Report: Strengthen Decent Homes standard and apply it to all
23 March 2010
The £40bn Decent Homes Programme has had a dramatic positive effect on the living conditions of most social housing tenants, says the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, but the Government has failed to invest enough resources in the parallel programme to improve homes occupied by vulnerable people in the private sector.
Launching the report of its detailed inquiry into the Decent Homes Programme, the CLG Select Committee Chair Dr Starkey said:
"A decade ago far too many low income families, vulnerable individuals and elderly people lived in sub-standard housing. The Government is to be applauded for providing both the political will and public money with which local authorities and their partner organisations have been able to tackle that problem and pursue an ambitious ten year goal of a decent home for all in the social sector by the end of 2010.
"Ministers have not shown an equal commitment to the same programme in the private sector, where many of the elderly and the vulnerable in particular are still living in poor-quality housing.
"The Government must set clear long term targets to bring all homes in the private sector up to the decent homes standard and use regulation more effectively to deliver those targets."
In a detailed report the Committee reaches a number of key conclusions:
Preventing a future backlog
- Notwithstanding the success of the programme in the social sector, the Government must clarify future funding now. It is still unclear how the elimination of the remaining backlog of disrepair (around 3 per cent of social homes) will be funded; and how much will be available to maintain standards in the future
- The Government must improve the data it collects to measure decency in UK housing stock in order to prevent another backlog of disrepair from building up after the current programme comes to an end in 2010. Government measures of non-decency should comprise both a snapshot of the current position plus a forecast of potential future non-decency over the next few years, in order to predict future work and spending
- The Government’s own carbon emissions reduction targets mean that the entire UK housing stock must be made more energy efficient. The decent homes standard has an important part to play and should be updated to enable this. The thermal comfort criterion should be replaced with a range of mandatory minimum energy efficiency (SAP) ratings for different property types
Management of social housing
- The use of arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs) to manage council housing has led to improved standards and better planning. Councils which could not transfer stock or create an ALMO have struggled to reach the same standards. They should now be offered incentives—additional resources upon reaching higher standards—along the lines of the ALMO model
High standards for all
- The decent homes standard remains a low benchmark, and those landlords which have gone beyond it are to be applauded. The decent homes standard can be interpreted variously by different landlords, especially the criterion for "reasonably modern facilities and services". To ensure that all tenants receive the same minimum level of decency, the Tenant Services Authority should disseminate best practice and the Government should establish national guidance on the collation of stock condition data by local authorities
- The target for decency applied to private housing should be retained and strengthened by creating a National Indicator for private sector accommodation - to counteract the patchy engagement of local authorities with their responsibilities in this area. In addition, a clear long term target should be set at a national level to bring all private sector homes (not just those occupied by vulnerable people) up to the decent homes standard
Commenting on this issue Dr Starkey added:
"People living in private housing should not have to settle for inferior accommodation simply because they are not on benefits. Poor housing imposes very high costs on the social fabric of our communities, never mind the health and education systems.
"The next government must commit itself to a programme of measures which will keep the decency of all accommodation well up the political agenda."
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