Blog Post

Can sub-dividing properties help to meet housing need within carbon budgets?

All those engaged in the debate about the shortage of decent housing, and lend support to the building of new houses, should be taking into account the carbon emitted in housebuilding and the associated services and infrastructure.  “Building not blocking” might be a great electioneering slogan but suggests the Labour is looking to side step the need to reduce carbon emissions. 

Embodied and operational carbon attributable to housing is a significant contributor to the UK carbon budget and all housing strategies should include measures to reduce this to zero.  Research led by Dr Zu Ermgassen, from the University of Kent has shown that the emissions from building 300,000 houses per year would amount to 113% of the country’s whole carbon budget. He concludes that, “…England can’t go on building new houses forever, and needs to start thinking about better and more systematic solutions as to how we are going to house everyone within our environmental limits”.

These findings mirrored those of the UK Green Building Council Net Zero Carbon Buildings Framework 2019 which points out that, “Annual embodied emissions alone are currently higher than the Green Construction Board’s target for total built environment emissions by 2050.” And it is far more urgent to reduce embodied carbon that, being emitted in the short term, stays in the atmosphere while operational carbon from new and existing stock can be avoided or mitigated in the medium and longer term.

The Communities Select Committee looked at housing and concluded that,  “To meet its target to eradicate the UK’s net contribution to climate change by 2050, the government should embrace every opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. It should be ambitious in setting carbon reduction targets for the built environment both during construction and in use (emphasis added). The building regulations should set more stringent energy performance targets for homes to take into account achievable levels of energy efficiency. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC – or prefabrication) should be used to deliver more efficient homes now to avoid costly retrofitting of homes later to comply with more rigorous energy efficiency targets.”

But there is no sign the Department will rise to the challenge of its own Select Committee. The latest revision to the building regulations does not include embodied carbon since it is not considered to be a matter of safety or how the buildings are used.

Homes England (HE) Strategic Plan 2023 -2028 sees the need for an, “indicator to be developed on embodied carbon of HE supported development.” But HE also say that will be the job of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who have consistently kicked it down the road, to be dealt with after the Future Buildings Standard comes into effect in 2025. Progress is being made on developing the reliable metric that DLUHC use an excuse for the delay but meanwhile, new building continues using materials with high carbon intensity.  At the same time new housing is skewed towards the private demand for larger and instantly under-occupied homes rather than the general housing need for 2 bedroomed properties requiring less carbon to both build and maintain.

This is a challenge to those who think that building 300,000 new dwellings in England each year is the way to address the housing crisis/shortage, particularly if these involve new settlements with even higher carbon costs for infrastructure.  Furthermore, buildings with added PhotoVoltaics (PV) may represent the best chance of reaching ‘carbon negative’ or ‘energy positive’ given the problems being faced by transport, manufacturing, power generation, agriculture and the military. Finally, climate justice dictates that the UK has to lead while expecting less from countries that never benefitted to the same degree from cheap fossil fuels.

If new housing is to continue, there will have to be a scaling up of the use of timber (subject to trusted sustainable supplies), stone, slate, lime based mortar and renders, and low/zero carbon renewably powered MMC.  There are unlikely to be low carbon substitutes for the cement, steel, aluminium, glass and the concrete being used in services like roads and drains. 

Rather than expecting new building to solve the housing crisis, and continuing to complain about the planning system, the shortage and cost of suitable land on which to build houses, the cost of materials and the shortage of suitably skilled labour, there should be greater focus on the potential for sub-dividing existing under-occupied properties.

There are about 28m dwellings and about 27m households, confirmed by the English Housing Survey research which estimates there to be 1.2m empty or underused homes.  That research does not reveal the ubiquity of under-occupancy where about 50% of bedrooms are not being used as such.  Under-occupation is not just confined to villages and rural areas where the most common form of housing has two spare bedrooms. One way to redistribute the housing space that already exists, almost all of which is in need of a deep energy refit during the next decade, is to concentrate resources, finances, fiscal policy and regulations on subdividing existing properties.   Research carried out for The Intergenerational Foundation suggested that there are over 4m dwellings suitable for sub-division that would amount to over 12 years’ supply of low carbon dwellings if the need is for 300,000 per year.  The need is greater for these smaller dwellings but the process would include down-sizing that would release a good number of family size dwellings.

In 2016 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People received evidence that there could be as many as 8 million households looking to downsize and waiting for attractive smaller dwellings to become available.  Some of these households could be keen to downsize–in-place enabled through sub-divisions, some of which could accommodate some of the increasing number of concealed households comprising young adults living reluctantly with their parents, and provide them with greater independence and financial security than enjoyed as lodgers.  The increase in residential densities could also fit the agenda of those advocating for 20min or lifetime neighbourhoods. The many other co-benefits are described in this blog.

A requirement is set out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (as amended) to grant planning permissions for sufficient serviced plots to balance the registered demand for self or custom build housing. Without a serious review this statutory requirement will remain unrealistic, little known and discredited.  However, if those languishing on the statutory self-build registers, with diminishing prospects of being found a serviced plot, can assist in this process of sub-division  (by ‘custom-splitting’), then the transition to low, zero, and then negative carbon housing could have multiple benefits.  Councils could assist in this process by keeping a register of those with space to spare they would ready and willing to share. Grants and/or loans could be made available for sub-divisions to cover the costs of feasibility studies, surveys, specifications and planning and building regulation applications.  These upfront costs could be recovered as a charge against the properties were one or both to be sold on.

Daniel Scharf MRTPI is a director/volunteer at one Planet Abingdon Climate Emergency Centre and blogs at

Blog Post

Renters Reform (Bill): finally, but there’s still more to do

By Jamie McGowan

On 15 April 2019 the Government pledged to abolish Section 21 evictions. Four Prime Ministers, three Housing Ministers, and 52,800 Section 21 eviction notices later… the Renters (Reform) Bill 2023 is here. For tenants this is broadly good news, but as Matthew Pennycook, Shadow Minister for Housing & Planning, observed last week[1], “As drafted, the Bill contains numerous loopholes that disreputable landlords can use to exploit tenants and jeopardise their security of tenure.”

The proposed Bill would be the most significant overhaul of the private rented sector in over 40 years. It includes provisions for a landlord database and portal, the establishment of a private rented sector Ombudsman, and restores tribunal reviews of private rents. The Bill proposes to provide a prescribed way for tenants to request a right to keep a pet which a landlord cannot then unreasonably refuse. This might seem like one of the more frivolous points, but there are more households in the UK (62%) with pets, than without, and this will be a welcome development for many.

The Bill has several parliamentary stages to go through and Labour will have ample opportunity to make calls for it to be strengthened. All of the proposals mentioned above will require substantial scrutiny, in particular the operation of the ‘Private Rented Sector Database’ and the Redress Scheme which are certainly worthy of dedicated future blog posts! However, the most significant headlines relate to security of tenure and grounds for possession and this is what I have focused on in this post. I have briefly set out what the Bill does (or enables to be done later by secondary legislation), what it doesn’t do, and what it could (and should) do better.

