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The Return of Housing Regulation

From a Government that has until now been considered de-regulatory, we are now witnessing a return to housing regulation. But will it deliver the goods?

The aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 has been far reaching. The Public Inquiry continues with revelations every week about the appalling practices in both the building industry and the procurement framework that led to the deaths of 72 people.[i] One outcome was the Government commitment to reform social housing and place tenants and residents at the centre of decision making around the management of their homes and the estates where they live. As a consequence the Government published a Green Paper one year after the fire proposing reforms to social housing to address some of the problems revealed by the Grenfell fire. [ii]   

Following the fire, the existing framework for regulating social housing was subject to savage criticism. Since 2010 the regulation of ‘consumer services’ had effectively been abandoned. Before the election in 2010, the Tenant Services Authority and the Audit Commission jointly regulated/inspected the housing services delivered by housing associations and local authorities under a regime designed by the Labour Government.  Research subsequently showed that the regulation/inspection of social housing in the 2000s significantly boosted performance in the sector.[iii]

But as the Coalition Government set about the ‘bonfire of quangos’ both the TSA and Audit Commission were abolished. The DCLG led by Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps took a contrary approach to Ministerial colleagues in the Education and Health Departments (taking two examples) where ‘consumer regulation’ was highly valued. Ofsted and CQC were seen as important parts of the Government armoury in education, health and social care. But consumer regulation was anathema to those running DCLG.

 Shapps actually wanted all formalhousing regulation abolished but the funders of housing associations (the banks and other finance institutions) fought hard to retain a regulatory regime that oversaw financial viability and governance.  After all, £100bn of private finance is invested in social housing provided by housing associations. And if you ran a finance house you would be foolish not to have the State carry out at least some of the checks of the bodies you fund. 

The regulation that remained after 2010 was transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency.  Consumer regulation was given a minor role in the new set up. And the hurdles erected to limit effective consumer regulation were high. For instance, ‘serious detriment’ had to be identified before any regulatory action could be taken by the HCA. And a ‘democratic filter’ was introduced to in effect stymie the efforts of tenants seeking to complain about their social housing landlords.

The 2018 Green Paper recognised the weaknesses of the regulatory framework for social housing with one section of the consultation paper calling for enhanced empowerment of residents and the strengthening of the regulator. Two years after the Green Paper was published, the social housing White Paper finally emerged this month (November 2020).[iv]  

Specifically looking at regulation, ‘The Charter for Social Housing Residents’ really does take us back to the position in 2010.[v] And in many ways the proposals significantly strengthen the regime that existed a decade ago. Points to note:

  • A major step forward sees all regulation of social housing placed under the auspices of one body – the Regulator of Social Housing; this finally realises one of the key ambitions of the seminal review of social housing regulation by Professor Martin Cave in 2007.[vi]
  • The return of service inspections. It is instructive to note that the ‘i’ word was used just once in the Green Paper of two years ago – and then, bizarrely, in relation to the assessment of the financial performance of housing associations. Inspection is the centre piece of the proposed regulatory framework.
  • An inevitable but welcome focus on health and safety.
  • A strengthening of the ties between the enhanced Housing Ombudsman Service (run by former Boris Johnson adviser Richard Blakeway) and the regulator.
  • A proposal to publish details about executive pay for housing associations (nothing that some association CEOs are paid over £400,000 a year).
  •  A strengthening of the enforcement powers available to the RSH including the introduction of unlimited fines for non compliance with the regulator’s standards.
  • A recognition that for-profit providers should be subject to greater scrutiny to prevent fraud and not claim housing benefit for their tenants when there is no entitlement.
  • A proposal to make housing associations subject to the Freedom of Information Act provisions that apply in the public sector (although this may founder given how this might threaten the private sector status of associations[vii]).

