Beyond Decent Homes - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents


Conclusions and recommendations


Key conclusions and recommendations

1.  The decent homes programme has had a dramatic, positive effect on the living conditions of almost all social housing tenants by putting very significant resources into tangible improvements to social housing. We applaud the Government, local authorities and their partner organisations for the tenacity with which they have pursued the ten year goal and the results they have achieved. The decent homes standard is, nonetheless, a low standard, which makes it all the more shocking that nearly 40% of social homes were below that level in 2001; and all the more encouraging that so many landlords have gone beyond the standard in the improvements they have carried out. (Paragraph 19)

THERMAL COMFORT

2.  The decent homes standard requires the absence of Category 1 hazards under the HHSRS in criterion (a) and it is not, therefore, necessary to repeat this requirement specifically in relation to thermal comfort in criterion (d). However, there is evidence of confusion around how to use the HHSRS in this area. We recommend that the Government formulate and disseminate practical guidance on what constitutes a risk of excess cold under the HHSRS, building on the extant guidance for landlords and property related professionals on the HHSRS. (Paragraph 55)

While the decent homes guidance refers to SAP 35 as a "proxy" for the absence of Category 1 thermal comfort hazards, we consider that the thermal comfort criterion should be redrafted explicitly as a minimum energy efficiency rating. We discuss below (in relation to reducing carbon dioxide emissions) what that rating should be. The standard should not mandate the specific inputs (such as type of heating system, thickness of insulation) needed to reach that energy rating, as there will be various ways to reach the desired outcome. Rather, accompanying guidance should indicate the inputs likely to be necessary for warmth and energy efficiency, while recognising that different solutions may be necessary for different properties. (Paragraph 56)

We conclude that, while the decent homes standard should not be linked directly to fuel poverty programmes, its recasting as we recommend to tackle energy efficiency more explicitly, would have knock-on effects on fuel poverty. As we discuss below, this would also make a direct contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from housing. We discuss the detail of this energy efficiency outcome measure in the section on additional criteria: reducing carbon dioxide emissions. (Paragraph 61)

ADDITIONAL CRITERIA

3.  We conclude that setting national standards is only one way of improving housing and is not appropriate for all types of improvement, and that the decent homes standard should remain narrowly focussed. We further conclude that, while some issues are best dealt with through national standards, others are more appropriately set in local standards or agreements. This is the approach which the Tenant Services Authority's statutory regulatory framework proposes for the setting of standards in the social housing sector. As we note elsewhere, many housing management organisations have agreed and set, in conjunction with their tenants, local standards which go beyond the nationally-set standard and which reflect the priorities and resources of local communities. We commend those organisations which have done so and encourage others to follow suit. Meanwhile, we welcome the TSA's approach to this issue, under which it will have an important role in regulating the process by which such standards are reached and ensuring that all parties—including tenants—have had a proper input into agreeing appropriate local standards. (Paragraph 72)

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

4.  As we describe above, we consider that standards should be set for the energy efficiency of social housing stock and that such a standard should be part of an updated decent homes standard regulated by the Tenant Services Authority. As we recommended above, this energy efficiency standard should be formulated as the replacement of the thermal comfort criterion. Setting a standard is unlikely of itself to achieve the desired results, but it is a necessary component of doing so. We note the proposal by the Government of an additional "Warm Homes" standard and commend to it our suggestion of amending the thermal comfort criterion. (Paragraph 87)

MEASURING DECENCY

5.  We conclude that the measurement of non-decency should comprise both a snapshot of the current position plus a forecast of potential future non-decency in the next few years, in order to predict future work and spending required. We recommend that the assessment that the Department has been conducting identify the true scale of the backlog of work to achieve the decent homes standard across the social housing stock and provide an accurate picture of what remains to be done. [...] homes where the tenant has refused decent homes work should not be counted as decent. (Paragraph 104)

PRIVATE SECTOR

6.  Like the majority of our witnesses, and for the various reasons which we set out above, we are in favour of retaining and strengthening a target for decency in the private sector. Like our predecessor ODPM Committee, we believe that every household should have a decent home. We therefore recommend that future policy on the maintenance of standards in the private sector be based on a clear long-term target to bring all homes in the private sector up to the decent homes standard. In the shorter term, we consider that funding should be targeted at areas rather than at vulnerable individuals, in order to harness economies of scale. (Paragraph 179)