Possession grounds

So the flagship achievement of the Renters (Reform) Bill, if passed, would of course be the abolition of Section 21 notices. These are currently the most common way in which people become homeless in England. The Bill also simplifies the types of tenancies so that (nearly) all private tenancies will be periodic assured tenancies. It does this by abolishing fixed-term assured and assured shorthold tenancies. Although ‘periodic’ might actually sound like it offers less permanence, what really affects the security afforded by a tenancy is the reasons it can be ended by a landlord. These are known as possession grounds.

It is worth pointing out that abolishing Section 21 would not, as it is widely being reported, mark the end of ‘no fault’ evictions. There will still be grounds for possession which involve no ‘fault’ from a tenant such as a landlord wanting the property back for a family member to live in. It would however, be the end of ‘no reason’ evictions which, notwithstanding the notable loopholes discussed further below, represents a major landmark on the road to a private rented sector that can provide genuine stability for tenants.

Alternative grounds

The Bill preserves, alters and creates a whole raft of alternative possession grounds. Some proposed changes are subtle but their interpretation could prove significant. For example, amending the existing anti-social behaviour ground 14 to apply, not where something is ‘likely to’ cause nuisance or annoyance, as is the case currently, but where behaviour is simply ‘capable of’ doing so.
All of the remaining possession grounds need to be scrutinised carefully to ensure they can only be used for their intended purposes and when it is fair to do so. Here I have addressed the two which appear to be the most open to abuse by landlords in undermining the removal of Section 21s.

Grounds 1 & 1A ‘Landlord requires property’

These are two separate grounds which enable a landlord to recover possession of a rented property because they require it as accommodation for themselves or a close family member (there’s a list) or because they intend to sell. The inclusion of both of these grounds was inevitable but there are big problems with the proposed mechanisms.

The first problem is that the proposals in the Bill would simply require a landlord to demonstrate an ‘intention’ to use the property to live in or sell before they are able to gain possession. It does not stipulate what evidence should be used to demonstrate this. Once possession has been obtained on these grounds, a landlord is prohibited from re-letting the property for three months or could face a fine of up to £5000.

In Scotland, where ‘no reason’ evictions were abolished in 2017, a similar ground has been abused by landlords and research from last year[2] found that nearly one third of landlords who had obtained possession in order to sell the property had not actually done so within a year.

The second main problem is that these are mandatory grounds, which means that if the criteria are met, a judge hearing the case would have no discretion to consider the tenant’s circumstances and a possession order for the property would have to be made. So, for example, even if a tenant could prove that a landlord had relied on this ground to regain possession from multiple successive tenants at the same property, waited three months on each occasion, and then simply re-let the property, a judge would not have the power to decide ‘perhaps this is disingenuous’ and refuse possession.

So the first and most simple improvement which could be made to these grounds is to make them discretionary so that the courts can consider all the circumstances of a case before making an order. It would also be less open to abuse if there were greater up-front evidential requirements, *before* an order could be made. Otherwise we very much risk seeing the same misappropriation of such grounds, as in Scotland.

Grounds 8 & 8A ‘Rent arrears’

Currently, Ground 8 entitles landlords to a possession order if the tenant was in two months’ arrears when notice was served, and remains at two months’ arrears (or more) at the date of the Court hearing. This ground for possession is both modified and extended by the Bill.

The proposed amendment is that any amount of Universal Credit which is owed but not yet paid to a tenant, should be disregarded when calculating the level of rent arrears. This would be a welcome development, although it should be clarified whether those on legacy benefits and in receipt of Housing Benefit are intentionally excluded by this. This overturns the effect of a very disappointing Court of Appeal decision in 2004 that, even though a tenant was in arrears because of Housing Benefit delays, the Court should make a possession order and not adjourn.

Then there is the new mandatory rent arrears Ground 8A. This entitles a landlord to a possession order when a tenant has fallen into eight weeks’ arrears on three separate occasions during the previous three years. Although the same Universal Credit disregard applies, this new ground wouldn’t even allow for the order to be avoided by reducing the arrears by the day of a hearing, as the existing Ground 8 does. This, coupled with the fact that it is mandatory, makes Ground 8A particularly harsh.

Discretionary grounds do not prevent a Court from making a possession order, they simply allow it to consider the right outcome for both landlord and tenant in all the circumstances. Most importantly, discretionary grounds allow the Court to make suspended orders. These provide landlords with nearly all the reassurance of immediate possession, but if the tenant repays the arrears at an agreed rate, they keep their home and the landlord recovers the rent owed. Labour has called for the mandatory Ground 8 to be made discretionary in the past and hopefully these efforts will be resumed in respect of both of these grounds now.

Beyond the Bill

The substantive content of the Bill aside for one moment, there is the small question of how the protections afforded by it will actually be enforced. Councils are expected to do a huge amount of the enforcement legwork, yet local government has seen the biggest cuts of all the public sector over the past 13 years. The fact that Environmental Health budgets have been reduced by over 50% under the Tories limits their ability to use existing powers. For example, DLUHC research[3] from last year found that very few local authorities were utilising ‘Rent Repayment Orders’ (a potentially significant sanction for certain landlord offences), citing constraints on resources as a factor.

Enforcement by individuals through the justice system will also be significantly hampered if nothing is done about the huge backlogs many courts are facing, which last year reached an all-time high for civil cases[4]. Tenants in some areas will also face huge difficulty in accessing a lawyer for advice and representation. Sustained cuts to the level and scope of legal aid have resulted in only 41% of the population having access to a housing legal aid provider[5]. The effectiveness of the Bill will be significantly dampened without wholesale improvements to access to justice and Labour should ensure this point is made.

And finally, as Matthew Pennycook has been quick to point out, there are various other anticipated provisions which are entirely absent from the Bill. A legally-binding Decent Homes Standard for the private rented sector, a ban on landlords refusing to rent to those in receipt of benefits or with children (‘No DSS’ practices), and measures to strengthen councils’ enforcement powers have all been promised. Labour needs to ensure that, if these are not included in the Bill, the Government is kept to the task of bringing these measures in elsewhere and, ideally, in less time than honouring their Section 21 pledge has taken.

Jamie McGowan is a member of the Society of Labour Lawyers, works for a Labour MP, and is a Young Legal Aid Lawyers co-Chair. This blog was supported by contributions from other members of the SLL Housing & Levelling up Group.  






Blog Post

Abolish or reform Right to Buy?

At the Labour Housing Group AGM in February 2023, we debated whether the Right to Buy (RTB) for council tenants should be reformed or abolished. The majority of members supported reform. 

The mover of the motion to abolish RTB, Martin Wicks, wrote a blog criticising the outcome.

I proposed the amendment making the argument for reform, so feel I should reply. 

The Conservatives have been in power for 13 years and I think that a motion aimed to mandate the Labour leadership to adopt an unpopular policy is a mistake. The right wing press will attack us for being against homeownership, and working people aspiring to gain more financial security. In addition, we should not be seen to be telling 1.4m working class families who have bought their own home that they have done something wrong.

Due to the political risk there is little chance of the Labour leadership prioritising the abolition of RTB. However, there is a realistic chance of the leadership signing up for reform, especially if proposals reinforce their devolution agenda.  

