05 October, 2015

This right-to-buy deal will wreck our plans for truly affordable homes

At Hackney council, we want housing associations to guarantee homes lost under right to buy will be replaced at social rent

This blog post first appeared in the Guardian Housing Network on 5th October 2015.

The past week has seen some of the most significant arguments in years about the future of social housing.

It started when the National Housing Federation and housing minister Greg Clark announced the proposal of a voluntary deal on extending right to buy to housing association properties. It continued through the Labour party conference where myself, many other Labour housing leads, London assembly member Tom Copley and shadow housing minister John Healey challenged housing associations to reject the deal. But following the vote on Friday 2 October, the vast majority of housing associations have signed up.

Last Tuesday, I wrote to housing association boards because, like many others including Red Kite, I believed a week was too short a time to scrutinise a deal that will bypass parliament and alter the supply of social housing.

The NHF says it does not endorse the forced sale of council homes to pay for it, but given there’s no sign that the government has any funding solution this is what it will do – undermine provision of social housing and do little to ensure future supply, whatever lip service is paid to the idea of one-for-one replacement.

The counter-argument is that it safeguards social housing held in trust, preserves the independence of housing associations and will allow them to continue delivering new homes. London housing associations have promised, according to Inside Housing, to build 93,000 new homes – but how many will directly replace what we have lost?

The key question I put to the government, the mayor of London and housing associations is where and when this new housing will be built, and under what tenure? I ask not just because I’m a Labour councillor who passionately believes in social housing, but also on behalf of the 2,100 families in Hackney in temporary accommodation.

Those families’ lives are on hold as they wait for a stable home in accommodation provided at a high cost to local and national taxpayers, as well as themselves. Our duty and commitment to those families has not changed, but decisions made in boardrooms and Whitehall have undermined their chances of living in a truly affordable home. While hoping I’m wrong, I fear they will not end up in one of these promised 93,000 homes.

If things proceed, council homes will be sold, right to buy (and, by association, buy to let) will expand and nowhere is there a guarantee that homes lost at social rent will be replaced at social rent.

I support the aspiration of home ownership, but not at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. Hackney is building nearly 900 new council homes for social renting, 500 homes for shared ownership and 1,200 for private sale. Long ago we resolved to stop being dependent on grants and instead self-finance. But just as we start to deliver, the rules are being changed, with the 1% rent cut to social housing and the move to force councils to sell off properties to fund the expansion of right to buy.

Even if this deal is agreed, I hope housing associations will oppose the housing bill and forced sales. I hope they continue to have a social purpose and help us replace all the social homes lost with new homes at social rent.

I support social housing because it is the only hope we have of stopping the hollowing out of communities. It’s why I am supporting the Our Homes, Our London campaign and why I am working with colleagues to oppose this bill.

Council and social housing is not dead. Before May we had started to see a renaissance of ambition and delivery across London. The days and months ahead will determine whether this continues.

27 March, 2015

Providing support to Building Lives apprentices

In this blog, first published on the Hackney Council website on 27th March 2015, I give my thoughts on the measures that Hackney Council is taking to support the borough’s apprentices who have been affected by the recent withdrawal of funding from the Building Lives programme.

Cllr Philip Glanville, Cabinet Member for Housing, said: Both living and working in Hackney I notice one recurring theme: Construction. We are a growing borough, with development changing Hackney’s landscape to meet the demand for new homes, commercial space and the growing popularity of the borough’s leisure and hospitality economy.

Construction means opportunities, from on-site training for those wishing to build construction careers, to full or part-time employment for skilled tradespeople. Helping to provide people in Hackney with access to skills and training to take advantage of present and future opportunities is hugely important. Which is why I was shocked to hear that funding for the borough’s Building Lives programme had been cancelled.

Building Lives provides a range of construction-related training for apprentices in Hackney to build skills and experience across trade disciplines to support future construction careers, or to expand on existing skills to move into other areas of the industry. With the sudden loss of funding, the careers of the apprentices that use this important training service are being put at risk. We, as a Council, will try and mitigate this impact using as many avenues as we can.

I have worked with colleagues from across the Council and Hackney Homes who, alongside staff from Building Lives, are exploring ways of supporting apprentices by finding alternative placements and additional training.

