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HCLG Select Committee hear about MHCLG's housing priorities

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee has been hearing evidence from a number of MHCLG spokespeople including, Dominic Raab, Minister of State for Housing and Heather Wheeler, Minister for Housing and Homelessness about their priorities for housing.

A big focus was on house building, particularly the gap between planning permission granted, and building rates following Teresa May's announcement in the Commons earlier in the month to get tough on planning.

However, other areas were also covered. We highlight them main ones below:

Grenfell Tower

Bob Blackman, Chair of the committee, asked for an update on the number of families that had found permanent accommodation following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Raab outlined the number of families that had found both permanent and temporary residency since the fire saying: 

"In category A, the total number of households that require rehousing is 208.

"The number of category A households now in temporary accommodation is 64, and the number in permanent accommodation is 60."

Blackman explained his surprise of the high number of households that were still in temporary accommodation and called on the Government to do more and quicker to help those families affected.

The minister agreed, but told the committee that it was important the community and those affected by the tragedy were given the stability and support to make the decisions they needed to make. 'We are making steady progress' he told the committee.

'There is a still a lack of confidence in the council' Blackman said and asked how the minster and Government planned to restore that trust. Raab outlined how his first priority was to the survivors and the bereaved.

Remedial work following the Grenfell Tower fire

Committee member, Andrew Lewer (Conservative MP for Northampton South) pointed out that four local authorities had asked the government for additional funding for remedial work, but that no authority had been given funds to carry out essential work.

Raab said that discussions with the four authorities were still underway but no funding had yet to exchange hands. The minister believed MHCLG had identified all public buildings which would need remedial work, he said. Private sector buildings could test their buildings free of charge through a Government service.

Liz Twist asked about funding made available to local authorities to fit sprinklers in buildings and the claims that those requests for funds had been rejected. Raab said the department had looked at buildings and requests on a case by case basis and sprinklers were not always necessary. He said all decisions taken had been guided by expert advice.

Following a question from Jo Platt about costs of remedial work in the private sector, Raab explained his view that those costs should not be passed onto tenants but instead met by the freeholders.

Social housing green paper

Twist asked when the social housing green paper would be published. Raab said he hoped to publish it at some point in 2018, following the successful operation of workshops across the country. Stigma of social housing and relationships between landlords and tenants would be central to the paper he explained.

Funding for homeless provision

Blackman said many local authorities were concerned about the level of funding for provision of services for the homeless. Housing and Homelessness Minister Heather Wheeler outlined the details of the New Burdens Fund and other funding streams the Government had established. A review of the funding scenario would be carried out within two years, she said.

Blackman asked what steps were being taken to reduce the dependence on temporary accommodation. Wheeler said that the new grant would help councils change the way they thought about homeless provision. Office blocks were being changed into flats, she said, in many local authorities.

Blackman warned that such an approach would drive up the cost of office space as it was often converted into housing. The minister agreed and understood there were crucial issues regarding supply that needed to be addressed.

Helen Hayes said the funding review, after two years, would not give local authorities the certainty they needed to operate and take on the issue. She called on the Government to act sooner rather than later and assure councils that support and finance would be long term.

'There will be money moving forward' Wheeler said in response.

Housing First

The committee asked the panel about Housing First, a programme which helps rapidly rehome people who find themselves without accommodation for whatever reason, and supports vulnerable people or those with complex needs such as victims of domestic abuse or those dependent on drugs or alcohol.

Under the programme, there are no conditions around ‘housing readiness’ before providing someone with a home; rather, secure housing is viewed as a stable platform from which other issues can be addressed. Housing First is a different model because it provides housing ‘first’, as a matter of right, rather than ‘last’ or as a reward.

The programme which takes it's inspiration from Pathways to Housing, first seen in the USA and overwhelmingly seen as a success has since seen it's principles adopted by other countries including Canada, Denmark, Finland and France.

The programme has been piloted in the UK across Newcastle, London, the Midlands, Greater Manchester, on the south coast, and in Wales and Scotland. 

Wheeler said recruitment could start immediately to kick start the programme and outlined the experiences of the programme thus far. 

Leasehold reform

Hollinrake asked about the cost of extending a lease and whether the Government were considering acting and legislating on this issue. Wheeler said the Government were looking at the case, but warned that it was currently a judicial case at the moment and informed the committee the case was incredibly complex, suggesting no conclusions should be drawn from its judgement. Raab said he would 'wait and see what the courts say about it'.

Watch the session on Parliament TV