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Social Housing Speed Read – 2016 in review

As we approach the end of the year, we look at the key developments that have taken place in the housing sector during 2016 and consider what we can expect in 2017.

Outset of 2016

The start of 2016 saw unrest and a certain level of disillusion within the sector, as the Housing and Planning Act reached the report stage in early January.

Its measures included an extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants, the introduction of “pay to stay” charges for tenants earning more than £30,000 (£40,000 in London) per household in council housing, and the forced sale of high value vacant local authority properties.

This prompted protest from the sector, with industry experts such as Terrie Alafat, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute for Housing, confirming at the time the sector’s “fear is that some of the proposed measures in the Housing and Planning bill will make it incredibly difficult for councils to build new homes – and that vital council housing could be lost”. Ms Alafat went onto stress the need for a range of affordable housing being made available to everyone.

With the announcement of the budget in March the sector expressed further disappointment over the lack of Government initiatives being announced to tackle the housing crisis, with Sadiq Khan (the then London mayoral candidate) commenting that George Osborne had “missed the chance for a national plan to build more, new affordable homes”. From the proposals announced, the Government’s focus was firmly set on home ownership.

May 2016 saw the Housing and Planning Act receive Royal Assent, with the Government confirming the Act ‘sets out a clear determination from the government to keep the country building while giving hard working families every opportunity to unlock the door to ownership’.

The introduction of this Act only strengthened the Government’s emphasis on home ownership, much to the sector’s continuing frustration. This combined with various welfare reforms introduced, painted a distinctly gloomy picture for the vast majority of tenants.

Key developments in 2016

We cannot fail to touch upon one of the key features, if not the most important decision of 2016 – Brexit and the effect this had and will continue to have on the sector.

Fears of the stagnation of housebuilding and the exacerbating effect this would have on the housing crisis pre-Brexit were rife. Even following the vote to leave the EU, they have certainly not disappeared.

However, what Brexit did lead to was a change in the Government’s administration, seeing us wave goodbye to David Cameron, George Osborne and Brandon Lewis, and welcome Teresa May, Philip Hammond and Gavin Barwell.

With this change in administration, the sector saw its opportunity to lobby the Government for change in their approach to try to ease the housing problem and provide alternative, more accessible forms of tenure.

The first signs of a potential change in governmental approach came with Gavin Barwell hinting at a potential shift in Governmental attitude towards housing tenure, stating “we need to build more homes of every single type and not focus on one single tenure” in order to offer solutions to the housing crisis.

Next came the Government’s backing of the Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17. Although still currently at committee stage, this Bill seeks to put the onus on local authorities by introducing a duty to prevent homelessness, and in the words of Gavin Barwell it will seek to “broaden the safety net and ensure that single people do fall through the gaps”.

Another key milestone in 2016 for the sector was the Autumn Statement, in which social housing was high in the Chancellor’s priorities list, when compared with recent years.

The Chancellor announced several initiatives to not only stimulate home ownership but set out the Government’s commitment to providing a variety of tenures.

As Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, confirmed this “offered real support for the UK’s renters, a welcome change after years of housing policy aimed squarely at those who are in a position to buy”.

What changes could 2017 bring?

The sector has yet to receive confirmation of exactly how the proposals in the Autumn Statement will be rolled out including the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the Affordable Homes Programme, the Right to Buy pilot and the Local Housing Allowance Cap and we await the full proposals from the Government in due course.

Whilst the Homelessness Reduction Bill has been well received so far, as Labour’s Helen Hayes highlights “critical to the success of this Bill is the Government’s commitment to resource it and the level of resource that they provide”.

Other commentators take a rather more dim view of its potential effect and state that whilst “Westminster may have woken up to the scale of the problem, pressures in the rest of the housing system still seem set to increase homelessness rather than reduce it”.

We can only wait and see what the new year will bring, however the reversal of the Pay to Stay initiative and the Government’s prevarication with Right to Buy seem to be indicative of a Government which recognises the value of the sector and is seeking to lessen some of the stresses the previous administration sought to impose – a move which would be greatly welcomed by the sector and one which we hope will be built upon in 2017.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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