We have already taken a number of steps to support those affected:

  • We are looking to identify and secure painting and decorating work in partnership with local developers and contractors in addition to Here East for further training opportunities
  • Our regeneration team has been working closely with Building Lives to secure apprenticeship placement at a number of development sites, this work will continue
  • Since 2014, Hackney has introduced Building Lives to a number of our Council-led housing regeneration developments to secure apprenticeship placements. We will continue to look at opportunities across these sites
  • As a Council, we have contacted two apprenticeship training agencies to explore the possibility of transferring Building Lives apprenticeships over to them to ensure that their formal apprenticeship programme can be completed and qualifications can be gained. One of the agencies has welcomed this idea and is willing to work with the Council to look at this further.
  • Above are a few options that we are continuing to look at closely. The Council will, in partnership with Hackney Homes, Building Lives, developers and other training agencies, continue to explore as many options available to us to ensure that the scheme completes its course and apprentices are supported.

26 March, 2015

Hackney City Villages

This chapter (4.1) first appeared in the IPPR report: 'City villages: More homes, better communities' edited by Andrew Adonis and Bill Davies which was published on 24 March 2015.

It was co-authored by Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney

Local authorities are going to be essential to bringing forward the city village model. As often both the largest landholders and landlords in the capital's boroughs, their role is pivotal in ensuring that developments are socially and economically viable.

The current climate for urban regeneration is challenging. While house prices in London have recovered since the crash in credit markets and risen substantially beyond pre-crisis peaks (GLA 2014), significant reductions in capital budgets, coupled with a stronger emphasis on using rents to finance development, has meant that local authorities have had to think more creatively about getting estate redevelopment off the ground.

The council as developer

In Hackney, the council is a major landowner and is regenerating 87 hectares of housing estates and brownfield sites across the borough, equivalent to more than half the size of Hyde Park in central London.

Housing quality and space are acute challenges to tackle locally. In particular, there is a high number of bedsit properties, which are increasingly inappropriate for the profile of tenant who needs social homes. Social housing in future developments will inevitably have to be different – more spacious and of better quality, and to be a part of a mixed blend of housing options rather than the socially segregated and crumbling mono-tenure estates.

Across the borough, Hackney is regenerating sites with new social renting, shared ownership and private sale homes, built to spacious, modern, lifetime standards and, in most cases, offering private outside space to existing tenants for the first time. Many blocks are simply too expensive to maintain and to refurbish, and so regeneration is the only way to ensure residents can live in homes that meet the Decent Homes standard, and with improved public realm and community facilities. These mixed tenures are not only needed to rebuild estates that are inclusive of families across the income and demographic spectrum, but are essential to finance the much-needed redevelopment. Given the squeeze on capital budgets, local authorities in London cannot build homes for social renting without cross-subsidising them by also building private sale properties. In Hackney, delivering shared ownership pays for itself, but to finance a social rent home demands the construction and sale of one and a half private homes.

Together with its partners, the borough has delivered 1,125 new homes since 2011: 622 for social rent, 155 for shared ownership/equity, and 348 for private sale. But this is not sufficient to meet the borough’s rapidly increasing population, projected to rise by 10 per cent, or an additional 25,000 households, in the coming years – in an area already struggling to meet housing demand (ONS 2014) let alone secure housing that is affordable for its resident population. Major redevelopments will play a central role in delivery supply, not least in the redeveloped estates of Woodberry Down and Colville.

Woodberry Down

When the London County Council began building Woodberry Down after the second world war, it was rightly regarded as a fine example of municipal housing and an estate of the future. It was also home to one of the country’s first comprehensive schools and the first purpose-built NHS health centre in London. The decades went by, but underinvestment by national and local government led to a situation where residents were living in homes that weren’t fit for purpose. Crucially, a structural assessment in 2002 identified that repair would be economically challenging – the homes on the site have simply become more expensive to maintain and bring up to a modern standard than to redevelop.

The first priority for Woodberry Down is to deliver modern, high-quality homes for existing residents. The second priority is to provide new community facilities including three new public parks, employment opportunities, a new children’s centre, a new academy school, an expanded primary school, as well as new shops. At Woodberry Down and on other regeneration estates we’re not only rebuilding higher-quality homes for social renting but also providing shared ownership and private sale properties, which in turn help pay for the redevelopment and meet wider housing demand.

Woodberry Down is a large-scale housing estate regeneration project, with a 20-year-plus delivery schedule worth more than £1 billion of investment. It involves demolishing 1,981 homes on the original site – now deteriorating properties – and replacing them with more than 5,550 new ones. Four out of 10 of these new homes will be for social renting and shared ownership.