I do not ‘oppose the campaign to end the Right to Buy’, as suggested by the title of Martin Wick’s blog. I support a campaign that involves talking with working class people, debating the issue and if possible winning the argument. We have to be aware of the charge that we are a largely middle-class party telling working class people what is best for them. 

A nationwide ban on RTB is a blunt instrument. The housing crisis is experienced differently in different areas. Whilst the case for stopping RTB is compelling in areas of high housing stress, there are other areas where social housing is less in demand and RTB has stabilised communities. Reform directed towards reducing the negative effects of aspects of RTB will be harder to vilify than a blanket ban. Reform has to be based on the principle that if the Labour leadership supports RTB, because it supports homeownership and giving some working class families greater financial security, it must be prepared to compensate those facing the negative consequences, families on the waiting list and council tenants living in homes that desperately need investment. 

In her conference speech, Lisa Nandy talked about council housing being a locally controlled and collectively owned asset. If a government requires this asset to be sold in order to meet wider policy objectives then it should step in to replenish it. This means a commitment to replace the homes sold and providing councils with the funding they need to maintain their housing stock. If it seems a big ask for a Labour government to prioritise spending public money on reforming RTB, the Chartered Institute of Housing estimates that the Treasury has made £47bn from RTB. A small fraction of this amount coming back to councils will make a massive difference. A way to reduce the public money required to compensate communities is to require homes to be sold much closer to their market value; the effect will be to reduce the discount.  

The principle of compensating communities for accommodating national priorities, such as infrastructure projects, new houses, industry and wind farms, is increasingly accepted.  

RTB represents a huge transfer of wealth to 1.4m working class people over a 43-year period – albeit that the transfer happened in a random way, with those living in the most popular council housing benefiting to the greatest extent. For the first time, some working class people had an asset that they could use to help their families when they hit a crisis. 

RTB allows working class people who want to own their own home to stay within their communities. Paul Watts in his book Regeneration and its Discontents[1] writes that  some working class people view RTB as strengthening for them and giving their children the ‘right to stay’ in their home. Council tenants have a secure tenancy, but the 2016 Housing and Planning Act demonstrated that this security could be taken away by a hostile government.

An issue to consider is differential financial outcome between council tenants who exercise the RTB and those that do not. Council tenants who have paid their rent for 40 years have effectively paid off the cost of building their home. However, when they die, they will leave no asset for their children. We could consider a cash bonus for long-term council tenants.

This Tory Government has been tightening succession rights, so adult children who have lived their whole lives in a council home are sometimes forced out when their parents, the tenants, die. We should certainly restore succession rights.

Resident activists have struggled heroically to maintain the liveability of their estates in face of funding cuts and Conservative Governments who believe that council housing should be the tenure of last resort for ‘needy’ families. Jane Jacobs, author of the seminal work the Death and Life of Great American Cities[2] understood that to bolster under-threat neighbourhoods you needed to encourage those earning a little bit more to stay within, rather than flee, their community. 

A policy solution could be to continue to allow existing tenants to be able purchase their homes. However, introduce a requirement that if they want to move out, or their children want to sell the property on their death, that the local authority should have the option to buy-back the property, with an appropriate allowance for the increased value of the property in the intervening years. 

The exception to the continued RTB for existing council tenants should be for those moving into new build properties. These homes are particularly precious and should not be lost at a discounted price. 

We need to confront the negative effects of RTB. It has resulted in the transfer out of local, democratic ownership of 1.4m homes, at a time of acute housing shortage. Whilst the focus on the housing crisis has been on urban areas, council housing is a precious resource in rural areas. Access to a council house is often the only way that families can stay in the area in which they grew up. In areas of high housing stress, the abolition of either RTB or the discount is entirely reasonable. The other alternative is for the government to fund the gap between the RTB sale and market value, so that councils can build replacement homes.

We also need to consider the effect on other council tenants of sales below the market value. When a property is sold the council loses the rental income. The RTB discount is £87,200 nationally and £116,200 in London. The sale price is based on a tenanted rather than vacant possession valuation. The valuation can be held for up to 18 months, which means that the benefit of house price inflation is lost to councils. Councils have to predict expected major works costs for five years after the initial sale and have to follow complex leasehold legislation. If they get either wrong, leaseholders cannot be recharged for works and tenants have to pick up the bill. 

A consequence of the underfunding of council housing is that when major works do happen the recharges to leaseholders are high. Many councils have schemes whereby tenants fund a three-year interest-free loan to leaseholders to help them pay their charges. When major works recharges have been particularly high, some councils have capped recharges to leaseholders, requiring tenants to cover the shortfall. Council tenants are required to cross-subsidise leaseholders more affluent than them. There is important research to be done on the total cost of selling homes at less than their market value and subsequent undercharging. It is a crude assumption, but if we assume that the combined cost of the under-valuation and under-charging is £50,000 per property, at today’s costs, on total of 1.4m sales the amount lost is £7bn. This amount could have made a significant difference to the upkeep of council homes, and probably saved Michael Grove from having to emote about the ‘deplorable condition of some council homes’.

The current Government has caught council housing in a perfect pincer movement. Whilst being responsible for underfunding maintenance it is offering to act as the tenants’ champion against their ‘incompetent landlords’.

Housing Associations have resisted the imposition of mandatory RTB because it would undermine their business plans, but no such consideration has been given to councils. 

Over the last 20 years, whilst the number of social rent homes has been declining, the private rented sector has been growing, to the extent that there are now more properties in the private rented sector. The consequence is that hundreds of thousands of people who need the security and affordability of social housing are now living in the unregulated private rented sector.  Lisa Nandy committed a Labour Government to reversing this trend in her Conference speech, with a pledge that there will be more social rent homes than those in the private rented sector by the end of the first term. For this to be achieved, in addition to new council house building, tens of thousands of homes need to be transferred from the private rented sector to councils and cooperatives. If left unchecked RTB is a powerful engine to frustrate this aspiration. Nationally, 40% of RTB properties are now in the private rented sector, with most London Councils reporting over 50%. An incoming Labour Government will need to legislate to include in the lease of future RTB sales a covenant prohibiting the renting out of the property. 

What is particularly unpopular with other estate residents is when ex-council properties end up with slum landlords, short-term lets or as AirBnB properties, all of which work against the efforts of resident representatives to sustain communities. 

With regard to RTB properties already rented out, covenants cannot be introduced retrospectively to stop this. However, the opportunity to buy properties back will arise. The majority of council housing is over 50 years old; an incoming Labour government will need to invest a substantial amount of money to make these homes liveable, safe, damp free and energy efficient. Leaseholders will need to contribute to these significant major works costs. For many buy-to-let landlords their asset will no longer be profitable and they will welcome the option of a sale back to the council. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has found that adding to the stock of social housing through buy-backs is often less expensive than building new homes. 

Whenever the state undervalues an asset and underfunds the administration of its disposal, it invites fraud and dishonesty. Companies and criminal gangs have preyed on vulnerable and cash-strapped tenants. In addition, families have funded aging relatives to exercise the RTB so that they can benefit financially when they die. An incoming Labour government should commit to funding a more robust vetting regime.  

