Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Fifth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

A Decent Home for all?

1.  The Committee welcomes the policy of setting a minimum standard for a Decent Home. (Paragraph 6)

Criterion 1: Meeting the current minimum standard for housing

2.  We reiterate and extend our earlier recommendation that the Government should ensure the allocation of sufficient funding to deal with the consequences of introducing the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System (HHSRS). With an estimated increase in the number of non-Decent Homes of some 450,000, funding will be required not only for training Environmental Health Officers to enforce the new system, but also for dealing with an overall increase in the number of non-Decent Homes. (Paragraph 26)

Criterion 3: Reasonably modern facilities and services

3.  The Committee recognises the need to safeguard the rights of all occupants to the level of facilities and services covered by criterion three. However, we also believe that the Decent Homes standard is too inflexible in stipulating that kitchens and bathrooms of a certain age must be replaced. This means that in some cases facilities in good order, and with which occupants are perfectly happy, are replaced. In other cases, poor facilities which are not old enough to be replaced under the standard are left in place. (Paragraph 37)

4.  We believe that the requirements for modern facilities should be weighted according to tenant preferences. A greater degree of flexibility and tenant choice should be applied in determining which facilities are to be replaced, with assessment based on quality and functionality as well as the views of occupiers, rather than exclusively on age. (Paragraph 39)

Criterion 4: A reasonable degree of thermal comfort

5.  The Committee does not consider that it would be helpful, or indeed fair towards housing providers, to change the goalposts for the thermal comfort criterion for the 2010 target at this stage. However, the Committee does believe that the thermal comfort criterion provided for in the Decent Homes standard is far too low. We recommend that in the new 'Decent Homes Plus' target which we propose paragraph 91 below, the required levels of thermal comfort should be in line with the building standards in force at the time when such a target were to be set. (Paragraphs 48 and 49)

6.  The 'Decent Homes Plus' target, recommended below, should not only include a much more ambitious thermal comfort criterion, but it must also work in tandem with other key policies such as the Fuel Poverty Strategy and energy efficiency targets. Funding for the different programmes must be closely coordinated. (Paragraph 57)

7.  We recommend that when defining the thermal comfort criterion for the 'Decent Homes Plus' standard, a widely used and recognised industry measure such as SAP ratings should be used. We regard it as vital that the measure chosen is used across all the targets and policies in the energy efficiency area, irrespective of the sponsoring Government Department. (Paragraph 62)

Aspects excluded from the definition

8.  The Committee is convinced that accessibility standards for elderly and disabled people should have been incorporated into the original Decent Homes Standard, and we therefore recommend that nationally recognised accessibility criteria should be incorporated into a 'Decent Homes Plus' standard. (Paragraph 65)

9.  The Committee finds it unacceptable that work carried out to achieve the Decent Homes standard may in fact lead to a worsening of accessibility for elderly and disabled people. We recommend that the ODPM take immediate steps to ensure that accessibility standards are met in all work carried out on dwellings in order to meet the Decent Homes Standard. (Paragraph 68)

10.  The Committee believes that noise transfer between homes is a frequent problem which greatly reduces the quality of life of those affected. We recommend that internal noise insulation between and within dwellings be included in the 'Decent Homes Plus' standard which we recommend below. (Paragraph 71)

Too basic to be decent?

11.  The Committee is concerned about the fact that, already in 2004, there seems to be a considerable discrepancy between what tenants aspire to as being Decent, and what the Decent Homes Standard guarantees. This discrepancy can only grow over time, and the Chief Inspector of Housing at the Audit Commission is likely to be right in his assessment that the standard will be seen as "old hat" by 2010. It is regrettable that the ODPM has pegged the standard at such a basic level, only to tell social housing providers that they are actually expected to improve homes to a higher standard. Problems arise in two interconnected ways. Firstly, funding arrangements are geared towards providing the level of funding needed to bring homes up to the Decent Homes standard as currently defined, so it is unclear how further investments are meant to be funded, particularly for ALMOs, PFI schemes, and Local Authority retained stock. Secondly, if social landlords are unable to bring their stock to standards higher than the Decent Homes standard, it is likely that by 2010, social housing will still be seen as the poor relation with a degree of stigma attached. (Paragraph 78)

Decent Homes in relation to the Sustainable Communities agenda

12.  We recommend that the Sustainable Communities and Decent Homes policies be properly integrated, and the funding coordinated so that a home can only be seen as decent if the external environment and neighbourhood are also decent and sustainable. (Paragraph 87)

Decent Homes Plus?