From a Government that is portrayed as de-regulatory, this revamped housing regulation framework is remarkable. Indeed you wonder how civil servants managed to persuade Robert Jenrick and his Ministerial colleagues to accept this much enhanced regulation regime. Those interested in improving the performance of social housing providers and ensuring those providers are fully accountable for their actions should welcome these changes.    Tenants in particular should relish the prospect of greater scrutiny of their landlords.  Certainly the Government appears to have rejected the siren voices from the larger housing associations in particular that have batted off tougher regulation in the past.  There is every prospect on this occasion that the regulator will not be subject to ‘professional capture’.

But there is a long way to go before the good intentions become a reality. Even if there is a fair wind it will be three/four years before the new regime is in place given the time needed to pass the necessary legislation and to set up the new arm of the RSH covering consumer regulation.  Funding may also be a problem as spending cuts are implemented to pay for the pandemic.

Even if the legislation is passed and monies found to pay for an enhanced RSH, tenants and others pushing for better performance by social housing providers need to ensure that a rigourous methodology is developed to inspect landlords in the new era. Inspecting largely from the user’s perspective is critical – a technique followed by the Audit Commission’s Housing Inspectorate from 2000 until 2010. Tenant Inspection Advisers must be involved in all inspections. Enforcement is key too. The RSH has been reluctant in the past to use its significant powers to bring back sliding providers to book.

And there are still gaps in the proposed regulatory framework. The current proposals do not cover the regulation of local authority strategic housing services such as homelessness or meeting housing needs.  And if we are seeking a true level playing field, perhaps the large providers of private rented housing – with over 1,000 homes, say – should be subject to regulation by the RSH.

Perhaps in another ten years…….

<span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color"><strong>Roger Jarman</strong></span>
Roger Jarman

Roger Jarman is an Associate with the Housing Quality Network where he provides consultancy services, leads training programmes and writes on housing regulation and other matters. He is also a Non Executive Director of two housing organisations.

From 1991 until 1999 he was Head of Housing Management at the Housing Corporation and then from 1999 until 2011 he was Head of Housing at the Audit Commission overseeing the 1400 housing inspections undertaken by the Commission during that period.  


[i]   https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/

[ii]  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/social-housing-green-paper-a-new-deal-for-social-housing

[iii] https://www.ukhousingreview.org.uk/ukhr1011/index.html

[iv] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-charter-for-social-housing-residents-social-housing-white-paper

[v] Older readers will note the language used here as it echoes the Tenants’ Charter promoted by another Tory Government in the early 1980s.  

[vi] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070701140243/http://www.communities.gov.uk/pub/422/EveryTenantMattersAreviewofsocialhousingregulationReportbyProfessorMartinCave_id1511422.pdf

[vii] https://www.ons.gov.uk/news/statementsandletters/statementonclassificationofenglishhousingassociationsnovember2017

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Building the New Jerusalem – How Attlee’s Government built 1 Million New Homes

Everyone knows that Clement Attlee’s 1945-1951 Labour Governments created the NHS, brought the coal mines and railways in to public ownership and gave India and Pakistan independence. But one of Attlee’s lesser celebrated achievements was building one million new homes at a time when building materials were in short supply and when the construction labour force was reduced to a third of its pre-war size.

From a slow start in 1945 -1947, new housing completions averaged around 200,000 a year for the next four years from 1948 -1951. By 1951, a total of 1,016,349 new homes were built, of which 806,857 were new Council houses. On top of that, 156,623 ‘prefabs’ were built, many of which provided decent and much-loved homes for many years to come. In addition, hundreds of thousands of existing homes were repaired and converted in the six years after the war.

Michael Foot rightly claims, “This achievement was no small one in the first years after the war when the country was also engaged in a big factory-building programme. It far surpassed anything achieved in Britain after 1918 or in most countries after 1945”.

However, despite the heroic efforts of Aneurin Bevan and his colleagues, more could have been achieved had Labour stuck to its Manifesto commitment and created a separate Ministry of Housing and Town Planning. Attlee gave Bevan the job of ‘slaying’ two of Beveridge’s ‘five giants’ – Squalor (caused by poor housing) and Disease (caused by inadequate health care provision). As Nick Thomas-Symonds argues:

“Having the same Cabinet minister responsible for both the creation of the NHS and housing the nation after the destruction of the Second World War was more than overload. It left Bevan to deal with the intricacies of both sides of his department when either half in itself would have been too much for a single minister.”