LHG member Steve Hilditch reports that Westminster Council is forced to buy back RTB properties that it sold at a discount, at five times the original cost to help meet its obligations to people who are homeless. A Labour government committed to sound public finance should not allow this to continue. 

In this blog I have argued for the range of policy initiatives, such as halting RTB in high housing stress areas, reducing the discount, placing restrictive covenants on future RTB sales, central government compensation for lost council income and finance to replace and buy back homes. The effect will be to devolve decision-making powers and finance to local democratically elected representatives, reinforcing Labour’s devolution agenda. 

[1]  Paul Watts: Regeneration and its Discontents (2021)
[2]  Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

Blog Post

Labour’s housing promise must invoke the spirit of 1945

Recent statements by both Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy about the need for more housebuilding, especially more council housing, together with a commitment to offer new protections for those in rented accommodation is, on the face of it, encouraging  news.  However, we await with interest the detail on Labour’s housing plans, notably how a future Labour government intend to reform the planning regime, which Labour says is necessary to facilitate its future housing programme. 

The next Labour government will inherit a housing crisis of mammoth proportions. The number of households living in inadequate and temporary accommodation is rising exponentially, whilst rough sleeping numbers continue to increase. Thirteen years of Conservative inaction and neglect on housing, particularly the gross under-provision of affordable and social housing has left Britain facing a housing crisis comparable to that of 1945. A future Labour government must be bold on housing in both quantitative and qualitative terms. A major housebuilding programme will not only provide the much-needed homes for families and individuals, it will also contribute significantly to Labour’s plans to grow the economy.  

The parallels with 1945 are substantial. The post-war Attlee government was not only bequeathed a housing crisis, it inherited an economy in almost total meltdown. Indeed, in 1945 the economist John Maynard Keynes described Britain’s economic plight as a ‘financial Dunkirk.’ Despite this, the 1945-1951 Labour government built over 1.2 million new homes including more than one million council houses. Nonetheless, the housing record of the post-war Labour government is not without its critics, with some housing specialists and historians describing it as both an underachievement and a welfare state failure. In my essay published in Labour History Review (April 2022) Labour History Review Volume 87 (2022), Issue 1 – Society for the Study of Labour History ( I challenge this notion and argue that Labour’s post-war housing record, if assessed on the basis of both the quantity and the quality of the houses constructed, in addition to the political ideology that underpinned the housing programme, far from being one of underachievement and failure, was one of radical and progressive achievement. 

The housing promise, contained in Labour’s manifesto for the 1945 general election, Let Us Face the Future, was bigger on rhetoric than it was on specifics. However, an analysis of the relevant documents of the period, reveals that Labour’s housing ethos was based on four broadly defined policy areas: quantitative performance; affordability; qualitative performance; and planning and control of land use. As we have seen, when Labour left office in October 1951, it had presided over the construction of more than 1.2 million new permanent dwellings. In addition, a further 490,000 units of accommodation of various types had also been provided, including more than 157,000 temporary prefabricated bungalows.  Moreover, the Labour government, in an attempt to make council housing more affordable, introduced a generous housing subsidy that increased the money value of the Exchequer contribution from a ratio of 2:1 to 3:1 payable over 60 rather than 40 years, easing the financial burden on local councils. The subsidy was seen also as an incentive to local councils to boost quantitative output.

Although the post-war Labour government’s priority was focused mainly on housing in the public sector, it nonetheless introduced legislation to protect tenants in the private sector. Such measures included the introduction of rent control on new houses built for private let. Such houses had been exempted from rent control during the period 1919 to 1939. Tenants of furnished properties were afforded protection by the introduction of rent tribunals. In addition, rent tribunals could extend the security of a tenant’s lease on a rented property and review payments made by the tenant to the landlord in respect of accommodation, furniture, and other items. The rent tribunals were given powers to recover excess payments, by way of a reduction in rent.  The Attlee government acted robustly to afford protection to tenants renting in the private sector.

The post-war Labour government set about ensuring that housing standards, particularly in terms of space, facilities and equipment were implemented in the new permanent dwellings built by councils across the country. Crucially, the provision of high qualitative housing standards provided a vehicle by which the health and wellbeing of tenants could be enhanced. Labour took its lead from the seminal report Design of Dwellings (more commonly known as the Dudley Report), that in 1944 recommended much improved housing standards in houses built post-war by local authorities. A standard three-bedroom house built in 1948 was typically one-third larger than its 1930s equivalent. Such houses contained two toilets, which was at the time considered a great luxury. High standards were guaranteed by way of the application of tight control over housing plans by the regional offices of the Ministry of Health and by attaching conditions to the approval of housing subsidy from the national Exchequer. 

The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was arguably one of the most radical pieces of legislation affecting housing. The passing of the 1947 Act fulfilled Labour’s manifesto commitment to implement a full programme of land planning and the pledge that housing should be dealt with in relation to good town planning, including pleasant surroundings, green spaces, and attractive layout. This more strategic approach to planning offered support to the concept of neighbourhood planning including improved housing and community standards.  The statute was ideologically radical in that it vested the control of land use in public hands.  The 1947 Act became the foundation of modern town and country planning in Britain, and together with the New Towns Act 1946 created a system of land use control and a machinery for positive town construction. The creation of new towns facilitated by the 1946 Act not only provided a further vehicle for the building of public sector housing for rent, it enabled the creation of more heterogeneous communities. In this respect planning, as a means to enhance and shape society was crucial to the success of Labour’s housing programme.

The ideology of the welfare state, epitomised in its defining features of the malleability of society, economic intervention by the state, universal provision and the health and wellbeing of citizens, were inherently present across all four major areas of Labour’s housing policy aims: quantity, quality, affordability and planning and the control of land use.  Ideologically, the post-war Labour government could and perhaps should have gone further by, for example, bringing the private rented sector under public control. Labour seriously considered such a course in 1948, but most probably rejected the proposal not on ideological grounds but on grounds of financial economy. However, Labour did legislate to make council housing ‘universally’ available for general needs by way of the Housing Act 1949. The 1949 Act was ground-breaking in that it removed the stipulation that council housing should be designated as working-class housing, a provision that had featured, in various forms, in every previous housing statute enabling the provision of housing by public authorities. 

Labour’s housing promise at the next election must invoke the spirit of 1945 by committing to a housing programme of significant proportions in terms of quantity and quality, underpinned by a progressive planning regime and a housing ideology dedicated to helping those in the greatest housing need.

Dr John Temple is a retired housing professional, specialising in community investment initiatives and tenant involvement. He served as a Labour councillor between 1981 and 2004 and was Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council from 1997 to 2004. He received his PhD from the University of Sunderland for his assessment of Labour’s housing record, 1945 to 1951.

Blog Post

From ‘homes for votes’ to ‘homes for people’

It was a moment of great drama when long-time former Labour Group Leader, Paul Dimoldenberg, won his nemesis Shirley Porter’s old seat of Hyde Park Ward last May and Labour took control of the council that had once been notorious for her ‘Homes for Votes’ policy in the 1980s. 

Labour arrived at City Hall with a detailed Manifesto and a raft of housing commitments. One promise was to establish a Housing Review as part of the ‘Future of Westminster Commission’. Strong groups of experts were appointed to fundamentally examine housing supply and homelessness and a new citywide Residents Panel was appointed to look at how to improve the management of the council’s own homes. 

