Access to Mayor Sadiq Khan’s social housing grant programmes could be denied to London housing associations if homes they manage fall into disrepair.
Speaking to Inside Housing, deputy mayor for housing Tom Copley said of the current state of disrepair: “It is appalling, and there’s no doubt the sector itself collectively has dropped the ball. They’ve not been as focused on management and standards as they should be.”
He added: “We recently wrote to all of our delivery partners to let them know we’re introducing new funding conditions in our programme relating to management standards.
“Any action we take will be proportionate, but we’re very, very clear with our partners that [funding being taken away] is a very, very real risk for them.”
Sadiq Khan’s Affordable Homes Programme 2021-2026 (AHP) has a £4bn budget, which the mayor has committed to maximising the number of new homes in London, over half of which will be at social rent.
Eligibility for the grant funding already includes mandatory design, building safety and sustainability standards which investment partners are required to self-certify compliance with in advance of receiving payments.
Among the conditions are stipulations for the installation of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems, including (but not limited to) sprinklers, and that no combustible materials may be used in the external walls of all homes and buildings, regardless of their height.
London housing associations, stock-holding local authorities and for-profit providers are all among those allocated money from the AHP grant scheme.
In the same interview, Mr Copley was asked about the balance between penalising landlords for maintenance issues with meeting housing targets:
“At the end of the day, we’re not a regulator. But we do, I think, have a responsibility, given that we fund these organisations, to take a firm line with them where they’re not maintaining their existing stock properly. And it’s absolutely right for that threat to be hanging over them if they don’t bring their standards up.”
Meanwhile, the Government has announced Awaab’s Law to force social landlords to fix damp and mould within strict time limits, in a new amendment to the Social Housing Regulation Bill.
The new legislation comes in the wake of the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, caused by the damp and mould in his home, which was managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.
The Government continues to block funding to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to build new homes until it can prove it is a responsible landlord.
A consultation will be launched later this year to set the timeframes within which landlords will have to act to investigate hazards and make repairs.
The new rules will form part of the tenancy agreement, so tenants can hold landlords to account by law if they fail to provide a decent home.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said: “Those landlords who continue to drag their feet over dangerous damp and mould will face the full force of the law.
“Our Social Housing Bill will enshrine tenants’ rights in law and strengthen the Housing Ombudsman and Regulator’s powers so that poor social landlords have nowhere to hide.
“Awaab’s Law will help to ensure that homes across the country are safe, decent and warm.”
NHG plans for Aylesbury regeneration project take step forward
Plans for Notting Hill Genesis’ Aylesbury regeneration have moved onto the next stage with Southwark Council resolving to give planning consent on the site known as Phase 2B.
The application, submitted by the housing association, includes plans for over 600 new homes, commercial and community/learning space, two new public spaces, improved play and sport facilities and wide, tree-lined streets.
The mixed-use development comprises five buildings and delivers 50% affordable housing.
Each of the five blocks is designed by a different architectural practice and these offer a combination of housing types: mansion blocks, higher-rise apartments, courtyard apartments, and maisonettes.
The proposed masterplan for Phase 2B has been designed by Maccreanor Lavington Architects. They are joined by Architecture Doing Place, East, Sergison Bates Architects and Haworth Tompkins Architects
John Hughes, group director of development and deputy chief executive at Notting Hill Genesis said, “We welcome Southwark Council’s decision to approve planning permission for Phase 2B.
“Following extensive consultation with the community we feel satisfied that the plans provide much-needed new housing for the area, balancing the needs of existing residents while encouraging those from outside the area to become part of a well-established, thriving neighbourhood.
“While this is an important milestone, there are a number of further steps which must now be taken before we can start to deliver this project. These include receiving final approval from the Mayor of London and finalising our planning obligations (known as a section 106 agreement) with the council.”
Subject to final approvals, construction is anticipated to begin in March 2023 with site preparation and demolition works.
Plans for 6,500 new homes, with 50% affordable housing, on London Dockside site
Project plans have been submitted by The Silvertown Partnership for the 50-acre dockside location. They detail how the iconic Millennium Mills building, left derelict and largely disused for around 40 years, will be fully restored and form the centrepiece of the new community.
The £3.5bn development will include canal walkways, a paddle board club and new bridges.
The newly opened Custom House Elizabeth Line Station provides a transport link and is just 15 minutes from central London.