Should the housing building programme have been led by a ‘National Housing Corporation’, as Douglas Jay had recommended in the first few months of the Government, rather than by the local authorities, many of which had little experience of building new homes at scale.

Certainly, a national organisation with regional offices would have made planning, direction and control easier, but it could also have taken some time to establish. By harnessing the experience of the big city housing departments in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow, which had been building new out-of-town estates for over a decade and more, Bevan was able to combine real expertise with local knowledge.

The downside was that outside the big cities, experience was strictly limited with many local councils simply unable to move quickly. Overall, perhaps a key factor in this debate is that, six years later, Harold Macmillan was able to build 300,000 houses a year based on the same local authority ‘delivery system’ established by Bevan.

Should Labour have been more pragmatic and built more homes at lower standards, as Macmillan did during the 1950s? The average new three-bedroom Council house increased in size, from 860 square feet in the pre-war period, to 1,026 square feet in 1946, to 1,055 square feet in 1949, falling back to 1,032 square feet in 1951 and down to 947 square feet in 1952.

By 1959, the average size of a three-bedroom Council house had fallen to 897 square feet. Bevan was surely correct to increase space standards, remaking famously in Margate on 22nd May 1947, “We shall be judged for a year or two by the number of houses we build. We shall be judged in ten years’ time by the type of houses we build”.

There is little doubt that the new, larger Council houses built in the years immediately following the Second World War were some of the best ever built and have stood the test of time. In 1950, the first four blocks completed on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico won Festival of Britain Architectural Awards. It wasn’t just the architectural critics who praised the flats. In 1962, tenants in the ‘posh’ private flats in Dolphin Square next door opposed a rent rise arguing, that “many of the flats are not as nice as those put up by the Council in Churchill Gardens opposite”.

Other post-war estates were similarly feted. In 1998, English Heritage listed the Spa Green estate in Finsbury as Grade II*. The Survey of London describes the Spa Green Estate as ‘heroic’. Nikolaus Pevsner called it ‘the most innovative public housing’ of its time.

Perhaps where Labour’s lofty ambitions most obviously failed was in the goal to create new communities where the ‘spirit of companionship’ would flourish and “wartime sentiments of social solidarity and shared purpose could be maintained and strengthened in the post-war world”. Aneurin Bevan harked back to the time where “the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street”.

Similarly, Lewis Silkin’s ambition that class distinctions would fade away in the New Towns was never achieved. He hoped that “different income groups living in the new towns will not be segregated” and that after attending a town centre event, “When they leave to go home I do not want to see the better-off people to go to the right and the less well-off to go to the left. I want them to ask each other, ‘Are you going my way?’”.

There can be no denying Labour’s fundamental achievement to meet the aspiration of very many working class families to live in high quality affordable housing – which the Conservatives followed with great success over the next 13 years. The lives of so many working class families – who had been ignored by every previous Government – were transformed for the better.

As the historian Kenneth Morgan so clearly concludes:

“The rehousing of several million people in new or renovated houses, at a time of extreme social and economic dislocation, was a considerable achievement. Housing, therefore, deserves its honoured role in the saga of Labour’s welfare state.”

His book, ‘Building the New Jerusalem: How Attlee’s Government Built 1 Million New Homes’, is available in paperback and Kindle https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08N1H3PYL

All royalties will be donated to Foodbanks in Westminster.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Paul Dimoldenberg</span></strong>
Paul Dimoldenberg

Paul Dimoldenberg was first elected to Westminster City Council in 1982. He was Leader of the Labour Opposition Group from 1987-1990 and from 2004-2015.

He is the author of ‘The Westminster Whistleblowers’, published by Politicos in 2006, which tells the story of the Westminster ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal of the 1980s and 1990s. He also has recently published Cheer Churchill. Vote Labour.

