housing. If done right, they will make a real difference to the lives of social renters.
But to get the process going, government must bring forward legislation. The Regulator and the Ombudsman cannot begin developing an effective regulatory regime without important changes to the law, to ensure it has teeth. It’s nearly four years on from the fire at Grenfell Tower. Social renters have been waiting for change for too long, the government must not delay any further.
Finally Delivering Fair Private Renting
Private renters have been waiting since 2019 for the government to follow through on the promise to scrap Section 21 ‘no fault evictions.’ It was something government said it would do in last year’s Queen’s Speech and is a huge bit of unfinished business.
While understandably, this year the government has been occupied primarily with coronavirus (COVID-19), this commitment cannot slip further. The pandemic has exposed exactly why reform of the private rented sector is so urgently needed. Due to the precarious nature of renting, the government had to step in and ban all evictions from the sector to avoid a wave of homelessness.
Our latest research shows that over three million private renters have been forced to live in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. The fear of being served with a ‘no-fault’ eviction notice stops renters from complaining about their living conditions, meaning bad landlords are not held to account.
In the past twenty years, the sector has doubled in size. Families and older people are struggling in privately rented homes that offer little security or routes to redress when things go wrong. The government has acknowledged the problems in the sector, now they must get on and deliver the solutions.
Throughout the past 18 months, our homes were meant to have been the first line of defence against coronavirus – the Queen’s Speech must ensure that they are genuinely safe and suitable for those who live in them. It can do that by making sure that renters, both social and private, get reforms to regulation that will make them safer and more secure in their homes. And by making sure that planning reform helps to tackle our shortage of social homes, rather than making it worse.