Home Improvements

– in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 14 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat 2:54, 14 November 2005

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing I declare a long-standing interest in the National Home Improvement Council.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage home improvements in the private housing sector.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, the Government have a range of provisions to drive improvements in the private housing sector. These include resources for private sector renewal, housing market renewal pathfinders and Warm Front, which are aimed at renewal of housing stock and improving standards of decency in the private sector. The Housing Act 2004 also contains a large number of provisions which will help improve housing standards, particularly in the private rented sector.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there are more than 5 million homes, or 30 per cent of the total private housing stock, classified as non-decent under the Government's own classification, and that the bulk of these are deficient in adequate heating and insulation? Will the noble Baroness indicate how soon the Government intend to put right this glaring deficiency? Will she give an assurance that if householders decide to improve their homes, and particularly their heating arrangements, they will not be penalised when council tax is eventually revalued?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord's expertise in this area. It is very important to recognise that the majority of fuel poor people are in the private sector. The noble Lord is right to say that it is a challenge to ensure that people have decent insulation and heating. We have made very good progress. We have set a target regarding non-decent homes in the private sector of up to 70 per cent by 2010. We have already exceeded targets—from 43 per cent up to 63 per cent between 1996 and 2003. The noble Lord asked me how hard we will work and how fast we can make better progress. He will perhaps know that the Warm Front programme, which is vital to private sector homes, has been expanded from June this year. We have put in another £140 million for the next three years. We are targeting it more effectively and we want to make sure that it reaches the most vulnerable. I assure the noble Lord that when we complete our revaluation of council tax noble Lords will be well pleased.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, do the Government bear in mind that home improvements vary tremendously? Some are luxurious and unnecessary whereas others are perhaps considered necessary, but the owner cannot afford them. Will the Government therefore give an undertaking not to enforce home improvements on those landlords who cannot afford them?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, there is a range of help available to people who want to improve their homes through local authorities—£230 million in grants and loans was made available this year—and through programmes such as Warm Front. Landlords can apply for help. We hope that good landlords will do so. Under the Housing Act 2004 we made provision to protect people in rented accommodation in multiple occupation where conditions are often very poor indeed. We have changed the system to require licensing for people at risk. I hope that the noble Lord approves of that.

Noble Lords:

This side.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, I do not see anyone.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Hampstead Lord Clarke of Hampstead Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the report published this week by Elevate, the programme of housing improvements—among other things—in the north-west? Will she join me in saying how pleased she is that it has made such great progress in such a short time turning some people's very poor accommodation into decent living standards, and wish it well for the next part of its programme?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, I am delighted to have the House's attention drawn to that report. I certainly do what the noble Lord suggests.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, from what the Minister said am I to assume that the Government are in favour of improving old terraced housing rather than pulling it down and putting up brand new housing in places where people have no wish to have extra housing?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, the noble Baroness has interpreted me correctly. I think she is talking about the Housing Market Renewal Programme. By next March we are planning to deliver 21,000 refurbished homes and 3,000 new homes; 10,000 houses will be demolished as part of that programme. The emphasis is on refurbishment; demolition is never the first or only option. If it is an option we require that the people who are affected should be properly and fully consulted because it is a very serious decision for them.

Noble Lords:

Cross Bench!

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, given what I know is the Government's commitment to a sustainable approach to house-building and design, what percentage of UK homes have so far been fitted with water-saving, two-flush lavatory systems? Do the Government have plans to encourage all homes to adopt this kind of system?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, I have an extensive brief, but strangely enough I do not have that figure. I could probably give the noble Baroness a number of equally interesting figures, but I shall have to write to her about that one.

The point about sustainability is that we are bringing forward for consultation a code on sustainable buildings, which will be in place next year. It will look at improving elements of sustainability in houses, not just energy but certainly water and use of materials. We are seriously committed to sustainability and there is a great deal of work in hand.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

My Lords, in view of the fact that energy efficiency will be part of the declaration in the home information packs when people sell their private homes, what financial support is or will be available for people to improve energy efficiency before they are required to submit a report saying what it is?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that the Warm Front programme, of which I have spoken, is not least a carbon saving programme. Essentially it directs vulnerable people towards all sorts of insulation. Under our Energy Efficiency Commitment we also have arrangements with suppliers to direct consumers towards products that reduce energy consumption. There is a great deal of work being done in this area, and I shall write to the noble Baroness listing the different initiatives that are in place.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in the north of England many properties remain empty because potential buyers on low incomes cannot get mortgages for the purpose of refurbishment? Will she undertake to talk to the mortgage lenders to see whether joint working between the Government and the industry could prevent demolition?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, we certainly want to work across the HMRP areas with all forms of partnership. In terms of low-cost housing we are developing products to enable shared equity schemes. If the noble Baroness has identified a particular problem, I should be interested to know about it in more detail.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, my noble friend has told us what assistance is available to houses in the private sector. Is that same assistance available in the social housing sector? What assistance is available in that sector?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, when we came into government we inherited a stock of millions of social homes, which needed about £19 billion worth of repairs and investment to bring them up to a decent standard. We have made a major commitment to decent housing in the social rented sector. Since then, local authorities have invested more than £16 billion, and a further £6.5 billion has been brought in from the private sector. We have reduced the number of non-decent homes by more than one million, and in June this year we announced a further 61 schemes, which involve a further 34 local authorities and a further £3 billion investment. We have made restoring all those homes, which were in shocking condition in 1997, a major priority. Many people in that sector are living more satisfactory lives as a result.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the National Home Improvement Council, in which I had the privilege of succeeding the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. Does the Minister contemplate revisiting the subject of climate change in the light of the widely admired debate initiated in your Lordships' House on Thursday by the noble Lord, Lord May of Oxford?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, it was an excellent debate. I can confirm that we are seriously attending to the target that we have set ourselves of a 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption by households by 2010. The Building Regulations Part (l) amendments that will come into effect on 6 April 2006 will mean that householders in new dwellings will on average produce about 20 per cent less carbon dioxide as a result of reduced energy consumption on space heating, water and lighting. Indeed we have recently set up a review of our housing stock of 22 million dwellings to look at ways in which we can encourage and enable better forms of energy saving in those homes.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat

My Lords, have the Government given any further consideration to the reduction of VAT on home improvement, bearing in mind that eight other EU countries have successfully introduced such a measure? Nearer home, it has also been working successfully in the Isle of Man.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

My Lords, I know that this is of interest on the Liberal Benches, but such a broad-based reduced rate for all domestic repair work would not be efficient or well targeted. We have chosen to introduce more targeted reduced rates in support of regeneration and domestic energy efficiency objectives, such as residential conversions that create new homes through the better use of existing housing stock and the renovation of housing that has been empty. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint the noble Lord at the moment.