Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by TPAS (HPB 88)

About TPAS

TPAS is the leading national tenant involvement organisation in England. We believe in housing practitioners and tenants working in partnership to improve their homes and their communities. Our membership is made up of local tenants and landlord organisations, and covers over 2.2 million homes. We have been representing our members across England since 1988.

Summary

1. Our priority in making this submission is to ensure the opinions of involved social tenants can be heard as major reforms to social housing are discussed and refined. The statements on what we would like to see as the Bill progresses have been developed based on comments made to us and surveys of tenant opinion. Ultimately we want to see a good supply of social housing available now and in the future, which means protecting the standards, rents and existence of current homes as well as capacity to provide more in the future. In many cases the provisions in the Bill run counter to this aspiration, and this is causing great concern to current tenants.

2. A question that tenants up and down the country are asking in the face of the reforms to social housing is ‘who will house the poor?’ As housing affordability continues to worsen in this country we are far from reassured that housing associations and local authorities will have capacity in the future to provide the number and type of homes that are badly needed by less well-off people.

Main response

Overall approach to this legislation

3. The Bill contains very little detail, which means detailed policy design and assessment of likely implementation consequences will take place away from public and parliamentary scrutiny. It is a matter of concern to tenants that decisions on the detail of policies that shape the future of social housing will be taken without the safeguards that Parliamentary checks and balances on primary legislation provide.

4. As this Bill is considered and refined, we would like to see:

· More detail on the face of the bill and/or parameters to define the scope of the secondary legislation that will be used to implement the provisions in the Bill

High value council house sales and Pay to Stay

5. High value council house sales and Pay to Stay for local authorities undermine the positive operating environment for councils and ALMOs that was created by the 2012 self-financing deal. They risk making local authorities the administrators of a dwindling housing stock, at a time when freedoms and flexibilities for any willing organisation to grow housing supply and quality services could really benefit the country.

6. Ending the system where council housing finance was determined by formula and rental income was redistributed around the country was a massive step forward for good business practices and locally focused long-term decision making. By taking control of councils’ assets and incomes, this Bill sets us back a long way.

7. Pay to Stay is causing great concern to tenants. Working people who live in more heated housing markets have calculated that they cannot afford to pay higher rent, exercise the Right to Buy or secure equivalent accommodation privately where they currently live, and that they face relocation as a result. Household composition has a great impact on how much income can be spent on rent, and therefore people with dependent children are therefore particularly penalised by this policy. In addition some pensioners will be affected because they worked hard to save through a modest works pension which they now receive alongside the state pension. This will affect their quality of life and ability to self-fund the costs of care. Although some of these problems can be addressed by policy design (as considered by the recent CLG consultation) the solutions will add great complexity to rent setting for a handful of tenants.

8. As this Bill is considered and refined, we would like to see:

· Maintenance of local authorities’ ability to proactively manage their housing stock, rather than raiding councils’ assets to fund housing association tenants’ Right to Buy

· Pay to Stay paused while an overall vision for social housing rent setting (possibly to consider income-based rent setting and/or local discretion across the whole tenure) is debated and developed

· (If Pay to Stay goes ahead)

o Ability for Pay to Stay receipts to be retained by the councils that collect them if they commit to reinvestment in local housing provision

o Pensioners exempt from the scheme

Reducing social housing regulation

9. The Consumer Standards overseen by the Homes and Communities Agency are valued by tenants, and relaxing them could greatly weaken the protections given to some of the most vulnerable people in society

10. Whilst some of the Economic standards may go too far in binding the hands of housing associations, relaxations should not be designed in a way that allows the overall number of social homes to reduce in order to support development of more expensive accommodation for wealthier people

11. As this Bill is considered and refined, we would like to see:

· A statement on the areas of regulation that can and cannot be amended through secondary legislation, which includes a commitment about protecting service standards, tenant involvement and overall availability of social homes

Right to Buy

12. A negative consequence of the local authority Right to Buy is the number of homes that move into the private rented sector, often housing the same people councils would have but charging higher rents for lower service quality. We understand that housing associations would have no ability to stop this under the new Voluntary Right to Buy, are concerned about additional negative impacts of moving social rented homes into the private rental market.

13. As this Bill is considered and refined, we would like to see:

· Creation of powers for local authorities and housing associations to add a restrictive covenant when they sell a property to an occupant so that the home cannot pass into the private rented sector (perhaps until a social rented home has been built locally to replace the one sold)

· Guarantees that government cannot direct (by the use of grants) housing associations to develop properties for home ownership rather than social rent with the compensation received for Right to Buy sales

Conclusions

14. Taken alongside the provisions in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the provisions in this Bill give involved tenants great cause for concern. They are concerned about the future of social housing for others as well as what would change for them personally. We believe that this Bill can be strengthened as it passes through Parliament to better protect standards and rents for tenants as well as quantity of social housing available in the future.

November 2015

Prepared 26th November 2015