We consider it a huge missed opportunity that the considerable political will demonstrated by the Government in raising social sector housing to the decent homes standard has not been matched by similar energies with respect to the private sector; and that the policy in the private sector appears to have failed. The downgrading of the target for decency in the private sector has weakened local authorities' already patchy engagement with their responsibilities towards private sector housing. A sustained and concerted effort on the part of local authorities, led and supported by Government, will be necessary to achieve the target of a decent home for all in the private sector. (Paragraph 211)

We welcome the publication of the Government's response to the Rugg review of private rented housing, which goes some way towards addressing some of the problems with quality in the private rented sector which we identified in our 2008 report The Supply of Rented Housing and call on the Government to commit itself to a programme of measures which will raise these problems up the political agenda. We have identified some of the necessary measures in the preceding sections of this Report. We welcome the tackling of energy efficiency standards in the private sector proposed in the Strategy for Household Energy Management and look forward to more detail in due course. (Paragraph 212)

Conclusions and recommendations in order

1.  The decent homes programme has had a dramatic, positive effect on the living conditions of almost all social housing tenants by putting very significant resources into tangible improvements to social housing. We applaud the Government, local authorities and their partner organisations for the tenacity with which they have pursued the ten year goal and the results they have achieved. The decent homes standard is, nonetheless, a low standard, which makes it all the more shocking that nearly 40% of social homes were below that level in 2001; and all the more encouraging that so many landlords have gone beyond the standard in the improvements they have carried out. (Paragraph 19)

Our findings: Social sector

MEASUREMENT OF THE TARGET

2.  We conclude that consistency of the data on decency can and should be improved. We recommend that the Government establish national guidance on the collation of stock condition data, to reduce inconsistencies in the assessment of decency by landlords. Adherence to the national guidance should form part of the Audit Commission's assessment of local authorities. (Paragraph 32)

3.  We consider that where a tenant has refused decent homes work to a property and the property remains non-decent, that property should be recorded as a refusal and not as a decent home. We recommend that the decent homes guidance is amended accordingly. Further, we consider that when the tenant has moved on, the decent homes work should be offered to the new tenant, as soon as feasible. (Paragraph 34)

The standard

CRITERION (A): THE STATUTORY MINIMUM STANDARD FOR HOUSING

4.  Although, on the whole, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System has been embedded successfully in the Decent Homes Standard, there is evidence of lack of understanding of the system by some landlords. We recommend that the Government, in partnership with the TSA, take steps to improve the availability and take-up of training in use of the HHSRS. (Paragraph 44)

CRITERION (B): REASONABLY MODERN FACILITIES AND SERVICES

5.  We conclude that criterion (c) is expressed in a way that allows homes with quite different standards of amenities to be classified as decent. A landlord may avoid installing new kitchens and bathrooms if he judges the other elements to be "adequate" and "appropriate". We recommend that the TSA collate and disseminate best practice on compliance with this criterion to assist landlords and tenants in discussions of how the standard is applied at a local level. (Paragraph 48)

CRITERION (C): A REASONABLE DEGREE OF THERMAL COMFORT

6.  The decent homes standard requires the absence of Category 1 hazards under the HHSRS in criterion (a) and it is not, therefore, necessary to repeat this requirement specifically in relation to thermal comfort in criterion (d). However, there is evidence of confusion around how to use the HHSRS in this area. We recommend that the Government formulate and disseminate practical guidance on what constitutes a risk of excess cold under the HHSRS, building on the extant guidance for landlords and property related professionals on the HHSRS. (Paragraph 55)

7.  While the decent homes guidance refers to SAP 35 as a "proxy" for the absence of Category 1 thermal comfort hazards, we consider that the thermal comfort criterion should be redrafted explicitly as a minimum energy efficiency rating. We discuss below (in relation to reducing carbon dioxide emissions) what that rating should be. The standard should not mandate the specific inputs (such as type of heating system, thickness of insulation) needed to reach that energy rating, as there will be various ways to reach the desired outcome. Rather, accompanying guidance should indicate the inputs likely to be necessary for warmth and energy efficiency, while recognising that different solutions may be necessary for different properties. (Paragraph 56)

8.  We conclude that, while the decent homes standard should not be linked directly to fuel poverty programmes, its recasting as we recommend to tackle energy efficiency more explicitly, would have knock-on effects on fuel poverty. As we discuss below, this would also make a direct contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from housing. We discuss the detail of this energy efficiency outcome measure in the section on additional criteria: reducing carbon dioxide emissions. (Paragraph 61)