The Review started by studying in detail the pipeline of schemes on the council’s own land, quickly re-setting the relationship between Westminster and the London Mayor, leading to the council gaining over £60m extra in grant in addition to a major increase in the use of its own resources. Scandalously, the Tories had refused to hold ballots on the two big regeneration schemes, Church Street and Ebury, meaning that they did not qualify for grant. By going out to residents and explaining our strategy we held very successful ballots, gained tens of millions of extra grant, and increased the number of social rent homes in these two projects by 158. Overall, we added over 300 council homes for social rent in current Council building schemes. 

The current state of play is that over the course of  this council term (to 2026/27) we are on course to build over 1000 social rent homes (nearly 700 net taking account of reprovision) on our own land, alongside around 200 new homes for intermediate rent. Our longer-term pipeline contains many more truly affordable homes, and we are continuing to look for ways to strengthen this position further. Council homes for social rent on council land is our mantra because we have around 3000 households in temporary accommodation and over 4000 on our housing register and, when it comes to building social rent, land we already own gives us the best bang for our buck. 

Despite all our efforts we will only put a dent in the problem rather than solving it – only sustained government action over a decade and more will do that. But every home provided means a family or individual has a real opportunity to build a life in a genuinely affordable home. 

There is no silver bullet on housing supply. We have made a good start on our own land, but we will leave no stone unturned to try to get more truly affordable homes. For example, we have embarked on a revision of the City Plan to get more truly affordable homes out of the planning system (for example by requiring small luxury developments to contribute to tackling the housing crisis) and we are talking to the city’s registered providers about what more they can do. 

There is also great urgency to tackle the crisis in temporary accommodation (TA) that we inherited, especially as homelessness is likely to grow as the housing market deteriorates. We are putting around £170m into acquisitions for temporary accommodation which should provide around 270 homes either in the city or within a 30-minute bus journey. We will inevitably still rely on procurement of private rented homes, but we are determined to try to make sure they are of a decent standard and as close to support networks as possible. This is not at all easy, given that the Government’s frozen local housing allowance means less than 0.5% of homes in Westminster are affordable for those reliant on housing benefit. 

We are also working on improving the package of support to households in TA to reduce the impact it has on them, and especially on children.  

Even people on decent incomes struggle to find affordable homes in Westminster, so through changes to our Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Document  and reform of our practices we are repurposing ‘intermediate homes’ so they directly benefit key workers, mainly those earning less than £60K, rather than general demand. We think a local offer to health and transport workers and others will be very popular and will help our city in many ways. Collaboration with the private sector and other public bodies over their developments and use of local assets will play a crucial part in helping build the key worker housing we need for the future.    

More than most places, Westminster is associated with global dirty money being put into property that is often not used as a home. We are adopting an empty homes strategy and have appointed an empty homes officer to assess the scale of the problem and tackle the most egregious cases and find new ways to help homes back into use and to bring life back to communities at risk of being hollowed out. This also fits our dirty money strategy which has attracted attention because of the strong action being taken against ‘candy shops’ as well as on residential. 

These are our main initiatives on housing supply; we have also been active on the private rented sector, starting a review of housing allocations, and rethinking our Rough Sleepers Strategy – another big issue with a Westminster focus. Our Residents Panel has been getting to grips with a wide range of issues in housing management, including starting work on our proposed Repairs Charter and our Leaseholders Charter, and we are delivering on our promise to increase the number of housing officers and to re-open estate offices.  

There is a strong overlap between housing and our vitally important work to help people through the cost-of-living crisis. We have set up a £1m+ rent support fund to assist those facing the 7% rent increase without full benefit support and, amongst other things, we have provided over £14m in cost-of-living support to local families and are extending our free school meals offer, currently for all primary pupils as of January, to include nursery and key stage 3 pupils thanks to some help from Sadiq Khan.  

The housing crisis is now so severe that there is no way out without strong and sustained government action. The General Election is drawing closer but, in the meantime, we will do everything we can to make as big a contribution as possible from Labour Westminster.

Cllr Adam Hug is the Leader of Westminster City Council.

Steve Hilditch is Chair of the Westminster Housing Review

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Domestic abuse is a housing issue that needs a Labour Government’s response

By its very nature domestic abuse is a housing issue, directly impacting on a survivor’s right to a life free of violence and abuse and the right to a safe and stable home. Domestic abuse is one of the leading causes of homelessness amongst women, and is currently the second most common reason for households approaching English councils for homelessness relief.  For 70% of women who responded to a survey by Women’s Aid, fear of homelessness and housing insecurity has prevented them from leaving their abuser. Once made homeless, many survivors face additional barriers when they need to leave their local area to achieve safety, including gatekeeping and local connection tests, and the loss of secure social housing.  

The Labour Housing Group’s Labour Manifesto asks as a response to domestic abuse and housing

The Labour Housing Group consulted with the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA)-led National Housing & Domestic Abuse Policy and Practice Group, and the wider domestic abuse and housing sectors to put forward three top priorities for inclusion in the Labour Party Manifesto to respond to the housing needs of survivors of domestic abuse. A further seven recommendations are detailed in our wider consultation response.  

  1. Joint Tenancies: Where survivors of domestic abuse share a joint tenancy with their abuser, it is legally complex and expensive to maintain their tenancy and home when separating from their abuser, and many are often forced to become homeless as a result.  We must ensure survivors have the viable option to stay safely within their own home, where it is safe and their choice, and we must place a responsibility on perpetrators to be the ones to leave.  DAHA and Women’s Aid Federation England (WAFE), with the support of the wider National Group, housing, and family law experts, have put forward a simplified legal mechanism for the removal of a perpetrator from a joint secure or assured social tenancy with the survivor,. We are encouraged that both Scotland and Wales have passed legislation that improves the legal options for survivors of domestic abuse to maintain their tenancy while the perpetrator is removed, and we would hope that this has set a strong precedent for a future Labour Government to follow.  

We urge the Labour Party to include commit to supporting survivors who share a joint tenancy with their abuser to have the viable option to stay safely within their own home and to place the responsibility of leaving on perpetrators.

  1. Priority Need & Local Connection:  With the passing of the DA Act 2021, survivors of domestic abuse were given automatic priority if they are homeless because of their experience of domestic abuse. Yet, there is a growing body of evidence, from charities such as Refuge, that many women across the country still face gatekeeping from local authority homelessness services, and are denied priority need, and access to safe accommodation. In fact, this is the most common issue Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline staff encounter. Dr. Kelly Henderson, DAHA co-founder, further shared through her ongoing research, not only the practical barriers to women denied immediate accommodation and support through gatekeeping, but also the long- and short-term traumatic impact of these experiences.  Many survivors face additional barriers from local authorities who continue to apply a local connection test when allocating social housing. This is contrary to statutory guidance, and disqualifies a significant proportion of survivors who have been forced to an unknown area to become safe.  

The Labour Party should make a commitment to protect survivors of domestic abuse by enabling them to access to support and safe accommodation, and to act against local authorities who are not fulfilling their legislative duties. 

