#Budget2018: Not much of a treat for social housing, then

THERE was an air of disappointment in the reaction to the Chancellor’s Budget yesterday, despite some welcomed measures, but Philip Hammond failed to build on previous announcements by the Prime Minister.

Indeed, in many respects it was a housing-lite Budget, and some of the measures had already been revealed by Theresa May at the National Housing Federation (NHF) and later Conservative Party conferences.

Hammond confirmed the lifting of the HRA borrowing cap but provided no greater detail. He offered a further £500 million for the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is claimed will ‘unlock’ the delivery of 650,000 homes; there was mention of £1 billion to help SMEs build more new homes; and he announced nine strategic partnerships between housing associations and Homes England to build 13,000 new homes.

There were also some sweeteners for homeownership, with Hammond telling the Commons he was scrapping stamp duty for first time buyers of shared ownership properties of up to £500,000; he also announced a new Help to Buy equity loan scheme that will run until 2023.

“The Chancellor’s announcements on housing are not the wholesale changes needed to fix our broken housing market,” said Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF). “We desperately need tens of thousands more social homes to be built every year, which is why we are disappointed that the Government has missed a real opportunity to overhaul how land is sold.

“The current set up means last year landowners pocketed more than the global profits of Amazon, McDonald’s and Coca Cola combined, raising the cost of land and making it almost impossible for organisations who want to buy land for social housing to afford it. More of this profit must be used for building social housing. The housing crisis will never be solved until the price of land radically changes.”

Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey tweeted:

Social housing campaigner, Tom Murtha tweeted:

Mervyn Jones, chief executive of Yorkshire Housing, said: “We welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to helping first time buyers and extending support to first time buyers of shared ownership homes. However, the Government missed an opportunity to reform how land is made available to organisations wanting to buy land to build social housing. The housing crisis can’t be solved until the price of land radically changes.

“While an extra one billion pounds to address some of the problems Universal Credit is welcome, many customers are being pushed into financial and emotional distress due to delays in receiving their monthly payments. The Government must ensure people receive the money when they need it.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said the extra money for Universal Credit was a step in the right direction for tackling in-work poverty. The Chancellor announced yesterday that the Government is to provide £1.7 billion to increase the work allowances in Universal Credit.

“[T]he Government has taken an important step forward in addressing a burning injustice – the rise of poverty among working families. This move will help make Universal Credit a tool for tackling poverty, and ease the burden for low-income families,” said the JRF’s chief executive, Campbell Robb.

“JRF has been working with other organisations, politicians of all stripes and, most importantly, people living in poverty themselves, to make the case for this crucial change.

“We will continue to work constructively with the Government to reform Universal Credit so that the needs of the people who rely on it come first. The public supports this, the Government supports this, and it is what needs to happen in a just and compassionate society. However, with 14 million people living in poverty, the Government needs to be emboldened to carry out serious social reform to make this a country that works for everyone.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, called the Budget a “missed opportunity” to prevent people becoming homeless with some simple changes.

“At the moment, delays and errors in Universal Credit payments are putting some people at a serious risk of becoming homeless. This simply can’t go on. Our call for dedicated housing and homelessness specialists in Britain’s Jobcentres would provide vital support for people applying for Universal Credit,” he added.

“The Chancellor’s announcements on Universal Credit were a step in the right direction, but the Government must ensure these specialists are part of the package. If Philip Hammond and the Government are serious about their pledge to end rough sleeping, the most visible form of homelessness, by 2027, then they must match their bold promises with equally bold measures to get the job done.”

Terrie Alafat CBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “There are some welcome elements in [the] budget announcement including £1.7 billion to increase work allowances under Universal Credit and £1 billion over five years in additional protection for existing claimants moving on to Universal Credit from other benefits. CIH has previously argued for these kind of changes so it is pleasing to see the government adopt them. It is vital to get this right to make sure that people don’t live in fear of homelessness because they can’t afford to meet their housing costs.

However, it was disappointing not to see any movement on the length of time people have to wait before receiving a Universal Credit payment which we know is causing great hardship to many people or any willingness to remove the local housing allowance freeze which we know is making it very hard for people to find or keep an affordable place to call home.”

The NHF’s Henderson added: “It’s good to see the Government address some of the problems with Universal Credit. Housing associations have been saying for a long time that for many it is not working. “Despite extra support from housing associations, many people in social housing are being pushed in to financial and emotional distress, debt and arrears under Universal Credit due to the five-week gap before the first payment, delays in receiving their monthly payments, mistakes made by the system and a lack of information. People on Universal Credit are more than twice as likely to be in debt compared to all other social housing tenants.

“This promised £1 billion cash injection must be used to urgently resolve as many of these problems as it can. Similarly, the promise to increase work allowances by £1,000 is welcome, but the Government must ensure people receive the money they desperately need, when they need it, before even more people are moved on to the system.”



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