Issue 28 • October 2008 on Housing Reform
This An in-depth look at What CIH thinks - a Join the housing
the latest issues and shortlist for housing reform debate now
edition debates on housing reform - see back page. and influence the
includes … reform. housing reform
Earlier this year the Westminster Government announced plans The implications of the current ‘credit crunch’ also have an impact
for a Green Paper on housing reform. With the new Housing for the housing reform debate. For many people home ownership
and Regeneration Act now on the statute books, policy makers seems further away than ever before. Many more will be forced
have shifted their emphasis away from issues such as infra- out of home ownership once their unsustainable fixed rate
structure and regulation, to the role of social housing and the mortgages come to an end over the next few years. Others will
rights and responsibilities of tenants and residents. face losing their jobs as unemployment continues to rise,
currently at 5.5 per cent - the highest for nearly a decade.
The debate on housing reform was But despite these problems, and the extra pressure it will place on
started by the Chartered Institute of social housing and housing choices, the credit crunch is forecast
Housing (CIH) at its UK annual to remain with us for a relatively short time. It is important that
conference in Harrogate last June. the housing reform debate looks behind the current challenges to
With the debate moving towards its provide lasting solutions to some of the systemic problems and
final stages, the Government is generation spanning issues identified by Hill and others.
likely to be well on the way to
formulating their ideas and
proposals for publication later this REMINDER OF WHAT JOHN HILLS SAID:
year. And it is Social housing plays a vital role in supporting around four million
important that all households in England (and five million across the UK). But the
the major John Hills review found that there are challenges that we need to
stakeholders join address so housing can support people better:
the reform debate
and influence • social housing has become "polarised" and "residualised" -
Government more tenants with greater needs and lower incomes live in
thinking over the social housing, and existing tenants with higher incomes
next few weeks. have left
• the number of social tenants who do not work has
Alongside the significantly increased
housing reform • housing "wealth inequalities"
debate, have widened - home
Government has owners have financial
also embarked on a series of reviews of advantages over others,
great significance to the housing sector. and people now find it
These include a Review of the Council Housing harder to enter
Finance in England and Housing Benefit, which has implications homeownership
for the whole of the UK. • "mobility" is very low -
tenants find it difficult to
In this special edition of Housing Spotlight, CIH looks at some of move house, especially for
the keys issues and themes debated over the summer. CIH also work or training
gives its own view on the direction of housing reform. • tenant dissatisfaction is
high and has worsened in
WHY IS THIS DEBATE SO IMPORTANT? some cases.
The starting point and impetus for this debate is John Hills’ review of
social housing in England published in early 2007. His analysis made
it clear that social housing – despite being affordable and secure –
does not help people make social and economic progress.
Alongside this is the Government’s desire for fairness, rights and
responsibilities across a wide range of policy areas, not just housing.
It is inevitable that the debate will and must touch on some very
sensitive areas - none more so than the link between social housing
and economic inactivity.
2 spotlight . issue 28 . october 2008
AIMS OF THE GREEN PAPER
Communities and Local Government (CLG) plan to publish a Housing reform and young
housing reform green paper towards the end of this year. The green people. Watch the videos on
paper will contain proposals on how we can change social housing You Tube:
so that housing services and options help and encourage people
towards greater economic independence and social mobility whilst
delivering greater fairness and making best use of public funding.
The green paper will explore housing services and options that:
• are different for people with different needs and in different
• are offered fairly and transparently and make best use of finite
resources There is a growing dichotomy that whilst global populations have
• are delivered through a "family" of providers which is led by more opportunity to travel and migrate, movement within the UK is
local authorities - but includes housing associations and the becoming more challenging. The limited supply of private and social
private rented sector housing and the issue of affordability are major contributors to the
• make ownership of all or part of a home more accessible. lack of mobility in the UK. The other is the difficulty of moving
within social housing – locally, regionally or nationally - for economic
reasons such as finding employment or career development. Both
reasons are contributing to a divided society highlighted, in part, by
the fact that around sixty per cent of social housing tenants receive
Join the housing reform housing benefit. So if economic activity is so fundamental to ‘moving
debate now and on’ in housing careers and life, should this be factored into the
influence the housing allocation of social housing alongside the big three of homelessness,
reform green paper. health and overcrowding?