Plans state the new neighbourhood will also be one of London’s greenest, with all homes and commercial spaces supplied with hot water and heating powered through a zero-carbon district heating system.
The Silvertown Partnership is seeking full planning permission for phase one of the Proposed Development, which will include 1,248 new homes, including 610 affordable homes, and 82,328 sqm new commercial space. Outline permission is sought for the remainder of the site.
The Silvertown Partnership, which includes Lendlease, an international real estate and investment group, is working in conjunction with the Greater London Authority (GLA), Homes England and The Guinness Partnership (TGP).
Ed Mayes, project director for Silvertown, Lendlease said: “After months of working together with local residents and our public sector partners GLA, Homes England and the London Borough of Newham, I’m proud to present our vision for this iconic new neighbourhood.
“Silvertown is finally being reimagined as a vibrant new centre for the Royal Docks – a place where people can live and work well, better connected to the water and each other.
“This is a pivotal moment for the Silvertown development, as we reveal plans for a neighbourhood that will create thousands of much-needed new affordable homes and jobs for Newham. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the local community and our stakeholders to make this shared vision a reality.”
Catriona Simons, CEO at The Guinness Partnership added: “This planning application is a big milestone in creating a new future for the Silvertown site. As affordable housing provider for the first phase affordable homes, Guinness is proud to be part of this ambitious and exciting vision for the Silvertown neighbourhood.”
Planning application submitted for sustainable Cambourne development
The South Cambridgeshire Investment Partnership (SCIP) has entered a planning application for 256 new low carbon homes in Cambourne – including more than 70 affordable, net zero homes.
SCIP is a (50:50) partnership between South Cambridgeshire District Council and The Hill Group.
The planning application is for a new, sustainable residential development with community amenities and public open spaces within Cambourne Business Park in South Cambridgeshire.
The proposed scheme includes 256 new, low carbon, homes, of which 40% (102 homes) would be affordable. 70% of the affordable homes would be earmarked for affordable rent, with the remaining 30% of them being available for shared ownership.
72 affordable homes at the development will achieve net zero carbon through a fabric first approach, with Passivhaus levels of performance. This will be accomplished through high levels of insulation, airtight construction, air source heat pumps for heating and hot water, photovoltaic panels, and energy efficient building services and controls.
The whole development will be entirely gas-free, and each home is designed to help reduce water usage to not exceed 99 litres per person per day, lower than the 110 litres standard required by national building regulations.
South Cambridgeshire district councillor Richard Stobart, a SCIP Board member, comments: “We are aiming for a very high standard when it comes to the site’s green credentials, and this is evident through the plans we’ve submitted.
“Making new homes as energy efficient as possible has never been more important, with rising fuel bills and the cost of living crisis impacting residents across the country. By working together as a partnership and bringing our varied skill sets together, we hope to deliver a flourishing new community, which encourages residents to live more sustainably.”
A public consultation into the plans is underway and runs until Friday 24 February.
Rampant inflation and “economic turmoil domestically and globally” is hindering construction projects reaching the build stage, with every region in England suffering declines in project-starts.
The latest Glenigan Index of construction, which details starts through to end of November 2022, reveals a steady decline in performance throughout the second half of 2022.
The report shows residential construction work starting on-site slipped back 1% on the preceding three-month period but remained unchanged on a year ago.
Private housing construction-starts improved slightly, increasing 1% against the preceding three months and 9% on the year before.
However, by contrast, social housing project-starts declined by a tenth against the preceding quarter and performed especially poorly (-29%) compared with 2021 levels.
Likewise, non-residential sectors also experienced a downward trend with hotel and leisure work starting on-site falling 30% to stand 40% down on 2021 levels. Health project-starts tumbled 37% against both the preceding three months and the previous year.
Civil engineering work starting on-site fell by a quarter to stand 12% down on a year ago, while education dropped 11% and industrial by 15% on the preceding quarter, (falling 15% and 10% respectively against the previous year).
Like private housing, office project-starts achieved growth compared to 2021 levels. Despite a 12% decline in the three months to November, a strong start to the year saw its value actually increase by 3% overall.
Summary of the index says the key takeaway from November’s Index is the continued, steady decline in performance throughout the second half of 2022, pointing to a particularly bleak winter sector-wide ahead.
With the UK in the grip of a cost of living crisis alongside external factors contributing to continued materials, energy, and fuel price inflation, Rhys Gadsby, senior economist at Glenigan, says the results reflect the multitude of current challenges:
“The poor performance in November tops a weak autumn for construction-starts in the UK. Given the economic turmoil domestically and globally, it was unsurprising that these latest figures should remain depressed.