9.  We applaud the Government's focus in its Household Energy Management Strategy on warmth and energy efficiency of homes. It is not clear from the Strategy how a new "Warm Homes" standard would complement the decent homes strategy and its thermal comfort criterion. We urge the Government to avoid a proliferation of standards. (Paragraph 63)

ADDITIONAL CRITERIA

10.  We conclude that setting national standards is only one way of improving housing and is not appropriate for all types of improvement, and that the decent homes standard should remain narrowly focussed. We further conclude that, while some issues are best dealt with through national standards, others are more appropriately set in local standards or agreements. This is the approach which the Tenant Services Authority's statutory regulatory framework proposes for the setting of standards in the social housing sector. As we note elsewhere, many housing management organisations have agreed and set, in conjunction with their tenants, local standards which go beyond the nationally-set standard and which reflect the priorities and resources of local communities. We commend those organisations which have done so and encourage others to follow suit. Meanwhile, we welcome the TSA's approach to this issue, under which it will have an important role in regulating the process by which such standards are reached and ensuring that all parties—including tenants—have had a proper input into agreeing appropriate local standards. (Paragraph 72)

THE ENVIRONMENT

11.  We conclude that 'environmental' standards other than energy efficiency should not be set nationally in the decent homes standard, but may be agreed locally in accordance with the principle we note above. (Paragraph 74)

CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY

12.  We note that the unit cost of new technologies will decline with the development of the market and recognise that new technology will have an important role to play in reducing emissions from housing in the medium to long term. Meanwhile, there is much that can be done at much lower cost while the evidence base is built up to justify large-scale spending on new technologies. We conclude that future funding should prioritise 'old technology' to improve the energy efficiency of housing: insulation and efficient heating systems, and education. We commend the Government's Strategy for Household Energy Management for prioritising basic works such as loft and cavity wall insulation. (Paragraph 82)

13.  As we describe above, we consider that standards should be set for the energy efficiency of social housing stock and that such a standard should be part of an updated decent homes standard regulated by the Tenant Services Authority. As we recommended above, this energy efficiency standard should be formulated as the replacement of the thermal comfort criterion. Setting a standard is unlikely of itself to achieve the desired results, but it is a necessary component of doing so. We note the proposal by the Government of an additional "Warm Homes" standard and commend to it our suggestion of amending the thermal comfort criterion. (Paragraph 87)

14.  Witnesses have agreed that the best-understood and most effective energy efficiency standard would be a SAP rating. The SAP rating of 35, currently referred to in the decent homes guidance, is unacceptably low. We accept that raising the bar for all property types to a minimum level which is unachievable for many properties is not the answer but do not consider that this should be used as an excuse for not setting any standards. We recommend that the Government urgently develop a range of minimum SAP ratings for different property types. We further recommend that these minimum SAP ratings be established on a sliding scale over several years to require landlords to meet progressively more rigorous requirements over the next few decades. (Paragraph 90)

THE ESTATE

15.  The maintenance of cleanliness, safety and good repair of common parts of estates and communities is of great importance to tenants and makes a substantial contribution to social integration and well-being. We applaud the TSA's recognition of these aspects in its proposed approach to standards and the flexibility it aims to build in to its Neighbourhood and Community standard. We particularly welcome the role which the TSA sees for tenants and other community stakeholders in the process of setting standards locally. (Paragraph 97)

Management of the programme

THE BACKLOG

16.  We conclude that the measurement of non-decency should comprise both a snapshot of the current position plus a forecast of potential future non-decency in the next few years, in order to predict future work and spending required. We recommend that the assessment that the Department has been conducting identify the true scale of the backlog of work to achieve the decent homes standard across the social housing stock and provide an accurate picture of what remains to be done. As we recommended above, homes where the tenant has refused decent homes work should not be counted as decent. (Paragraph 104)

ACCESS TO PUBLIC FUNDING

17.  We regret the Government's inability to give a firm commitment now, just a few months from the originally planned end of the Decent Homes programme, on how the funding will be provided to enable the remaining ALMOs that have yet to receive funding to improve decency in their stock. The lack of clarity prevents effective planning by the ALMOs concerned but, more importantly, affects thousands of tenants who continue to have to live indefinitely in non-decent housing. We call on the Government to make clear as soon as possible when the funding will be delivered to achieve the completion of the Decent Homes programme in the ALMO sector. (Paragraph 111)