We also ask that Labour commits to a statutory exemption for survivors of domestic abuse from local connection or residency requirements as part of their qualification criteria for applicants for the allocations of social housing. 

  1. A gender informed homelessness pathway: There is a strong body of evidence which demonstrates that women’s rough sleeping is significantly under-counted and current provision is failing to address and provide for women’s rough sleeping. Women sleeping rough carry the added burden of gender-based violence and abuse before, during, and after their time on the streets.  Hiding from harm can mean that women are ‘hidden’ from support services and missing from homelessness statistics. For many the only offer off the streets is to go into mixed accommodation, where women may continue to be exposed to male violence and abuse. Without identifying and responding to women’s experiences of rough sleeping as distinct from men, which requires a distinct response, we will not end rough sleeping.  

We advise Labour to include in the Manifesto a commitment to recognise and respond to women’s rough sleeping as a distinct and urgent problem which requires a distinct and urgent response, if the wider ambitions to end rough sleeping for good are to be realised. This must include gender informed homelessness pathway and women-only accommodation offer across the country.

The social housing crisis

These housing needs and issues are inextricably linked to the crisis of a significant lack of social housing. It is the fundamental problem from which many of these complex housing issues arise, and changes to joint tenancies and local connection, for example, while welcome, will be limited without genuinely committing to a new generation of socially rented homes. Based on these findings, we welcome the commitment in the last Labour manifesto to build new social rented homes, and seek the following for the future: 

  1. A continued commitment to building at least 150,000 new socially rented homes a year. This should include sufficient family-size homes.
  1. A commitment to create a dedicated fund for delivering a variety of affordable housing tenures for domestic abuse victims-survivors, including homes for single people and families, with relevant security measures in place.  This will offer people a route out of abuse, and options for long term good quality homes that are safe. In turn reducing the burden on local authorities. We recommend this includes a commitment from Labour to have a set annual target to deliver these homes, and publicly publish outcomes on an annual basis.

Deidre is the Senior Housing Manager at Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse, and also Chair of the National Housing & Domestic Abuse Policy & Practice Group and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA). 

[1] Women’s Aid. (2020) The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Hidden Housing Crisis. Bristol: Women’s Aid.
[2]  Bowstead, J.C. (2022) ‘Journeyscapes: the regional scale of women’s domestic violence journeys’, People, Place and Policy, 16(3), pp. 219–235. Available at:
[3]  National Group Members include: Against Violence & Abuse (AVA), Agenda Alliance, Angelou Partnership, Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid, Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), Commonweal Housing, Crisis, DAHA, The DRIVE Partnership, the Employeer’s Initiative of Domestic Abuse (EIDA), Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW), Generation Rent, Gentoo Housing Association, Hestia, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation (NHF), Peabody Housing Association, Refuge, Resolve ASB, Respect, SafeLives, Shelter, Single Homeless Project, Solace Women’s Aid, Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse (STADA), Women’s Aid Federation England (WAFE)
[4] Briefing on Joint Tenancies and Domestic Abuse:
[5] Briefing on Joint Tenancies and Domestic Abuse:
[8] There are now over a million households on the official social housing waiting lists. However, the National Housing Federation’s People in Housing Need report in 2021 stated that the number of people in need of social housing in England has reached 4.2 million, which equates to 1.6 million households, significantly more than on the official waiting lists. In 2021-22, only around 7,500 new social rent homes were built, a decline from 37,700 in 2011-2012. There is wide consensus based on a strong evidence base that we need 90,000 homes for social rent every year for the next fifteen years just to address need* , which will require considerably more government funding than is currently allocated within the AHP. ** Crisis, Housing supply requirements across Great Britain: crisis_housing_supply_requirements_across_great_britain_2018.pdf

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Housing has a critical role in Labour’s National Care Service plans

There aren’t many more pressing issues for Labour to tackle than the social care crisis, if we get into government after the next election. 

  • Millions without access to the care they need
  • High care costs looming
  • An urgent workforce challenge, with nearly 500,000 extra staff needed by 2035 to meet the needs of the ageing population. 

The list goes on. 

Tackling the care crisis is important in its own right. People have a right to good quality care, and staff deserve good pay and conditions. But the social care crisis bleeds into other areas of life. It’s inextricably linked to challenges in the NHS, with a lack of good-quality care resulting in people spending unnecessary time in hospital. 

Labour has started to show its ambition, launching a commission on a roadmap to a National Care Service, being undertaken by the Fabian Society. The idea is to produce recommendations for the first years of a Parliament, as well as longer-term proposals for a more total transformation. 

As well as the urgent funding issues and need to tackle the workforce crisis, there is an aspect of social care reform that we can’t overlook: the need to think differently about how social care is provided. In what settings should we look after people needing care? To what extent does the traditional model of either receiving care at home, or moving into a care home, suffice for the modern era? 

It has been pleasing to see the Fabian Society’s initial principles for social care recognising this, putting preventative models which keep people healthy and independent for longer at the heart. They have also highlighted the important role of housing. 

Because, while the social care crisis impacts deeply on other areas of life like healthcare, solving the social care crisis will itself necessitate drawing on other policy areas – housing included. 

For older people, who receive about two-thirds of the social care provided in this country, good housing can make all the difference. And housing-based models of care are emerging to bridge the gap between care at home and a care home; two ends of what should be a diverse spectrum of care options. 

These include Shared Lives Plus schemes which enable people to bring someone needing extra support and care into their home, creating bonds across the generations, and Integrated Retirement Communities (sometimes called housing-with-care), giving older people the chance to rent or buy a flat in a community with onsite staff, social care, and communal facilities. 

Supply of these innovative new options is severely limited, though. Around 14,000 people currently use Shared Lives Plus, while there are only 75,000 homes within housing-with-care. Just 0.6% of over-65s currently have the opportunity to live in this kind of setting, 10 times less than countries like New Zealand, Australia and the US. 

Demographic change demands that we do better. A recent report published as part of the Mayhew Review argued 50,000 new homes for older people need to be built each year to meet the needs of the ageing population. That’s one in six of all new homes if the government meets its target of 300,000 a year. A significant proportion of these need to be homes including social care, said Professor Mayhew. 

Putting housing-based options at the core of social care reform is not just about expanding choice for older people. It’s about keeping people healthy and well for more years: GP and hospital visits go down by an average of 38% per resident, and social care costs reduce by nearly 18% for those with lower-level needs, and 26% for those with higher-level needs. 

So, what would Labour need to do to put rocket-boosters on this type of care, to really put housing at the core of a National Care Service committed to prevention? 

Yes, funding would have an important role, particularly to grow the affordable and social rent parts of the sector. Following a growth spurt in affordable extra care housing under New Labour, there is now not enough funding to build, operate, and provide care in these settings. 

But funding is not the only answer. What is really needed is a government that backs housing-with-care with a clear definition of the sector, reforms the planning system to make it easier to build, and puts in place stronger consumer protection regulation to inspire confidence. 

It’s an area that simply hasn’t received government attention of any kind – something that has been critical to success in other countries. The government’s Older People’s Housing Task Force, due to launch imminently, will be an important step. 