Social housing has always been there to help the most needy in
http://housingreform.cih.co.uk society and it is clear that this must continue. But the definition of
‘needy’, as traditionally applied, is very narrow in today’s housing
market. The lack of supply and increasing house prices have brought
WHAT ARE THE KEY AREAS FOR DEBATE? in a new market of people, who wouldn’t normally be classed as
Government has suggested five main areas to consider in the ‘needy’, but they do have a strong case for more help and support.
housing reform debate. There are others, but it is clear that few of So is it still fair that only the most needy get access to social housing,
the debates offer any easy answers or solutions. An open and and once that need ends what should be done to stop the system
constructive debate is needed to make progress in this difficult stagnating?
Housing and young people Home ownership is undeniably the tenure of choice. And facilitating
Forty per cent of all lettings go to people under 24. Many of them ownership is a natural vote winner. But the movement into home
have an expectation to be allocated social housing. A large ownership is difficult from other tenures. This might be right because
proportion of people don’t move on in their housing careers. ownership is clearly not suitable for all. Arguably, it is also reckless
To many this does not seem right and there is a difficult and with the fundamental health of our economy if ownership is funded
problematic discussion to have about limiting entitlements to through irresponsible lending and founded on bad financial advice
social housing. and awareness. So how can we deliver more home ownership which
balances individual aspirations with responsible decision-making?
There is an even harder debate about rights and responsibilities. And what can we do to make renting a more positive choice?
An uncomfortably high number of young people in social housing
are economically inactive, and possess fewer skills and The wider role
qualifications compared to people in other forms of tenure. The Housing providers have a long track record of tackling social
debate is complicated by the often difficult personal circumstances disadvantage and encouraging progress amongst their tenants.
of many young people. Few in this category have a fast or clear There is growing recognition of this work, although it is not core
path to independence. Good policy in relation to housing and business for the sector and the policy framework for its
young people may be the key to breaking the growing issues implementation, alongside the range of other partners, is not always
identified by Hills. Organisations like the Joseph Rowntree clear and understood. There are opportunities to work closer with
Foundation have produced good work on homelessness and agencies such as Jobcentre Plus, but this may complicate relationships
research into ‘rewarding young people for pro-social behaviour’, with tenants, in a sector which already experiences lower levels of
but how reasonable and practical is it to attach conditions, such as customer satisfaction compared to other public sector services.
a commitment to seek employment or training to a tenancy? So what is the sector’s wider role and where could it make the
spotlight . issue 28 . october 2008 3
CIH launched a housing reform discussion She continued: "There isn’t a lot of information out there for us to
access and if there is it’s all in company jargon. We don’t know that,
website in June to help get to the heart of the
you need to talk to us on our level. People should work with us".
key debates. Links to the site have been placed
on over 30 websites to ensure all the major Bianca Lilley, from London, said: "I personally think that the options
stakeholders are included in the debate. In this for young people are very limited. It’s all very well going into shared
accommodation and shared housing, but the options after moving
section CIH looks in more detail at some of the
on are very, very limited…I think if there are more options it means
current debates on the key issues. you don’t have to depend on supported housing. Supported housing
is secure and people are there to listen, but once you move on,
you’re by yourself and there are not enough options for young
HOUSING REFORM AND YOUNG PEOPLE people to choose from."
With housing reform likely to affect young people in particular, it is
important that their voice is heard. At the outset of the reform Glen Lashley, from Birmingham, was keen that Government focussed
debate Government has been keen to listen to the views of young on offering more vulnerable young people better security of tenure:
people, as well as other stakeholders, who don’t normally have the "I’ve worked with a lot of young people and they’re not ready to
opportunity to influence housing policy. As a result CIH has taken have their own accommodation but they have no choice but to get
the opportunity to help young people from across the country to their own accommodation…because of that a lot of them lose their
send some clear messages to Government on a range of housing tenancy. A better support structure for vulnerable young people
issues including homelessness, benefits and support agencies. would be great."