Since construction began in 2009, financed in partnership with the Homes and Communities Agency and latterly the Greater London Authority (GLA), Woodberry Down has seen 441 properties demolished and 862 new homes completed, made up of 421 social rented, 135 shared ownership and 306 homes for sale. Indeed, partnership has been essential to seeing the project into its delivery stage. This includes working closely with developers, but also retaining the support of the current residents – represented by the Woodberry Down Community Organisation (WDCO).

WDCO has worked closely with the council as a critical friend, broadly supportive of the regeneration while ensuring the voice and aspirations of the community are heard. The listing of a local primary school and health centre, coupled with changing economic circumstances, necessitated a rephasing of the programme. As a result, the estate’s 2007/08 masterplan was recently updated in consultation with residents during an 18-month period, including commitments to increase the amount of public space by almost a third and to deliver 17 per cent more homes.

Regenerating the Colville estate

The Colville estate is another example of a major, local authority-led development scheme, a proposal which will double the density of existing homes on the site. The masterplan for the estate will see the replacement of 432 residential properties, 337 of which are council social rent, and 95 of which are leaseholder-owned. The proposed redevelopment will provide 925 homes, and this will directly replace the 337 social rented ones, as well as 111 units for additional intermediate housing, including shared equity and shared ownership. The remaining 476 homes on the site will be used as private market housing to cross-subsidise the social homes. Indeed, the entire scheme is largely paid for by two towers of up to 16 and 20 storeys of homes for private sale, overlooking Shoreditch Park.

Critically, the scheme has the support of the current residents: a petition featuring the names of 291 Colville residents in support of the estate’s regeneration masterplan was handed in to the borough’s planning committee, recommending approval (Hackney 2014). Facilities such as a new community centre, a new public square, space for shops and businesses, a new community garden, and the potential for local apprenticeships onsite for young people from the estate are all part of our vision for the regeneration of Colville.

As with all such schemes in Hackney we have a resident steering group, the Colville Estate Tenants and Residents Association. Every element of the 10-year-plus scheme is discussed with the elected representatives of the steering group; while the design of the new homes and the broader project are consulted on with the local community through events, drop-in surgeries and surveys. This process is not always easy, with issues such as the delivery timetable, local lettings, density and viability at the fore, but it is vital if these new city villages are to be successful for existing and new residents.

Fundamental to Hackney’s approach, as recommended by the London Assembly review of estate regeneration (London Assembly 2015) is that tenants have the ‘right to return’, with leaseholders offered a package of shared equity, rent free and shared ownership options to help them stay on their estate.

The council pays market rates for leaseholders’ properties, as assessed by an accredited surveyor and based on similar sales in the area. We also offer an equity swap for a newly built home for those that live on the estate and want to remain in the local area.

As residents are gradually decanted or temporarily moved out of the development, those vacant flats that are of sufficient quality are now being used to support local authority temporary accommodation for homeless households, until the demolition work begins.

The future for city villages

Both the Woodberry Down and Colville estates are examples of a local authority leading on estate regeneration and, in the latter case, delivering and funding estate regeneration through its own resources. Hackney now has a five-year record of development, investing in a strong in-house team, which for the first time in a generation is directly building new homes. No single model works in every location or local authority. Yet the two examples cited here are both new city villages, with the local authority taking the lead on delivering new homes, maintaining and renewing affordable and social housing in the heart of Hackney, and improving facilities for communities, now and into the future. If we as a country are to fully respond to the housing crisis in London and beyond, local authorities, like Hackney, will need to have the freedom to innovate and directly deliver these homes.


16 March, 2015

A new home for everyone on the estate: Woodberry Down and Hackney regeneration

This blog post first appeared on the Hackney Council blog on 13th March 2015.

For the past three years the Council has been discussing with tenants, leaseholders and freeholders in the second phase of Woodberry Down’s regeneration that they will need to move as part of the regeneration process.

For the past 14 months, residents have known that they must move out of their homes by the end of March.

Stories that have appeared in the Hackney Gazette and other newspapers in recent years about estate regeneration often lack the space to include the detailed background and processes involved.

Some estates are simply uneconomical to refurbish and maintain in the long term, so the only way councils can fully carry out Decent Homes commitments for residents is through demolition and rebuilding.

This is the case at Woodberry Down and other estates in Hackney, aging and inadequately-maintained during years of political and financial crisis in the Council that came to head in the late 1990s. Something had to be done to improve living conditions at Woodberry Down, and at the time the only way to do this was through partnership with a developer and a housing association.

