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Tackling Temporary Accommodation: Labour Housing Group’s Recommendations

When we talk about homelessness, our thoughts often turn to people in doorways and tents, living on the streets of our towns and cities. Rough sleeping is the most extreme and dangerous form of homelessness and the increasing numbers experiencing it is easy to see. Shocking as this is, it is just the visible tip of the now vast homelessness crisis.

Earlier this month Hannah Keilloh set out both the human and financial cost of this hidden crisis. 123,000 homeless families are living in temporary accommodation (TA) including 140,000 children. More than £1.7 billion spent in 2022-23 to “temporarily” house people, often in appalling conditions.  Two thirds of the families have been in TA for more than a year, some for more than a decade – their lives on hold as they wait for the settled and secure home that everyone deserves.

There is an urgent need for action to tackle this and last summer I was pleased to join Labour Housing Group’s policy working group to help develop proposals we would like to see Labour’s manifesto.

The Group’s aims were to bring forward proposals to reduce the cost of temporary accommodation and to improve the quality of accommodation being used. But also to work towards a greater mission – to prevent people from becoming homelessness and, when that isn’t possible, to ensure that temporary accommodation is truly temporary and their homelessness ended as quickly as possible.

Strategy and leadership to enable change

Tackling homelessness requires consistent, coordinated action and commitment across multiple areas government – national, regional and local. It requires a true team effort with government and public agencies working hand in hand with housing and third sector support providers and communities.

Adopting an overarching homelessness strategy might not sound like the biggest ask, and yet the UK is one of the few nations in Europe that does not have one. The next government should swiftly correct this. It should be coproduced and delivered in partnership with people with lived experience of homelessness, and the local authorities and voluntary & community organisations working on the frontline. It won’t be easy to break the silos. Strong leadership will be needed to develop and deliver this across government – the report recommends the appointment of a homelessness Tsar, who will need political support at the very highest level.

At its heart, Labour’s approach should have an understanding that the causes and impacts of homelessness are diverse and unequal. Women make up 60% of adults in temporary accommodation with violent relationship breakdown as a leading cause.  Black people are three and a half times more likely to experience homelessness as White British people and a quarter of young people at risk of homelessness identify as LGBTQ+. Labour’s strategy must recognise disadvantage and discrimination. It must enable person centred and trauma informed approaches to meet diverse needs.

Low cost, high impact changes

Preventing homelessness and the need for temporary accommodation is our ultimate aim, but to alleviate the immediate TA crisis Labour must act swiftly to lower the barriers people face to moving on from TA, refuges and other homelessness accommodation. Too often people are stuck on social housing waiting lists and blocked from private rental tenancies. It is in many ways akin to bed blocking – people unable to move to somewhere more suitable and the “beds” in good quality, local accommodation unavailable for newly homeless people.

The report recommends that social housing allocation policies should give greater priority to people experiencing homelessness and that more housing association lettings should be reserved for people experiencing homelessness. The report particularly recommends that policies should far greater support to those who have spent more than a year in TA.

Action should also be taken to remove barriers from securing private rented accommodation. This should include increasing the budget and eligibility for Discretionary Housing Payments and enabling local authorities to expand of funding of deposits and rent in advance. Reforms should also require landlords and agents to accept offers of written guarantees (for instance from local authorities) instead of cash deposits.

Investing in the future

The working group recognises the financial and economic challenges a Labour government would face. However, there is strong evidence that investing to end homelessness is money well spent with PWC finding every £1 invested could save up to £2.80 of spending across the public sector.

We recommend a comprehensive, cross government review of current spending on supporting the homelessness crisis – both direct spend on TA and homelessness support and the hidden costs of homelessness including within health, social care and criminal justice budgets. Our proposals for investment include additional ring fenced funding for homelessness prevention, a local authority TA acquisitions programme and funding of a robust inspection and enforcement regime to ensure existing legal standards for TA are met.

Ultimately Labour must make it their mission to end poverty and destitution. That means investing to tackle the housing crisis by building at least 90,000 new social homes per year and, alongside the new deal for working people, fixing the gaping holes in the social welfare safety net.

With real determination and ambition we believe a Labour government could end the homelessness crisis and we urge Labour to take up this challenge.

Find out more

There will be an online launch for Labour Housing Group’s policy paper on temporary accommodation on Tuesday the 27th of February at 10am. Register for that here.

Click here to read the full report.


Fiona Colley is Director of Social Change at Homeless Link, the national membership body for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England.

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Invest to save: essential for solving the temporary accommodation crisis, Labour Housing Group says

Why Labour Housing Group’s invest to save  approach is needed to resolve the temporary accommodation crisis

A safe, stable, and decent home is a foundational building block for life. Home is our space away from the rest of the world where we can relax and feel secure.  However, in England, 140,000 children head into 2024 living not in a ‘home’ at all, but instead living in temporary accommodation (TA). 

To put it in context that’s the equivalent of over 4,600 classes of children, or 220 entire primary schools. Or the entire population of Watford! The numbers are huge, and they are only going up (this figure was a 14 per cent increase on the previous year). Behind every number is a child and a family.  Some will stay there a few days but more often stays in TA last months and even years. Almost certainly their TA will be overcrowded and all too often it will be of poor quality.  

The reality of this situation is often children having to share beds with siblings or parents and babies with no safe sleeping space at all. Young children with no safe place to play, and older children with nowhere to do their homework. Children are getting to school tired and late having travelled long distances to their schools (having often been placed out of area). Parents losing their jobs because the length of commute to work is now impossible.  Stressed-out parents struggling to feed their children decent meals without any suitable cooking facilities. Families are living in limbo and moving frequently, with constant uncertainty and insecurity.

TA is a broad term and can include B&Bs, hostels, hotels, private rented houses or flats, and council or housing association properties. TA has an important role to play in emergencies: providing short-term housing until settled accommodation can be secured. However, this is where things have come seriously unstuck.  A chronic shortage of new social housing under successive governments, rapidly rising private rents, a local housing allowance that has failed to consistently keep pace with inflation, all coupled with a cost of living crisis, means more and more households are finding themselves forced into homelessness and ending up in TA.  

