With the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement approaching and the word ‘growth’ now on everyone’s lips, ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government are increasingly looking to the private rental sector as the source of a significant proportion of its ambitions for housing growth.
Speaking to the National Housing Federation’s annual conference in September, Housing Minister Mark Prisk called on housing associations to branch out into the development of private rented properties. Then, addressing MPs on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee last month, he went on to argue that it was “important that we think about some of the smaller players”.
He stated that the Government’s £10bn debt guarantee, designed to underpin institutional investment in private and affordable housing, will not be solely for what he dubbed “super-large funds”.
The RLA has submitted proposals to members of the Welsh Assembly that would enable local authorities to better use the wide range of powers they already have to enforce standards requirements, rather than seeking more powers.
And at Westminster, the CLG Select Committee has announced an inquiry looking at the future regulation of the sector, including how to secure and maintain standards, rental levels, dealing with ‘rogue’ landlords and the regulation of letting agents.
The RLA will be submitting evidence and hopes to be asked also to provide oral evidence to the Committee’s members.
The Government’s welfare reforms continue to cause controversy, with the publication of a National Audit Office report concluding that the introduction of CPI into the calculation of benefit entitlements “could lead to shortages in many local authority areas of private rented accommodation with rents at or below Local Housing Allowance rates”. The report also noted that surveys suggest that 87 per cent of PRS tenants know either not very much or nothing at all about the benefit changes that will affect them.
Following news that ministers in Whitehall and Northern Ireland have agreed that payments of housing benefits in Northern Ireland can automatically be made to landlords, Labour MP Derek Twigg called on the Leader of the House of Commons to make a statement “to explain why the Minister with responsibility for welfare reform, Lord Freud, has agreed that in Northern Ireland payment of housing benefit directly to landlords will continue, while in the rest of the country payment must be made directly to tenants, despite all the problems highlighted by many people”.
Responding, the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, explained that his understanding “is not that the changes to universal credit rule out the possibility of direct payment, but merely that it is important that they be assessed and examined to ensure they are appropriate”.
Meanwhile, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in a report has cited a briefing from the RLA raising concerns about the impact on tenant arrears of losing the ability for payments to be made directly to landlords.
Ed Jacobs is the RLA’s public affairs advisor.
To contact Ed email firstname.lastname@example.org.