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Time for the Guardian to shape up

You would have thought that Patrick Wintour on the Guardian was experienced enough to realise that a briefing from Grant Shapps and No 10 is a poor source for a major story.  But the Guardian today splashes the tale that David Cameron is backing Shapps’ plan ‘to abolish housing rent subsidy for higher earners living in social housing’.
Wintour falls into several of Shapps’ well-rehearsed traps.

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The King is dead. Long live the King?

The internet is getting increasingly littered with dead websites from now defunct social housing regulators. The Tenant Services Authority closed on 31 March and its functions transferred to a new Committee of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).  Its website remains as a record of activity, just as the Housing Corporation’s web content remains online following its demise back in November 2008.
Another king is dead, long live the new king, this time the snappily titled HCA Regulation Committee, whose new regulatory framework for social housing came into effect along with other Localism Act changes on April 1st.

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Allocations policy – the devil is in the detail

By guest blogger Monimbo
Take a clutch of housing policies for which this government might like to be remembered: rewarding work, mobility for tenants looking for jobs, creating ‘flexible’ tenancies, allowing councils to set local lettings policies and decide who qualifies for housing, setting ‘Affordable’ rents and assessing potential tenants’ incomes, and cutting waiting lists.  Apart from all being championed by Mr Shapps, most of these policies are now embodied in the Localism Act and all of them depend crucially on councils’ allocations processes if they are to be put into effect.

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Stunell's subterfuge

Andrew Stunell seems such a nice man, and he’s a Methodist Lay Preacher to boot.
But an observer of his speech to the LibDem Conference yesterday might be forgiven for thinking he was stretching the truth just a little.  Given the LibDems good track record in
supporting social housing over many years, and their general embarrassment over the housing policies of the government, I can only assume he was struggling to find anything to say that shows that the LibDems have some influence over Pickles and Shapps.
He started off in the right territory by calling housing the ‘Cinderella’ policy.  “It is one of the most important issues facing the entire country”  he said. “The record of previous governments on social housing was nothing short of a disgrace……Social Housing just wasn’t important enough for the last government.”  Now I agree that far too few social homes in particular were built under Labour, but surely Mr Stunnell realises that you can’t build more social homes with a 60% cut in funding?
But then comes the subterfuge.  “That’s why we’ve introduced the Affordable Rent programme…. we’re on course to build 170,000 new social homes in the next four years…… thanks to Liberal Democrat influence in government, we have a social housing target that we can and will meet…. ..the first government to deliver an increase in social housing during its term of office for more than thirty years.”
So affordable rent is the new social rent.  Despite the fact that they bear no relation to each other at all.  The rents are much higher, up to 80% of market rent, and the terms are not secure.  Not only are new homes to be let at ‘affordable rent’ levels, but many re-lets of existing social rented homes are going to be as well.
Boris Johnson is the expert at smoke and mirrors in terms of housing statistics.  He is
very clever about including almost everything built under the much abused term ‘affordable’.  But even he hasn’t had the gall to claim that affordable rent and social rent are the same thing.  At least not yet.

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Myths about migrants

On Red Brick we’ve taken an interest in trying to test out and bust a few of the myths in housing.
One area where there are more myths than most is in migration policy and the access that ‘foreigners’ have to social housing.  It’s interesting that social housing is often portrayed in the media as being the lowest of the low, except when it is occupied by immigrants, in which case it is a wonderful national asset that should only go to ‘British people’.
Migration Watch gets a lot of sympathetic coverage in some parts of the media and their latest use and abuse of statistics comes in their ‘study’ on social housing and migration in England, in which they claim that the social housing requirements of new immigrants will
cost the taxpayer £1 billion a year for the next 25 years.  They say that 45 additional social homes would have to be built everyday, or nearly 1400 a month, over that period to meet the extra demand” and “The impact of immigration on the availability of social housing for British people has been airbrushed out for too long. Either the government must cut
immigration very substantially as they have promised or they must invest very large sums in the construction of extra social housing”.

