The sector continues to digest the implications of this week’s Autumn Statement, but relief at benefit rises appears a strong theme, albeit with the caveat that it doesn’t go far enough to support hard-pressed households.
The cost-of-living crisis hasn’t gone away, as Lee Bloomfield, chief executive of Bradford-based Manningham Housing Association (MHA), pointed out.
“Families and individuals on the lowest incomes, including many MHA tenants, continue to struggle with the cost of living crisis,” he said.
“Rishi Sunak has gone on a victory lap after inflation fell to 4.7%, but this is more than double the government’s target of 2% with food inflation still sitting at around 10%.
“Prices are not going down, they are just going up more slowly and driving more people into poverty.”
On benefits, Bloomfield added: “The unfreezing in the Local Housing Allowance is long overdue, and the rise in the National Living Wage from April and cut in National Insurance from January are welcome but, without raising personal tax thresholds and with inflation set to remain high, many working people will barely see a difference in the money in their pockets.
“It is a relief that Universal Credit and working-age benefits will be uprated in line with September’s inflation rate, but I would have preferred the increase to be delivered before next spring.
“As ever, the devil will be in the detail bit, at first sight, I fear the chancellor’s measures do not represent a turning point in the cost of living crisis, which must surely be the government’s priority.”
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, welcomed the the additional £3bn for the Affordable Homes Guarantee Scheme, which can be accessed to finance works to improve the quality of existing homes, as well as for new much needed affordable housing.
However, it came with a ‘but: She added: “It is hugely disappointing that the government has not used this Autumn Statement to release the full £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund. This will impact on housing associations’ ability to make homes energy efficient at scale and pace, saving residents money and helping to alleviate fuel poverty, creating thousands of jobs and decarbonising our homes.
“We urge the Government to bring this funding forward soon as possible and before the Spring Budget.”
On planning, Henderson added: “Increased investment in planning capacity is the right thing to do. However, the money should be ring-fenced and have greater flexibility so it succeeds in removing barriers to the delivery of thousands of homes stuck in the planning system.”
Homelessness charity Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate said: “[The] Autumn Statement will provide a huge sigh of relief for the 1.7 million private renters in England relying on housing benefit to help pay their rent.
“Homelessness is at a record high and unfreezing housing benefit to cover the bottom third of local rents is an essential lifeline to keep people in their homes. However, pushing this to April 2024 will leave many families facing an uncertain winter with the threat of homelessness and spending their Christmas in grotty one-room temporary accommodation looming large.
“We are pleased that the chancellor has listened and taken a crucial step to stop rising homelessness, but we urge the government to bring this decision forward and unfreeze housing benefit immediately.”
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has said further action is needed to tackle “unacceptable” levels of poverty following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.
Sally Thomas, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “It’s positive to hear the chancellor confirm that social security will be uprated in line with inflation, as well as unfreezing Local Housing Allowance rates, as we know that the cost-of-living crisis is still hitting people hard.
“But we also hear directly from our members about the scale of need that social tenants are facing, and we need to go further to address it. That’s why we’ll continue to call for more substantial reforms to Universal Credit, to ensure that no one should be facing a winter where they struggle to eat or heat their homes.”
Housing association Abri welcomed the measures set out in the Autumn Statement.
Caroline Moore, the organisation’s chief financial officer, said: “Against a background of rising costs and continued pressure on household finances, the government’s decision to increase the National Living Wage by 9.8%, cut the employee National Insurance rate to 10%, and uprate Universal Credit and other benefits in line with inflation will be appreciated by many of our customers.”
Timothy Douglas, head of policy and campaigns at Propertymark, said: “Propertymark is extremely pleased to see the unfreezing of Local Housing Allowance rates. This is something we have campaigned on extensively and will help those tenants who need support with the cost of renting as well as agents and their landlords renting to tenants on benefits.
“Increasing supply of housing is vitally important so Propertymark welcomes the additional support to local authorities to speed up the planning process and get new homes built. What’s key is that planning has an infrastructure first approach and local communities see new or improved amenities to support increased housing numbers.
“The expansion of Permitted Development Rights to enable someone to create two homes within one house will also help increase the supply of places to live, but is likely to be more workable in some areas of the country than others. Again, what’s key is that issues around quality and safety standards as well as parking are considered for this change to work in practice.”
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