A concerning number of people in the UK are living in substandard homes. This is affecting not only their quality of life but also their physical health and mental wellbeing. At the same time, local authorities are continuing to battle budget cuts – and after a decade of austerity, councils are having to make difficult decisions about funding priorities.
Our latest research report, The State of our Estates, reviews the amount of repair and maintenance work carried out across homes in the UK from 1997 to 2018. The analysis shows that the annual value of work on housing has decreased by £434m – despite the number of homes having increased by 3.8m during this period.
Not only is the value of repair and maintenance work undertaken falling, there is also a clear regional divide in the distribution of that value. In 2018, London and the South East saw the highest amount of work: £1,480 per property and £1,410 per property respectively. In Wales, the North West, the North East and Northern Ireland on the other hand, annual spend on repair and maintenance per property sits below £700 – half that of their southern counterparts.
This is simply not enough. The Grenfell tragedy was a stark reminder of the need to make sure that people are safe in their own homes. It is clear that there is a significant requirement for reactive repairs and to ensure specification compliance in certain areas of the UK. Improvements are not being made as quickly as they should be. The public and private sectors need to ensure our homes are fit for purpose. In our latest report, we have made a series of recommendations on how this could be achieved.
Firstly, councils need to turn policy initiatives into strategic outputs. Most housing organisations now have a 30-year asset management plan, but action needs to be taken to turn the extensive policy guidelines into a coherent and implementable strategy. Sitting under an umbrella asset management strategy, we need to see sub-strategies for repair and maintenance work, stock re-investment, compliance and legislative responsibilities.
Secondly, I also urge the Government to lift the restriction on Right to Buy receipts. Right to Buy has seen better quality stock transferred into the private sector, but local authorities have been unable to use the receipts to re-invest in improving their existing stock (or to provide replacement housing). These restrictions mean that the capital receipts from Right to Buy sales are often left unspent or are reclaimed by central government. Lifting restrictions would allow councils to reinvest in current and new homes. Importantly, this means that local decisions will be made at a local level, to meet local need.
Thirdly, we must increase scrutiny of our homes in the private rented sector. The removal of benefits and tax advantages for private landlords is harming the sector – landlords have less money to put into stock improvements. Private landlords should be made to comply with decency legislation; currently, there is no compulsion on the private sector to meet standards either of housing quality or tenancy rights. It is vital that new mechanisms are introduced to monitor the quality of private rented housing and that financial procedures are developed to give local authorities the ability to enforce higher standards.
Government must provide the funding to ensure all social housing is of a decent standard while increasing scrutiny of private landlords. Imagine if your home made you ill and restricted your life chances. That is their reality for millions of people across the UK.
Mark Robinson is chief executive of Scape Group