What does the Queen’s Speech have to do with the housing emergency?

What does the Queen’s Speech have to do with the housing emergency?

On Tuesday 10 May, the Queen’s Speech will mark the start of a new parliamentary session. This event is a chance for the government to lay out its plans for the next 12 months, by setting out its priorities and intentions for the year ahead. And it’s a major opportunity for the government to take concrete action to end the housing emergency. But if we’re going to see any substantial change, three crucial bills must first be announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

The pandemic has laid bare the inequalities at the heart of the country’s spiralling housing emergency. Millions spent lockdown after lockdown in damp, overcrowded or dangerous homes, and tens of thousands of households weathered the pandemic in cramped and insecure temporary accommodation. Never has it been clearer that the country is in desperate need of a new generation of genuinely affordable, good quality social homes. But due to Right to Buy, demolitions and decades of deprioritisation, we’re losing social homes faster than we build them. Since 1991, there has been an average annual net loss of 24,000 social homes. Last year, fewer than 6,000 social homes were built across England – nowhere near enough to meet the need of the million households on social housing waiting lists across the country.

The reason we build such a pitifully low number of social homes is because the system is rigged against building social housing. Private developers can wriggle out of obligations to build social homes, government funding for so-called ‘affordable housing’ favours less affordable types of homes, and the land market makes it nearly impossible for councils to purchase land at a fair price and actually build social homes. The government needs to fix this failing system if we are going to build social housing at the scale that we need. That means making homes for social rent the priority tenure in the Affordable Homes Programme, reforming the planning system to incentivise social housebuilding, and reforming the Land Compensation Act so that councils can pay a fair price for land.

In the Levelling Up White Paper, the government promised to bring forward a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. While the scope of the bill is still unknown, it is likely to incorporate some planning reforms and housing commitments from the White Paper. The White Paper committed to increasing the supply of social housing, but the government has not yet committed any additional funding for social housebuilding or set social housebuilding targets for the government to meet. We need more than warm words: the government must use the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill as a chance to fix the rules that make it so difficult to build social housing.

The Renters’ Reform Bill

Private renters have been waiting since 2019 for the government to follow through on its commitment to scrap section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. In the last Queen’s Speech, the government promised to publish a White Paper, which would set out its intentions for the long-awaited Renters’ Reform Bill. As well as a recommitment to scrapping ‘no fault’ evictions, this included the introduction of a national landlord register, which would be a major step change in driving up standards in the sector. England is the only UK country without an official scheme that registers landlords, and a national register would be crucial in professionalising the sector and cracking down on rogue landlords.

More than ever before, the last two years have exposed just how precarious private renting is and why wholesale reform is so urgently needed. Private renters are paying through the nose for properties that are often in poor condition and where they have little security. Shelter’s 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 20 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 it must get on and deliver the solutions. But one year since the last Queen’s Speech and we’re still waiting for the White Paper to be published. The government must announce the Renters’ Reform Bill in this Queen’s Speech, publish the White Paper, and commit to a clear timeline to bring forward the bill.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill

This June will mark five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, in which at least 72 people lost their lives and hundreds lost their homes. Since then, Shelter has campaigned alongside Grenfell United and many others to reform how social housing is regulated – to ensure that no residents are ever ignored or put at risk in their homes again. In 2020, the government set out its proposals for reforms that would make sure ‘social housing tenants are treated with the respect they deserve’. But these changes were missing from last year’s Queen’s Speech and social housing residents are still waiting for real change.

Last week, the government published a draft Social Housing Regulation Bill. The draft bill would amend existing legislation in order to bolster the Regulator of Social Housing’s role and the action it can take to regulate standards in social housing. Our blog goes into more detail about what changes the bill would enact.

We’ve previously written about what needs to change in the sector to make sure social housing is properly regulated and ensure social housing tenants are listened to when they raise complaints. The draft bill is positive and a big step in the right direction. However, the bill has not yet been put in front of Parliament and the government has yet to commit to a timeline. The Regulator and the Housing Ombudsman cannot begin developing and implementing an effective regulatory regime without important changes to the law, to ensure it has teeth. Social renters have been waiting for change for too long. The government must not delay any further and must introduce the bill to Parliament immediately.

This Queen’s Speech is a major opportunity to finally take action to fix the housing emergency. If the government is to ensure everyone has a safe, secure and genuinely affordable place to call home, we need to see all of these bills announced in the Queen’s Speech and brought forward in the next year.

Help us make this a reality: join our campaign and sign Shelter’s open letter calling for the government to take action to end the housing emergency in this year’s Queen’s Speech.