Social Housing: Regulation

Part of Committees – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 31 October 2016.

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Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 9:45, 31 October 2016

I congratulate Rushanara Ali on securing this debate on local authorities and the regulation of social housing and on raising the wholly unacceptable conditions that some of her constituents have been experiencing as tenants of the housing associations to which she referred.

Let me start by setting the scene. I am sure that all Members will agree that everybody needs the security and stability of a decent, affordable home, and nowhere is that need greater than in our capital city, which both the hon. Lady and I have the privilege of representing in this House.

As a Government we have gone some way to try to address the problem. In 2014-15, we saw a record year for London house building. Some 27,000 homes were delivered, including more than 18,000 affordable homes—the most since records began in 1991—but we need to do much more. That is why the Government are doubling the housing budget to more than £20 billion over the next five years to support the largest housing programme by any Government since the 1970s.

We are also building a strong working relationship with the Mayor of London’s team to deliver our shared goals to build more homes and to help more people to own their own home. Indeed, I am due to speak to the Mayor about that tomorrow.

As the hon. Lady acknowledged, the housing association sector has a strong track record on house building. It has delivered nearly 300,000 affordable homes since April 2010. That equates to about a third of all new housing in England every year. To help the sector to continue to build more homes, the Government have already committed £8 billion to deliver a range of affordable housing starts by 2021, and we have made it very clear that we will prioritise housing in London.

In April this year, we published the prospectus for the shared ownership and affordable homes programme. The bidding round closed in September, and the Homes and Communities Agency is currently assessing bids. We expect to announce successful bidders in December. This programme will get more homes built and help some people take the first step on to the housing ladder.

Building new homes is only part of the picture. One of the key roles of housing associations is to manage their existing stock. I wish now to turn to the role of the regulator, on which the hon. Lady touched during her speech. It has a strong regulatory framework to make sure housing associations are well managed, provide good-quality homes and serve the needs of their tenants and communities.

The hon. Lady may be aware that the Government are committed to deregulating the sector. She touched on that and asked us to rethink our policy. There are two reasons why we are taking such action. The first reason, with which she will not have a great deal of sympathy, is to do with the deal with housing associations to deliver the voluntary right to buy. The second reason, with which I hope that she and the shadow Secretary of State will have a lot of sympathy, is to allow the Office for National Statistics to return the sector to the private sector where it belongs. If we want to deliver more housing through the housing associations, it is very important that we end this decision to treat housing associations as if they are part of the public sector.

To help achieve those aims, a package of measures was included in the Housing and Planning Act 2016. They include the removal of the regulator’s disposals consents regime, so housing associations will no longer need the regulator’s permission to sell their own stock or to charge it for security. The regulator’s constitutional consents regime will also be abolished. That will remove the need for housing associations to seek permission before they make organisational changes.

What will not change is the strong regulatory framework. The regulator’s monitoring powers will remain unchanged and it will continue to take action where necessary. It will also continue with its vital role in encouraging and challenging the sector to improve efficiency and asset management. Its role is to help maintain a viable and well governed sector that attracts commercial lenders to continue to invest at preferential rates, so that we get the new housing that we need, and crucially to do a good job for the tenants whom those housing associations serve.