When Labour’s commission on social care produces its recommendations, and when the Party plans its reforms for the next Parliament, there will be many issues at the top of the social care in-tray. Finding a fair and sustainable funding settlement, and tackling the workforce crisis, are key. 

But reimagining the social care system and creating modern options fit for the modern era are equally as important. If Labour gets into government, it has the opportunity to do something truly transformative on social care – and housing has a key part to play. 

Sam Dalton works on housing and social care policy for the representative body ARCO, and is a Labour Party councillor in Southwark. 


Blog Post

Empowering Tenants to Drive Real Change in the Private Rental Sector

The State Of It

The number of households renting from private landlords has doubled since the year 2000 to 4.6m but quality of housing and protection for private tenants has not kept pace.

According to Environmental Consultant Dr Stephen Battersby, there are 4 times more damp homes in the private rented sector (PRS) than in the social rented sector.

Four years after the Tories promised to reform the private rented sector tenants are as vulnerable as ever to bad landlords. ‘No fault’ evictions, known as Section 21 evictions, are in fact soaring – up 76% on last year according to the BBC. While figures are skewed by the ban on evictions during the pandemic, in the first quarter of 2022, claims and orders in private landlords’ possession cases had returned to a similar level to 2019.

This is a miserable situation for private renters in this country – paying steep sums for terrible conditions and insecurity, while the government drags its feet over promised reforms.

When the Renters Reform Bill was finally announced last year in the Queen’s Speech, long-awaited by organisations like Marks Out Of Tenancy and our colleagues at the Renters Reform Coalition, one thing that was notably lacking was details of any extra money or enforcement powers or bodies which will be put in place to back up the new rules.

Herald A Substantial Shift

In the absence of any new enforcement from government, Marks Out Of Tenancy allows renters to take matters into their own hands by providing written feedback and a score for the landlord, property and area. This gives tenants a much needed mechanism to call out sub-standard properties and problem landlords, providing desperately needed transparency and accountability in the PRS. 

“A longstanding characteristic of the sector is poor information and communication,” writes Professor Alex Marsh of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.  

He continues: “Small-scale landlordism coupled with transient tenants compounded, in many areas, by high demand means that there is a market for poor quality and the market does not discipline poor quality providers. The arrival of websites like Marks Out Of Tenancy may eventually herald a substantial shift in this dynamic: they allow the market to develop a form of memory.”

Meanwhile current enforcement falls short. Convictions of rogue landlords under the Prevention of Eviction Act 1977 remain startlingly low; a May 2022 report by Safer Housing shows that of a total of 6,930 reported offences under the act in 2020 only 23 had proceedings brought against them and only 12 resulted in a conviction. 

The PRS has been left to self-regulate for too long and it simply has not worked. Landlord associations and voluntary landlord registration schemes on their own can’t regulate landlords, and overstretched local authorities can’t do any more to challenge bad landlords than they already are doing – but there is space for a regulatory force outside the market and the state.

Introducing ‘Decentred Regulation’

The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence makes the case for ‘decentred’ regulation in response to the current crisis in the PRS in a 2020 report entitled Improving Compliance with Private Rented Sector Legislation (page 34). 

The report explains: “Much regulatory thinking starts from the state – in the case of the PRS: local authorities, licensing agencies, trading standards and the police – as the core of the regulatory regime. Decentring regulation is an invitation to look more widely at the organisational landscape of a policy sector to understand what else is going on and which other organisations and social actors are acting in a regulatory capacity. Approaching regulation as “decentred” frequently signals a concern with processes of self-regulation.”

This is precisely what Marks Out Of Tenancy exists to do. As the report states, Marks Out Of Tenancy is a platform that seeks to regulate quality in the PRS via tenant feedback and rating completely independently of the state.

In the context of decentred regulation, Ben Yarrow, CEO of Marks Out Of Tenancy says:

“Imagine a scenario where a local authority had imposed restrictions on properties that can be used as Airbnb rentals – and the Airbnb platform reported back to a local authority when a property was being let without a licence. Or imagine a scenario where Checkatrade or Trustatrader reported non-compliant plumbers who were operating without Gas Safe certification. These scenarios are unlikely to occur – these companies would be hurting their own business by reporting their own customers, however Marks Out Of Tenancy differs significantly in that we have no vested financial interest in the rental transaction.”

Marks Out Of Tenancy needs help threading review data with enforcement; while a well-publicised bad landlord may struggle to find a new tenant, all the bad reviews in the world will not force them to make the necessary repairs if they are not minded to. This is where it becomes essential to work closely with existing regulatory and enforcement bodies at the Local Authority level. 

For our local authority partners, we provide legally compliant, timely and accurate data from tenant reviews.

On a basic level it enables licensing and enforcement teams to find out:

  • Which properties are being rented
  • Who was acting as the landlord
  • How many people were living in the property
  • If the property needed a licence
  • If it was licensed at the time it was being rented
  • If the property complied with Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency (MEES) standards

Through the Marks Out Of Tenancy portal, housing officers are also able to open communications with the tenant who left the review.

Using pre-written templates, officers are also able to send letters through the Marks Out Of Tenancy portal, addressed to landlords of flagged properties inviting them to comply with licensing requirements, MEES legislation or even a friendly chat.

The platform continues to grow in scope and ambition, having recently secured a significant grant to fund our work for the next three years. This funding will enable tenants in the London boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth to make better-informed decisions about where they choose to rent. The platform reach will also be expanding nationally at the same time.

The Ask

A single review of a landlord and rental property can make a huge difference to the decision making process of an individual renter – but we’ve built the technology and infrastructure to impact and drive change across the whole industry. If every tenant used the platform they could force a substantial shift in the way landlords treated them.

We want Marks Out Of Tenancy to help bring about a shift in the fundamental relationship between tenants and landlords. But it requires stakeholders like Local Authorities and existing regulatory bodies to allow us in – this platform can be a valuable resource when combined with agencies with enforcement powers against bad landlords.

Marks Out Of Tenancy invites housing professionals at Local Authority level to begin looking outside of the purely enforcement and regulatory systems currently at play, recognise that trade associations or professional landlord bodies do not aid with actively rooting out the poorest quality providers, but rather, that tenants on the frontline can provide an invaluable insight into the service provided by landlords and the products they’re obligated to maintain.

Ben Yarrow is CEO of Marks Out Of Tenancy, a PropTech firm focused on improving housing conditions.


Blog Post

Review: Show me the Bodies – How we let Grenfell happen by Peter Apps

This is an excellent and harrowing account of the events of the night of 14 June 2017 and the relevant policy framework by a leading housing journalist. 72 residents lost their lives in the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower. We know from Part 1 of the now-published Grenfell Tower Inquiry that this tragic event should never have happened. Part 2 of the inquiry is in the process of being written. Once the final report is published, the police will announce what criminal charges if any will be brought. 

In successive chapters the author takes the reader through what happened on the night of the fire and the historical reasons for the fire. Below are summarised the key staggering conclusions that the author reaches. 

Peter correctly identifies the failure to properly respond to the fire at Lakanal House in South East London with fatal consequences. The inquest exposed major fire safety failures. The coroner wrote to the Government to ask for a review of the official fire safety guidance. She wanted the government to encourage greater use of the fire sprinkler system. The Coalition Government was too concerned with deregulation to take effective action: had they done so this tragedy would not have happened.

