Election reaction: social housing

Patrick Mooney, editor of Housing Management & Maintenance, looks at how the general election is likely to affect the social housing sector. 

A period of uncertainty is the inevitable outcome of the general election, with parts of the Housing & Planning Act 2016 still to be enacted and question marks over the future of many policies outlined in the recent Housing White Paper.

It appears the Homelessness Reduction Bill just managed to get Royal Assent before Parliament closed for the election campaign and while this is good news for the homeless, it will require councils to provide far more support…at considerable cost. The Government has offered some financial support but inevitably it will not cover all of the costs, particularly in London.

Nuts and bolts of the private rented sector’s regulation have yet to be implemented, with planned consultation exercises now put on hold. For once this pause for breadth might work in the policymakers’ favour, if it allows work on the Rugg Review (Part Two) to inform the process and produces better and more effective legislation.

However, Labour have come out boldly saying they will strengthen regulation of private rented housing by bringing in legal minimum standards, mandatory licensing and increasing the fines on rogue landlords to £100,000. Jeremy Corbyn has also promised to build one million new homes, with half of them built by councils. Gavin Barwell has rubbished both policies saying the first would drive up rents, while the second is undeliverable. Instead he says the focus should be on implementing the White Paper.

The uncertainty might be welcomed if it allows the incoming Government to have a serious rethink over extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants, halting the enforced sale of council assets or for cancelling further welfare benefit cuts which affect the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.With deregulation of HAs creeping in ahead of Parliament being dissolved, a number of social landlords are already selling much needed affordable homes as part of stock rationalisation strategies. This appears to be the new game on the block, edging ahead of merger mania and is likely to increase as HAs focus on building new homes.

Social housing leaders have been vociferous in attacking the Conservatives’ policies to cut local housing allowances and funding for supported housing. But many of them have been impressed by the approach taken by Gavin Barwell, who many want to see returned as the Housing Minister if Theresa May is returned as Prime Minister after the June election.