Promoted to Chairman of the Conservative Party, Grant Shapps is now leaving his role as Minister of State for Housing and Local Government.
In office – and before – he has been a vigorous promoter of change
In a time of National Austerity there can be no doubt that unpopular policies must be implemented.
But some of the policies he has promoted have been controversial, especially in the social housing sector.
The end of HIPs. Popular, but the much derided energy certificate requirement remains – courtesy of Brussels.
Localism. Planning reform. Is this making a difference? More domestic extensions are being granted permission. But is this through Localism or a surge in applications so as to avoid the high SDLT costs of moving? Some developers have pointed out that they already have consent for many new homes – but cannot build them because of the lack of liquidity in the lending sector.
Affordable Rent (double existing “Social Rents”). An end to “one size fits all”, with those with the means paying more rent. More rent means more private finance to help fund more affordable homes. But lenders point to fears of higher voids and arrears. Will higher rents be reflected to a large extent in higher housing benefit claims? How will new tenants feel about paying twice as much in rent as others for the same flat or house?
Flexible tenure. Should much needed social housing assets be allocated according to need? In the private sector moving down is often necessary when the children leave home in order to raise more funds. But what of the memories, the community and the friends that tenants will be compelled to leave behind?
Expansion of the Right to Buy with monies raised to be used to build more affordable housing. Is this the way to create much more affordable housing? Or – with the existing depletion of Council housing through the existing RTB and past Council transfers to ALMOs (Arms Length Management Organisations) and Housing Associations – unlikely to have any significant effect?
More Tenant Involvement? A move towards the customer having a real say? Or a move which may be reflected in Tenant Board members supporting the use of surpluses to lower rents rather than help fund new affordable housing?
Housing Benefit reform? Should people be housed in expensive properties? Should not parents take responsibility for the under -25s? But does this mean the end to balanced communities and the ghetto-isation of social housing? What do the YMCA and their lenders think about their main client group being denied benefits?
Selling off expensive properties to fund greater numbers of cheaper ones? A “no brainer”? Or a populist ploy? They are to be sold only when they become available through natural voids so there can only be a trickle effect over the years.
Without doubt, Grant Shapps has been energetic in putting forward changes such as these in housing and planning policy. But many commentators on social housing believe the consequences of some of these changes will either have little practical effect or that they have not been thought through so that the industry will face many problems and legal challenges in their implementation. For lawyers considerable opportunities have been created in advising on the tensions outlined above and not least a likely re-branding as social landlords look to separate their tenancies on legacy Social and new Affordable rents into different organizations in order to deal with the problems which running different rent streams on identical properties will create.