There is no longer any government funding to build new homes for social renting, so the only way to pay for this is by building properties for private sale on the estate. They may seem expensively priced, but money from those sales is helping build new homes for social renting, new shops and creating jobs, and paying for local apprenticeships.

To make way for the new homes to be built, tenants are rehoused on the estate in new homes or, if they prefer, somewhere else. The homes owned by leaseholders, about a third of which live elsewhere and rent out their property to tenants, are bought back by the Council.

We offer leaseholders a brand new home on their estate, which is obviously going to be worth more than their old property, but they can simply transfer what they own of their existing home into the new one, and pay no rent on the rest – this is called shared equity. Shared ownership options are also available, depending on individual financial circumstances.

The law requires market value be paid to leaseholders for their properties, based on sales of similar properties in similar condition in the local area, plus up to 10% of the value of the property in compensation, as well as an additional disturbance payment, such as for legal and moving costs.

The law also states that no one should be paid less, or be paid more, than the market value of their property because there happens to be disruptive regeneration going on, or very expensive new flats being sold as part of it.

The Council acts fairly and reasonably, in accordance with the law, to ensure that leaseholders are offered a fair market value for their home. The Council also has a duty to protect the public purse. Compulsory Purchase Orders, such as the one at Woodberry Down, are only confirmed by the Secretary of State and an independent Planning Inspector when both are completely satisfied that the Council has acted reasonably and fairly.

Sales – not website asking prices – of similar properties in similar condition in the local area are what market valuations are based on. Leaseholders and freeholders are encouraged to appoint their own professional surveyor, which the Council will pay for.

On the other hand, some surveyors use properties that are not on an estate, and that are not in similar condition, or the local area, to base their valuations on, falsely raising the expectations of freeholders and leaseholders, perhaps in a bid to get a higher fee for their work.

If no agreement can be reached between the Council’s and the leaseholder’s surveyors, ultimately the judiciary’s Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) decides the value, with no further discussion on the matter.

Many people would like to move into a new house with a garden, but it is regrettable, though understandable, that we have only been able to offer leaseholders and freeholders newly-built and existing flats in Hackney, as houses with gardens are by and large extremely difficult to provide while trying to make the best use of available land to build new high quality homes.

So far at Woodberry Down, more than 400 homes for social renting have been built, with tenants moving into another 109 homes in recent weeks, while 206 homes for shared equity/ownership have been built, and hundreds more for sale which pay for the entire programme. At any given time the developer, Berkeley Homes, employs up to 40 local apprentices on site.

You see how lengthy and detailed this process can be; I hope the above clarifies some matters.

09 July, 2014

Hackney Labour - on the side of struggling renters

This article first appeared on the London Labour Party website on 9th July 2014.

The private rental sector in Hackney has been in the news recently, with the Mirror rightly highlighting the damaging impact rent rises are having on private tenants on a Hoxton estate. But these tenants are not alone and without better regulation, Hackney’s and London’s social diversity and economy will be at risk.

Renting privately is something I know well, as for the last 11 years I’ve been in Hackney I’ve lived in rented flats. I’ve paid the endless fees, dealt with sharp letting agents and fought to limit the annual attempts to increase my rent by 10% or more. Now I’ve been lucky, I’ve broadly had good landlords, had the time and skills to argue my corner and not had to fight to get repairs done. But others I know have not been so lucky facing intimidation, high rents, poor quality housing, exploitation and evictions.

In Hackney, private rents last year according to the GLA went up by 10%, with three and four bedroom properties seeing the highest rises of 15% and 17% respectively. This unregulated rise makes more of the borough unaffordable, increases the housing benefit bill and because of Tories’ Orwellian ‘Affordable Rent’ programme now has an impact on rents in some new social housing. As a Labour Party in Hackney, I am proud that we have worked with Digs a Hackney private renters’ campaign group to improve the information we provide on private renting and the service we offer tenants who need to complain about rogue landlords.

We found that housing was the number one issue in the local elections and in our 2014 manifesto we set how we would respond to some of these challenges: by setting up a Council backed social lettings agency; exploring how we can introduce a borough wide landlord licensing scheme; and by doing all we can to drive rogue landlords and letting agents out of the borough. But to really have an impact on high rents, the uncertainty created by short tenancies and end rip-off fees we need to campaign for a Labour Government and a Labour Mayor of London.

Recently Ed Miliband and Emma Reynolds showed that Labour is listening. For the first time, we now have a Leader and Shadow Housing Minister focusing on the problems faced by private tenants. Their promise to introduce longer tenancies, end letting agent rip off fees and stabilise rent rises is something worth fighting for and we need to campaign with Londoners to ensure we win.

