Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Red Kite Community Housing (HPB 108)

Red Kite Community Housing Limited Views on the Housing and Planning Bill

Summary overview

We welcome new legislation that will support the urgent need for more homes to solve the country’s housing crisis. We also share the Government’s commitment to offer home ownership opportunities to more people. After all, providing good quality housing and supporting aspiration is a key part of what we are here to do. However, there remains a very real requirement for social housing for those on low and variable incomes where home ownership is not a reality in any circumstance and therefore the question "Where will poor people live?" should be integral to national housing policy and is one that we hope this committee will bear in mind during the course of its work. We are also here to realise the value in our communities and this important aspect of our work should not be disregarded.

In addition, the Bill is very much an enabling Bill, setting out the policies at a high level and leaving the detail to regulation and the discretion of the present and future Secretaries of State. We believe the actual impact of the Bill will really be determined by the regulations, which will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. We therefore urge Parliament to discuss these issues now and consider our views.

Starter homes

We call for starter homes to be in addition to social and affordable homes, determined by local authorities on the basis of need, without any requirement for planning authorities to favour starter homes over other tenures. S106 agreements currently deliver both home ownership and rented options to help meet housing needs. We fully understand and share the Government’s desire to extend opportunities for home ownership but do not believe that this should be at the expense of those who also aspire to get on in life but are unable to afford to buy a home of their own. Shelter’s research has shown that in most parts of the country lower income households will not be able to afford starter homes. Enabling developers to switch their contribution to home-ownership products will remove a critical supply of sub-market rented homes and may not add to the number of homes built where sites already have approval. We believe that it should be left to the relevant Planning Authority to make decisions as to the mix of new homes locally.

Voluntary Right to Buy

Our organisation did not vote in favour of the voluntary deal. We were very upfront with our customers about our view on this proposal, explaining our position as one that supports their best interests. At Red Kite we firmly believe that Social Housing is and should remain an option for people most in need, in line with our charitable objectives and purpose.

If the Right to Buy is extended to every tenant, the reality is that there is a real risk that the number of homes available at social rent will reduce and will not be replaced quickly enough to house those who need them.

Of course home ownership is an aspiration for some, but not all. Social Housing is here for a very clear reason and should remain this way – to provide options for those who cannot afford high market rents or home ownership.

There is also a lack of detail in the proposals, that means we are guessing what is intended rather than knowing for certain what this really means to customers. With so much unknown, the implications have a much wider impact which is not being thought through.

The definition of "replacement" homes is not specific. If social rent homes are not replaced like for like then in areas they are sold, the shortage of low rent homes will increase homelessness and potentially impact mixed communities.

The detail of the exemptions for the Right to Buy and how these will be treated are not clear.

The forced sale of high value council housing

We are not supportive of this being the funding mechanism for RTB discounts for our tenants. This proposal has put relations with our partner local authorities under strain.  We call for an alternative way of resourcing the discounts to be found so that our LA partners are able to continue to provide for acute housing need alongside us. Many already choose to dispose of high value vacant homes where this makes sense for asset management, as do we with our own stock. Such decisions are local matters and should not be linked to the RTB for HA tenants. The policy does not commit to replacing like for like homes in the areas they are lost.

The classification of housing associations and the need for deregulation

We call for an appropriate amount of regulatory attention to ensure funders and investors retain confidence and are pleased that the Government now acknowledges the need to implement deregulatory measures that go beyond this. As independent bodies we believe that we should be left to decide how best to use our assets working in partnership with our key strategic partner authorities. As such, we should not be constrained by legislation that controls our ability to set rents flexibly in line with local needs or our ability to determine the type and length of tenancies provided. As currently drafted, this Bill includes provisions that run counter to the deregulation commitment. We urge the committee to bear this in mind when considering the detail.

Pay to stay

We are concerned that Pay to stay, pitched as a blunt instrument will not support a desire to "Make work pay". The suggested threshold of £30 - £40k is set too low generally and specifically for us where rents are higher. The proposal makes arbitrary assumptions about the affordability of market or near market rents to those on modest incomes with no reference to actual living costs in different areas and varying household circumstances. Significantly, the proposal does not reflect current working patterns with self-employment and variable contracts now commonplace. Adjusting rents based on income in the previous year will be problematic for those who do not have a steady income stream or whose income varies substantially due to changes in circumstances and work conditions. We have case studies and direct quotes that show how worried tenants are about a proposal they feel will penalise rather than incentivise those trying to "get on in life" and will discourage them from taking on extra work. It will also reduce tenants’ ability to save for deposits to enable them to become homeowners.

We, along with the NHF, have argued consistently that social landlords should have flexibility to charge rents linked to average earnings and living costs at a local level. The consequences of Pay to Stay will damage our independence and the Government should not be prescriptive about what independent organisations do. Deregulation measures should include this. The "Pay to stay" proposal runs counter to deregulation objectives and should be dropped. If they are not dropped, at the very least thresholds should be raised and a taper introduced.

The Right to Build/Custom Build

We welcome legislation to make it easier for those who wish to build their own homes. We do have some concerns about the implementation of a "Right to Build" relating to the administration of LA registers of interest and site availability. As with other initiatives, our key concern is that this type of provision is not at the expense of genuinely affordable solutions for those who can't ever aspire to buy or build their own home. 

December 2015

Prepared 3rd December 2015