CIH has worked with members of the National Youth Reference A better support
Group – part of the National Youth Homelessness Scheme – to
produce a series of 14 short video clips on a range of issues. The
videos have been uploaded onto ‘You Tube’ to help stimulate vulnerable
The videos were filmed at St Basils in the West Midlands and feature would be great."
young people from London, West Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and
Birmingham. All have faced real challenges in relation to housing Samantha Jackson, from Hertfordshire, also stressed the importance
from an early age and are able to talk in depth about the positives of good skills and education to help homeless people: "Not that
and negatives of the current housing system. many people have life skills to cope on their own. There are quite a
few young people who think it’s cool to not get an education but it
The views of young people doesn’t lead you anywhere in the long run…. They need more life
Ashanti Webb, from Birmingham, highlighted problems with skills and budgeting skills to come off benefits or after living with
accessing support and advice. She said: "You’ve got your Connexions their parents.
and your drug service…you have to travel round the whole of
Birmingham just to access these services. What if you had one that "When you’ve got your own place you feel more confident, you feel
was all together in one house so that young people…. can get you’ve achieved something. Now I’m in my own place I feel more
everything from one service. If you’re on benefits you haven’t got the confident to go out there and re-do my GCSEs and try to get on a
money to keep paying £3 here and there to go here and there". course that will lead me to counselling."
You’ve got your Connexions and your drug service…you have to travel
round the whole of Birmingham just to access these services. What if
you had one that was all together in one house so that young
people…. can get everything from one service.
4 spotlight . issue 28 . october 2008
The professionals’ view CIH wants all councils in England to be able to retain income from
Debates amongst housing professionals over the summer have council house rents in order to plan for better quality housing in the
revealed some agreement on some of the key issues articulated by long term and improve services to tenants. It wants an end to the
young people, especially education and good advice. Both are process of redistributing overall revenue between councils and for
concerned about the high loss of tenancies in the first year caused by councils to have the power, together with tenants, to set their own
a basic lack of life skills and knowledge, which often results in rent levels, within guidelines. Councils should also be able to keep
outcomes such as rent arrears and abandonment. any surplus income at a local level. CIH wants the new system to put
all councils on a level playing field and wants Government to address
One contributor to the housing reform website summed up the the issue of historic debt.
concerns of many housing professionals*: “Homeless young people
under the age of 18 automatically get a tenancy hopefully with a CIH believes reform towards a devolved system would allow for local
guarantor but sometimes without. We do not know whether or not authorities to become more autonomous and flexible, to plan long
they are able to balance their finances, whether they are responsible term to meet local priorities, maintain their housing stock, lever
citizens and happy to comply with the responsibilities of their additional funding for investment and provide additional services to
tenancy or whether they do not give a hoot to their neighbours tenants. With autonomy, councils should ensure that housing plays
rights for peace and hold parties every night and cause other anti its role in the overall place-shaping agenda and that residents have
social behaviour. Rent is paid by Housing Benefit so no greater control over the services delivered.
encouragement is given to find employment. I believe this sets up the
young person’s future expectations.” REFORM OF HOUSING BENEFIT
In July, Rt. Hon Stephen Timms MP, Minister of State for Employment
Another contributor was keen to promote more financial and Welfare outlined some of his own thoughts about the future of
independence*: “This age group need social support and often housing benefit, and wider welfare reform, at an event hosted by
financial support too, as they make the transition to adulthood and CIH. He said:
independence. For me independence means having a job and the
ability to meet your own housing needs. By the age of about 25-35 “The idea that Housing Benefit is merely a means of transferring cash
young people should be able to afford to buy a home, or rent from the state to the customer, with no strings attached, cannot be
privately if they choose. To me the notion of an 18 year old with no sustained. Welfare is no longer delivered to the individual passively
skills, job or financial independence being put into social housing is by the State, without conditions.
not sensible. Young people need to concentrate on growing their
skills, their resources, knowledge and relationships”. “Work is the best route out of poverty. Welfare is to help people live
fulfilling and productive lives. Independence is at the heart of our
Other contributors believe the current system is just storing up ambitions for welfare reform. The welfare state was conceived to
problems for later life*: “We do young people a disservice by offering foster independence. It gives people the support they need, not so
them tenancies before they are mature enough to be responsible that they become dependent but precisely so that they do not. We
citizens. Under the homelessness legislation 16 and 17 year olds are are changing the rest of the system to work much better, but we
automatically in priority need and as such Local Authorities have a need to make sure that Housing Benefit is consistent with these
duty to offer accommodation. This decision was made before any principles too”.
suitable accommodation was made available.