We know where the Tories stand and that is with the landlords and speculators, alongside the Lib Dems they have frustrated attempts to regulate the private rental sector. Recently we saw London MPs taking the fight to the Government in Parliament, but as a London Labour Party we need to get out there and speak up for generation rent, a generation that before now has struggled to find a political voice. Labour are the only party offering hope to private tenants when we say we will tackle high rents, high fees, introduce real regulation and increase the supply of all types housing, but we can only clean up this failing market if we fight to win next May.

30 June, 2014

Improving police training and tackling the fear of HIV

This post first appeared on the NAT blog on 6th June 2014

'When asked about the most dangerous aspects of their jobs, neither constable misses a beat. "You can be searching somebody who has HIV/Aids, or hepatitis," says Hawke. "You'll empty a rucksack and it'll be full of uncapped needles. That, for me, is the biggest fear: a fear of infection.”'

Guardian article, 26 March 2013 'The police are constantly under attack from the government'.

Of all the risks the police face in their day-to-day jobs - attacks from armed criminals, stress, injuries from the physical nature of their jobs – all too often HIV transmission is cited in the media.

Why is this when 95% of all HIV transmission is sexual, and the likelihood of getting HIV from an uncapped needle in someone’s bag is so small it’s only theoretically possible?

As well as these fears they hold themselves. NAT heard through our networks people living with HIV have been treated badly by the police, often based on an unfounded view of the risk of HIV transmission.

In June 2012 we investigated this issue and found police training and policies on HIV were often based on outdated, inaccurate and included stigmatising information.

This is a problem for two reasons.  First, it often resulted in police undergoing an HIV test when in fact there was no risk – which is not only a waste of time and resources, but it also causes unnecessary alarm and spreads myths about how HIV is passed on.  Secondly, this can increase HIV-related stigma as people with HIV may be handled inappropriately in custody due to unfounded fears around the virus being passed on.

We reviewed materials in 15 of the 50 police constabularies in the UK, across a wide geographical area and including those with both high and low HIV prevalence.

Some of the guidance claimed HIV could be transmitted between people who share toothbrushes and razors, that the virus can be present in saliva and urine and could be passed on through kissing, scratching, and the "handling or lifting of persons".

One police force even recommended the use of "spit hoods" to protect officers from people with HIV. Others recommended providing disposable cups and cutlery for people living with HIV, keeping HIV positive detainees separate from others and even conducting interviews through the cell door inspection hatch.

Since we conducted our original research we have been working hard to ensure police forces across the country update their training and guidance. NAT created a resource for police forces to use called: 'HIV: A guide for Police Forces' in 2013. The guidance is endorsed by BHIVA (the British HIV Association) and includes information about how HIV is and isn’t transmitted, what to do if you are exposed to HIV, how to respond to someone with HIV, and information about criminal prosecution for HIV transmission.

We have had a good response to the guidelines so far and we hope we will now to start to see better practice from the Police across the Country.

25 June, 2013

Hurdles to housing – How new social housing and benefit rules may affect people with HIV

This article first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of NAM's Health Treatment Update.

Having somewhere safe, secure and comfortable to live is something we all want, and is an important part of looking after our physical and emotional health. But for some people with HIV, finding or keeping somewhere suitable to live may be about to get harder. Philip Glanville, policy and parliamentary officer at the National AIDS Trust, looks at the issues.

Housing rarely seems to be out of the news these days, whether it’s fluctuations in the housing market, growing homelessness, changes to the benefits system, exposes on rogue landlords, or rising rents. That housing, as an issue, is changing and rising up the national agenda is unmistakable. However, what has been less clear is the impact that increasing interest in these issues and the changes to the housing and benefits system may have on people living with HIV.

At the National AIDS Trust (NAT), we published a report looking into HIV and housing-related issues in January 2009,(1) and followed it up a year later with a practical guide for housing officers, providing guidance on the impact of HIV on housing need.(2)

We regularly respond to enquiries on housing from individuals with HIV and organisations supporting them. The nature of these queries has been changing, however, and a recent survey of organisations supporting people living with HIV confirms that changes to the welfare system and the growing pressures on the supply of new, affordable housing are combining to have a significant impact on people living with HIV. Eighty-six per cent of organisations responding to a recent NAT(3) survey reported a rise in housing-related cases, highlighting benefits and housing allocations as the key areas of concern.