The reasons for ending up in TA are the same reasons that people find themselves stuck there for increasingly long periods – there is nowhere affordable or suitable to move people onto. Data from Shelter in 2022 revealed two-thirds of families living in TA have been there for more than 12 months, and this rises to more than four-fifths in London. Some families have been living in TA for more than 10 years. Ten years – this means some children have only ever lived in temporary accommodation never knowing or having the security of a fixed home.

This is no longer a temporary housing solution; it is becoming an unofficial tenure in itself.

Whilst very difficult for the families affected, TA is also very challenging for local authorities.  As we see more and more councils teetering on the brink of Section 114 notices, recent figures released by DLUHC show that from April 2022-March 2023 £1.74 billion was spent by councils on temporary accommodation.  In some cases, councils are using between one fifth and one half of their total available financial resources on it.  This is unsustainable but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

In summer 2023 Labour Housing Group set up a working group to look at the issue of families in TA.  After consulting with the wider housing and homelessness sector, the group has now produced a working paper with a framework of essential actions for the next Labour government. With the situation growing worse by the day, the premise of the framework is to ensure that TA is a priority for the first 100 days of a new administration. 

Solving this crisis and releasing people from the grips of TA will require a long-term ‘invest to save’ approach.

There will be an online launch for Labour Housing Group’s policy paper on temporary accommodation on Tuesday the 27th of February at 10am. Register for that here.

Read a summary of the report here, and click here for the full report.

Hannah Keilloh is an experienced Policy and Practice Officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, specialising in homelessness, domestic abuse, and planning.

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Furniture Poverty and the role of furnished tenancies in social housing

Furniture poverty is too often hidden behind front doors. There are at least 6 million people in the UK living without essential furniture items and this could be a cooker, a fridge, or a child’s bed.

As the Cost of Living crisis continues to devastate lives, this figure is rising every day. If people cannot afford food, how can we expect them to be able to afford to replace a broken cooker?

Living in furniture poverty has a terrible impact on your life, affecting people’s physical and mental health, and their social and financial wellbeing. It can mean people turn to unaffordable credit to buy the items that they need, leaving them unable to pay rent or buy food; it can lead to social isolation as the stigma means family, friends or support workers are no longer invited into homes without a sofa to sit on; and it can lead to unhealthy diets and poor health without a cooker to prepare food or a fridge to store it in.

Of course, furniture poverty is about poverty, it is about people not having enough money to live on. It is about a broken welfare system, unaffordable housing, and insecure low-paid employment. But there are steps that can be taken now to lift people out of furniture poverty and provide them with a decent furnished home – and the social housing sector has a vital role to play.

At End Furniture Poverty, our research has shown that only 2% of social housing is let as furnished or part furnished, compared to 29% of private rental properties. We also know that 26% of social housing tenants are living in furniture poverty, living without one or more essential furniture item.

Those fleeing domestic violence, or moving from homelessness, often have no furniture at all, so are moving into an empty box. Even simply moving from a furnished property in the private rental sector to the social housing sector can leave tenants with no furniture, appliances, flooring or window coverings. Other sources of support for furniture and white goods are much harder to access as 37 local authorities in England have closed their local welfare provision schemes as they face enormous budgetary burdens, and charities are overwhelmed with the demand for help.

A furnished tenancy scheme can provide the answer

Furnished tenancies mean a landlord can provide all of the furniture items a tenant needs, including floor and window coverings, and then recoup the costs through the service charge element of Universal Credit. It provides a sustainable, long-term solution for tenants who are on benefits and likely to remain on benefits. This relieves the burden on local welfare schemes and the third sector, and frees up support for others in furniture poverty.

Some landlords offer furniture gifting schemes or small furniture reuse programmes and while these are vital tools, they cannot provide a comprehensive, sustainable solution given the scale of the issue. We need a blended approach, with a furnished tenancy scheme supplemented by reuse and gifting.

We believe that at least 10% of social housing stock should be let as furnished, a figure calculated using the current FT rates in social housing and number of social housing tenants in deep furniture poverty, lacking three or more essential items. Existing furnished tenancy schemes have also naturally balanced at around 10% of their housing stock so it is a robust figure.

We are already working with Liverpool City Council to encourage the local housing associations to commit to this target and we believe every social landlord in the UK should join them. Local authorities own 55% of social housing too, and with ambitious plans for more council housing on the horizon, now is the time for a sector-wide, firm commitment to furniture provision.

A guide for social landlords

To support social landlords, End Furniture Poverty has published a Blueprint for Furniture Provision in Social Housing, a step-by-step guide for landlords to understand how to develop their scheme, looking at everything from finance, staffing, asset management and much more. It also outlines the broader benefits to landlords with case studies from existing schemes including data around the impact of furniture provision with reduced rental arrears and tenancy churn, improved tenancy sustainability and reduced void costs.

Furniture Flex- one example of a delivery model

We have also been working with our colleagues in our wider group of charities, FRC Group, to develop an even better delivery model with Furniture Flex. We have brought together our knowledge from conversations with landlords across the country over several years, considering all of the barriers and challenges they face to get a scheme off the ground, and believe we have offered solutions to all.

FRC has been supplying furniture to landlords for many years, and as a registered charity and social enterprise, 100% of the surplus is reinvested back into the group to help us to achieve our charitable mission to end furniture poverty.

Furniture Flex offers landlords the option of purchasing the furniture with a more traditional furnished tenancy route when the landlord owns and controls the asset, or a rental model, where Furniture Flex retains ownership and the landlord pays the rental cost through the service charge. The rental model overcomes that barrier for tenants who may find employment and move off benefits as they can simply return the furniture and reduce or remove the service charge.

Furniture Flex also provides increased administration support for those smaller landlords who find the perceived admin burden a stumbling block. It also allows landlords to support tenants with one or two items, again relieving the burden on local authority crisis schemes.

Whichever route a landlord chooses to acquire their furniture, whether it is Furniture Flex or another provider, End Furniture Poverty is here to support them at every step of the way, from building business cases to assessing the impact of pilots.

The current system of moving our most vulnerable citizens into empty boxes has to change and furnished tenancies provide an ideal solution. Together we can End Furniture Poverty.