On the current housing benefit system he said: “Too few customers
“Obviously not all young people cause a nuisance but there are those today receive their benefit themselves, or can exercise choice over
who are not able to consider their neighbours, who cannot manage where they live or how much of their benefit they pay in rent.
their budgets, who cause anti social behaviour with loud parties etc. Housing Benefit is passive…I am convinced we can
Giving tenancies also start them on the route of benefits. Right at the give people far more control than they have at
moment they start "adult" life everything is handed to them on a the moment; far more responsibility for
plate and we remove their motivation to work to achieve their home.” managing their own financial affairs and far
more choice in finding decent, affordable,
REVIEW OF COUNCIL HOUSING FINANCE housing.“
CLG and HM Treasury are undertaking a fundamental review of the
Housing Revenue Account (HRA) subsidy system. Although not part of Speaking about his thoughts on potential areas for
the proposed Green paper, it is a far reaching review, reflecting on reform, he said: “Housing benefit is to ensure that
standards in social housing and how these are set and funded. It aims people on low incomes have access to decent housing.
to ‘develop a sustainable, long term system for financing council That core purpose will stay. But beyond that, how does
housing, one that is consistent with wider housing policy, including Housing Benefit help people into work? How does it
the establishment of a regulator of social housing’. help them exercise choice and responsibility? Is
it fair? Is its administration efficient and
CIH has provided independent facilitation through a series of good value for money? The Review of
workshops which has supported the Review. The review of Council Housing Benefit will look at all those
Housing Finance is more advanced than some of the other current questions”.
debates. The current system is much criticised and change is
expected with an announcement expected in 2009. With the support Continued over...
of its membership, CIH has already announced a clear position.
*Visit http://housingreform.cih.co.uk for more comments spotlight . issue 28 . october 2008 5
Reaction Even so, some housing professionals remain sceptical. Comments on
A number of tenants have debated the benefits system issue on the CIH’s housing reform discussion site include*: “I am not sure how
CIH’s Housing Reform website. Their comments have included*: much thought has been given to the enormous burden this could place
“It [the benefits system] needs to be made more transparent and on Registered Social Landlords who would have hundreds or thousands
easier to work out what housing benefit you are entitled to. I feel more tenants with arrears, and the knock-on effect on the court
the present system is leaving people in great hardship as a housing service, evictions, homelessness applications, not to mention the social
benefit claim is not paying all or enough to those with the costs and misery for households sinking into housing debt”.
The Government’s look at housing benefit is limited to an internal
“I myself am on incapacity benefit and so is my wife and we have review at present. But it seems clear that their desire to encourage
to pay £20 a week rent and £12 a fortnight council tax. This is a greater financial awareness, personal ownership and independence
massive amount to pay out and this is why people get into could have a major impact on the sector.
difficulty paying and getting into debt”.
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING?
Other tenants have concerns about the administrative system*: One of the most contentious
“…the council offices that deal with these claims are far too slow debates is potentially linking social
and arrears have mounted to several hundreds of pounds by the housing to conditions such as
time you get a decision. And even then the amount of times you commitments to look for work,
get a wrong decision is far too high”. training and other responsibilities.
The debate was ignited in Caroline
The Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) wants to see a Flint's first speech as housing
balance between compulsion and incentives. They want proposals minister in February 2008. It
to be rooted in evidence, fair and proportionate. In their sparked some strong comment in
submission to Government on housing reform they said: “We want the sector by suggesting that
to see the barriers to work removed; not people penalised for long tenants could risk losing their
term unemployment. We would be concerned if the homes if they fail to look for work.
recommendations from the forthcoming Housing Benefit review In her speech she asked a series of
did not address the adverse impact of the tapers and disregards questions linked to worklessness
that act as a disincentive. The Housing Green Paper must ensure that have continued to echo and
issues such as steep HB tapers and disincentives around returning still need answering:
to work such as disregards for returning to work periods, are
addressed. The problems with Working Family Tax Credits and • Should existing tenants who need to move for work be given
income estimates remain a challenge for low income households higher priority on waiting lists?
trying to sustain employment”. • Could new tenants, who can work, sign commitment contracts
when getting a tenancy, agreeing to actively seek work alongside
• How can we improve the links between housing services and
Seven months down the line Flint has continued to air some of the
difficult public debates around housing and wider policy reforms.
