Huw Lewis, Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage
Ensuring everyone has a home that is in good condition and affordable is a fundamental part of a fair and supportive society. It is about much more than putting a roof over someone's head. It affects people's health and well being and their ability to find and keep a job. For children, it is the foundation for the rest of their lives. In short housing is fundamental to delivering many of our goals as a progressive Government.
Good homes build good communities but the impacts extend well beyond the social benefits. Investment in housing is a significant economic driver. It supports businesses of all sizes and creates jobs and training opportunities that raise skills levels and help to tackle poverty in some of our most deprived communities. Improving the energy efficiency of our existing homes makes a significant contribution to tackling climate change and reducing fuel poverty.
There are many challenges facing us as government and the people of Wales. They can be summed up as increasing the supply of homes to meet demand, improving the quality of existing homes and improving services so that people receive high quality support when they need it. The UK Government’s fiscal and welfare policies are already having a major impact on communities across Wales and there is more radical change yet to come. The markets play a vital part in meeting people's housing needs but do not work for everyone.
We need to respond to these challenges. As a Government we are doing that. The White Paper I am publishing today sets out a bold and ambitious agenda for action. This comes on top of the clear and challenging targets I announced last week for making at least 12,500 more homes available by building new affordable homes and by bringing empty properties back into use.
We are taking a broad approach, reflecting the responsibility we believe we have, not only for social housing but for the whole of housing system in Wales. In the past a piecemeal approach to housing has tended to be taken, in which traditional social housing has dominated. Our commitment to social housing remains firm but we are building a more comprehensive approach, grounded in new and innovative ways of helping people to meet their housing needs and new ways of financing this. This includes a much greater emphasis on co-operative housing, which fits well with Wales' strong social history.
We know we do not have control over all elements of the housing system but there is much we can do to help it work more effectively and efficiently, and to make it more flexible to help people to meet their changing needs for housing at different points throughout their lives. The excellent working relationships we have with the housing sector in Wales, many of whom have been central to developing key legislative proposals, means that I am confident that we can deliver the changes needed.
Responding to some of the challenges requires new legislation. The White Paper sets out my proposals, which include:
- a statutory duty on local authorities to prevent homelessness, and ensure even better help available for those who do become homeless.
- Ending family homelessness in Wales by 2019.
- A mandatory registration and accreditation scheme for private sector landlords which will assist individuals and families by regulating the practices of landlords, lettings agents and managing agents. Good private sector landlords will benefit from these changes as it will not allow bad practice to continue.
- Tackling the waste and blight of empty properties by giving local authorities discretionary power to increase council tax on properties empty for longer than one year.
- Ensuring that Gypsy and Traveller communities are provided with new housing sites by local authorities where there is clear evidence of need.
- Providing more housing options for people to meet their needs by defining Community Land Trusts and enabling a new co-operative housing tenure.
- Strengthening the strategic role of local authorities to identify and address local housing needs.
I will be introducing the Bill in autumn 2013.
I also intend to tackle tenancy reform. This has long been called for across the UK but not addressed. If we are to help people find homes that suit their needs as their lives and circumstances change, we need to make it easier for them to move between tenancies and landlords. The existing legislation is detailed and complex and must be tackled in consultation with all those in the housing sector, particularly tenants. It’s vital we get this right so I don’t intend to rush it and I will be taking forward tenancy reform, via a separate Bill, within the lifetime of this Assembly.
Legislation is, of course, not the answer to all problems. Over and above the legislative proposals and the ambitious targets we have set for the delivery of new affordable homes, my White Paper also sets out a robust programme of other action we will take to help people to meet their housing needs. The Executive Summary of the White Paper includes a comprehensive list of all the non-legislative actions. Here I would like to highlight the following -
- More action to increase the supply of new homes, including the use of a range of innovative funding mechanisms.
- Increased focus on tackling empty homes through the national “Houses into Homes” programme and other programmes.
- More action to achieve the Welsh Housing Quality Standard.
- Withdrawal from the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy after concluding negotiations with HM Treasury.
- Effective regional collaboration on housing functions and services, including the Supporting People programme.
- Further opportunities for tenants and service users to influence the delivery of services.
- Better performance monitoring of local authority housing and related-services.
- A nationally branded, locally delivered, Property Improvement Loans scheme developed with local authorities.
- The further development of accessible housing registers and continued investment in housing adaptations to help people live independently in their own homes.
The £5m already found for our empty properties initiative this year demonstrates our commitment to making housing a priority in the coming years despite difficult financial settlements. Further evidence of this commitment is that I can announce that today that additional resources are being made available to:
- expand the empty properties initiative;
- deliver a Welsh Housing Bond;
- extend the Welsh Housing Partnership; and
- develop a Welsh mortgage guarantee scheme.
Further details will be provided by the Minister for Finance and Leader of the House in the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan for Jobs and Growth, to be published tomorrow.
The programme aims to make a difference to people and communities. It's about much more than a home. It reflects our strong commitment to equality and social justice and our desire to do all we can to help people to meet their housing needs. We will be ambitious, innovative and collaborative to deliver real change to help reduce poverty, tackle the inequalities that exist between some of our communities, increase skills and jobs, tackle climate change and help improve health and well-being.
The White Paper is open for consultation until 17 August 2012. I look forward to working across Government, with all political parties and stakeholders, to make these proposals a reality and to realise our shared goal of making a real difference to people’s lives.