18.  We welcome the Minister's suggestion that reform of the HRA will enable all local housing authorities to fund the maintenance of their homes at a decent level. We note, however, that the Minister's replies were significantly weaker on the question of how retention authorities can bring their stock up to that level in the first place. HRA reform will not solve that problem. We call on the Government urgently to set out how, post-HRA reform, authorities which have retained management of their stock will be funded to eliminate the backlog of non-decent housing. (Paragraph 116)

IMPLEMENTATION BY MANAGEMENT ORGANISATIONS

19.  We conclude that the ten-year experience of ALMOs has generated improvements in asset management of social sector stock that are not simply attributable to additional funding. We further conclude that these improvements should not be lost because of a lack of clear statements by the Government on the future of ALMOs after completion of the decent homes funding already allocated. We recommend that the Government make arrangements for the continued management of housing stock by ALMOs, including by providing for access to funding under the new self-financing system. We consider that local authorities should not take their ALMOs back in-house until they have conducted a ballot of tenants and received an endorsement by tenants of that plan. (Paragraph 121)

20.  We conclude that local authorities with retained stock are capable of effective day-to-day management, but that lessons learned from ALMOs should be applied to improve their results. We further conclude that unless local authorities with and without ALMOs receive the same funding for housing improvements, the results will always be skewed in favour of ALMOs. (Paragraph 124)

21.  The establishment of ALMOs has significantly improved the performance of council landlords and the requirement to reach a two-star rating of service in order to be granted funding has been a very successful driver of standards of housing management. Some local authorities that have retained day-to-day management responsibilities do not have adequate asset management skills and strategies in place, notwithstanding the existing regulatory framework and inspection regime. Nevertheless we recognise that, for a number of reasons, it is not appropriate for all local authorities which retain ownership of their stock to establish an arm's length body to manage it. We recommend that, rather than take day-to-day management of housing out of the hands of those councils, the Government establish a mechanism to incentivise housing departments of councils to improve their performance in order to receive additional funding. This will put retention authorities on a level footing, in funding terms, with authorities which have established ALMOs, and will help to ensure that those authorities can make the sort of progress to eliminating non-decency in their housing stock which has been achieved by local authorities with ALMOs. (Paragraph 130)

FUNDING

22.  We recognise the pressures facing the Government and the housing association sector in continuing to deliver both new homes and the maintenance and improvement of existing stock. We have previously expressed our continued support for the Government's house-building targets and recognised the need for new homes. Here, we emphasise that the provision of new homes should not be at the expense of the maintenance of existing ones. We support the Government's policy objective of not just a home, but a decent home, for all. As grant and rent policy for the housing association sector evolves and future spending decisions are made, the maintenance and improvement of the existing stock must be given equal priority to the building of new homes. (Paragraph 136)

23.  We welcome the work the Government has done on reform of the HRA subsidy system and its intention, in principle, to ensure that there is sufficient money within the reformed system to maintain properties at a decent standard. Combined with the improved potential for effective asset management and forward financial planning which witnesses have indicated that properly implemented HRA reform should also bring, this should enable local authority landlords to maintain standards of decency over the long term and prevent any reoccurrence of the backlog which existed at the start of the Decent Homes programme. However, in the absence of detail about the funding that HRA reform will in fact supply for the maintenance of stock, we consider that the convergence policy applied to social rents should be relaxed. The restriction of rent rises has a negative effect on the ability of landlords to set their rents and related standards of service after consultation with tenants. (Paragraph 145)

24.  We recommend that the Government give ALMOs the capacity to raise private finance against future rental streams in the context of a 30 year agreement with their local authority. (Paragraph 146)

ADDITIONAL COSTS OF ADDITIONAL CRITERIA

25.  We recommend that the Government address [the] inequity [of access to warm grant funding for people in the social and private sectors] by allowing vulnerable people in the social sector access to the same level of assistance as others. (Paragraph 154)

26.  We conclude that further work is required to calculate the costs of comprehensive work to adapt social housing stock to higher standards of energy efficiency. Whatever the final figure may be, however, it seems clear that it will be well beyond the ability of landlords, householders or energy suppliers alone to fund. A range of funding solutions will be necessary, including—but not limited to—'Pay As You Save'-type schemes. (Paragraph 155)