Prior to this year’s autumn Labour Party Conference she said:
Confronting the issues
‘Part of being a minister and politician is being brave enough to
actually confront some issues that are rather uncomfortable
sometimes.’ She reiterated her concern that: “a third of houses or flats
given through social landlords had gone to young people under 25 of
whom 80 per cent were out of work … we’re basically handing the
keys to, in some cases, a newly-built flat or home and that’s the end of
the story. I wouldn’t accept that for my own children and I wouldn’t
Early indications are that Government is looking at the changes to want to accept it for anybody else’s children.’
the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), rolled out nationally in April, as a
potential model for the payment of housing benefit. In itself the But the minister also seeks to reassure those who have real housing
new system for LHA was a very significant change for tenants in the need that they will not be disregarded. At the same time, however, she
private rented sector. In addition, some financial institutions have suggests that the present system is ‘like a race to the bottom’. Despite
already seen the potential with a pre-paid card system – potentially the best of intentions, the current system rewards the family or
an important stepping stone to mainstream banking for some individual who can ‘present themselves as practically on the verge of
financially excluded people. collapse,’ rather than ‘someone who is in housing need and is finding it
difficult to combine work with paying market rents.’
6 spotlight . issue 28 . october 2008
She continued: ‘Personally, I find that demeaning and a dysfunctional PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR
system because … there will be people who can play the game in order To some the Private Rented Sector (PRS) is a new and relatively
to get what they want – and we have created that system, we’ve unexplored opportunity to solve some of the issues facing social
forced people to play in that way.’ housing. The greater abundance of supply has strong appeal and
may outweigh some of the inherent problems, such as a perceived
After an initial outcry from housing professionals and other lack of professional standards. According to the Citizens Advice
stakeholders, many housing professionals still seem to be digesting the Bureau, one in five private sector tenants were dissatisfied with the
implications of conditionality. On balance people seem to be reluctant quality of repairs carried out by their landlord and feared retaliatory
to engage fully in this most difficult of debates, at this stage. action if they complained to authorities. On the other hand,
However, there is an opposing view and this has been put forward landlords can face problems with poor tenants not paying rent and
several times on the housing reform website*: anti-social behaviour.
“Surely we should be incentivising people to work rather than Earlier this year, Government commissioned an independent review
threatening them with the stick of eviction? The carrot always works of the private rented sector, headed by Julie Rugg and David Rhodes
better than the stick... Caroline Flint's idea couldn't be further from from the Centre for Housing Policy at York University. The review
what we actually need and just punishes people who are already in is considering PRS’s users, quality of accommodation and
dire straits. Instead of judging out of work people, we should be giving future demand.
them a help to get back to work. Then, and only then, should we
consider more drastic measures, such as cutting benefits, or even Some of the opportunities and concerns about PRS are being
public service, but never, ever, should we consider evicting people from reflected by contributors to the housing reform website *: “There is a
their home because they refuse to work.” lot of stock out there [private rented sector] that could quite easily
provide a viable alternative to the social sector for many people but
until those of us working in the profession make more of an effort to
‘Surely we should be incentivising people to break down the barriers between the two sectors we are unlikely to
work rather than threatening them with the see much reform. Having worked in both sectors I am aware of both
the fundamental differences and the huge similarities.”
stick of eviction? The carrot always works better
than the stick...’ One of the key issues to resolve with the PRS is lack of security of
tenure. In complete contrast to the system of social housing, the PRS
is geared away from security to a system which manages a high
churn of tenancies and deters investment in home and community
by tenants. The question for Government is how do you encourage,
or compel landlords, to grant secure tenancies over a longer term.