“The cost of imported construction materials and supplies, skills shortages as well as a weakened pound and higher than expected interest rates continues to impact construction projects moving on-site.
“This tricky period will likely see us through to the end of the year, as the industry navigates these ongoing challenges. Going into 2023, we need to see more affirmative policy from the Government, particularly in critical areas such as housebuilding, to help stimulate the market.
“However, the industry can take hope from the promise of a strong development pipeline of contract awards and approvals built up over the last few months, which should help to stabilise project starts in the first few months of 2023.”
Summarising the data Glenigan says the “rapid succession of unusual, but highly disruptive external events over the past 12 months have taken their toll, and businesses across the sector are experiencing multiple waves of economic aftershocks.
“Unfortunately, with the Russia-Ukraine war and resulting materials, energy and fuel price inflation unlikely to abate any time soon, a return to pre-COVID activity levels looks set to be delayed for some time to come.”
It also adds the “fallout from September’s ‘mini-budget’ and consequent economic uncertainty is still affecting confidence across the board, stagnating projects moving to site.”
They do however point out that the market is showing small signs of stabilising, as evidenced by last month’s Glenigan Construction Review and an uptick in contract awards and planning approvals.
- Scotland was the only region to experience growth against both periods, with the value of project-starts rising 3% against the preceding three months and 4% compared with a year ago.
- Construction-starts in London advanced 3% against the preceding three-month period but remained 8% lower than a year ago.
- The West Midlands experienced 5% growth during the three months to November but remained 3% behind 2021 levels.
- London and the West Midlands were the only areas of the UK to experience growth against the preceding three months.
- Project-starts in Northern Ireland fell sharply (-39%) against the preceding three months, but stood 13% up on a year ago.
- The East Midlands performed particularly poorly, suffering a 23% drop against the preceding three months to stand 16% down on the same time last year.
The latest social housing resident survey of the Resident Voice Index (RVI) has looked into debt and how it is impacting the lives of people living in social housing amid the cost of living crisis.
The resulting report reveals levels of worrying, all or most of the time, about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses had increased to 78% from 68% in the six months since the first Cost of Living survey (March-May 2022).
The RVI project collects data on the requirements, feelings and perceptions of social housing residents and communicates these to the broader audience who may be able to make a difference.
5,719 UK social housing residents responded to the latest survey, the findings of which have been put together in ‘Cost of Living: Crunch Time’ – the second RVI report to focus on the cost of living crisis and its impact on UK social housing residents. The first was in June 2022.
Debt, and the worry surrounding it, were main factors in the survey’s findings with eight in ten of all respondents having debt. Of those with debt, 28% had four or more sources of debt, while 10% had six or more sources.
The sources of debt identified in the report show credit card debt was by far the most prevalent, with 41% of respondents selecting it. 24% had debt in the form of energy bill arrears, 22% selected debt to friend or family member. Also in the top ten sources of debt were water bill arrears, goods on finance, buy-now-pay-later, council tax arrears, overdraft, rent arrears and bank or building society loan.
The report identifies the quarter (24%) of respondents who were already in energy bill arrears as particularly concerning, as almost all respondents (97%) took the survey before the introduction of the October 2022 energy price cap hikes.
Data from Ofgem gathered in late October 2022 estimated that more than 2 million households were already in debt on electricity bills, representing over 8% of the UK’s households. The much higher rate of social housing residents reporting energy arrears in the survey is flagged as deep cause for concern.
Debt management and worry
The survey also looked at how people believed they were managing debt. One third of respondents (33%) were having difficulty (20.7%) or reported being unable to manage (12.7%) their debt.
Almost half (47%) were labelled as ‘managing’ their debt. However, a majority (36%) of those chose the option: ‘I have debt that I can manage, but it’s getting harder’.
Almost all (95%) of those who weren’t managing their debt reported being worried all or most of the time about meeting monthly living expenses. This compares with a much lower 69% amongst those who were coping with their debt. Both numbers are very high and the overall score for this high-level worry was 78% across all respondents.
Responses to the survey among residents who mentioned disabilities highlighted a recurrent concern that disability benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are failing to cover the rising costs of fuel, food and other goods. When respondents were asked about any contributors to feelings of worry, 3.5% of answers made voluntary reference to disability.