LHG will be ‘In Conversation’ with Claire Donovan at 6pm on the 22nd of February 2024, to further discuss furniture poverty and possible solutions. Find more details of that here.

Claire Donovan, a former journalist, is the Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns at End Furniture Poverty, which raises awareness of the issue of Furniture Poverty; carries out research to highlight
the consequences and reality of living in Furniture Poverty; and develops solutions. Claire is also a trustee of the Reuse Network.

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Planning for 1.5m homes: What are Labour’s Options for Reform?

Key to Labour’s policy offer is a pledge to build 1.5 million homes during the next parliament. Doing so would be transformative, lowering costs, creating tens of thousands of new jobs, and funding the creation of a new generation of affordable and social houses. 

Increasing housebuilding is easier said than done. Despite a similar target of 300,000 homes a year, the current government is well short of this. Only 232,800 homes were delivered last year, and a downturn is expected as the country’s economic situation worsens. 

Reforming the planning system will be a key plank of achieving this goal, after being identified as the most substantial barrier to delivering new homes in a survey by the Federation of Master Builders. This will not be easy, however, given how complicated the planning system is. 

The problems with the planning system go well beyond the obstacles it presents to building new homes, and it rarely incentivises building high-quality dwellings well-resourced by local infrastructure and amenities. But, in order to achieve its goal of 1.5 million homes, a future Labour government will need to find priority areas to alter in ways which maximise impact while reducing controversy.

Reducing the Burden

The planning system is burdensome for everyone involved. While debate often focuses on the onus on housebuilders, any document filled in by a developer also has to be read by a planning officer, councillors, and locals keen to have an input into developments in their area. 

This is in part due to regulations being duplicated, between national and local requirements, and within the same local authority. There will be a degree of overlap, for instance, between a tree survey, arboriculture impact assessment, and biodiversity survey. But some councils ask developers for all three. 

This can also be due to regulation being in the planning system inappropriately, regardless of how noble its intensions are. For instance, it is currently impossible to build homes in areas with particularly high nutrient pollution – even though new housing contributes to less than 1% of said pollution. 

A root and branch review of the planning system, ensuring that regulations are not duplicated are in the right place, would reduce the burden for everybody involved in planning and speed up the pipeline of new homes.

Standardising Requirements

Similarly, the complexity of the planning map is an obstacle to building new homes. England contains 391 local planning authorities, ranging from Rutland and its 41,381 residents to Birmingham, the largest local authority in Europe. 

Each of these areas will then have subtle differences in regulations required. These can be seen in the ‘planning validation checklist’, a list of planning documents local planning that authorities are required to publish. Research conducted by the Housing Forum has shown that many authorities lack an up-to-date checklist, and of those that did, the number of documents required to build as few as 10 homes could range from 24 to 42. 

Simplifying and standardising requirements between local authorities, and even considering more radical steps like transferring planning powers to county or combined authorities, would reduce local variation, without reducing the quality of regulation.

Supporting Planners

Delays in the planning system are in part caused by capacity issues in local authorities. Only one in ten local authorities have fully staffed planning departments, with 70% reporting difficulties recruiting new planners. This is fuelled by pay disparity between public and private sectors, difficult backlogs, and online abuse – as a result a quarter of planners have left the public sector in the last ten years. 

It is in part due to this that one in five local authorities still lack an up-to-date local plan. 

Reversing this decline in the public sector would speed up the delivery of planning applications, improve the institutional expertise within the planning system, and help local authorities and developers to work together more effectively to deliver locally appropriate schemes.

Repositioning Democratic Input

Much as excessive paperwork makes navigating the planning system difficult for everyone involved, so too does the nature of democratic input frustrate both those seeking to build new homes, and residents looking to have an impact on their local community. 

Currently, locals get most involved in commenting on individual planning applications, which will already have been drawn up in partnership with a developer and a local authority. The fact that 90 percent of planning applications in the UK are approved points to the fact that most of these are a finalised and detailed product. Thus local input is often perfunctory and ineffective, and many can feel that they have little voice in the process. 

Similarly, developers often express concern that plans can either be delayed or cancelled outright by a particularly vocal local campaign, and councillors can often feel pressured by a vocal minority of residents who often little as small as 1 – 3 percent of a local population 

Meanwhile, as Labour’s Planning Commission (2019) notes, engaging at an earlier stage, when councils draw up their local plans, “often made plan making unapproachable and sometimes intimidating for residents”. After all, residents are seldom planners, architects, or contractors: but they contain valuable knowledge about their local area which should be put to use in constructing local plans. 

Simplifying democratic input at the local plan making stage would make it easier for local people to get involved, for councils to focus attention to a single event, while empowering a greater range of voices.  

This is similar to the calls for a ‘zoning’ system, promoted by organisations such as the Centre for Cities. This would bring the UK in line with comparable democracies, by removing the discretionary nature of the planning system, where planning committees decide on individual applications. Instead land would be designated for a certain use, such as ‘housing’, ‘industry’, or ‘commercial use’, and a set of regulations then applied. Developments which followed these regulations would then be automatically approved. 

Countries like New Zealand, and individual cities like Austin in the US changed their planning systems from discretionary ones to zoning systems, and both saw an increase in housebuilding and a comparative decrease in house prices.  

While moving to such a system would require intensive legislation, moving community input upstream in the planning system could be a suitable stepping stone to simplify the democratic process while broadening it out to a wider audience. 

Reforming the planning system is far from an easy process, and successive governments have promised it and failed to deliver. But identifying achievable and high impact goals will be crucial for a future Labour government to speed up the delivery of homes and meet its 1.5 million home goal. 

This is the first part of a 4-part series in what a Labour government can do to meet its 1.5 million homes goal. Stay tuned for future instalments!

Alex Toal is Communications Executive at The Housing Forum, a cross-sector housing membership organisation representing local authorities, housing associations, contractors and a range of other housing sector organisations. Before joining THF, Alex worked at the Institute for Government and Make Votes Matter, and is a ward organiser for Cities of London and Westminster PPC Rachel Blake. Based in Haringey, Alex helps to run his local LGBTQ+ tennis group and volunteers at his local food bank.

