Pressure rises on Gove to build social housing

By Dan Peters | 21 October 2021

Pressure was this week mounting on new housing secretary Michael Gove to ramp up the building of social homes amid predictions of growing homelessness.

Although Mr Gove has yet to officially address the sector in his new role, the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Conservative housing spokesperson, Cllr David Renard, has already called on him to ‘reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades’.

The call – ahead of next week’s Spending Review - comes after warnings that the number of people on council housing waiting lists could double next year as COVID-related support schemes end.

Last week local government ombudsman Michael King waded in as he highlighted the huge number of families trying to join councils’ housing waiting lists.

Mr King said: ‘We understand that many council housing departments are under a lot of pressure as demand is outstripping availability of social housing and we are aware that in certain areas this unprecedented demand is creating a backlog.’

Overwhelmed Birmingham City Council – the biggest local authority in Europe – is among those to admit that it has a ‘significant backlog,’ with officers struggling to process the 500 applications received each week quickly enough.

Research by the LGA and the Association of Retained Council Housing has revealed that one in 10 households were stuck on waiting lists for more than five years due to a ‘chronic shortage’ of affordable homes.

Cllr Renard said: ‘A programme of 100,000 social homes a year would shorten council housing waiting lists, reduce homelessness and cut carbon emissions while delivering a multi-billion long-term boost to the economy.

‘We are concerned that, as life returns to normal, there could be an increase in homelessness cases in the coming months.’

Chair of the National Housing Federation’s homelessness national group, John Glenton, who is executive director of care and support at social housing provider Riverside, backed the call to build thousands of new social homes every year to ‘address the pressure we have in temporary and permanent accommodation’.

As of March, there were 95,450 households in temporary accommodation in England – a 98% increase in a decade.

Almost two-thirds were in London, where pressures have driven up net spend on homelessness services and boroughs are now spending more than double the amount than six years ago.

Numbers are expected to increase as more people get caught up in the benefits cap and are unable to pay their rent.

Costs are understood to be going up due to temporary accommodation providers raising their rates and increased competition for emergency nightly accommodation.

One London local government insider said: ‘A lot of people are on the edge of homelessness and suddenly need temporary accommodation when their private tenancy ends.

'This isn’t a problem of worklessness – it’s a problem of housing costs.’

Croydon LBC chief executive Katherine Kerswell said her council expected to spend £12m on emergency and temporary accommodation by the end of this financial year, including a £1m overspend – even before the impact of coming out of lockdown has been properly felt.

She told The MJ: ‘There are absolutely no easy solutions in London for really good quality housing for these families.

'That is a real pressure and worry that we’re focusing on.’

A new study by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Centre for Homelessness Impact found that building just 10,000 homes a year in the social rented sector would cost the Government around £40m a year but could save £44m annually in housing subsidies if the homes were used to house tenants currently in private rented housing or temporary accommodation.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are building more social housing and taking action to reduce waiting lists, which have fallen by almost 600,000 households since 2010.

'We’ve delivered more than 382,000 affordable homes for rent, including 149,400 for social rent, but we must go further so we’re investing more than £12bn in affordable housing over the next five years - the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade.’

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Whitehall Finance Local Government Association Politics Chief executives Welfare Housing Homelessness Ombudsman Birmingham Coronavirus Michael Gove
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