13.  The Committee would like to see a more ambitious definition of Decent Homes, whilst at the same time recognising that it would be unhelpful to move the goalposts for the 2010 target at this stage. The Committee recommends that a more aspirational 'Decent Homes Plus' PSA target be set now for achievement at a later date, in which a higher and broader standard is aimed for. Depending on the exact level and breadth of this new 'Decent Homes Plus' Standard, the target date should be set in the 2015-2020 range. (Paragraph 91)

14.  The new 'Decent Homes Plus' should be better aligned to the wishes and expectations of occupants, and it should include:

a) A much more ambitious thermal comfort criterion which is in line with building regulations in force at the time when the new Standard is set. Policy development, evaluation and funding for this criterion must be closely integrated with other key policies such as the Fuel Poverty Strategy.

b)  Accessibility standards for elderly and disabled people

c)  Internal noise insulation within and between dwellings

d)  Standards for the external environment such as communal areas should be included in the standard. This may be done through an integration and coordination of the Sustainable Communities policy with the Decent Homes policy.

We would not expect Local Authorities and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) to formally start recording or monitoring progress against the 'Decent Homes Plus' standard until a later date. However, we would hope that most choose to incorporate it into their planning as soon as possible. (Paragraph 92)

The rate of progress

15.  The Committee is disturbed by the large unacknowledged and unexplained discrepancies found in the data provided by the ODPM on progress towards the Decent Homes target. The discrepancies effectively make it impossible to assess whether the Department is on course to delivering one of its key PSA targets. We recommend that the ODPM investigate this matter very carefully, and that it make public its findings and a full explanation along with the most accurate set of figures and projections.(Paragraph 101)

16.  The Committee is concerned that a lack of funding as well as the delays caused by lengthy options appraisals procedures and tenant ballots may result in Local Authorities being unable to meet the 2010 target. (Paragraph 107)

17.  We are not persuaded that the ODPM is doing everything possible to ensure the target is met in full across the different sectors. In particular, we are concerned that the year on year rate of improvement is not rising fast enough to meet the target. We recommend that the ODPM take immediate action to ensure that the rate of improvement be increased and sustained at the level required. (Paragraph 111)

The cost of reaching the target

18.  The discrepancies in the ODPM data makes it virtually impossible to assess whether the currently projected funding provisions are likely to be adequate for keeping the social housing sector on track to meeting the Decent Homes target. The Committee is concerned that sufficient funding may not be being planned for, especially given the ODPM's own admission that the cost of bringing each home up to the Decent Homes target is likely to increase in real terms over time, as Social Landlords come to deal with the more difficult stock. We recommend that the Government address this issue with urgency. (Paragraph 116)

19.  The Committee is concerned that, having set a very limited target for Decent Homes in the private sector, the Government should now address seriously how this target is to be achieved. (Paragraph 119)

Local Authority housing

20.  The Committee recommends that the Government revisit its dogmatic pursuit of the separation of stock management and strategic management of housing. A flexible policy and a level playing field is needed so that tenants and Councillors can tailor solutions to suit local circumstances. In some cases, the optimal solution, as well as the one preferred by tenants, may well be that the Local Authority retain full ownership and management responsibilities. (Paragraph 128)

21.  We have not heard evidence that creating an ALMO per se enhances the achievement of Decent Homes, or indeed of tenant satisfaction. The option of creating an ALMO should continue to be available to Local Authorities, but there should be no financial incentive for Councils to do so. (Paragraph 139)

22.  In the Committee's view, PFI schemes are not well suited as a key instrument for achieving Decent Homes. The schemes are highly complex, and unsuitable as whole-stock options. Furthermore, they do not guarantee increasing levels of tenant participation and choice, one of the key aims of the Government. (Paragraph 141)

23.  The prudential borrowing rights introduced through the Local Government Act are not sufficient to create a level playing field. The Committee recommends that Local Authorities be granted wider rights to borrow prudentially against rental income streams for the purpose of improvements to the stock and to help create sustainable communities. We recommend that the Government reconsider adopting the principle of investment allowances to Local Authorities. (Paragraph 152)

24.  The Committee agrees with those stakeholders who argue that Local Authorities hold the potential to manage housing stock just as effectively as RSLs, ALMOs or PFI schemes. Consequently, Government financial support available for investment in Decent Homes under those schemes should be available on an equal footing to Local Authorities managing their own stock. (Paragraph 154)

25.  The Committee has been deeply concerned to learn of the catch-22 position in which some local authorities now find themselves. The Committee recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the Government provide constructive alternative options for Local Authorities in this situation. (Paragraph 160)

26.  The Committee fully supports the Government's commitment to tenant choice and involvement in determining how Local Authority housing should be owned and managed. However, the commitment to tenant choice is a charade unless Local Authorities are able to act in accordance with the wishes of their tenants. We recommend that the Government take immediate steps to ensure that where a majority of tenants wish for their homes to remain under Council management, they are not penalised when it comes to access to funding for investment in Decent Homes or any other policy initiatives. (Paragraph 163)

