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What will housing look like at Christmas 2014?

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

Just published on the Labour Housing Group website is a fascinating article by LHG Executive member Graham Martin, who tries to predict what will happen to the 3 main tenures between now and Xmas four years hence, when we will be 5 months away from the most likely date of the next General Election.  What will the Labour Party, when returned to government, be facing in housing?  Here is a summary of Graham’s conclusions (figures are for England only).   

Social Housing

Housing Associations currently own around 2.3m affordable homes.  Given the size of the stock, the overall numbers will change slowly despite the planned changes. 

  • The current (inherited and new) social rented programme will produce about 100,000-120,000 extra ‘target rented’ properties.  But between 100,000-170,000 existing target rent homes will be relet at intermediate (upto 80% market) rents.  In 2014 it is likely to be 50,000 fewer in total than now.
  • There will be around 285,000 more homes let at intermediate rents (say 135,000 relets and 150,000 new build). 
  • The debt funded/rental cross-subsidised new Intermediate rented homes will be produced mainly in London and the South East (with some in the South West and Midlands) as it is here that the maths work best.  In other parts of the country, intermediate rents will result in either a small increase or even a rent reduction, making development on the new model unviable. 
  • The biggest impact is likely to be caused by the interaction of the various benefit changes, and in particular the overall benefit cap of £26,000, restricting tenants’ ability to pay.

Council house numbers will change slowly.  There is little appetite and resources for significant stock transfers.  Some other conclusions: 

  • The reform of Housing Revenue Accounts is likely to improve councils’ financial strength and their ability to invest in their own stock.  There is a risk that there will be a smash and grab raid on HRA money (rising rents, financially more secure) to cross subsidise the General Fund.
  • The provision by councils of Intermediate rented housing is likely to be slow.
  • Management issues around benefits are likely to be the same as with Housing Associations.
  • Changes to statutory homelessness rules, and changing letting priorities will have a significant impact.

Home Ownership

Graham projects that house prices might fall another 20%, maybe 25%-30%, as measured against inflation. This will be mainly due to the long term ‘deleveraging’ of the residential mortgage market – i.e. there will not be the money to lend to home owners to buy new homes (such money as there is will go mainly to those buying the nicest properties with the biggest deposits).

Home construction for home ownership will be remain low until 2014, after which is may start to increase again (from a very low base).

The lack of affordable homes for (all but the best off) first time buyers will result in increased pressure on the rental market, and more adult children living in the parental home.

Private Rented Sector

The hardest to predict. The only certainly is that there will be big change.

The changes to Housing Benefit (and total benefit) rules will profoundly impact on the sector. Landlords may split their properties into smaller flats to respond to the benefit caps and ceilings.  Savills are projecting that the impact will be, first, large falls in demand for and rents of 1 bedroom flats (due to under 35’s now being subject to the ‘single room rate’ rule), and, secondly, increased demand for larger ‘shareable’ properties.

The new 30% centile cap on maximum HB and the plan to greatly widen the ‘Broad Market Rental Areas’ will have a big impact.  There are areas where over 30% of private tenants are dependant on HB, but will be constrained to living in the 30% of cheapest properties. 40% into 30% just does not go….

It is likely that the gap in housing (especially ‘green’) quality between other tenures and the private rented sector will grow significantly upto 2015.

Regulation and quality control are likely to be drastically reduced due to spending cuts, and there is a danger that undesirable landlord practices will increase. This is unfair to tenants but also to responsible landlords and managing agents.

There is an opportunity to promote high quality institutional landlordism, with investment available if the regulatory structure is right.  REITS – Real Estate Investment Trusts – could work well in residential letting, kick starting the UK residential construction industry, and providing high quality, long  term rented property at market rents.

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Housing benefit: the truth will out

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

In a recent post I made the observation that government impact assessments, and especially equality impact assessments, tended to reveal more about a policy than all the other official documents put together, and that looking at any policy from the point of view of those most likely to be worst affected tends to expose the downside or weak links in the argument. 

The point is well supported by the DWP impact assessments on the housing benefit changes, or more correctly the Local Housing Allowance changes, published last week. 

At constant prices, and taking account of the recent minor concessions in the proposals, the LHA savings will start in 2012/13 and build up to £1040m in 2014/15, slightly offset by piddling amounts for increased discretionary payments and an (extremely welcome) allowance for an extra room for a carer.  In 2014/15:

– removing the £15 bonus for people achieving a rent below the LHA rate (the shopping around incentive) will save £550m

– setting Local Housing Allowance at the 30th percentile of local rents will save £425m, and

– capping LHA rates will save £65m.  

The first point to note is the relatively small saving from the ‘cap’, given that virtually all government comment on the LHA issue has focused on excessive benefit payments to people in high rent areas, especially in central London.   17,400 households are affected – often very severely – by the caps.   The much higher saving from the ‘30th percentile’ change will have far more impact.  It will affect more than three-quarters of a million households in all parts of the country.