At least I can agree with the last 13 words of that quote.
John Perry, who blogs at the Migrant Rights Network, has analysed Migration Watch’s claims and the Migration Observatory has published a detailed briefing on the real facts about migrants and housing.
Perry demonstrates that there is no automatic link between the number of new households that are projected to be formed by migrants and the provision of social housing.  On current government spending plans migrants would have to take virtually all of the funding available and new homes provided for the claim to be true.
Yet few if any new migrants will actually get these homes.  The percentage of new social lettings going to foreign nationals is 7%, most of whom have lived here for many years in
order to qualify.  The Migration Observatory points out that 75% of new immigrants go into the private rented sector, and that is probably where the serious issues around migration and housing lie.
The veracity of Migration Watch’s analysis can be summed up by the graph they include which shows the ‘cumulative stock of migrants’ and ‘households on waiting lists’ on the same chart, as if they were correlated in some way.  You might as well correlate Newcastle United’s league position and the frequency of cyclones in south east Asia.
With his Chartered Institute of Housing hat on, John Perry has also written a helpful guide on the role of housing providers in relation to UK migration and how to handle national policies and trends, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The paper comments that “Migration policy often focuses on the number of new migrants entering the UK, but little is done to support neighbourhoods where migrants already live. Central government is withdrawing from these issues at a local level, placing more
importance than ever before on regional and local leadership
”.
It then highlights the ways in which housing providers have already taken steps towards better neighbourhood cohesion and integration and suggests ways in which they could do more because they are well placed to do so.  It also explores the perceived and actual
competition between migrants and host communities for housing.
Migration is a complex and emotive topic where exaggeration is rife and ‘facts’ are often exploited by the media to promote a particular political agenda.  The housing world generally and many individual providers have a terrific record in promoting community coherence, work that is needed more than ever after the events of the last few weeks.  There is an appetite in the sector to do even more and the CIH/JRF guide and the MO briefing are invaluable and highly recommended tools.

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Who should get priority for social housing, people in work or people in need of work?

Ed Miliband and Caroline Flint have suggested that being employed should be a factor in social housing allocations.  It has been suggested that this is an effective ‘message’ to the ‘squeezed middle’, which I commented on in a previous blog.  But, whatever the message it conveys, does it stand up as a housing policy?  
Guest blogger Sheila Spencer takes up the debate. 
There’s been some debate within the Labour Party, at senior levels, and on the pages of Inside Housing, about giving priority to people on the basis of their employment status, and it seems to me that some people are missing the point a bit.  Ed Miliband, for example, has pledged to make it easier for voluntary workers and the employed to gain council housing, to fit with the idea that the welfare state should reward those who contribute. But what about those who can’t yet contribute in this way?
I know that some councils have already adopted this policy: Manchester, for example, gives extra priority on the basis of someone in the household being in work or contributing
to their community. Manchester’s allocations policy says that the idea of this is to encourage people to access work. But the person in work has to be employed for 16 hours or more, and must have been in work for at least 9 months in the last year – so it is not
encouraging people to move into work, just giving priority to those who already have work.
It seems to me that this puts those who are out of work and without anywhere to live at a considerable disadvantage. If you are homeless, you are fairly unlikely to be able to get a job until you have an address; and if you are living in temporary accommodation, in most cases the housing and support costs stop people from being able to take on a job whilst they are living there. So this policy puts an additional barrier in the way. It’s really
a Catch 22 – you don’t have priority to get rehoused because you’re not working, but you can’t apply for work because you won’t be able to afford to have anywhere to live in the meantime.
There is one glimmer of light for people in temporary accommodation: many people are now getting involved in some way as a volunteer, as part of “meaningful activity” and tangible support to move on with their lives. But Manchester’s scheme seems to restrict the community contribution to the area you want to be housed in – expecting, I would guess, that this is as part of a neighbourhood or community group there. Again, this could exclude people who are not yet part of a community.
I prefer the schemes which give people an incentive for looking for work by awarding priority for rehousing, or priority for particular places, to those who have pledged to get into work, or training or education once they have somewhere to live, and which supports them to do so. So those who have only just got themselves into a position where they can look for work are able to do that with a steady home to live in. Isn’t that a responsible way
to look at offering social housing? And how can we justify rewarding people who take responsibility for their lives whilst excluding those at the bottom of the heap, and in effect, taking on policies which keep them there?