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Student Housing & the Next Labour Government

As a recent graduate, I remember vividly the housing experiences of my time at university. Most students have horror stories about their flatmates coming home late and causing a ruckus, or messy nights out (and the following 9am lectures), but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find stories of horrendous housing conditions, absent or hostile landlords, and university housing teams that often aren’t able to provide detailed or timely advice. In fact, as is sometimes the case, these teams aren’t there to help at all, such as with one current student telling me that “(their) university provides almost no guidance on seeking accommodation beyond halls.”.

While it should be said that many universities try their best with what resources they have, the crisis is national. Even the most effective university housing departments will struggle to plug the gaps without serious governmental intervention.

The problem we face

Many students in the private rented sector suffer in sub-par housing, paying extortionate rents, with nowhere and nobody to turn to for help. Often, the only ports of call are overstretched and underfunded charities like Shelter and Citizens Advice. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many parents of students (especially those from lower-income backgrounds) are themselves renters and, in many cases, don’t know their own rights. This means these parents are often not in a position to lend help or advice when their children face housing issues.

During university, I had a drawn-out experience with a landlord who was personally quite hostile, and importantly did not abide by the law. A few of the breaches were fairly serious, such as not having a proper HMO licence for part of our stay, and not protecting our deposit in time in line with the regulations. HMO licences were introduced by the last Labour Government in the Housing Act (2004), alongside the requirement to properly protect tenancy security deposits with government-approved schemes. The licences were intended to improve housing conditions in places where properties were ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)’, as these are often where the most vulnerable reside, and deposit protection was introduced to afford tenants an impartial adjudicator where disputes arise over damage – as they so often do.

HMOs in England and Wales generally cover households of three or more unrelated groups, with mandatory licensing at five. Their purpose was to set down strict requirements regarding things like fire safety. Local authorities can set their own ‘Additional’ or ‘Selective’ schemes, with lower barriers before licensing becomes mandatory (for example, fewer tenants needed before a licence is required).

What recourse do students have?

If students face similar situations, what recourse is available? Some, but only if they know they it’s there. For example, with HMO regulations there is legislative provision for claims in some cases, but most students wouldn’t even know that HMO licences exist, much less how to deal with a situation where a landlord doesn’t have one. Other situations, such as when a landlord doesn’t protect a deposit in line with the law, can cost in excess of £300 to bring (unless you qualify for help with fees). They also have specific and somewhat arcane procedures that must be followed, lest a student open themselves up to cost and procedural arguments by a landlord who can likely afford a solicitor.

Claims like these can require in-person court hearings, which can be intimidating for anyone, let alone someone such as a student. Many also feel it to be pointless – as another student tells me: “students will live as they are, as they’re moving out in a year anyway” – something that law-breaking landlords no doubt rely on. Local authorities do have the power to prosecute landlords who break some of the more serious rules, but it is hardly surprising that in an era of mass funding cuts, they have run out of the time and money to do so.

The regulation is not enough.

The above covers claims with legislative recourse, but many breaches do not have such clear-cut paths to remediation or, even more importantly, preventing further transgressions. For example, many private tenants are used to landlords and agents demanding access to their property, sometimes without proper notice, and sometimes for spurious reasons. Many are unaware of quiet enjoyment, which is an implied term into every Assured Shorthold Tenancy, and guarantees ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property without undue interference from the landlord or those acting on their behalf. Of those who are aware and choose to enforce it, they tend to have very little success. Damages in such cases are minimal if existent at all. At best, they might (in more serious cases) be able to obtain an injunction. This again, though, requires the tenant to not only be aware of their rights, but also the method (and perils) of enforcing them.

Where do we go from here?

So, how is this dire situation to be rectified? We can start by building on the successes of the last Labour Government.

The introduction of penalties up to 3x the deposit for non-compliance with the regulations were very effective. Allowing Rent Repayment Orders for non-compliance with HMO licensing regulations were also a good step forward. But we must go further. If a student does find themselves in need of advice, universities should be their first port of call. As such, government should legislate to ensure university student unions have an in-house or contracted full-time worker to deal exclusively with housing cases and advice. These individuals would ideally be lawyers, or at least have some form of legal training. Universities should also be encouraged to set up support groups and networks for students to share experiences on housing and how to deal with situations.

Aside from the private rented sector, many students in university-run halls are considered in law to be excluded occupiers (they are specifically excluded from protections afforded to tenants under the 1988 Housing Act and a subsequent Statutory Instrument), and therefore do not have the same rights and recourse that Assured Shorthold Tenants do. Labour should legislate to remove this loophole, ensuring that the protections apply equally to all tenants, regardless of who owns their housing.

In addition, Labour should build on the good work of the introduction of mandatory HMO licencing schemes, by lowering the threshold for mandatory licensing to that which many local authorities have rightly chosen: 3 or more unrelated people/households living in one property. This would provide greater protection to students especially, but also some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, who often have little choice but to share accommodation.

Section 21 (no-fault) evictions are often used as a last line of defence for landlords guilty of breaking the law and being challenged on such breaches, and so it goes without saying that these must be scrapped. This must be implemented carefully, however, as some landlords may choose to raise rents to an unaffordable degree as a no-fault eviction by proxy. Measures therefore must be put in place to avoid this.

Of course, all of the best regulation and rights are pointless if tenants don’t know they exist or how to enforce them. This is why a key priority needs to be proper funding for local authorities to enforce regulations and dissemination of materials detailing rights and remedies to tenants, particularly students. This can be done in many ways, such as via public information campaigns, reframing the ‘How to Rent’ guide as aimed at explaining rights and remedies (including, for example, methods of claim), stricter penalties for landlords not providing the guide, or by encouraging universities and local authorities to provide the information actively to students.

These policies will not singlehandedly solve the wider housing crisis we face – but they would go some way to providing a more stable and equitable housing situation for many.

Johnathan Guy is an LHG member and Labour activist, currently working as a software engineer for a startup.

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More Snakes than Ladders

Occasionally an article comes along that encapsulates what you’re thinking. In the January 11 Economist there was an article entitled ‘The Housing Ladder, 1950-2005’ (https://econ.st/48Svcls note paywall) which came close to summing up my gloom about housing policy over recent decades. Its key theme is that ‘a redundant metaphor (the housing ladder) is blinding policymakers’.