27.  We welcome the Government's commitment to the improvement of the common areas of estates, and to ensuring that there is sufficient funding in the new system to do so. The key to this, as to so much else concerning funding of ongoing maintenance of social homes, is reform of the Housing Revenue Account system. We look forward to seeing a reformed HRA which ensures that sufficient funding is available for the necessary work without placing too great a burden—in the form of increased rents or service charges—on individual residents of social housing. The 30-year business plans prepared by individual local authorities under a reformed HRA system will need to assess the potential contributions from all sources to the maintenance of common areas, and build in sufficient resources to maintain them to a decent standard. (Paragraph 158)

28.  We consider the restriction of ALMO spending on estates or communal areas to 5% of their budgets to be unreasonable, and recommend that the Government introduce greater flexibility to allow ALMOs to spend a greater proportion of funds on these measures as necessary. (Paragraph 159)

Our findings: private sector

29.  Like the majority of our witnesses, and for the various reasons which we set out above, we are in favour of retaining and strengthening a target for decency in the private sector. Like our predecessor ODPM Committee, we believe that every household should have a decent home. We therefore recommend that future policy on the maintenance of standards in the private sector be based on a clear long-term target to bring all homes in the private sector up to the decent homes standard. In the shorter term, we consider that funding should be targeted at areas rather than at vulnerable individuals, in order to harness economies of scale. (Paragraph 179)

THE STANDARD

30.  The recommendations which we make [in the section on the social sector] on the thermal comfort criterion apply equally to its use in the private sector. (Paragraph 186)

31.  We conclude that, given the scale of energy efficiency improvements required to meet government targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from housing, energy efficiency programmes must go wider than those vulnerable private sector households to which the decent homes standard is currently applicable. We draw renewed attention to the conclusions of our report Existing Housing and Climate Change, which considered these issues in more detail and made a number of recommendations for Government action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from housing in both the social and private sectors. (Paragraph 193)

MANAGEMENT OF THE PROGRAMME

32.  We recommend that the Government issue clear guidance telling local authorities to maintain up to date information on the condition of private sector housing stock. We further recommend that the Government provide local authorities with a model of how this should be done. (Paragraph 200)

33.  We consider it a huge missed opportunity that the considerable political will demonstrated by the Government in raising social sector housing to the decent homes standard has not been matched by similar energies with respect to the private sector; and that the policy in the private sector appears to have failed. The downgrading of the target for decency in the private sector has weakened local authorities' already patchy engagement with their responsibilities towards private sector housing. A sustained and concerted effort on the part of local authorities, led and supported by Government, will be necessary to achieve the target of a decent home for all in the private sector. (Paragraph 211)

34.  We welcome the publication of the Government's response to the Rugg review of private rented housing, which goes some way towards addressing some of the problems with quality in the private rented sector which we identified in our 2008 report The Supply of Rented Housing and call on the Government to commit itself to a programme of measures which will raise these problems up the political agenda. We have identified some of the necessary measures in the preceding sections of this Report. We welcome the tackling of energy efficiency standards in the private sector proposed in the Strategy for Household Energy Management and look forward to more detail in due course. (Paragraph 212)

FUNDING

35.  We are encouraged by the measures described by the Government in the Household Energy Management Strategy and look forward to more detail of how the financing model will work. We recommend that, as part of the support which it gives local authorities for the concerted effort to address the issue of non-decency which we recommend above, CLG undertake or commission work to develop means of levering in private finance for the improvement of private sector stock. The results of this work should be made widely available to local authorities, who should be encouraged to develop schemes appropriate to their areas to facilitate access to those funds. (Paragraph 220)

36.  To facilitate the joining up of local public sector funding streams which can be applied to the elimination of non-decency in the private sector, in line with the Total Place agenda, we recommend that a National Indicator be available to local authorities specifically relating to private sector housing improvement. (Paragraph 223)

37.  We continue to believe that, in the medium-term, VAT on property refurbishment should be reduced and equalised with that applying to new build. However, we conclude that the economic circumstances are not currently such as to make that a viable proposition. We recommend that the Government make such equalisation a medium-term policy goal, but in the meantime should target the public funding available for the renovation and refurbishment of housing more directly at the poorest-quality stock. (Paragraph 228)


 
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