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Time to say goodbye

Love it or loathe it, the Audit Commission Housing Inspectorate will be missed after it closes operations this month.
I have a long list of irritations with how it went about its work. Number one is probably the poor quality of some of the inspectors, who sometimes failed to follow their own guidelines about transparency, feedback and having ‘no surprises’ in their conclusions, or imported their own views about how something should be done and turning it into a supposedly objective judgement. Having experienced inspection outcomes that were both significantly higher and significantly lower than the service being inspected justified, I’m left with the nagging feeling that some were preordained and that political fixing could make a difference. Some services seemed to get stars simply because of their previous reputation and sometimes there seemed quite a gap between the evidence and the conclusion.
All of this would be denied by the AC of course and the upside of its achievements comfortably exceeds my annoyances. Most importantly, there is evidence that after decades of flatlining, housing management standards really did pick up and improve during the period that the housing inspectorate was active. The first series of inspections of housing association services burst the balloon that their chief executives had been blowing up about the quality of their own services. Shining a light into a few dark corners brought significant improvement to the sector, in both councils and housing associations. The weight given to the experience of tenants increased as the regime was refined and improved. The set of KLOEs (key lines of enquiry) that the AC produced was a brave attempt to provide a template for a good service, even if they were then rather slavishly followed. Whilst the industry of pre-inspection consultancy prospered, the ideas of regular service review, external challenge and constant improvement became endemic, driving service improvement and a focus on tenant satisfaction.
There were a couple of areas where I am happy to own up to just being wrong in my early views on the inspection regime. One was that the traffic light system was superficial and trivialised important judgements – in fact it was a great success and an effective communication tool. Second that introducing the link between inspection outcomes and funding in the ALMO programme wouldn’t work. In fact it was a great motivator and became an important driver of service improvement and tenant engagement, helping to restore the credibility of council housing.
Maybe I’ll be wrong again but my view even before the Election was that the inspection element of the new TSA regulatory regime risked not being comprehensive and rigorous enough to keep standards improving and that some organisations would slip back into bad old ways. Since the Election, the changes made by this government convince me that it will be far worse than that. Even if the TSA (whilst it exists) and the HCA, as the new regulator, ensure the financial viability and probity of the sector, they will be toothless tigers in relation to service quality. I would welcome the emphasis on local tenant scrutiny if I didn’t know that it will be hopelessly under-resourced and open to manipulation by landlords of all types wanting to talk a good service instead of delivering one.
One of many challenges facing landlords will be to put sufficient effort and resources into making tenant scrutiny work and to maintain the tradition of external rigorous challenge based on the methods developed by the Housing Inspectorate. I hope they will but I fear they won’t – and the industry will take a step backwards.

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Shapps’ Eviction Proposals Are Bad News for Average Earners

