Budget housing policies condemned

Housing policies announced in the July Budget will lead to fewer social homes at social rents being built, and will cause hardship to vulnerable tenants on modest incomes, says UNISON

Housing policies announced in the July Budget will lead to fewer social homes at social rents being built, and will cause hardship to vulnerable tenants on modest incomes, says UNISON.

The policies, which include plans to reform social rents, tenancies and housing benefit, will have a huge impact on social landlords and tenants.

Plans to cut social housing rents by 1% in each year for four years from 2016, to reduce the housing benefit bill, could deepen the housing crisis and have a negative impact on the financial ability of social landlords – councils and housing associations – to build and maintain existing homes.

Social landlords build homes by borrowing against their future rents. Forcing them to reduce rents will significantly undermine their finances and lead to fewer social and affordable homes being built, meaning that those in genuine need of affordable, cheaper accommodation will lose out.

With rents rising in the independent and private rented sector, creating an affordability crisis, plans to cut or freeze housing benefit will mean that those who depend on this support to meet their housing costs will struggle even more to pay their rent and risk facing increased rent shortfalls, rent arrears, evictions and homelessness.

We know that cuts to housing benefit introduced in the last parliament have already caused hardship and problems to those affected and resulted in increased homelessness and the ‘social cleansing’ of families who have been forced out of their homes after struggling to keep up with rent.

Currently, social housing provides families with security and stability beyond that which is available in the private rented sector.

The government’s plans to review lifetime tenancies of social homes ‘to limit their use’ will undermine security of housing. The proposed policy could result in families with children being forced out of their homes and community.

While cuts to housing benefits and a reduction in social housing rents are likely to result in a lower housing benefit bill, the government’s policies do little to tackle the core housing problem, which is essentially about a crisis of supply and affordability across all housing markets.

Plans to force higher-earning social housing tenants to pay more rent – under the ‘pay to stay’ measure – are also likely to lead to financial hardship, as those affected may struggle to meet increased rents.

The policy runs counter to the government’s plans of ‘making work pay’, as a higher paid job could now mean a higher rent or families being forced out to the private rented sector.

The government’s housing policies will deepen the housing crisis. With rising housing costs, reduced benefits, and a serious shortage of affordable social housing, more families will be forced to rent cheaper, sub-standard, insecure, unsafe housing in the private rented sector, which is largely unregulated.

UNISON assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones said: “The government has deliberately missed the opportunity to take urgent action to tackle the housing crisis.

“The policies that they have proposed will lead to the death of the social housing sector and, with fewer social homes available, thousands of vulnerable people on low incomes will struggle to afford a decent place to live.

“The private rented sector has failed to provide the homes the nation needs and, without the government providing funding to build more social and affordable homes, at prices that people can afford, the housing crisis will deepen and homelessness will increase.

“Rather than making piecemeal changes to housing policy, the government needs to significantly invest in housing and commit to a national public housebuilding programme to deliver the homes people need – this will in turn lower housing costs and the housing benefit bill and make housing more accessible and affordable.”

UNISON is campaigning for a public sector-led house building programme to deliver more social and affordable housing.