Carl Sargeant, Minister for Housing and Regeneration
I am very pleased to inform you that the Housing (Wales) Bill has been introduced today, 18 November 2013.
The proposals set out in the Bill reflect the Welsh Government's commitment to doing more to help people meet their housing needs. The Bill is another significant contribution to our three strategic priorities of more homes, better homes and better services. More specifically, it will do more to ensure that people have access to a decent, affordable home and that people at risk of becoming homeless receive the help they need. The Bill comprises seven different parts but all contribute to these outcomes in some way.
In seeking to achieve the outcomes, the Bill makes provision in the following areas:
Part 1: Regulation of Private Rented Housing
The private rented sector is playing an increasingly important part in meeting housing needs. The Bill sets out requirements with respect to registration and licensing of landlords operating within the private rented sector. This will help improve standards in the private rented sector, make more information available on landlords for local authorities and tenants and lead to raised awareness by landlords of their rights and responsibilities.
Part 2: Homelessness
The legislation will help to ensure that fewer households experience the trauma of homelessness and the long-term impact it can have on people’s lives. It will place an even greater emphasis on preventing homelessness in the first place by strengthening the role of prevention in the duties that local authorities owe to homeless people or those threatened with homelessness. It will also achieve a more inclusive approach through the reformed homelessness legislation so that everyone at risk receives help to find a solution, to their housing problems. Greater protection will be provided for children in households who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. I have published the results of the consultation we have undertaken on my proposal to amend the priority need status of former prisoners in our homelessness proposals. We have received widespread support for the proposal. In view of this, I have included the amendment on the face of the Bill.
Part 3: Gypsies and Travellers
The legislation will ensure that more is done to meet the needs of Gypsy and Traveller communities. This will be done by placing a new statutory duty on local authorities to provide new Gypsy and Traveller sites where need has been identified. Local authorities will need to undertake robust assessments of accommodation needs and ensure the required sites are provided. As a result, it will improve the standard of accommodation for Gypsy and Traveller familes and provide better access to services. It will also help to address the inequalities suffered by Gypsy and Traveller communities as well as helping to reduce the number of unauthorised encampments.
Part 4: Standards for Social Housing
For existing social housing, the Bill also sets standards for local authority rents, services charges and quality of accommodation to support the achievement of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard. This will ensure that all tenants will be able to live in an acceptable standard of accommodation, regardless of whether they rent their homes from a local authority or a housing association. By setting standards for local authority rents and service charges, it will make payments made by tenants to local authorities more transparent.
Part 5 : Housing Finance
Having secured a financial settlement with HM Treasury in June, the legislation will also abolish the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system. It will be replaced with a new self-financing system that will allow each local authority in Wales to retain all of its rental income locally. This will provide local authorities with the flexibility to do more to improve the quality of their existing housing stock.
Part 6: Allowing Fully Mutual Housing Assocations to Grant Assured Tenancies
The legislation will also assist the expansion of co-operative housing as another way of increasing the supply of affordable homes. It will allow fully mutual housing co-operatives to grant assured and assured shorthold tenancies. By so doing, it will create more certainty and security for tenants of co-operative housing. The Bill also helps to assist fully mutual housing co-operatives to obtain finance for developments as it will provide acditional security to lenders.
Part 7: Council Tax for Empty Dwellings
Finally, the legislation will allow local authorities to charge a flat 150% of the standard council tax charge on properties that are empty for 12 months or longer, should they chose to do so. The aim of this is to help make the best possible use of existing homes by bringing them back into use. As a result, it will help to address local problems in housing supply as well as tackling the other problems that can be caused by empty homes, such as vandalism and other forms of anti-social behaviour.
The development of the Bill was commenced by my predecessor, Huw Lewis, the then Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage and is the result of a considerable body of work. It has involved a wide range of organisations inside and outside the field of housing. We share a desire to make a positive difference to people’s lives and to do more to meet housing needs. I am grateful for everyone’s assistance.