Make your voice heard on social housing

UNISON is encouraging members to respond to the government’s consultation on social housing in England.

A government green paper promises “a new deal for social housing” to make sure that tenants have access to safe, secure and decent homes, and are empowered to hold their landlords to account when things go wrong.

Key proposals include:

  • empowering social housing residents to have a greater voice in housing;
  • increasing transparency for residents over the performance of landlords;
  • reviewing consumer standards and regulations, including the decent homes standard, to drive better services;
  • simplifying, improving and speeding up the complaints system to resolve tenants’ concerns, and a greater role for the housing ombudsman;
  • empowering the social housing regulator to intervene where there has been a failure in service delivery by social landlords;
  • tackling stigma associated with social housing;
  • helping housing associations to deliver new affordable homes through strategic partnerships with the government;
  • giving councils more financial flexibilities to invest in new homes;
  • expanding supply and supporting home-ownership through new housing options;
  • offering social housing residents a springboard into home-ownership by allowing them the option of purchasing as little as 1% of their property each year through shared ownership.

Other announcements include a commitment to scrap plans to force councils to sell their higher value council homes and make a payment in respect of this to government, together with a commitment to scrap plans to end secure tenancies – policies that UNISON had vigorously opposed.

While the paper was trailed as a “fundamental rethink of social housing” after the Grenfell fire tragedy, it does not go far enough in tackling the housing crisis.

It heralds a return to strategic partnerships with housing associations and “loan guarantees”, and explores giving councils financial flexibility to allow them to build more social homes.

But it makes no funding provision for new investment in those homes and there is no commitment that the new homes built will be genuinely affordable.

With no commitment to provide additional funding to deliver a step change in the supply of genuinely affordable homes, the situation for millions of public service workers who are priced out of the housing market will worsen.

UNISON is concerned that the government’s focus on expanding home ownership and unwillingness to significantly invest in social homes as a national resource will deplete further the number of genuinely affordable homes that can be accessed by the low paid.

UNISON assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones says: “The green paper is a missed opportunity by the government to comprehensively tackle the housing crisis and offer a better housing deal for social housing tenants.

“Proposals to improve consumer standards and regulation will help to empower social housing tenants to have a greater voice in housing matters that affect them, and ensure that the horrific tragedy of Grenfell Tower never happens again.

“This needs to be matched with a new funding commitment to ensure a significant increase in the supply of genuinely affordable homes that can be accessed by our members – many of whom are forced to live in the private rented sector due to the acute shortage of social homes and the un-affordability of home-ownership.

“If the government is genuinely interested in tackling the stigma associated with social housing and wants to ensure that it provides a stable base for residents, then it must protect the existing stock and add to it, rather than suggest proposals in the green paper to privatise council housing, as this will only serve to decimate further our national resource.”

The union has produced a briefing on the consultation, highlighting the key proposals and the issues which our members or anyone else responding to the proposals will find useful.

UNISON will be submitting a full national response to the consultation, which only covers England and ends on 6 November 2018. We are encouraging our members who are social housing tenants, are interested in social housing or work for the sector to respond directly to the consultation to influence housing policy.

Members can also feed in their views which will be reflected in our response by sending them to: policy@unison.co.uk by 24 October 2018.