Politicians – Commit to Minimum Housing Standards, says Housing Sector Ricky Prota December 4, 2023

Politicians – Commit to Minimum Housing Standards, says Housing Sector

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In the midst of a mounting housing crisis, the call for more social housing has never been louder. Leading the charge is Inside Housing, who launched a campaign urging political parties to commit to building more social housing in their election manifestos.

This sentiment is echoed by numerous organisations across the sector. But why is the cause gaining so much traction right now? 

In this article, we will explore the reasons underpinning the urgency of this initiative. We’ll also look at the implications for developers, housing associations, and local authorities. 

Minimum Housing Standards UK – Why Do We Need Them? 

The number of UK households facing homelessness has reached record highs. Data from January to March 2023 shows that 104,510 households were living in temporary accommodation, a 10% rise compared to the last year. Among those affected included 131,370 children.

Some more important figures that illustrate the urgency of the situation are as follows: 

  • Data from The Homelessness Monitor: England 2023, showed that in 2021/22, 88% of councils reported a rise in requests for support from tenants evicted from private rented homes and 93% expected an increase in the year ahead.
  • The same source states that hotel and B&B placements have increased by 500% since 2009. The figure rose sharply when the pandemic began and again during 2022, and by Q4 of 2022, it was up by 32%. 
  • In March 2022, 1.2 million households in England were on LA waiting lists, a 4.7% increase from 2019, of which 300,000 are in London. An additional 350,000 households are on waiting lists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 
  • LAs in England spent a total of £1.6 billion on temporary accommodation last year, a 61% increase compared to the total five years ago. 
  • 1 in 100 households in England are experiencing ‘core homelessness’, the most acute form of homelessness. Forecasts suggest that in 2024, rates of core homelessness will be 20% higher than in 2020. In addition, sleeping rough increased by 26% between November 2021-2022. 

Why is the Housing Crisis Getting Worse? 

In most cases, loss of private tenancy is to blame for evictions. With rising interest rates and mortgage payments, landlords are either selling their properties or increasing rent payments beyond what their tenants can afford. 

Over the past year, there has been a 21% increase in those at risk of homelessness due to no-fault evictions (evictions for which the landlord gives no explicit reason). The government also froze housing benefits at 2020 levels, leaving tenants with higher rents to pay amidst the cost of living crisis. 

Increasing Hotel Stays for Homeless Families

In many cases, evicted families are being moved to hotels. Some have had to stay there for close to a year, despite the legal limit being six weeks. In fact, there has been a 175% increase in the number of families living in hotels beyond the six week limit compared to last year. 

Families with children are being left on the doorsteps of hotels with all their belongings – waiting for the council to book them a room (or rebook one in cases where hotels have maximum booking durations). 

Those who do manage to be rehoused are often faced with suboptimal or unhealthy living conditions due to poorly maintained properties containing mould and other hazards (the social housing contractor shutdown doesn’t help matters). In addition, many London-based families are being forced to relocate to cheaper areas outside the capital. 

How Can the UK’s Housing Need Be Met?  

The ‘Build Social’ campaign put forth by Inside Housing is asking all the main parties to commit to a programme in their manifestos that would involve building at least 900,000 homes for social rent in England over the next decade. 

90,000 homes per year would be built in England; a further 7,700 per year in Scotland and 4,000 per year in Wales brings the total to 1,117,000. 

These figures echo those that have been discussed before, but the difference with this campaign is that the sector is asking the government to commit to funding this initiative. 

Inside Housing has received the support of many organisations including the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), Crisis, Home Group, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, and Community Housing Cymru. 

A few other measures have been announced to combat the housing crisis: 

  • The Renters’ Reform Bill – when passed, no-fault evictions will be banned along with other helpful changes that protect tenants.  
  • Michael Gove has said the government will allow shops, takeaways and betting shops to be converted into living spaces. 
  • Gove has also spoken about changing planning laws so that more home extensions will be possible.

What Does This Mean for Developers, HAs and LAs? 

The staggering £1.6 billion spent on temporary accommodation emphasises the economic burden on local authorities. As such, investing in long-term housing solutions would be a more sustainable strategy than relying on temporary fixes. 

With the proposed targets of building 90,000 homes a year over the next decade in England alone, developers will see a marked increase in demand for projects aimed at social housing rather than private rent. 

There are ways for private developers to get around affordable housing obligations, so perhaps the new infrastructure levy[KM1]  could actually be of benefit after all. Perhaps this would have a knock-on effect, ensuring private developers take on the appropriate percentage of development for social rent. Regardless, housing associations will need to buildat scale. 

The growing emphasis on quality and accessibility of social housing will mean that developers may need to adhere to more stringent minimum housing standards, ensuring safe and habitable conditions for residents. 

Michael Gove’s statements on converting shops, takeaways, and betting shops into living spaces, along with eased planning laws for home extensions, indicate a potential avenue for developers to explore and capitalise upon.

The strong backing for Inside Housing’s campaign from numerous housing associations underscores the collective effort required to tackle the housing crisis, and associations will likely engage in increased partnerships and joint ventures to meet the escalating demand.

Finally, with the freeze in housing benefits and rising evictions, housing associations may need to bolster their tenant support services, offering guidance on rights, benefits, and potential housing pathways. 

In Closing

Due to the escalating cost of living crisis among other pressing concerns facing the sector, SDS firmly stands behind Inside Housing’s campaign, urging the government to pledge its commitment to address the housing shortfall.

While the campaign provides a pathway forward, above all, the onus lies on political leaders to commit to the numbers and prioritise policies that will truly address the housing needs of the UK – and to follow through on their promises. 

SDS provides viability, land valuation, property project management and CRM software – as well as consultancy services – founded on decades of industry expertise. To discover how we can support you with the upcoming challenges, contact us today. 

 [KM1]Link to article on new infrastructure levy when published. 

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