CWAG News Update - February 2018

09 February 2018: CWAG News Update - February 2018


This update includes the following topics: 

  •  ·         Supported Housing Consultations – summary of key issues from sample of members’ returns
  • ·         Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill – Karen Buck MP
  • ·         Social Housing Green Paper
  • ·         Hackett Enquiry
  • ·         Feedback from Finance and Business Planning Workshop
  • ·         Future CWAG Meetings
  • ·         New documents in the library / Recent Publications


Supported Housing Consultations
A summary of key issues from these responses is available to download from the CWAG website.
Consultation on Sheltered and Extra Care Supported Housing
Responses to this part of the consultation were almost all positive and supportive of the general approach and outline funding framework.  The main concerns were around ensuring that the proposals deliver sufficient funding to maintain diversity and innovation in the sector and give providers confidence to deliver new schemes.
Consultation on Housing Costs for short – term supported accommodation
The proposals for short-term supported accommodation were less favourably received, raising important concerns and questions about the new framework.
On the positive side, the focus on local decision making is generally welcomed, particularly as it will drive a much more strategic approach. 
However, consultation responses highlighted a number of key concerns:
  •  - The two year definition is regarded as likely to be problematic in practice and may actually work to disrupt and distort services.
  •  - There are significant concerns around future funding intentions. Most agree that the proposals are only workable if underpinned by sufficient funding. The funding settlement needs to include  current schemes, new provision and new burdens funding for local authorities to prepare for and implement the changes.
  •  - The mechanism for setting the budget is regarded by some as an attempt to limit the further growth of the sector and contain costs. Responses are universally wary of the proposed ring fence given past experiences with Supporting People. The lack of detail around mechanisms for identifying and funding future needs is also noted with concern.
The range of issues highlighted has led some commentators to question the rationale of this approach.  With the exception of women’s refuges and emergency accommodation, which are incompatible with Universal Credit, most other schemes may be more suitable for ongoing funding via the benefits system using a similar model to the one proposed for sheltered and extra care.
Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill – Karen Buck MP
On 14th January 2018, the Government confirmed that it would support this Private Members Bill which passed the second reading stage on 19th January 2018.
This represents a change in stance by the Government which three times in 2015 barred attempts to progress this Bill, arguing previously that there were already sufficient protections in place without imposing ‘unnecessary regulation’ on landlords. In supporting this Bill the Government is responding to growing concerns, highlighted by the Grenfell Fire, of gaps in landlord and tenant law relating to the state and condition of the property, landlords repairing obligations and the criteria for determining fitness.
Currently landlords have obligations to repair the structure of the property and keep heating, gas, electricity and water installations in repair. However, this only applies where something is broken or damaged. Issues such as fire safely, inadequate heating or poor ventilation causing condensation and mould growth are not covered. In addition, landlords currently have no obligation to their tenants to put or keep the property in a condition that is fit for habitation. There are a whole range of ‘fitness’ issues where tenants have no redress.
Under current arrangements tenants must rely on local authorities to take action against bad landlords. Whilst local authorities can enforce fitness standards under the Housing Act 2004, there is no consistent approach to enforcement around the country. The available data highlights that many local authorities do not use these enforcement powers – in 2016 around 50% of authorities issued either one or fewer Housing Act 2004 notices. In contrast, the LB Newham, which has an active enforcement policy, accounted for 50% of all notices served nationally.
The Bill aims to complement local authority enforcement powers, by giving tenants power to take landlords directly to court if their rented homes are in disrepair.
This Bill also has implications for council and housing association landlords. For council tenants, redress through the Housing Act 2004 is not available as local authorities cannot take enforcement action against themselves. This can leave council tenants at a relative disadvantage if their landlord doesn’t respond to the presence of health and safety hazards in their homes. Similarly for housing association tenants, the evidence is that councils rarely initiate enforcement action against housing association landlords.
The Bill now passes to a Public Bill Committee for line by line scrutiny.
Social Housing Green Paper
Publication of the Social Housing Green Paper is now expected in spring 2018.
On 24th January 2018, CWAG Chair Rob Main and policy officer Alison Freeman met with a number of the officials who are leading on the Green Paper at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The meeting was hosted by the Local Government Association (LGA) and was also attended by representatives of ARCH (Association of Retained Council Housing) and the NFA (National Federation of ALMOs).
The meeting discussed the major themes that are likely to feature in the Green Paper and provided an opportunity for the sector to influence the course of the debate and make the case for housing. Emerging themes include tenant engagement and tenant satisfaction; overhauling regulatory standards and ensuring landlords are performing; delivering culture change and promoting good practice.
A number of parallel reviews into the sector have been announced which will shadow the Government’s Green Paper:
·         Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) review ‘Rethinking Social Housing’
·         The Labour Party has also announced  its own ‘Social Housing Review’ and issued a ‘call for evidence’
·         Shelter has established across-party commission on the future of social housing.
Hackitt Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety
Dame Judith Hackitt was appointed by government to lead an independent review of building regulations and fire safety following the Grenfell fire. Interim findings were published on 18th December 2017.
The interim report highlight concerns that the construction industry’s regulatory system is ‘not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so’.
Key Findings
·         A culture change is required, with industry taking greater responsibility for what is built.
·         The regulatory system for safely designing, constructing and managing buildings is not fit for purpose. The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation.
·         Change control and quality assurance are poor throughout the development process. What is initially designed is not what is being built, and quality assurance of materials and people is seriously lacking.
·         The current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose.
·         A clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns, and be listened to, must be created.