The survey also asked respondents to rate their financial situation compared with six months ago, selecting either: ‘Better’, ‘The same’ or ‘Worse’. 69% indicated that their financial situation was worse and only 7% were able to commit to a better situation.
Gavin Smart, chief executive of Chartered Institute of Housing, said in the report: “This latest report from the Resident Voice Index comes at a critical time for the social housing sector.
“The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone but those on the lowest incomes, many of whom live in social housing, are impacted the most. These research findings shine a light on the devastating impact that cost pressures are having on residents every day across the country and are invaluable for organisations such as ours in raising awareness.
“The social housing sector is well placed to support people but we need to work together to highlight the support available and to call for policy change where it’s needed.”
The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has written to registered housing providers asking for details of their measures to protect their tenants from hazardous damp and mould.
The letter highlights landlords’ responsibility to take action to identify and deal promptly with damp and mould cases when they are raised by tenants.
It comes after the tragic death of two-year old Awaab Ishak, who died of a respiratory condition caused by mould in his home in Rochdale. Awaab’s parents had repeatedly raised the issue with their landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH).
Addressing Parliament on social housing standards, following the two-year old’s death, Secretary of State Michael Gove said: “Awaab’s parents had repeatedly raised their concerns about the desperate state of their home with their landlord, the local housing association Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.
“Awaab’s father first articulated his concerns in 2017 and others, including health professionals, also raised the alarm, but the landlord failed to take any kind of meaningful action.
“Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s repeated failure to heed Awaab’s family’s pleas to remove the mould in their damp-ridden property was a terrible dereliction of duty.”
A statement from RBH chief executive Gareth Swarbrick, who has since been removed from the position, read: “I am truly devastated about Awaab’s death and the things we got wrong.
“We know that nothing we can say will bring Awaab back or be of any consolation to his family. We have and will continue to learn hard lessons from this.
“We didn’t recognise the level of risk to a little boy’s life from the mould in the family’s home. We allowed a legal disrepair process to get in the way of promptly tackling the mould.
“We must make sure this can never happen again. Awaab’s death needs to be a wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health.
“We will take responsibility for sharing what we have learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector and beyond.
“We support the Coroner and Housing Ombudsman’s call for the government’s Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould, and the Coroner’s decision to write to the Ministers of Housing and Health on this.
“The Coroner recognised the changes we have made to our procedures, IT, communications and training. We note the Coroner’s words that she was impressed with the learning RBH has taken and desire to share with others. As a result, she will not be issuing us with a Prevention of Future of Deaths Report.
“We agree with the Coroner that the tragic death of Awaab will be and should be a defining moment for the housing sector.
“As a community owned organisation we support the diverse communities of Rochdale. We are proud of the work we do with all our tenants.”
The RSH letter, which has now been sent out, states housing association and local authority landlords will need to submit evidence to the regulator to demonstrate that they have systems in place to assess and deal with damp and mould issues in their homes, and that they are addressing risks to their tenants’ health.
Fiona MacGregor, chief executive of RSH, said: “The tragic case of Awaab Ishak has rightly focused attention on the responsibility of all registered providers to ensure that the homes they provide are well maintained and of a decent standard.
“The case demonstrates the serious effects that having damp and mould in homes can have on people’s health and highlighted once again the importance of providers listening to their tenants’ concerns, understanding their diverse needs, removing barriers to accessing services and responding promptly.”
The letter to registered providers of social housing owning 1,000 homes or more asks for evidence to be provided of:
- Firstly, your approach to assessing the extent of damp and mould issues affecting your properties, including how you assess the prevalence of category 1 and 2 damp and mould hazards
- Secondly, and in the context of that approach, your most recent assessment of the extent of damp and mould hazards in your homes, including the prevalence of category 1 and 2 damp and mould hazards
- Thirdly, given those findings, the action you are taking to remedy any issues and hazards, and ensure that your homes meet the Decent Homes Standard
- Lastly, tell us how you ensure that individual damp and mould cases are identified and dealt with promptly and effectively when raised by tenants and residents.
The letter states explanations should be supported with recent data.
Social housing providers with fewer than 1,000 homes have been instructed to inform the regulator immediately if they are not taking action to remedy damp and mould issues, or do not have a comprehensive understanding of the extent of potential damp and mould issues in their homes.
The regulator says it will review this information and, where there is evidence that providers are not meeting regulatory standards, it will take appropriate action.