Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 13th July 2012.

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Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 1:19 pm, 13th July 2012

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments, and I think we both agree that it is important that we stress the fact that we are talking here about only a small minority of tenants. We must tackle their behaviour, in the interests of fairness and what is right.

The Bill has received cross-party support, and support from housing professional organisations and pressure groups, including the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation and the Local Government Association. The LGA posed a number of questions in a briefing note, to which I am sure all hon. Members will have had access, that could be addressed in Committee. For example, the briefing suggests that restitutionary payments should be made to social landlords where it has been found that a tenancy has been unlawfully sub-let. The LGA also perceives as narrow the definition of who would fall within the terms of the Bill and it seeks a wider one. Perhaps that could be taken into account as the Bill is scrutinised further in Committee.

I do not wish to strike a discordant note, because, as I have said, there is cross-party support for and cross-party sponsorship of the Bill. However, it is important to state that the Bill will not make up for the failure of the Government’s housing record. As the hon. Member for

Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) rightly said, there is clearly a desperate need for social housing in this country. We need to step up to the plate, but the Government are not doing so at the moment. They will need to do that to address the housing crisis gripping the nation.

There is broad agreement on the fact that we are gripped by the worst housing crisis in a generation. Waiting lists are increasing all the time; I believe the hon. Member for Watford said that there are 4,000 people on the list in his local authority area. We therefore need to do more than is contained in the Bill, although it will make a helpful contribution to tackling the inadequate supply of affordable housing. A renaissance in house building would also have huge benefits for the wider economy in jobs and growth, which are vital to get the economy moving again. We need to get people back into work, and if the Government would only take the measures necessary to increase the supply of new housing, that would provide a benefit by addressing some social needs and helping economically; it would help to generate growth and jobs, which are desperately needed at the moment.

What was extremely unhelpful in dealing with the housing crisis was the fact that the Government decided to make a £4 billion reduction in the funding available for affordable housing, which led to a disastrous collapse of 97% in new social housing starts and a 68% collapse in affordable house building over the past year. Labour Members have warned the Government time and again that their policies would make the housing crisis worse. This Bill will go some way to dealing with the problem, but we need to go much further. Young people, families and elderly people have all been affected by the Government’s disastrous housing policies—that is the only way they can be described. Regrettably, the Minister for Housing and Local Government has refused to listen and has insisted that things are getting better when the evidence demonstrates that they are clearly getting worse—