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[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:14 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport 3:14 pm, 27th January 2011

That project is for families with complex needs who risk being evicted for antisocial behaviour or other reasons. Often, a family evicted from one property simply moves to a property in another area, usually taking their problems with them and disturbing another community.

Since the project started, it has had 34 referrals, 15 of which have met the criteria and been taken on. Eight families have signed up to a full contract, a behaviour support agreement signed by the agencies and each family member. The Stockport Homes intervention project works with other agencies to provide families with support such as parenting classes, help finding training or work, drugs and alcohol help, domestic violence help, social care referral and support for teenage parents. The project has successfully closed two contracts after achieving excellent results: reduced antisocial behaviour, better integration into the community, better parenting skills, reduced domestic violence and increased school attendance. For families needing a fresh start away from the area, the project can set up a family intervention tenancy somewhere else. It provides intense support, including daily visits for the first month and strict rules about complying with advice and assistance. The overall results include quieter, safer communities and a new chance for families to thrive in a different area.

I draw the project to the House's attention because it is an example of an innovative approach to housing management that recognises that dealing with the behaviour of a minority of tenants and the consequences for the wider community will be effective only if the underlying causes of that behaviour are addressed. Housing management can never involve merely repairing properties and collecting rent. Achieving decent living standards for tenants and the wider community goes much further.

In its comments on the Select Committee report, Stockport Homes said:

"Although we acknowledge the conclusion of the report that there was a need to keep the Decent Homes standard narrow, it could be argued that the emphasis on the fabric of the housing stock and internal components is too narrow. The lack of a standard for communal areas, estate improvements and energy efficiency measures could be seen as missed opportunities which now need to be addressed."

I agree totally, and welcome the Minister's comments on the importance of communal areas and energy efficiency measures to the decent homes standard.

I also agree with the Select Committee report about the importance of the green agenda and the call for the decent homes standard for energy efficiency to be updated. The Government's carbon emissions reduction targets mean that the entire UK housing stock must be made more energy efficient. The decent homes standards have an important part to play and should be updated to enable that.

Stockport Homes has been proactive in its green agenda. As a result of substantial investment in energy efficiency measures, the ALMO is in the top 1% of the standard assessment procedure ratings, which calculate the energy performance of individual dwellings. That is especially important for social housing, as most tenants are on low incomes, meaning that their heating bills form a large proportion of their income. They also face increases in their energy bills.

I am sure that we all agree that the decent homes programme has improved the quality of life of many families in this country. I am keen for it to be maintained and strengthened by ongoing funding. People on low incomes have little choice in their housing, so it is important that the homes that they are offered are of a decent standard, have sustainable energy costs and are situated in a decent environment. Sadly, Stockport has a shortage of social housing, particularly family housing; 7,626 people are on the waiting list. It also has a shortage of affordable homes to buy, creating more reliance on privately rented accommodation. Such housing is overwhelmingly provided by landlords who own a few properties. Indeed, in my constituency, some of those properties are former council houses bought under the right to buy scheme and then sold on.

I understand that we do not want to increase costs to private landlords, due to concerns that if regulations make rented property too expensive for landlords to provide at a reasonable profit, such accommodation will dry up. However, there must be a proper balance between decent standards and profits. It cannot be right that, due to a lack of social housing and affordable homes to buy, families should be forced to live in rented homes in the private sector, some of which do not reach decent standards. I welcome the Minister's comments on that.

Where we live is important to us all. Some of us have more choice in deciding than others. It is only right that we should support the efforts of ALMOs such as Stockport Homes to provide the best possible environments for those who have little or no choice in their housing. I look forward to such a commitment from the Minister.