Over the coming year, and in response to changes in housing policy, NAT is planning to do more targeted work on the impact of these changes. So having this opportunity to outline some of the key issues facing people living with HIV could not have come at a more appropriate time.

It is worth noting that, although the changes to the welfare and benefits system apply across the UK, the housing powers in the Localism Act 2011 discussed below only apply to England.

How these changes interact with welfare reform and what impact they will have on people living with HIV in England is also discussed below.

The Localism Act 2011 and how it might affect you

The Localism Act 2011 changes the powers of local government in England. As a consequence the rules governing the access to, and regulation of, social housing (housing owned by local authorities or ‘registered social landlords’, rather than privately owned) are going through one of the biggest changes in a generation due to this new piece of legislation.

Depending on where you live, whether you are homeless, claim Housing Benefit or need access to social housing, or are likely to need this support in the future, these changes may have a significant impact on you. The Localism Act 2011 is also going to alter substantially the types of homes on offer to you, and may change whether or not you are able to access social housing at all.

Changes to how social housing will be allocated

The changes have been brought in by national government, but decisions on the implementation of the new powers, and how or whether they are used (or not), are by and large left to local authorities.

Under the Localism Act 2011, local authorities now have greater powers in deciding how to manage their housing waiting lists, who will have access to them, how they will be assessed, who will be prioritised, and – in many cases – what type of housing those on the list will be offered and allocated. Currently, not all local authorities are using these powers, but over the coming months more and more will be making decisions about how they respond to the legislation and its requirements, which powers they will use, and in what way they will choose to use them.

Traditionally, when someone made a ‘homelessness’ application to their local council, their needs were assessed based on whether or not they met the eligibility criteria to be classified as homeless, as well as on other factors including their relationship to the local area, the size of their household, and their medical needs.

Assuming they were deemed to be homeless (according to the legal definition used by councils), they would then be allocated a certain level of priority based on their need. After that, it was a question of waiting for suitable housing. The system was also broadly the same for those wishing to move into, or within, social housing: an assessment would be made, a level of need determined, and then someone would join the housing waiting list.

Often local authorities operated a banding system to determine priority for homeless applicants and/or those in acute need, with factors including domestic violence, disability, families with children, severe overcrowding or health needs taken into account to allocate a higher priority than those deemed to be ‘adequately housed’.

Depending on where people were living at the time of the application, and their assessed housing need, the wait for suitable housing might involve a period in temporary accommodation or, in some more urgent cases, an immediate offer of a suitable property.

More recently, in high-demand areas such as London, local authorities were increasingly encouraging those on the waiting list to consider renting in the private sector, to reduce waiting times and overcrowding. Ways they encouraged people to move into the private rented sector included financial assistance through rent deposit or bond schemes, or cash payments to encourage people to take this option. Nonetheless, for the vast majority of people waiting for housing, the goal would remain a lifetime tenancy in social housing and critically this option, even if it involved a long wait, remained open to them.

While there were often concerns about the assessment process, and many people waited a substantial time for suitable housing, everyone generally understood the system. For people living with HIV, the main issues were poor levels of HIV awareness amongst housing providers and those assessing housing need, the impact of poor quality or unsuitable housing on their health, and, for people going through the immigration process, restricted access to housing.

The new local authority powers

The new powers granted by the Localism Act 2011 will allow each local authority much more autonomy to determine its own priorities when allocating housing. The status of ‘homelessness’ and the statutory duties on local authorities to find ‘suitable housing’ will remain.

However – critically – this housing will not have to be social housing and doesn't necessarily even have to be in the local area; all it will need to be is ‘suitable’ for a local authority to have discharged its homelessness duty. Moving someone into the private rented sector would discharge this duty – effectively cutting the link between homelessness and access to social housing.

Local authorities will also be able to prioritise access to housing for those in work, training, volunteering or for service in the armed forces.

There is a new power to change the length of time applicants for housing have to live or have a connection with an area before they are eligible to access the local housing list. Currently this period is usually around six to twelve months, but some local authorities are now increasing this to two, three or even five years. This is likely to have a significant impact on how migrants, those leaving prison and others who have been placed in a given area by another local authority can access housing.

NAT fears there is a risk that some people living with HIV and others living with long-term conditions will be sent to the back of the queue unless they are appropriately assessed during this process.

We need to ensure that, when local authorities assess the suitability of a housing offer, especially one in the private rented sector or outside the local area, they take into account all the needs of people living with HIV. This should include considering the impact of poor or unsuitable housing on health and the need for someone to be near their HIV clinic and any support organisations or systems, given how critical this can be to them staying well.