27.  The Committee is not convinced that ALMOs and stock transfer RSLs necessarily lead to better tenant participation and satisfaction. There is no reason to suggest that the same results and management innovations could not be achieved under Council management, given equal resources. The Hammersmith and Fulham Housing Commission is an example of Local Authority innovation and best practice development in this area. (Paragraph 166)

28.  The Committee believes that there should be a level playing field between local authorities with retained stock, ALMOs, and stock transfer companies in terms of the mechanisms and volumes of funding available to them. The current situation unfairly steers tenants towards the stock transfer option because the funding available is unlimited whereas the funding potentially released under the ALMO scheme is finite, and funding for Local Authority managed stock is even more restricted. (Paragraph 169)

29.  We recommend that a level playing field between the different ownership and management options should encompass not only funding mechanisms directly related to the Decent Homes target, but also funding for wider investment purposes. Based on local circumstances, managers and tenants should themselves be able to determine how to balance investment in Decent Homes, as currently defined, with investment in making the community sustainable and decent. (Paragraph 172)

30.  We believe the requirement for tenant consultation and approval should be identical regardless of whether a Local Authority intends to go down a PFI, ALMO, or stock transfer route. (Paragraph 174)

Registered Social Landlords

31.  We recommend that, whilst the Government should maintain the policy of rent restructuring, its effects should be reviewed to ensure that the levels of stock investment can be maintained across the social housing sector. (Paragraph 182)

32.  The Committee is concerned that the absence of a scheme to replace the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund programme will result in Local Authorities being unable to transfer their worst stock, having transferred the remainder to RSLs. In that scenario, Local Authorities could end up owning and managing the stock most in need of large amounts of investment, but with no resources to invest in it at all. We therefore recommend that the Government replace the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund with a similar system of dowry funding. (Paragraph 187)

33.  The Committee fully recognises that there are circumstances where demolition of social housing stock is the best available option. However, the Committee is concerned that some social housing providers may see the demolition, or in high-value areas such as London, the sale of properties as the easiest and most cost-effective way of achieving the Decent Homes standard. We recommend that the Government puts guidelines in place preventing the social housing stock from being unnecessarily eroded through sale or demolition. (Paragraph 191)

The applicability of the target in the private sector

34.  The Committee believes that every household has a right to a Decent Home. The Government should set a longer term target for bringing all homes up to the Decent Homes standard, say by 2015. The Government should consider carefully how to provide both funding incentives and statutory enforcement vehicles in order to achieve such a target in the private sector. (Paragraph 197)

35.  The Committee sees little sense in limiting the target only to a proportion of dwellings inhabited by vulnerable households. Making such distinctions is likely to waste resources in monitoring, and also to render monitoring and enforcement inaccurate and ineffective. Instead, the Decent Homes target should be applied to all dwellings in the private sector as well as the social sector. (Paragraph 199)

The private rented sector

36.  Consequently, we consider that the limitation of the target to vulnerable households is likely to disadvantage such families even further, especially in areas of high demand. (Paragraph 202)

The owner-occupied sector

37.  The Government should ensure that equity release mechanisms and / or financial assistance be made available to owner-occupiers whose homes do not meet the Decent Homes standard, helping them to finance the undertaking of vital repairs and improvements in order to bring their home up to the Decent Homes standard. Financial assistance and advice should be targeted particularly at areas where low property values make it difficult or impossible for owners to take out a mortgage in order to make repairs. (Paragraph 205)


38.  The Committee recommends that Local Authorities be granted powers of enforcement vis-à-vis private landlords, as well as funding sufficient to carry out such enforcement. (Paragraph 207)

39.  We urge the Government to implement, as soon as possible, and within a timeframe to facilitate our recommendation in paragraph 196 above, the Law Commission's recommendation, made seven years ago, for the creation of a statutory right for tenants to a home complying with specified minimum standards. Given that the fitness standard is soon to be replaced by the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System (HHSRS), we believe the Government should opt for making the full Decent Homes Standard a statutory right for tenants, enforceable by them through the courts. (Paragraph 211)


40.  The Committee agrees with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health that there is an urgent need to re-evaluate the priority given to Decent Homes in the private sector. We urge the Government to make both statutory changes to tenancy legislation, and to the enforceability of the target in the private sector, and to provide sufficient and targeted funding for the standard to be effectively enforced in the private sector. (Paragraph 214)


41.  Our final, but vital recommendation is that the treasury commit additional funding to the Decent Homes policy sufficient to ensure that the current Decent Homes 2010 target be met, and that a subsequent 'Decent Homes Plus' target can also be met. (Paragraph 220)

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