Although the interim report does not make specific recommendations, it sets out six broad areas for change:

- ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous

- clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe

- improving levels of competence within the industry

- improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations

- creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to

- improving testing, marketing and quality assurance of products used in construction.


 The next phase of the review, which is due to be published in the spring, will focus on overhauling the regulations and examining issues such as sprinklers, cladding, alarm systems.
Finance and Business Planning Workshop
Held on 16th January 2018 at the Laycock Centre in Islington, the workshop facilitated by Simon Smith from HQN was well attended by CWAG members with a mix of responsibilities across finance, housing strategy and business planning. What followed was an intensive day and some lively discussion around a raft of issues and pressures which impact on the management of the HRA and Business Planning going forward.
The workshop was an opportunity to discuss and share information on a number of topical issues, such as future rent policy, progressing new development, and HRA headroom and reserves levels. It was interesting to hear how members are dealing with the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, including progress with identifying remediation costs, options around replacing defective materials, the pros and cons of retrofitting sprinklers as well as different approaches to dealing with leaseholder contributions. Whilst Government funding for this work remains elusive, the business planning impacts need to be worked through and built into revised plans.
There was particular interest in the discussions around the potential to undertake new development programmes as well as options for using one for one receipts.  In terms of the latter, there were a couple of more unusual and controversial suggestions included matching receipts with Section 106 resources and options to provide temporary accommodation.
What those who attended said about the event:
Highly useful, engaging, relevant content’
‘Very contemporary and useful’
‘Useful wisdom from colleagues and some interesting learning’
‘This was an excellent engaging session, very informative’
The handouts from the workshop are available on the CWAG Website
Next CWAG General Meeting - 23rd March 2018.
The next General Meeting will focus on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. Our speaker is Faye Greaves from the Chartered Institute Housing will be considering the implications of this legislation for Councils and ALMOs.
There will also be an opportunity for the group to consider and prepare for our response to the Social Housing Green Paper.
The meeting is being hosted by Newark and Sherwood DC and will take place at Castle House in Newark.
Forward Meeting Dates
Wednesday 11th July 2018 – CWAG General Meeting – Laycock Centre Islington
Friday 28th September 2018 – CWAG Annual General Meeting – Central Library Manchester
New in the library
A number of CWAG members have provided copies of their local authority responses