[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 2:30 pm, 27th January 2011

I am sure that there are ways to do that. The Committee concluded that, given that the decent homes programme was running to a certain standard from 2001, it was probably not the right thing to do to try to add things halfway through the process. As the Government said at the time, they were basic standards but there was no reason why authorities should not add to them. Indeed, for kitchens and bathrooms, my city had the Sheffield standard, which went beyond the national standard. Perhaps the other way in which the problem can be tackled-I may be corrected-is through building regulations. Perhaps there could be a legal requirement to deal with the issue, rather than adding something to the decent homes programme at this stage, rather late in the day.

Other issues that we considered were the environment, the appearance of an estate as opposed to an individual home, and communal areas, which have caused difficulties under the programme. By and large, where stock transfers took place, housing associations could raise more private finance and were able to cope with those issues. Where work was done within the authority, through the arm's length management organisations, often, on the environment, they were limited to 5% additional funding in the programme, so all the environmental works and communal area works that were needed were not necessarily tackled. That perhaps needs to be addressed in the future, although in this case it is very difficult to be prescriptive about national standards.

An issue that we considered in some detail in both reports was energy standards. This is not merely a question of comfort for the individual living in their home. It is a question of a national requirement, a public need requirement, because of the need for the country as a whole to meet the climate change challenges of which we are all acutely aware. I shall say a few words about the issue of energy. From the beginning, there was a feeling that the standards in the decent homes programme were set rather low. All right, they are minimum standards and could be added to, but we really need to move on and address those minimum standards.

The previous Government promised, through the household energy management strategy, to deal with that. They promised that, by 2020, 7 million homes that did not have adequate loft or cavity wall insulation would get it. Effectively, there would be a warm homes standard in the social sector that would almost be a decent homes-plus standard. We understand from the current Government's response-it would be helpful if the Minister could say a bit more about this-that those various initiatives have now been subsumed in the idea of the green deal. It is not quite clear at this stage what that will mean for social housing and private sector tenants and owner-occupiers in terms of bringing their homes up to a standard where they can feel comfortable in them and can afford to heat them-bearing in mind the current and future increase in energy costs-and for us as a nation in meeting the challenge of climate change.

When the National Housing Federation did an estimate of what it would need to do to get the emissions in its homes down to 20% of their current levels and to meet the challenge of bringing down emissions by 80% by 2050, it said that it would need to spend £25,000 on average on each housing association property in the country. It is a long-term challenge, and we need some indication from the Government that they have a strategy for national standards and for targets to be hit. I know that the Government do not like targets very much, but we have overall climate change targets. Perhaps we should find a way forward by improving our energy efficiency standards.

When the Committee considered that, we felt that energy efficiency standards were the right way to go. Certainly fuel poverty is a real problem, but once we try to link the issue of fuel poverty with the standards in a building, real complications emerge. For example, we could get properties moving in and out of an appropriate standard depending on the incomes of the people who live in the property, and that is an issue of which we must be aware.

As for the methods of achievement so far in the decent homes programme, stock transfer clearly dealt with a lot of properties. Tenants voted to move to housing associations because the associations could raise the money on the private markets and deliver the decent homes programmes that were required. Many other tenants resisted the idea of their homes moving out of council ownership. The Government at the time refused to give funding directly to councils for the decent homes programme; that was a matter of contention and I personally did not agree with that policy at the time. None the less, many tenants agreed to go with a transfer of management, but not ownership, to an arm's length management organisation.

Social housing in this country has undergone a revolution. There has been an improvement not only in the management of council housing and the delivery of major programmes, but in the management and delivery performance of housing associations. I know that this is sometimes an uncomfortable point for housing associations to address, but the report, on page 45, sets out clearly that, when an assessment was done of the overall performance of ALMOs, 75% had a good or excellent rating. For housing associations, the figure was around 35%. As for major works contributions and oversight, 70% of ALMOs got a good or excellent rating and just over 50% of housing associations did so. ALMOs did very well indeed and some of the best ALMOs are clearly some of the best performing housing organisations in the country.