Recently NAT campaigned for, and was successful in ensuring, a change to the UK Border Agency’s policy(4), so it no longer routinely disperses asylum seekers with HIV away from their HIV clinic if suitable accommodation is available.

We believe local authorities should also take such issues into account as they decide how to use their new allocation powers.

Changes to social housing tenure and rent levels

The Localism Act 2011 also changes the types, tenures and rent levels of existing and new social housing on offer.

Under the Act, local authorities and registered social landlords (RSLs) will have the power to decide on the length of new social tenancies; rather than being offered a lifetime tenancy, successful applicants may only be offered a five-year tenancy, followed by a tenancy review. The terms of that review, and what might be involved, are unclear and NAT has concerns about the disruption and uncertainty this might cause for people living with HIV.

At the same time, the Government has created a new type of social housing called ‘affordable rent’ (AR), where the rent can be set at up to 80% of local private rents. Currently AR housing is likely to be largely restricted to new-build housing constructed over the coming years, but those local authorities and RSLs building for this new tenure are, as part of the financing of these new homes, allowed to convert a percentage of their existing housing stock from ‘social rent’ to this new higher ‘affordable rent’ level as they become vacant.

AR tenancy properties are, increasingly, going to be the only type of social housing being built. In areas like London where private rents are high, there are questions about how viable and suitable this type of housing will be for people on Housing Benefit or low incomes. The effect is likely to increase the pressure on traditional social housing. In some areas, the knock-on effect might be longer waiting times if people hold out for council housing with lower rents.

Housing allocations are likely to become ever more fragmented, making the system harder to navigate for housing applicants, and more complex for organisations that provide support and advice. People living with HIV will face some of the same issues on rent and tenure as anyone else in the social housing system. In other aspects of the process, such as the changes to assessment and prioritisation, those living with HIV and who have more serious health problems and can’t work could be at a substantial disadvantage.

Changes to Housing Benefit

For people already living in social housing, their situation will depend on whether they are wholly or partly relying on Housing Benefit to pay rent. Those relying on Housing Benefit, of working age, and not in work will face the greatest impact.

From 2013, rather than seeing Housing Benefit paid directly to landlords, this payment will now be made monthly directly into individual bank accounts (with some small exceptions). It will bring social tenants into line with tenants in the private sector who already receive the Local Housing Allowance directly, according to the Government it will help people develop budgeting skills. It might also help those on low incomes to open and sustain a wider range of bank accounts.

But the potential downside will be the increased pressure of having to budget, especially for vulnerable people receiving a substantial amount of money directly into their bank accounts at the start of the month. While landlords, advice providers and others are going to do what they can to help people adapt to these changes by making sure people are encouraged to use direct debits to pay their rent, there are understandable fears that, for some people, this may increase rent arrears, put tenancies at risk, and increase the use of ‘payday’ loan companies.

Other recent or prospective changes to Housing Benefit and related benefits may also have implications for people with HIV:

  • Since January 2012, those living in the private rented sector, aged under 35, and claiming Housing Benefit, have only been eligible for support at the new Local Housing Allowance (LHA) ‘shared room rate’ (SRR). This only covers the rent equivalent to a bedsit or room in a shared house. Currently, this does not apply to social housing tenants or those in supported accommodation. For people living with HIV this can create issues around confidentiality, stigma and harassment especially if they don’t have somewhere private and secure to store medication.(5)
  • In April 2013, the Government introduced changes to Housing Benefit for social housing tenants of working age – the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. It will lead to reductions in Housing Benefit for those deemed to be ‘underoccupying’: by 14% if you have one extra bedroom or 25% if you have two or more.
  • In 2013, the Government is planning to introduce Universal Credit. (It will be introduced on a small scale initially, followed by a national launch in October.) This will result in one payment into a bank account, comprising all the benefits someone is eligible to receive. It will include Housing Benefit and be subject to the ‘benefit cap’ of £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them); £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them; and £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with them.
  • The Universal Credit ‘benefit cap’ will not currently apply to those who qualify for and receive Working Tax Credit, or if they receive any of the following benefits: Disability Living Allowance (for new claimants Personal Independence Payment from April 2013), Attendance Allowance, or Employment and Support Allowance (with the support component).