The Building Research Establishment were not asked by Government to carry out tests on the paneling at Lakanal House. However, the Metropolitan Police and the Fire Brigade approached the BRE to do so in December 2009.  The result of these tests was that the panels used on the walls burnt fiercely and did not meet the relevant safety standard.

Fire Brigade Commanders struggled with managing the fire on 14 June. Communication systems failed which had been at fault in 2009. A paper system was relied upon to communicate between incident commanders and firefighters. The Brigade had no effective plan to deal with a major fire at this 24-storey block.

There was an over-rigid reliance on the “staying put “policy whereby residents were told to remain in their flats until fire fighters could rescue them. The fire and the smoke were too intense and toxic to allow firefighters to get to all floors in this 24-storey tower block. Nor was there an effective Plan B if the staying put policy failed. 

Part 1 of the inquiry has recommended the introduction of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans. 37 of the Tower block residents when the fire broke out were disabled: they could not be evacuated unaided. Fifteen of them died in the fire. Despite Ministers saying that they would implement all Inquiry recommendations, the Government will shortly have to defend its refusal to make such plans mandatory in the High Court. 

There were numerous failures by the landlord, Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation. Warnings from residents were ignored as were various fire safety notices served on the Tenant Management Company by the London Fire Brigade There were major problems with the self-closing mechanisms for the fire safety doors that an independent fire safety consultant failed to spot.

The tower block was fitted with Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) cladding. ACM is effectively two thin sheets of aluminum held together by a plastic core. The plastic bonding the metals together is polyethylene. This is made from petroleum. It is highly flammable. The manufacturers knew from tests carried out in 2004 that this was the case. They concealed these results from their customers and lobbied Government for less regulation.

There was one civil servant, Brian Martin, who was responsible for fire safety policy in residential buildings. He knew all about the dangers of ACM cladding. He had the difficult job of trying to advise Ministers who were committed to deregulation and austerity cuts. Prime Minister David Cameron pledged in a speech in January 2012 to ‘wage war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British business’.

At the inquiry on 30 March 2022, Brain Martin is quoted as saying there were ‘a number of occasions where I could have potentially prevented this [ the fire] from happening.’ ‘What I will say is that the approach the government-successive governments had to regulation had had an impact on the way we worked, the resources we had available, the mindset that we’d adopted as a team, and myself in particular. I think, as a result of that, I ended up being the single point of failure in the department… For that I’m bitterly sorry.’

But for covid, fire safety would have been the major political issue of the day. The Government has partly improved the fire safety regime via the 2022 Building Safety Act. Remarkably the United Kingdom still appears to be only one of two countries in the world that still allows planning permission to be granted for blocks with only one stairwell

All Labour activists should read this book. It shows up the failure of Government policy to have effective fire safety policies due to an ideological commitment to deregulation. It will make you angry.

Dermot Mckibbin is a member of the National Leasehold Campaign, a supporter of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and writes a blog on He is also a member of LHG Executive Committee.  

Blog Post

Labour must embrace innovation to achieve its housing ambitions

At its conference the Labour Party made bold pledges on housing. Not only will it support a council housing renaissance, but Keir Starmer committed to supporting 1.5m more people onto the housing ladder, boosting home ownership to 70% of households across the country.

In a sector that has been hampered by a revolving door of ministers – we are already on our fourth this year – and initiatives that never quite match up with their promise such as the Starter Homes that never materialised, how can the party ensure that it can truly deliver on its housing ambitions?

The policy pledges will have to be fulfilled against the backdrop of an existing supply deficit of homes of all tenures and funding constraints which will reduce the social housing sector’s ability to build. In September the National Audit Office reported that there is a forecast shortfall of 32,000 in the number of homes to be delivered under the 2016 and 2021 Affordable Homes Programmes (AHP) administered by Homes England, with a further risk that fewer homes are completed because of building cost inflation and other challenges. When asked by Lisa Nandy whether the Autumn Statement would have an impact on the AHP’s budget, the Housing Minister, Lucy Frazer, simply said that the Government remained committed to the Programme. In the context of departments across the board being required to make spending cuts, this will be worth keeping an eye on. 

Whilst the sector has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a social housing rent cap of 7%, higher than the 5% initially proposed, its own modelling nevertheless suggested that this would result in a loss of £4.9bn in rental income for registered providers over 5 years. This is income that would otherwise be invested in delivering new homes as well as in services for residents. The funding black hole adds to previous research outlining the scale of the gap between the need for and delivery of affordable housing. 

To meet housing need in England between 2021 and 2031, Crisis and NHF research found that 145,000 affordable homes must be built each year. Government figures for 2021-22 show that only 59,000 such homes were provided. Of these, just 7,500 (13%) were new homes for social rent. Whilst the total new affordable homes figure is the highest since 2014-15, it is still 86,000 short of what is required. The scale of the challenge is clear. 

The only way to deliver the amount of new affordable homes needed is with a significant injection of private sector investment in addition to government grants and loans. At a time of constrained public finances, more should be done to proactively encourage private funding into decent quality, secure and affordable housing.

As an affordable home ownership provider funded by institutional investment including major pension funds, we know that there is appetite in the market from investors and the potential for a significant funding injection into the sector. It is viewed as an attractive low-risk, long-term investment.

As well as bringing more funding to the sector overall, using private investment to deliver affordable home ownership products would enable local authorities to direct their grant funding to deliver more social housing, helping to meet Labour’s vision for “council housing, council housing, council housing”. It is a win-win. 

Homes England figures have spoken about it being a priority to increase the diversity of capital within the affordable housing sector. Addressing Inside Housing’s development summit last year, its chair, Peter Freeman, said that “Matching public need and private enterprise around a set of principles that can deliver both public and commercial value represents a huge opportunity to positively increase affordable housing delivery in this country.”

In our experience, this position needs to be better communicated to local government to provide them with the certainty that it is ok to accept affordable housing funded through institutional investment rather than government grant. Whilst a number of local authority areas have adopted innovative models and are thinking outside the box when it comes to delivering affordable housing, we have found that often councils choose to seek external legal advice before proceeding, to check that they can do this. As well as prolonging the delivery of new homes, this is costly, at a time when local government finances are constrained. The uncertainty comes from doing something that is not the norm. 

There are billions of pounds waiting to be unlocked if the government did more to encourage local authorities to consider institutional investment. To drive real change, there needs to be clear, written guidance that encourages local authorities to welcome such investment in their affordable housing provision. This would provide the confidence needed by councils that there is national level support to do so. 

The mini-budget in September jeopardised the Conservative Party’s position as the party of homeownership. First-time buyers have seen mortgage offers removed and existing homeowners are fearful of increasing mortgage costs. 

There is a real opportunity for Labour to make headway in this space. But it must be prepared to embrace innovation and institutional investment to find new ways of delivering the homes we desperately need. If the Party wholeheartedly backed this source of funding, it could drive an increase in new affordable homes across the country. Without it, its housing ambitions will be hard, if not impossible, to achieve.
Steve Collins, Chief Executive, Rentplus-UK Ltd