Many PRS landlords would want to keep flexibility. And not everyone
wants to get rid of their property for a long period and not everyone
For most PRS landlords the overriding aim is to get a return on their
investment and the implications of this on the standard of private
housing stock and sustainability of communities is one of the main
concerns of housing professionals in the social sector.
Another contributor to the housing reform website said*: “The PRS
has a lot of work to do to change its reputation and it could learn a
lot from the social sector but this needs an open mind from both
camps and an attitude that good practice is good practice wherever
it comes from”.
Join the housing reform
debate now and
influence the housing
reform green paper.
*Visit http://housingreform.cih.co.uk for more comments spotlight . issue 28 . october 2008 7
WHAT CIH THINKS - a shortlist for housing reform
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) is consulting widely in the development of its
submission to Government on Housing Reform. Here are some of the emerging themes
• Improved knowledge of shared ownership products. CIH would welcome more
CIH is likely to ask Government to consider in their Green Paper. Shaping debate and communication, better targeting to likely client groups and simplification of products, to ensure
ideas around these themes will be a central part of our work in the coming months. people are aware of their full housing options offer.
You can contribute your ideas at: http://housingreform.cih.co.uk/ • Integration of shared ownership products into a flexible tenure model. CIH believes this
would provide security and sense of ownership for people who can no longer sustain full
WIDE RANGING REFORM homeownership or who want to change into ownership from renting without moving house.
• Holistic approach. CIH is clear that any programme of housing reform must look at the
housing market as a whole. Housing reform must be linked to wider policy reform such as the
welfare system. Reform must embrace the needs of everyone and avoid focussing on specific HOME OWNERSHIP
and relatively small sections of the population. • Advice. CIH would urge good housing advice to be available to all, including potential and
existing home owners and shared owners.
• Planning housing careers over lifetimes. CIH would like to see improved decision-making
on housing options. CIH wants access for everyone to a clear, transparent source of advice and • Low cost ownership products. CIH would support any extension of these products to avoid the
information about housing options to meet lifetime needs. need for people to stretch their affordability levels above what is sustainable.
• Flexible tenure. CIH would like to see major changes to interactions between tenures in the • Universal savings scheme. CIH would support the establishment of a savings scheme to
UK. Moving between different tenure options should become more normal. support entry into home ownership and shared ownership when it is affordable and sustainable.
• New approach to flexible tenure. CIH would welcome a new mechanism to help home owners
SOCIAL HOUSING staircase down into shared ownership when their circumstances change acutely e.g. divorce,
• Housing allocations. CIH believes robust discussion is needed on who is allocated social bereavement and redundancy.
housing, how lettings are prioritised, and how the overall system interfaces with support and
housing options. The role and purpose of social housing needs to be clearer. • Reverse equity market. CIH is concerned about the sell and rent back and equity release
markets and would welcome more regulation and more suitable provision to avoid damaging
• A move towards flexible tenure and tenure reviews. CIH would welcome a move to a housing careers.
system of housing tenure and management offering more choice, and is capable of responding
to changing circumstances and aspirations. • Vulnerable home owners. CIH would welcome the development of an integrated system of
support for vulnerable homeowners to avoid financial hardship and repossession.
• Joined up approach to mobility. CIH would like to see the opportunity for tenants to have a
greater choice of providers and a stronger ability to move for employment or social needs. • House buying. CIH believes more work is needed to simplify and improve the process of buying
a house in England, including HIPS.
PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR • Stamp duty. CIH considers the current model creates unnecessary pressure points and distorts
• Improving access. CIH believes work is needed to look at how to improve choice of private transactions. CIH would welcome a review of the scheme.
rental accommodation for tenants in receipt of housing benefit.
• Banks and financial institutions. CIH wants development of a long-term system of responsible
• Improving quality and management. CIH believes a different approach to regulation is lending to responsible consumers, tying financial regulation to financial capability and inclusion.
needed to help establish good standards as the norm, with effective remedies for poor services.
• Real estate sector. The sale and purchase of properties must reflect the significance of the
• Supporting housing aspirations. CIH would like to see more support to enable people to personal investment being made by an individuals and landlords. CIH would welcome a review of
save and move towards sustainable home ownership from the private rented sector. roles and responsibilities.