The ‘housing ladder’ has been with us as an idea for a long time, and I remember being subject to endless images of ladders when I was on the board of a major housing association, being used to justify turning away from the production of social rent homes. It was linked closely to the other deadly notion of aspiration, which was of course defined in a way that suited the new policy. 

I used to argue a) that the first step on the real housing ladder is a decent affordable home in any tenure, noting that the ladder might only have one rung, and that b) being brought up in an aspirational working-class family meant that my parents wanted their children to stay at school and have better chances in life, their own wishes to own a home were real but secondary. I always hoped that the housing ladder as a concept would wither away and stop being so damaging to the emergence of a comprehensive cross-tenure housing policy, but it looks once again that it will be the main housing topic when the general election comes.

Of course, calling out the housing ladder as a myth is likely to get you classified as a wild-eyed loon – it is so firmly in the centre of housing’s Overton window (ie the range of acceptable opinion) and is used by media and politicians of all shades all the time – so it’s great to see a serious mag taking the idea to task.  

‘The housing ladder’ is the notion that aspiring people will naturally progress (through thrift and hard work – and by avoiding smashed avocado on toast) from buying a modest flat (or even a share of one) at a young-ish age then trading up over the years as incomes grow and housing equity increases. 

Graphic: The Economist, based on ONS data.

The problem is the facts no longer fit the fable, as the article shows. Home ownership peaked 20 years ago at 70% and has since fallen despite vast policy interventions. The ratio of house prices to earnings was around four from 1950s-1990s and is now eight. Home ownership before 30 is now around a third when it used to be more than a half and is increasingly dependent on inherited wealth or family support. Those who make it onto the ladder are much less likely to trade up. The flood of easy mortgage finance across the world following financial deregulation is now a thing of the past, after the USA mortgage market triggered the global financial collapse, and homeowners’ vulnerability to higher interest rates is now plain to see. The Tories, at huge cost, have tried to reinvigorate home ownership through demand subsidies, but the 1990s paradigm isn’t returning any time soon.

The Economist, data from the Resolution Foundation.

The article places the right to buy of council homes in this context, noting that this ‘one time trick’ transferred a tenth of the housing stock from the state to private ownership in a little over a decade, costing billions but giving a major boost to the appearance of success of home ownership. It also comments that even the successful implementation of the target to build 300,000 homes a year for a decade would only reduce the house-price to earnings ratio to 7. It argues that the ageing population means that homes recycle back onto the market much more slowly than they did.

Normally if I make this kind of argument I get challenged with the sneer: ‘I bet you are a homeowner’. Indeed, I am, and I’m a classic housing ladder person although without much trading up – starting in a council house, fortunate to buy a share of a £15,000 London house in a poor area in the 1970s because it was cheaper than private renting, just when Westminster Council allowed joint mortgages between unrelated people for the first time. All I had to do was sit and watch the value rise. But the responsibility of the lucky generation – mine – is to think about what policies are suitable for the less lucky generations that have followed.

So, as the article states, the private rented sector is no longer ‘a waiting room’ prior to home ownership. It is a destination. Social housing has been shrunk massively and deliberately and can no longer meet more than a small share of need. Those who get into home ownership are taking on mortgages well into normal retirement age. The housing costs of older people – home owners and private renters alike – are escalating rapidly, pensioner poverty will rise, and the state will catch much of the burden.

“The housing ladder may have died two decades ago but its allure as a metaphor remains. That continues to blind Britain’s politicians and voters to the reality of the property market. Rather than harking back to a bygone age, Britain’s politicians need to accept that there is more to housing than home ownership.”

The Economist.

The case I’ve always made is for a comprehensive national housing strategy that covers all tenures, building on their strengths and tackling their weaknesses. It will take a generation to turn things around and to stop housing costs crippling most of our households. In case you doubt it, I support home ownership as the preference and the best solution for many households. It will rise again in a sustainable way when peoples’ incomes rise in relation to property prices, so we should build more, subsidising supply where it is sensible but not wasting cash on demand subsidies that push prices up. We must tackle land costs and developers’ profit-first models. We must build much more social housing for those that need decent homes at lower rents, a hugely successful model that requires investment but not ongoing subsidy. And we must professionalise the private rented sector, the last great unmodernised industry, defining its role more clearly as home ownership and social rented gradually climb back, as surely they will.


See ‘The Housing Ladder, 1950-2005’, The Economist Jan 11 2024. Online https://www.economist.com/britain/2024/01/11/the-housing-ladder-1950-2005 (note paywall). No byline.


Steve Hilditch was a founder member of LHG when it formed 42 years ago, and edited Red Brick blog for 10 years, publishing a compendium book of 100 posts in 2020. He has worked as a housing professional and consultant, advising the last Labour Government, various Select Committees and many Labour Councils on housing matters. He recently carried out a detailed housing review for the new Labour Westminster Council.

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Healthy Homes for Healthy Lives: How Specialist Housing Can Address the Ageing Population Challenge

The UK is getting older

The UK has a rapidly ageing population – a growing demographic that will only put further pressure on our already desperate housing crisis. It is projected that, by 2039, the number of people aged 75 and over will double from 5 million to nearly 10 million.

Over recent years, the Government has focused policymaking on specific reforms to help younger people get onto the housing ladder; or, in some cases, they have actively abandoned any progressive housing reform at all. Schemes such as the Help to Buy ISA and Help to Buy Equity Loan threw a lifeline at those first-time buyers looking to get their foot on the housing ladder amidst a backdrop of austerity and a squeeze on the public purse. However, in this focus, the Conservatives have failed to properly address the vulnerable, rapidly ageing population who are unable to pursue the specialised housing they need.

Recently we have seen the need for a better approach to older people’s housing championed within Parliament and the establishment of the Older People’s Housing Taskforce, a joint effort from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Department of Health and Social Care. However, with the change in Housing Minister once again and the looming General Election next year, the Taskforce is unlikely to make the necessary progress to address older people’s housing challenges. Research from the National Housing Federation (NHF) argues that we need 38,000 new homes for rent for older people each year; much more than the 8,000 we are currently achieving.

