Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 6:24 pm, 9th April 2019

I take the Minister back to my intervention about social housing. Let us go back to 2010. The biggest cut in expenditure that the coalition Government brought in was a 60% cut in social housing capital funding. If we are to build the 300,000 homes that I think both the Government and the Opposition are now committed to building, we shall not get them built unless at least 100,000 or more come from the public sector. Just look at the figures since the war. We have built 300,000 homes a year in this country, although quite a long time ago, but in no year when 300,000 homes were built were fewer than 100,000 built by councils and housing associations—and mostly by councils. That is the reality. The Minister says that the housing revenue account cap has been lifted. That is really welcome and I applaud the Government for that, but that of itself will not get the houses built.

The Minister should not sit back and say, “I sit in my office and I cannot tell councils what to do.” It is not just about borrowing the money but about being able to fund the borrowing. The Government will have to look at more revenue support for councils and housing associations to get those numbers up. Of course, there will have to be developments such as modern methods of construction, which the Select Committee is examining at present but, in the end, revenue funding is crucial.

I also say to the Minister, in terms of the HRA, the funding does not only go to build new homes; it is vital to make sure that existing homes are properly maintained. In 1997, when the Labour Government came in, there was a £19 billion backlog of disrepair in the social housing sector, which the decent homes programme had to deal with. So councils have that responsibility. They will need extra revenue support to build the homes.

I shall make a couple of points about the private rented sector. There are now more people living in the private rented sector than in the social housing sector. Hopefully, we might reverse that in future by building more social housing. I say three things to the Minister. First, let us have some more tough powers to deal with bad landlords. The Select Committee recommended, in extremis, confiscating the properties of landlords who put the health and safety of tenants at risk. Let us go for that. Secondly, let us give councils more freedom: selective licensing can work. If councils want to do it in their area, they should be free to do so. The Minister reviewing the whole process of selective licensing––I hope that is where we get to––but, in the end, selective licensing works where councils can go into properties proactively and seek out the problems and the problem landlords, and deal with them. Thirdly, the difficulty for councils is that selective licensing needs resources. Since 2010, the funding for private sector housing teams in councils has been cut by 60%, and it is not possible to deal with bad landlords proactively, constructively and properly without more money.

I say to the Minister, therefore, that there is a major financial challenge, both in terms of building social housing and of properly dealing with the problems in the private rented sector.