Nearly everyone will lose: over 900,000 households, a stunning figure.  The national average loss is £12 per week, from an average benefit of £126, but the hardest-hit group, households needing a 5 bedroom property, will lose an average of £57 per week as the 5 bed rate is withdrawn entirely.  All the regions/nations are hit, with London top with an average loss of £22 per week.  The biggest groups numerically are those in the 1 and 2 bedroom categories, who will face average losses of £11 and £15 respectively.   The lack of grip on the reality of what it is like to live on a very low income is illustrated by the argument that “only four per cent of cases will have a shortfall of over £20 a week” – well, that’s all right then.

DWP refuse to make an assessment of the number of households that will have to move.  They say they can’t predict behaviour, and customers have options – for example, “some may start work or increase working hours”, others “may be able to renegotiate their rent with their landlord and others may have resources such as savings they can fall back on”.  To be fair, they do note that the Greater London Authority’s estimate that over 9,000 households may need to move in London as a consequence of the caps, and that 6,800 of those will be families; and Shelter’s estimate that between 68,000 and 134,000 households may have to move nationally.

“David Cameron insisted today

no one will be made homeless

by limiting ‘extravagant’ housing benefits”

Daily Mail

Contrary to the assertions of leading members of the coalition, including David Cameron, the impact assessment notes “a risk of households falling into rent arrears leading to eviction and an increase in the numbers of households that present themselves as homeless”…. and that “any resulting population movement could have wider impacts. People who move may need to rearrange their children’s schooling, healthcare arrangements or, where relevant, social services support; they may also need assistance with finding accommodation.”

Other specific groups affected by the changes include:

Disabled people, especially those who may have to move across a council boundary, because care and support packages do not move with the person and settled arrangements will be disrupted as the new authority carries out a new assessment. This “could lead to gaps and delays in new arrangements being put in place and consequential distress for the individual.”

Large families, who often have poor employment prospects and a much increased risk of poverty: for them, the “cap could affect their risk of overcrowding and the associated health and educational effects.”

Ethnic minority groups, who tend to have a higher proportion of large families, will be likely to be affected disproportionately.  Further research may be commissioned in this field as there are “limitations in current data.”

Quotable quote from the impact assessment

“the impact assessment recognises that there are a number or risks as follows:

– increases in the number of households with rent arrears, eviction and households presenting themselves as homeless;

– disruption to children’s education and reduced attainment;

– disruption to support services for people with disabilities and other households with care and support needs;

– increase in the number of households living in overcrowded conditions; and

– a decrease in the number of and quality of private rented sector properties available to Housing Benefit tenants.”

The truth will out.

Quotations from DWP impact assessment: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/lha-impact-nov10.pdf

apart from *David Cameron http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1324941/David-Cameron-claims-homeless-cuts-social-housing-budget.html#ixzz17LsNDNnz

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HB: more heat than light

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

Yesterday’s marathon Commons debate on the proposed housing benefit changes produced more heat than light.  There were a lot of apparently conflicting statistics, especially about the number of people affected and the number of people likely to have to move home as a result.


The main government theme – sorry, but I can no longer distinguish between Tory and Liberal members of the government, I had thought the Minister, Steve Webb, was a Liberal Democrat until I heard his speech – was to attack Labour’s ‘scaremongering’.  But as the government has yet to publish any meaningful analysis of the proposals, or to demonstrate how the savings are calculated, the opposition has to rely on its own analysis and that of the housing organisations like the National Housing Federation and Shelter, and all have predicted dire outcomes.


There was an interesting debate about the impact the Local Housing Allowance has had on rent levels in the private rented sector.  In short, Labour argued that rent levels, especially in higher rent areas, have been dragged up by buoyant and growing demand from non-HB tenants, especially the growing group of people who would have become owner occupiers in previous times who now can’t or won’t take a risk on buying.  Therefore LHA, being linked to the median rent, follows the market rather than leads it.  Labour in office had decided to remove the highest rents from the calculation of the median to reduce the impact the top of the market was having on the measure that determined the going LHA rate.
The government benches took two slightly different views; on the backbenches several claimed that the LHA level was determining the rent levels, driving the market up, but the Minister relied on the more limited construction that, as the LHA supported 40% of rent payers in the sector, it must therefore have some effect on the price. 

This seems to me to be a proper debate about a fundamental issue.  How does state intervention impact on a market, especially one with inelastic supply, which caters for the very rich and the very poor and lots in between and has little consumer protection?   We will be more and more dependant on private renting in the future, and this is a question worthy of proper study and analysis.  One factor may be the differences between the market in high rent areas and those in areas where the gap between social and market rents is really quite small and where there are fewer richer people entering the market.


Another noteworthy feature of the debate was the number of speakers from places well away from London.  The government has been keen to keep the debate focused on the more extreme cases where the national cap will now apply, but there were speeches about Glasgow and Sheffield and Sunderland and elsewhere identifying the likely losers and the impact the losses might have on families.


The only real sign of dissent on the government side concerned the proposal to cut HB by 10% for anyone on job seekers allowance for more than a year, irrespective of how hard they had looked for a job, and LibDem Simon Hughes said he would oppose this – although the remainer of his interventions gave me the impression that he might end up supporting the rest of the package, making it much more likely that it will go through.