Specialised social housing for older people is an important and necessary way to ensure that older people can live in homes that suit their needs, and to address vital health concerns. To address this, the next Labour Government will need to implement a significant programme of building for older people, embedded across two key commitments made at the 2023 Labour Party Conference: Angela Rayner’s commitment to building 1.5 million new homes, and Wes Streeting and Andrew Gwynne’s 10-year plan for a National Care Service.

What can Labour do about it?

Labour have recognised the need for adapted housing and have included provisions for this within the National Policy Forum document. However, whilst this is useful, there remains a need for large-scale development that can provide the need for housing at scale and foster communities.

This is where a partnership in Birmingham may provide the outline to give Labour a big step up in achieving its ambitious home ownership target whilst pursuing a deeper social cause

An exceptional scheme

In 2004, when Birmingham City Council was looking at closing 29 care homes that had become unsustainable, they pursued an alternative programme that would address the shortage of care options whilst increasing provision for older people on middle incomes and those requiring social housing. The programme was not only aimed at meeting the needs of older people, but also those in Birmingham seeking family-sized homes, as the initiative sought to release these back into the market, including social housing underoccupied by older people.

The resulting partnership with the ExtraCare Charitable Trust saw a £200 million strategic programme to build five large scale Integrated Retirement Communities (IRCs) in Birmingham: New Oscott Village in Erdington , Pannel Croft Village in Newtown, Hagley Road Village and Bournville Gardens Village in Edgbaston (pictured) and finally Longbridge Village, completed in 2017. Homes became available for outright purchase, shared ownership purchase and affordable/social rent.

In total, the partnership resulted in a total of 1,168 units being built in five retirement villages.

Of these, 30% were for affordable/social rent, freeing up 342 units of social housing that were previously underoccupied for families requiring accommodation, providing a solution to both meet the needs of the ageing population and address the housing crisis facing younger generations.

The partnership also supported Birmingham’s diverse population. 70% of Pannel Croft’s residents are from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, helping to facilitate a community for the older Afro-Caribbean population in Birmingham.

The subsequent health and social care benefits of the partnership, confirmed by a longitudinal study conducted by Aston University, resulted in savings for Birmingham City Council in social care costs, savings for the local NHS in Birmingham and savings for older people living in these IRCs – highlighting how increasing such partnerships can address both the housing and care challenges of an ageing population. The partnership also helped the Council to reach its own Health and Well-Being Board targets, with a 38% overall reduction in NHS costs and a 46% reduction in routine and regular GP visits for those living in the IRCs. Replicating this partnership across councils nationwide would tie in perfectly with Labour’s aims for both large-scale housebuilding and a National Care Service.

What next?

This example also demonstrates the wide-ranging socio-economic benefits that the building of social and affordable housing brings. By rolling out this partnership on a larger scale, Labour can facilitate a cyclical housing market where all older people who wish to downsize and move into accommodation such as IRCs can do so, and younger people and families can access family-sized homes. The role of IRCs in Labour’s National Care Service was noted in the Fabian Society’s recent report on this topic, which noted that “a major expansion of housing-with-care and supported living schemes” should be a “high priority”, recognising that “the UK has far less specialist housing for older people than many comparable countries, and what is available often does not provide sufficient support to prevent care home admissions when people’s needs grow more complex”. To remedy this, Labour should mandate that all local authorities have an older people’s housing plan which specifically mandates for provision of specialist housing and care for elderly.

Going further, Labour have recognised the urgent need to release parts of our greenbelt for development. Labour should aim to strategically release large parcels of land in conjunction with local councils, specialist housing providers and developers to develop these sites. In areas around cities, this could involve greenbelt land, allowing residents within cities to downsize and release valuable housing stock within urban centres.  By pursuing this, Labour would be bringing more homes back into the market, helping a vulnerable demographic and providing solutions to both councils’ rising social care costs and our ever-growing housing crisis.

Joshua Lee works as a Senior Researcher for Henham Strategy where he specialises in housing and planning policy.

Sarina Kiayani is Policy and External Affairs Manager at ARCO and sits on the Fabian Society Executive Committee.

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Rent to buy: the home ownership model with untapped potential?

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities select committee is mid-way through an inquiry into shared ownership, which includes looking at the barriers to achieving full home ownership under the model and whether it is genuinely an affordable route to owning a home. Delve deeper into the terms of reference and it asks an interesting question: “are alternative schemes such as ‘Rent to Buy’ viable and do they offer more value for money?”

Rent to buy is not a new concept – the Coalition Government launched a £400m Rent to Buy scheme back in 2014 – but it has never really taken off in the way that other schemes to support first-time buyers have. From our experience on the ground, however, it feels like the tide is finally turning in favour of the tenure as more providers enter the market and an increasing number of local authorities adopt it as part of their housing mix. 

This is perhaps a result of increasing recognition that the model has the benefit of tackling two key problems at once: in the vast majority of cases it provides new affordable homes to rent, whilst also providing a realistic route to ownership.

The Government describes Rent to Buy as helping tenants to save for a deposit to buy a home by offering properties at a discounted rent, normally 20% less than market rent.

Historically, it has been seen as a ‘niche’ product and there has been limited availability of it across the country, perpetuating the lack of awareness of the offer. 

Now, with new entrants to the market, the sector is growing, but the challenge is that it is not homogenous. There are rent to buy products delivered by housing associations as part of their affordable rent provision; privately funded models that are included in local authorities’ affordable home ownership offer; and then rent to buy products that aren’t badged as affordable housing at all but are instead delivered as market homes. Muddying the waters further, the length of the rental period varies depending on the scheme – the 2014 scheme had a minimum of seven years renting, whilst the government website now states an initial rental agreement of just two. Some, like ours, offer a gifted deposit to add to renters’ savings, whereas others use the rental payments to count towards buying the property. This makes the sector hard to define in planning policy and confusing to navigate for local authorities, who are understandably wary of new providers in the market. Often, it is easier to stick to doing what they know. 

However, as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, it is an attractive offer for renters who are struggling to save for a deposit and meets a major need in the market. Importantly, we have seen that it can successfully turn renters into homeowners.

As Keir Starmer looks for tangible ways to deliver Labour’s commitment to becoming the party of home ownership, he would be wise to look at how he can support growth of the rent to buy sector. 