The idea of evicting social housing tenants on higher incomes emerged in Westminster, based on some very dodgy statistics about how many tenants earned over £50,000 and £100,000.  It appears that after years of saying soial housing had too many poor people, now the Tories say it has too many rich people as well.  I suspect they just don’t like social housing.  Now that Grant Shapps has taken up the attack, it has become a national story.  The original story was broken by the Leader of the Labour Group on Westminster, Paul Dimoldenberg.  In a guest blog, he accuses Shapps of tabloid-style reasoning.  No surprise there then.
So Grant Shapps MP thinks it is a ‘no brainer’ to evict Council and Housing Association tenant families who between them earn £100,000 a year. He reckons that there are 6,000 such families across the UK who he says are rich enough to be able to buy their own home and should be evicted so that they can make way for a family who is in more serious need of a home.
Well, I certainly have a number of serious concerns about this proposal which has emerged out of the blue without any consultation or thought to the consequences.
In typical tabloid-style reasoning Mr Shapps raises the spectre of RMT trade union leader Bob Crow who earns £130,000 a year but still lives in a council house in north London. Interestingly, Mr Shapps can name no other high-earning individual or family to make his case and his argument rests entirely on the personal circumstances and choices made by Government ‘hate-figure-in-chief’ Mr Crow.
But the facts of these so-called ‘high-earning’ Council tents are a million miles from the isolated Bob Crow example.
A more typical ‘high-earning’ family is the one living in Grant Shapps’ constituency in a 2-bed Council or Housing Association flat where the parents both have middle income jobs earning £25,000 each and their daughter and her fiancee, again both earning £25,000, are saving for a deposit on their first home. Does Mr Shapps really think that this family is ‘rich’?
Does Mr Shapps really expect Council and Housing Association tenant families like this to reveal their incomes if it means that, by doing so, they will be evicted if they are thought by the Government to be earning too much? And how many people will decide not to work overtime or go for promotion if it means that they will creep over the £100,000 threshold and face eviction?
If Council and Housing Association tenants have to reveal the income of all family members living in their home, will it include the state pension of an elderly grandparent living with them? And will the meagre earnings of the teenage daughter with a Saturday job also be required to be included, too? Real life is very different from Mr Shapps’ easy headline grabbing and ill-thought out policies. So far he has failed to answer any of these points.
Or will local Councils and Housing Associations be told to make assumptions about their tenants’ income and then to evict those families who they estimate to be ‘wealthy’?
Mr Shapps says a family with a combined income of £100,000 should be able to buy a home of their own, but this will be different across the UK. In London, the South East and South West, a young couple with a combined income of £50,000 and living in a Council flat with mum and dad will not be able to get on the home-ownership ladder if that family is told to move out and buy their own flat. They will end up in private rented accommodation paying a lot more in rent.
And how did this £100,000 figure come about? Was it the result of research or is it a convenient figure that will guarantee tabloid headlines?
Posted on 6 June 2011.  Later Paul added:
Housing Minister Grant Shapps’ plans to evict Council and Housing Association households with a combined income of £100,000 unravelled today on the BBC Radio 2 ‘Jeremy Vine Show’ when he contradicted statements he made over the weekend and now claimed that his new policy would mean that families with four or more people on average incomes would not be evicted if their combined household income is more than £100,000.

In a bizarre example of ‘policy making on the hoof’, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 2 listeners that

  • The £100,000 income threshold only applies to individuals and couples with a combined income of £100k
  • Other family members’ income (e.g. children, granparents) will not be counted

However, Mr Shapps’ claim that this new policy would mean that people with high incomes would move out and allow people in housing need to take their place, was immediately in tatters when he revealed that if the high earners paid the market rent then they could continue to live in their Council or Housing Association property as now.

Mr Shapps failed to spell out how Councils and Housing Associations would gather the information on ‘high earning’ tenant incomes or how much the Town Hall bureaucracy would cost to set up, run and police. Mr Shapps also failed to answer how he would stop high earning individuals declaring that their income was £95,000 or stop the two person household declaring that they earned £45,000 each in order to dodge having to pay market rents.

By introducing a new policy of letting high earners stay if they pay market rents, he will provide very few new homes for people in housing need. And much of the extra cash generated by increased market rents will go topay for an army of Town Hall snoopers whose job it will be to set up a new bureaucracy to find out tenants’ income and enforce the new red-tape regime introduced by Mr Shapps.
Last month, Westminster’s Housing Cabinet member Philippa Roe claimed that the Council wanted to increase rents for high earners by “a little bit more”, but now Grant Shapps has revealed the truth and tenants will face a 400% increase in rents as they go from their current level of around £110 a week to market rents of £450 a week or more.

The answer to local housing shortages is to build more homes for social rent, not to divide the community and set middle earners, the low paid and high earners against each other. Giving Councils like Westminster Council the power to set their own rent levels will mean that Council rents will go up for everyone, not just those on over £100,000.