On Wednesday 6th March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver the Government’s Spring Budget to Parliament, in which he will provide an update on the state of the UK economy and announce the Government’s tax and spend plans.

In this article, Yoric Irving-Clarke (External Affairs Manager, Midland Heart) outlines six priority areas that the West Midlands’ largest housing association with 35,000 homes and over 70,000 customers, would like to see the Government prioritise to bring some much needed stability and security to the Housing sector.

(March 2024)

Midland Heart will be celebrating its centenary this year so we’re used to change and have seen our fair share of uncertainty.  Whilst the political and economic environment has stabilised over recent months, much remains unpredictable in our immediate future. There will be another West Midlands mayoral election and a new metro mayor in the East Midlands in May, followed by a general election, and potentially a new government, at some point later this year. All have the potential to bring profound change in nearly every policy domain. Midland Heart has robust plans, and we will continue to see these through for the benefit of our current and future tenants, and the region more widely.


For example, over the last five years we have delivered Project 80, 24 homes that meet the Future Homes Standard now, and opened our learning up to the whole sector and beyond. We’ve also created the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB), the group has carried out its first inquiry, published a well received report which has been referenced in the House of Commons and, I genuinely believe, advanced the discussion around ASB and our responses to it. In particular, the group recommended a pilot of a specialist housing court in the region with the support of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), eleven other PCCs, the Chartered Institute of Housing, Resolve, ASBHelp and others.


At this week’s spring budget, Jeremy Hunt has an opportunity not to solve all of Housing’s  problems, but to bring some much needed predictability to the sector for the next decade if he so wishes. These are some of the things he could do.


Introduce a ten year, index linked rent settlement and re-introduce rent convergence

Housing is a long term business, what we build now will last well into the future, beyond many of our life spans. Long term funding certainty is therefore vital. A decade of certainty on housing association incomes would allow us to plan how we invest much better. But it’s not just about new housing supply, over the next decade we need to retrofit our homes, many of which are 100+ years old, to be more fuel efficient to help meet Net Zero requirements. We also have to continue to maintain our existing homes, ensuring they are safe, secure and fit for the future. Having a secure income stream would let us plan to do all this and more.


Doubling the duration of the Affordable Homes Programme for greater funding predictability

Of course, rents aren’t our only source of income. The Affordable Homes Programme provides grant funding to build new homes. If we’re to deliver the thousands of new homes we need, firstly we need the funding to do so, and secondly, we need the certainty to be able to plan well into the future, safe in the knowledge that we won’t have to cope with drastic changes in our operating environment.


Confirm the new Decent Homes Standard and fund delivery

The government has been consulting on an update to the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) – the quality standard that all social homes must meet, and potentially expanding this to the private rented sector. When it was introduced in 2000, the DHS was a welcome scheme that came with significant funding to improve the standard of social homes. However, it is now largely obsolete, the majority of social homes comply, and the standards it sets are outdated. We welcome the updated standard, but the government needs to now publish it and provide us with the funding to deliver.


Awarding the remainder of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF)

At Midland Heart, we’re really proud of the work we’ve done using SHDF funding. Bidding as part of a West Midlands consortium, we’ve either already improved some of our homes, and have a plan to do more over the next decade. However, we could do more if the government released the remaining SHDF funding now, rather than running future rounds. This would help us make more of out homes fit for the future, as well as lowering bills for our tenants.


Scrap VAT on repairs and retrofit

We also work hard to make sure our homes are in good repair and fit for the future, but this is expensive, and we can’t do everything that we want to. Scrapping VAT on goods and materials used for repairs and retrofitting homes would mean that we can do much more of this important work. Moreover, making sure our homes are as safe and efficient as possible not only contributes to the battle against climate change, it reduces our tenants’ fuel bills, relieves poverty and gives them more money to spend on the things they want, driving the local economy.


Welfare reform to support customers struggling with the cost of living

It’s not only housing associations that need certainty with their income to enable them to function and plan properly. Our tenants need to be able to live healthy, happy lives and plan for their futures too. Firstly, the five week wait for Universal Credit (UC) is based on the incorrect assumption that most households receive monthly salary payments and so will have a month’s pay, or savings, to see them through this period. In reality, many households have no choice but to agree an advance on their UC, which then reduces the amount they receive after the waiting period – we have seen that this causes significant hardship to some. We think that these advanced payments should therefore effectively be a grant, and not repayable.  The Chancellor should also take this chance to ensure that all welfare benefits continue to be increased in line with inflation, ensuring that the value of welfare is not eroded.


I appreciate that it’s an election year and long term policy is in short supply, but these are changes the Chancellor could make at the budget that would support growth, battle climate change, support house building and improvements, and most importantly, improve people’s lives.


Yoric Irving-Clarke is the External Affairs Manager for Midland Heart, one of the largest social landlords in the Midlands. He has worked in social housing for around 25 years including in the Chartered Institute of Housing’s policy and practice team, and various local authorities and housing associations, providing front line services, management and consultancy.

Yoric holds PhD in Social Policy and is the author of three books on the history of supported housing in England, housing and domestic abuse policy (with Dr Kelly Henderson) and applying concepts from political philosophy to housing policy.

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