Policy Blog: Challenge and change

Wednesday 4th of May 2016

The Lords gave the government a really tough time over the Housing and Planning Bill. They got some good results too.

It was great to see the Lords doing exactly what they’re supposed to but it’s also been a bit of a rollercoaster that’s not quite finished yet.

The Lords have had two main concerns: the negative impact of the policies on social housing, and the government’s attempt to get powers to make sweeping changes without telling Parliament the detail of what those changes would be.

Some key Lords really know their stuff on housing. They spoke passionately about the purpose and benefits of social housing, and how the Bill would undermine them. They took time to listen to landlords, tenants, and other concerned parties to build on their knowledge and work through possible alternative approaches. Also, and importantly, the Lords’ tolerance for the power grab had run out.

These concerns made them look at the Bill for longer and in more detail than anyone really expected. They pushed and pushed, saying over and again ‘we need the detail, it’s wrong to take that power, those consequences are unjust’.

What are the big wins?

There will be a bit more skirmishing before the Bill is finalised so my view might change, but right now I’d say:

  1. Security of tenure. Government snuck in its plan to limit council tenancies to 5 years just as the Commons had finished looking at the Bill. Just as the Lords finished its scrutiny government made a massive concession – older people, disabled and long term sick people, carers, and people with families will all get more than 5 years. This must be more than 50% of new lettings. The loss of the principle of security of tenure is still fundamental, but a lot of people will have better terms than government intended
  2. Pay to Stay. The severity of this policy has definitely been reduced because the increase in rent will now be tapered and Universal Credit claimants will be excluded. The practical upshot is that tenants are unlikely to have to give up homes or jobs due to this policy. If any of the Lords amendments stick, the impact of the policy on tenants will be further weakened
  3. Detail. We know more about how the policies will work than government perhaps wanted to announce by this stage, and a dose of common sense has been applied in some useful areas.

What does this tell us?

The scope for council landlords to continue to value and provide secure social housing is stronger than it would otherwise have been, and the terms given to tenants will also be stronger than they would have been. Ultimately there will still be big changes to social housing which will change it fundamentally. But landlords and tenants have found a strong advocate in the Lords. Consequently they are in a better place than expected to shape what happens next as the policies are rolled out.


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