Delegates at the ARCH / HouseMark Stock Retained
Councils conference this week agreed that 2012 has been a year of
great change for council housing - and ARCH. But where are we going
Optimists celebrated the generosity of the self-financing
settlement, which has cushioned housing from the agony of cuts
under way in other council services, and providing opportunities
for increased investment, greening existing council homes or
building new ones.
Pessimists foresaw a perfect storm of benefit cuts driving up rent
arrears, wiping out the rent surpluses needed to support new
investment and leaving other council tenants seeing their rents
fill the gap created by government welfare policies instead of
being used to keep their homes in good repair.
Local circumstances differ, of course, and the impact of cuts in
housing benefit on an authority will depend on a number of
variables, including the proportion of renting households and the
split between private and social tenancies, the level of rents and
the number of underoccupying working households.
A straw poll of the proportion of council tenants affected by the
bedroom tax, for example, showed variation between 10 and over 20
per cent among the councils represented. So it is clear that the
implications of welfare reform will be bigger in some places than
Whether so big as to realise the pessimists' fears remains to be
seen. But certainly enough to make many councils see the sense of
looking just as hard at housing management costs as they are forced
to look at service costs across the rest of the council.
Many councils reported that they had taken advantage of the
changes introduced by the Localism Act to revisit allocations and
Choices whether or not to introduce flexible tenancies predictably
tended to follow political control, although several
non-Conservative councils were planning to use them.
Virtually all councils present were, however, planning to make use
to some extent of the power to discharge their duties to homeless
households through the private rented sector, and there was a
lively debate on the potential for challenge to councils choosing
to offer such housing outside the local area.
All in all, it has been a year of great change. And with an
updated National Housing Strategy likely to appear at the end of
this month, followed by the Chancellor's Autumn statement on 5
December, there is every prospect of a new clutch of housing and
welfare policy announcements before the year comes to an end. The
pace of change looks unlikely to abate.