Changes for existing tenants

People living with HIV and not claiming Housing Benefit are at the moment less likely to see changes to their housing situation. If they have a lifetime tenancy (the traditional form of tenancy in social housing), the security of tenure they enjoy will not be affected as long as they don’t want to move and are able to continue paying their rent. However, if circumstances were to change, and they needed to claim Housing Benefit, the same issues such as the ‘benefit cap’, ‘shared room rate’ or ‘bedroom tax’ might apply.

There are various changes mooted by the Government to change the rights of existing tenants, but it would require further legislation to implement changes to the length of someone’s tenancy, their rights to succession or the level of rent they pay. As this article goes to press the idea of ‘pay to stay’, where tenants who earn above a certain threshold would be forced to pay a higher rent to stay in social housing has moved a step closer. It was announced by the Chancellor in the Budget in March that it would be introduced, and the household income threshold where it will start will be set at £60,000 a year.(6) Households earning over this amount could end up paying full private market rent and this could have a significant impact in London where the gap between social and private rents is widest.


The substantial changes to housing and related benefits, cuts to housing funding, and the localisation of allocations policy will all have a significant impact on people living with HIV and in need of housing support.
The changes to Housing Benefit and the Local Housing Allowance will restrict the amount people have to spend on rents, at a time when housing supply is failing and demand continues to rise. The Localism Act 2011 now grants local authorities substantial new powers to making decisions about who can access social housing, the rents they will pay, and for how long they can occupy it.

This is happening at a time when the supply of new homes of all tenures is decreasing (with the supply of new social and affordable housing at an all-time low), it’s more difficult to get a mortgage and private sector rents are rising. For people living with HIV and needing social housing it is going to become increasingly difficult for them to access and afford the stable housing they need.

Organisations such as NAT, and others that support people living with HIV, need to be alert to the impact these changes are going to have, and campaign to ensure that HIV and the impact poor quality and unsuitable housing can have on health is considered properly when a local authority assesses someone’s eligibility and housing needs.

This will mean understanding the positions taken by local authorities in their Tenancy, Homelessness, Allocations and Housing Strategies, and related policy documents. All these policies, if they haven’t already, will be being developed, or revised, in the coming months and there is a role for all of us to make sure the voice of people living with HIV – emphasising the need for good-quality, stable and safe housing to stay well and live independent lives – is heard loud and clear.

Responding to these issues NAT, through our HIV Activists Network, is campaigning on housing and HIV by asking local councils to better support the housing needs of people living with HIV. If you would like to know more, or are interested in taking part, please visit the HIV Activists’ ‘ask’ page: www.lifewithhiv.org.uk/hiv-activists-network-campaigns

Help and advice on housing, benefits and HIV




Your local HIV support organisation

Stonewall Housing


Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)

UK government

Local councils

  • If you are at risk of homelessness or want to make a housing application you need to contact your local council. In some circumstances they may also able to help temporarily if you are seeing a reduction in your Housing Benefit: www.gov.uk/browse/housing/local-councils

Your elected representatives

  • If you are having problems with your landlord or in accessing housing you can contact the organisations above for advice, but if you have already made a complaint and were dissatisfied with the response you might want to consider contacting your local councillor or MP.
  • You can find your local representatives here: www.writetothem.com

Abbreviation guide

  • AR: Affordable Rent – properties let at a new higher rent level which can be up to 80% of the local private rents. Existing social and council rent levels tend to be 40 to 50% of the local private rents
  • HB: Housing Benefit
  • LHA: Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit for those living in the private rented sector)
  • PRS: private rented sector
  • RSL/RPs: Registered Social Landlord (increasingly called Registered Providers)
  • Social housing: Housing where your landlord is a council, arms-length management organisation (ALMO) or RSL/RP
  • SRR: Shared Room Rate (colloquially known as the 'bedroom tax' or 'spare room subsidy')


  1. NAT & Shelter, Housing and HIV, National AIDS Trust, 2009.
  2. NAT & Shelter, HIV and Housing: A practical guide for housing officers on HIV and its impact on housing needs, National AIDS Trust, 2010.
  3. NAT, Housing and HIV: A survey into the housing advice and support needs of people living with HIV, National AIDS Trust, April 2013.
  4. UK Border Agency and Home Office, Healthcare Needs and Pregnancy Dispersal Guidance. p33, August 2012.
  5. NAT & Shelter, HIV and Housing: A practical guide for housing officers on HIV and its impact on housing needs. National AIDS Trust, 2010.
  6. Lloyd T, Pay to stay threshold to be set at £60,000, Inside Housing, 20 March 2013.