First and foremost, we know that saving for a deposit is one of the main challenges to getting on the housing ladder. In June, Zoopla found that the average deposit paid by a first-time buyer was £34,500, rising to £72,000 in the South East and over £144,000 in London.   

For those who can’t rely on the ‘bank of mum and dad’, the difficulty is that often there is very little money left to put aside after paying rent and other monthly bills. The English Housing Survey notes that half of renters – some 2 million households – don’t have any savings at all. This rises to three quarters of those in the social rented sector. 

This leads to a situation whereby the majority of first-time buyers come from the top two highest income groups, pricing out our nurses, teachers, retail and hospitality workers. This should not be the case. Workers across all income brackets should have a realistic prospect of being able to buy a home where they live. And we know that this is what they want; the aspiration to own has been constant at around 9 in 10 people for many years.   

Labour will not be able to increase levels of home ownership and social mobility unless it addresses the deposit barrier. Rent to buy models do this in a way that Shared Ownership does not, by enabling tenants to move into the home that they will one day own without having to pay a deposit upfront, and instead being given the time and support to save for this. 

The latest figures show that the average deposit for an initial equity stake under Shared Ownership was £20,800, putting it out of reach of the half of renters without savings. There is then the challenge of having to ‘staircase’ to full ownership, and the costs associated with this. Currently, comprehensive data on how many people reach full ownership and the time taken to do so does not exist, however, the House of Commons Library notes that the number of households staircasing to 100% in 2020-21 was equivalent to just 2.3% of all shared-equity homes owned by housing associations.

Homes England similarly does not collect post-sales information on grant-funded rent to buy homes; however under our model, 95% of renters have successfully become homeowners with a high street mortgage at the planned point. 

On the question of whether rent to buy offers good value for money, we and other privately funded providers have proven that it is possible to deliver affordable home ownership products entirely without grant. We are fully funded by institutional investment such as major UK pension funds, meaning that there is no cost to the public purse whatsoever. As well as bringing more funding to the sector overall, using private investment to deliver affordable home ownership products enables local authorities to direct their grant funding to deliver more social housing; a win-win. This is an avenue that the Party seems interested to pursue, as the NPF document outlines that Labour will “encourage more private investment, properly regulated, in new supply”. 

Rent to buy’s challenge is not that it is unviable, but that it has been small-scale and is not well known. With Help to Buy having ended, now is the time for it to be brought into the limelight and promoted as a major route to home ownership. Such a campaign from a future government would help boost local authority confidence and acceptance, encouraging more providers to the market and in turn increasing home ownership. 

In addition, whilst privately funded providers do not require government grant through the Affordable Homes Programme, one of the main challenges is that local authorities are often reluctant to accept providers that are not government funded due to uncertainty over their standing. A Homes England equity programme for the rent to buy market would help to provide local authorities with confidence that the models had government support and had been assessed for quality and viability.   

Following the G15 landlord Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing entering the rent to buy sector for the first time earlier this year, Inside Housing wrote: “Rent to Buy has been touted as a model that could replace shared ownership as the dominant affordable-ownership tenure.”

We believe that it can and that the Labour Party should be looking at how to make the most of its untapped potential. 

Steve Collins

Steve is the Chief Executive at Rentplus, and has worked for more than 25 years in both public & private housing and development sectors

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Poll Position

By comparison to 2022, this year has been rather steady, at least in terms of political polling. Britain Elects’ poll of polls tracker generates an average share across all published polls and recorded the Conservatives’ share as 26% on 2 January, 25% on 30 November. The equivalent figures for Labour were 47% and 44%.

Consistently strong leads in the polls and several stunning by-election results served to bolster the sense that the Labour Party is a government-in-waiting. According to Ipsos, nearly 2 in 3 Britons expect Labour to form the next government.  

Part of the reason for this is the damage wrought to the Conservative brand since 2019, particularly in terms of sound economic management. As a colleague has put it, the next election could well be a case of “better the devil you don’t know…”

Alongside this mainly repetitive pattern in headline voting intentions, there have been some important developments in public sentiment and discourse in relation to issues which look likely to feature at the next general election. 

One of these is housing – an issue which Bagehot, The Economist’s political columnist, identified as the starting point of “most problems in British politics”. He also framed the ‘Builders versus the Blockers’ conversation on housing this year, subsequently adopted by Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy among others.

Here are ten features of public opinion in relation to housing, drawn from Ipsos polling on the topic this year.

1. Labour continues to perform well among mortgage holders, and owners.

This tenure has been the last remaining ‘bellwether’ tenure since Labour won over private renters in 2017. Across September to November, Labour’s share among mortgage holders was 47%, much improved on the estimated 33% it got in 2019. This matters because of the tenure’s voting power; mortgagors were 25% more likely than private renters to turn out to vote in 2019.

2. The public have a dim view of the Conservative’s record 

Just 18% of voters think the Conservatives are doing a good job at improving housing in Britain. Those who voted Tory in 2019 are more generous but, even among this group, just 29% were positive. Importantly, in June, three-quarters of Britons attributed rising mortgages to the government’s economic policies.

3. This translates into a strong Labour lead on the issue.

Asked which party has the best policies on housing, 40% say Labour, 14% the Conservatives (the party’s largest lead of 11 policy issues). No surprises really given this is the historical norm, but Labour had been trailing on the issue at the end of the 2000s.

4. Housing has become more salient in voters’ minds.

In 2005, on the eve of the general election, just 5% of people spontaneously mentioned housing among the most important issues facing the country. It simply wasn’t top-of-mind and its salience fell to similar levels during the pandemic having been 17% at the 2019 general election. Our last measure was 18%.

5. The housing crisis is local and global.

Ipsos found housing to be a top five issue determining the way people voted at May’s elections (ahead of immigration). While all housing is local, housing crises exist worldwide. A global study this year found new housing supply to be the top infrastructure investment priority (among 14 options) in Australia, Ireland, Canada, Chile, Germany, Netherlands, and Poland.

6. The housing crisis is an affordability crisis, especially for renters…

At the turn of the year, we found a third of private renters reported spending at least half of their personal monthly income on their rent. In May, we found half rated the availability of affordable properties to rent as a very serious problem. Social housing is also believed to be in short supply. 

