Council housing waiting lists ‘could double’ as Covid support measures end, local authorities warn

The Local Government Association has warned that council housing waiting lists could double by next year – a situation it said was avoided last year due to extensions to pandemic support measures that are now winding down.

The organisation, which represents councils in England and Wales, is calling for the Government to use this month’s spending review to give councils the powers and funding to build 100,000 social rent homes a year, which it says will deliver benefits to the public purse over the long term.

In a report commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), the Association of Retained Council Housing and the National Federation of ALMOs, called Building Post-Pandemic Prosperity, research highlights that one in 10 households in need of housing are stuck on council waiting lists for more than five years according to Government figures released in March.

The report also says that more than 100,000 fewer new homes will be built across all tenures – social and market housing – by 2023 than would have been the case without the pandemic.

And the LGA said the report also warns that as a result of the pandemic council housing waiting lists could almost double next year to as many as 2.1 million households.

The LGA issued a similar warning in November last year. It says the extension of Covid support schemes, such as the eviction ban, helped prevent such an increase but it adds that now some support schemes are winding down there is a fresh concern.

The report says that every 100,000 new social rent homes built delivers the equivalent of £24.5 billion to the public finances over 30 years, which includes savings in housing-related benefits, tax receipts from the construction industry, and the wider impacts of getting people into higher quality and more energy efficient housing.

The LGA is also calling for the Government to reform Right to Buy and allow councils to retain 100% of receipts.

LGA spokesperson Councillor David Renard said: “We are concerned that as life returns to normal there could be an increase in homelessness cases in the coming months.

“We want to work with government on a cross-departmental long-term homelessness prevention strategy and tackle our housing shortage as we recover from the pandemic.

“Giving councils the powers and resources to build 100,000 social homes for rent each year, including further reform to Right to Buy, would not only help to reduce homelessness but deliver a third of the Government’s housing target.”

Mr Renard added: “There is a desperate need to build more social housing in this country, which should be a central part of the Government’s ambition to level-up and build back better following the pandemic. Social housing gives families the security and stability of a decent home, as well as being a route to owning your own home through Right to Buy.

“Now is the time to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades. The benefits are clear – a programme of 100,000 social homes a year would shorten council housing waiting lists, reduce homelessness and cut carbon emissions, while delivering a multi-billion long-term boost to the economy.”

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell described the Conservatives’ record on social housing as “woeful”.

She said Labour would give local authorities powers to buy and develop land for housing to “empower communities”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are building more social housing and taking action to reduce waiting lists, which have fallen by almost 600,000 households since 2010.

“We’ve delivered over 382,000 affordable homes for rent, including 149,400 for social rent. But we must go further, so we’re investing over £12 billion in affordable housing over the next five years – the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade.”

Fifth of renters say health harmed by poor housing – Shelter

The health of a fifth of renters in England is being harmed by their homes, research indicates.

Some 22% of renters said their physical or mental health is being harmed by poor housing, according to the charity Shelter.

It commissioned YouGov to carry out the survey of 3,197 renting adults in private or social rented homes in April.

Some 19% said their housing situation was affecting their or their family’s mental health, while 11% said the same for their physical health – working out at 22% overall.

Based on the English Housing Survey, which estimated that there were 8.4 million renting households in England in 2019-20, this equates to around 1.9 million households with their health affected.

The survey found that common issues plaguing renters include damp and mould (affecting 26% of renters), being unable to heat their home (26%), constantly struggling to pay rent (21%) and fear of eviction (21%).

Renters experiencing one of these issues were three times more likely than renters without such issues to say their housing situation was harming their health.

A separate poll for Shelter, of private renters only, found that 22% said their housing issues or worries had made them physically sick.

A further fifth said these issues had negatively affected their performance at work.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “The cost of poor housing is spilling out into overwhelmed GP surgeries, mental health services, and hours lost from work.

“The new Housing Secretary must get a grip on the housing crisis and tackle a major cause of ill health.

“Listening to the calls flooding into our helpline there is no doubt that health and housing go hand in hand.

“Yet, millions of renters are living in homes that make them sick because they are mouldy, cold, unaffordable and grossly insecure.

“The stress and suffering that comes with not knowing if you can pay your rent from month to month or if you will face eviction is huge.”

She said the Government can ease pressure by helping renters clear arrears through targeted grants, and through private rental reforms, but that ultimately more social homes must be built.

Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Mind, said: “Everyone deserves a safe, affordable, stable, and suitable place to live, not somewhere which makes us feel ‘hopeless’, and worsens our mental health.

“Social issues such as jobs, housing and benefits play a huge role in the nation’s mental health.

“Addressing the underlying causes of poor mental health can prevent people being pushed into poverty, allow people to live independently, and reduce the need for more intensive support further down the line.”

A spokesman for the National Residential Landlords Association said: “Official data has consistently shown that a higher proportion of private renters are satisfied with their accommodation than those in the social rented sector. We want to see this continue.

“That said, no tenant should ever have to put up with unsafe or unhealthy accommodation.

“Where this is happening, local authorities need to use the vast array of powers already available to tackle landlords who fail to provide fit and proper housing.

“That is why improved enforcement against such landlords is at the heart of our plans to reform the private rented sector.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Everybody deserves to live in a decent and safe home – that’s why we’re cracking down on rogue landlords who rent out unsafe accommodation and have given councils robust enforcement tools, including fines of up to £30,000 and banning orders.

“The new Secretary of State is clear that we must go further and our reforms of the rental sector will deliver a fairer system for all.”

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