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House of Lords
Oral Questions

Asked by Baroness King of Bow

The Minister will be aware that the figures that he has just outlined in areas such as Tower Hamlets represent a 60% cut on the money available to improve social housing in the spending review. However, is he also aware that backloading the social housing budget means that those in the worst housing conditions have to wait the longest for upgrades? Can he clarify whether the Secretary of State will ask the Chancellor to increase the amount of money in the next spending review to make up for that previous shortfall and, if so, will they abandon the backloading of the budget that hurts hardest those in the worst housing? Combined with the bedroom tax, this makes people in social housing feel that they are under a sustained and unjust attack from this Government.

 To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to improve the social housing stock during 2013.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Question. For 2013-14, the Government have allocated £411.5 million to 38 local authorities and £123 million to 13 housing associations, with stock transferred from local authorities, enabling them to bring properties up to the decent homes standard. This funding is, of course, additional to the local authorities' own funding. Following self-financing, which was introduced in 2012, local housing authorities now keep their rental income, allowing them to ensure that their properties reach, and most importantly maintain, the decent homes standard.

Baroness King of Bow: The Minister will be aware that the figures that he has just outlined in areas such as Tower Hamlets represent a 60% cut on the money available to improve social housing in the spending review. However, is he also aware that backloading the social housing budget means that those in the worst housing conditions have to wait the longest for upgrades? Can he clarify whether the Secretary of State will ask the Chancellor to increase the amount of money in the next spending review to make up for that previous shortfall and, if so, will they abandon the backloading of the budget that hurts hardest those in the worst housing? Combined with the bedroom tax, this makes people in social housing feel that they are under a sustained and unjust attack from this Government.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: First, perhaps I may correct something that is misunderstood. The bedroom tax is not a tax; it is a benefit. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made that clear, and it needs to be reiterated. On the point about decent homes and Tower Hamlets specifically, I will share the figures with the House. The decent home benefits grant in 2011-12 was £12.5 million; in 2014-15 it is projected to be £45 million. That, to me, is an increase in any terms.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister tell me whether he is aware of the fact that there is quite a supply of housing in London, and that it is simply unusable because people have bought their flats in social high rise housing and now wish to move for various reasons, but no one will give a mortgage on those properties. They are completely locked into them because they are high rise and have a stigma attached to them because they were social housing. Doing something about that would release housing that people could obtain mortgages on, and they could feel confident that in due course they could move on.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend is correct; London has a disproportionate amount of non-decent homes, primarily due to the high numbers of homes of non-standard construction that she has highlighted. It is important for the Government to work with the private sector to decide how these homes can best be released for greater housing requirements in London. That said, we are providing a greater number of funds available to London, and, of course, are working closely with the Mayor of London's office to ensure that we meet the decent homes standard in London.
Lord Martin of Springburn: May I say to the Minister that many young couples went into housing that was post-war? Often these post-war housing estates, good as they were, were four and sometimes five-apartment housing. Now in their advancing years, if they have to leave and downsize, that means having to leave the community they love and have lived in for many years. The community-based housing associations have an excellent record of building two-apartment housing in these housing estates. I hope that every encouragement is given to them.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: First, I agree with the noble Lord about the challenges that young couples face in finding housing. It was not so long ago that my wife and I were a young couple ourselves. Nevertheless, to take up the specific issue, the noble Lord is correct. We have to ensure, as a Government, that we work both with housing associations and the private sector to provide a future housing provision across the country that works for the new generation.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Will the Minister answer the specific question asked by my noble friend about the backloading of funding, which is extremely important to those who live in the worst conditions in social housing?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: That is a matter that the Secretary of State for the DCLG and the Chancellor will be discussing in the next budget round.

Lord Shipley: Does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need to build more new social housing and that one way that could be done is for the housing borrowing cap of local authorities to be removed and to be substituted by the prudential borrowing code, which enables the self-financing of social housing. That could be backed up by the Local Government Act 2003 so that Ministers have a power to cap any individual local authority that broke the rules. Given the importance of housing and the growth agenda, will the Minister look at that proposal?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The housing issue, along with other proposals, will be looked at, but I want to make it clear that the Government are investing more in social housing. We are investing over £4.5 billion in the spending review period to deliver up to 170,000 affordable homes in England. This investment, importantly, as I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, is about working together across the board in the housing sector, bringing different parties together. This £4.5 billion will leverage an extra £15 billion from the private sector investment, making a total of £19.5 billion investment in social housing up to 2015.

Lord Soley: In his reply on the backloading issue, the Minister referred to another Minister in his own department. May I say that that is not an adequate answer and that we will need an answer of some type to that, even if not at this precise moment? He might be able to give something in writing. When one Minister refers to another in the department, it suggests that the department does not know what is happening.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I am sorry that the noble Lord feels that way, but it is a matter for the Secretary of State. That is what I said. I will, of course, write to the noble Lord, copying the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady King, in on the specific issues raised.