This Month In Social Housing: November 2023

Well, November has come and gone and before you know it Christmas will be here. For many of us in the social housing sector this means a clamour to get all that planning for 2024 boxed off before everyone slinks off for their well-deserved festive break. If that sounds like you and the past 30 days have been so hectic that you’ve not been able to keep up with all the goings on from within the sector then you’re in luck, because here’s another of our handy news round-ups. So, take five, grab a brew and read through this useful summary of the five most important social housing news stories from the past month…

Rowley Returns to Housing Minister Role

Lee Rowley has been reappointed as the UK’s housing minister, returning to the role just over a year after being replaced. The MP for North East Derbyshire takes over from Rachel Maclean, who is the latest housing minister to be dismissed after less than a year. This move is part of a broader cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Rowley becomes the 16th housing minister since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and the 23rd person in this role since 1997. Some reports suggest resistance to the Prime Minister’s decision from Rowley’s cabinet-level supporters.

Research Suggests Social Housing Construction to Increase in 2024

Social housing construction is anticipated to rebound in 2024 with an expected 7% increase, reaching 7,531 starts, following a 13% decline in 2023, according to analysts at Glenigan. Improved funding for affordable housing projects is predicted to drive growth, with a further 5% rise projected for 2025. The housing sector faced challenges in 2023 due to high construction costs, causing housing associations to reassess project viability. The broader UK construction sector is expected to experience a significant 20% drop by the end of the year, influenced by last year’s Mini Budget fallout and economic uncertainties affecting investor and consumer confidence.

Government to Unfreeze Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and Increase Benefits

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced measures to alleviate the cost of living crisis in the Autumn Statement. Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, frozen since 2020, will be restored to the 30th percentile from April 2024, benefitting 1.6 million households with an average support increase of £800. Additionally, Universal Credit and other benefits will rise by 6.7% in April 2024, matching September’s inflation figure and providing an average £470 increase for 5.5 million households. The move aims to address concerns about work incentives and respond to the acute cost of living pressures faced by low-income families. Homelessness charities, housing associations, and councils have long advocated for LHA rate increases.

NEF: “Tax Reform Could Pay For 31,000 Social Homes Per Year”

Closing a tax loophole could generate £5.7 billion annually, funding 31,000 new social homes, says a report by the New Economics Foundation and Homes for Us Coalition. The proposal involves raising stamp duty surcharge to 9% for multiple homeowners and 6% for non-residents. The study notes a 6.1% increase in average rents and a tripling of UK properties owned by overseas residents from 2010 to 2021. As of July 2022, non-UK residents owned £90.7 billion of property in England and Wales. The NEF suggests taxing property speculators more, closing tax loopholes, and imposing higher stamp duty on debt-free properties to address the housing shortage.

Grenfell Inquiry Final Report Delayed Until Mid-2024

The final report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will not be published before April 2024, according to an update from the inquiry team. The extensive evidence collection has led to a time-consuming drafting process, with the Rule 13 procedure, involving notifying those subject to criticism, causing delays. The team aims to send the report to the prime minister before the seventh anniversary of the fire on June 14, 2024. The report addresses the Grenfell Tower fire’s circumstances, examining factors such as the refurbishment history, government response, and the London Fire Brigade’s actions. The first-phase report in 2019 had made recommendations for fire safety improvements.

That’s the penultimate This Month In Social Housing of the year chalked off. We’re all off to begin worrying about getting all our Christmas shopping done before the big day and not having to resort to giftwrapping a bag of smokeless fuel purchased from a 24 hour garage on Christmas Eve (again). We will however be back again on these very pages at the same time next month to do this all over again, so please do join us. Until then though, sayonara!

Dean Quinn