7. Under-supply is seen as a political failing, but people matter too…

Overly restrictive planning features near the top among a list of reasons for the undersupply of housing but, in the public’s eyes, comes behind political disinterest and local opposition.

True to form, the same Ipsos polling found public support for new housebuilding to be very conditional on the detail and practicalities. The public are more ‘maybe’ than nimby or yimby, implying a need for astute local leadership on the issue.

8. Confidence is low…

Two-thirds lack confidence Britain will build enough homes in the future. Most people expect homelessness to get worse. Many aren’t sure that a change of government will make things better.

The public are bold on housing and supportive of action – this year we added provisions contained within the Renters Reform Bill to our list of rent caps, taxing second homes, and extending Right to Buy (yes, that) of popular policies. Above all, people want to see evidence of action because they haven’t seen much so far.

9. …but positivity is possible (and necessary).

Our research for Prince William and the Homewards initiative showed that facts, figures and case studies have the potential to shift perceptions into more positive territory. When people are shown that schemes like Housing First can make a sustainable difference to homelessness and can deliver savings and alleviate pressure on public services, they become more engaged and more encouraged that some progress is possible.

10. Don’t assume people are as interested as you!

In May, two in five Britons and a similar proportion of private renters said they had not heard of the Renters’ Reform Bill. And while private renters are widely recognized as having had the rawest deal from actions taken by the Conservative government in recent years, this group has the lowest propensity to vote.

This depends on the issue – in June, three-quarters of Britons said they were following news about rising interest rates very or fairly closely, a higher proportion than were following stories about public sector strikes and the war in Ukraine.

The next general election campaign will likely amplify, but also disrupt, what we’ve witnessed during 2023. As it is on much else, Labour may be in poll position on housing but the race isn’t won yet.

Ben Marshall

Ben is a Research Director at Ipsos UK and long-time commentator on public opinion and housing. He has managed for-policy research and evaluation projects for a range of clients including the Chartered Institute for Housing, Shelter, DWP, DLUHC, The Royal Foundation (supporting Homewards), Create Streets and The Economist.

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Forgotten Generation

“We are on our knees in terms of the housing crisis. I have worked in this sector for 35 years and this is the worst I have ever seen it”

 Fiona Fletcher-Smith, chair of the G15 group

To remedy what is already a catastrophe, we need to activate a national housebuilding programme to deliver the housing that the country needs now and into the future. It is only at this scale and by targeting the housing shortfall and needs of the country that we will stand a chance of providing the housing solutions this and future generations deserve.

Simply put, we need a lot of every type of housing, but mostly housing that is affordable, sustainable and secure. The housing we need is not being delivered due to a constrained planning environment, market conditions and funding complications. This is exacerbated by poor governmental leadership – 16 Housing Ministers in 13 years is not helpful. Institutes are unable to enact the measures needed due to being too risk averse and unable to support the affordable housing sector as they should.

Homeownership rates among 19-29 years olds fell by two-thirds over the period 1989 to 2013, from 23% to 8%. The housing shortage is also leading to an increased number of concealed households, with the number of adults living with their parents rising to 4.7 million in 2021, an increase of 700,000 compared with a decade earlier.

For younger people this is yet another setback in a long line of measures that are holding them back – lower relative incomes, rising housing costs and student loans. Not only is this having a significant impact on their short- and long-term life options, it also directly impacts on national productivity as younger people are held back in their careers due to their immobility.

In many areas of England, younger working people are often not eligible for, or are unable to secure, social rented homes. Due to a lack of affordable supply, home ownership or rental is beyond their financial reach too. 

Set against median incomes, we can see that most forms of affordable (intermediate) homes are out of reach to people under the age of 35. This pushes more and more people into living in overcrowded or inadequate homes.

Chart 1 – The chart above shows what households should be spending on housing costs (green bars) based on the latest ONS data for median incomes against what is charged (blue bars). The affordable threshold for housing cost is calculated at 40% of net income (London Plan), which is the criterion set for affordability. It is 30% of gross income (Manchester housing strategy). The housing costs above are taken from actual housing offers around London and represent typical costs. It clearly shows that for people on median or lower incomes, they must exceed allowances to afford a home.

The Government states that you can buy a home through shared ownership if both of the following are true:

  • your household income is £80,000 a year or less (£90,000 a year or less in London)
  • you cannot afford all of the deposit and mortgage payments for a home that meets your needs

Yet, there is a huge gap between incomes and housing costs. The median incomes for all people aged between 30 to 39 (2020 ONS), in England was £32,259 – dropping to £27,087 for women, who make up the nearly two thirds of people buying shared ownership homes. Even with London weighting, this is a far cry from what is needed to buy a Shared Ownership or Discounted Market home in London which require incomes above £48-63,000 as shown below. A report from UCL illustrates that over the last 7 years, the value of the staircased share has increased by 60% implying that shared ownership is becoming less affordable.

Chart 2 – Example of typical incomes required for Shared Ownership Homes in London.
Chart 3 – Example of typical incomes required for Discounted Market Sales Homes in London.

The result is that well over 50% of younger working people, regardless of their jobs, do not have access to any independent housing options – this is a terrible situation and it is only getting worse. We are not building enough homes and not the right types of homes either.

To overcome the disparity between income and cost, we need to greatly increase housebuilding. We need to look beyond housing types and focus more on whether they are actually affordable to people. Too many people are getting further into debt and spending far too much of their income on housing and energy rather than wellbeing and their prospects.

There are a number of housing models (discounted rents or fixed shared equity) that can ensure affordability, but we are not providing anywhere near enough of these homes. Affordable housing providers and Local Authorities, if given the right levels of support, funding and expertise, can make significant inroads into delivering the homes we need. All suppliers of affordable homes should be supported with access to appropriately priced land and funding.

With the right housing policies and structures in place we can deliver the homes we need that are affordable, safe and protect us from the climate. We need stability and a determination to resolve the housing crisis. We can then aim to make housing a human right and begin to address the shortcomings set in front of younger people.

Pieter Zitman is an affordable housing provider and champion. He recently founded a Bursary to support disadvantaged architecture students in South Africa.