The new Housing and Regeneration Bill being pushed through parliament is the latest example of New Labour’s vague promises turning out to be another attack on ordinary people.
Gordon Brown said in the summer, “I cannot promise to implement the fourth option [direct investment in council housing] today... but what I will tell you is that councils will be allowed to build homes again.”
His office has now ruled out the fourth option and is pushing ahead with yet more privatisation and further attacks on existing council tenants.
- The bill re-introduces the discredited “Tenants’ Choice” ballots brought in by the Tories to promote their Housing Action Trusts in the late 1980s. They will enable developers to cherry pick housing to try and buy off yet more council homes.
- Profit making companies will be allowed for the first time to register as social landlords and under a lighter burden of regulation.
So profit making landlords can apply for a social housing grant, but councils cannot – unless they set up privatised arms length companies.
- The government’s own impact assessment predicts that councils will only be able to build 2,500 new homes a year – they currently build 300. Councils are being pushed into putting public land into public private partnerships (Local Housing Companies) that will build private – not council – housing.
- The bill establishes a new quango (the Homes and Communities Agency) to oversee the supply of new housing. It also creates a new regulator for “social housing” to be called Oftenant. In both cases this removes the limited democratic control there is over housing.
- A new definition of social housing is set out in the bill which is intended to merge council housing with housing association rented housing under the term “low cost rental accommodation”.
Homes are low cost rental accommodation if the rent is below the market rate – which could be £1 a week less. It also reintroduces means testing in the definition.
- The bill gives for the first time a new statutory right to a ballot over stock transfer, but this is accompanied by a new restriction on tenants’ right to protest at an undemocratically run ballot.
The bill says that the secretary of state “must have regard to the ballot”, but does not specify in what sense the outcome should influence their decision. It only allows 28 days for tenants to appeal.
The bill will lead to more privatisation and worsening of housing for those in council housing.