Housing and Planning Bill – 2nd reading


Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I feel that one story about social rented housing in this country is not being told, because for me social rented housing is a public asset that we should support for that reason.

My Gran and Papa moved into a house in Wishaw in 1963, and they lived there until recently. My Gran is going into a care home, and we are finishing the process of emptying that home. For 52 years that house was their home, but it is a social rented house that belongs to North Lanarkshire Council. It is nice to think that, having had a family through that house, other families will now get to enjoy it and make it their home until it passes to another generation.

My Papa did not believe in owning his own home—he must have been one of those rare people in this country that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) would not recognise, given what he said about his home being his castle and the necessity of owning it. My mum described my Papa as a west of Scotland Presbyterian socialist, which may be why he took that view. Throughout their life in that house, he and my Gran had the opportunity to buy it had they chosen to, but they believed firmly that the house belonged to the greater good and the common good, and that there it should stay.

Many people whom I represent will not have the chance to own their own homes. Some people are very far from that point and might not even have bank accounts, never mind trying to get a mortgage. We need to provide choice for people in cities across our country—choice for people who want to live in a socially rented house. Many of my constituents want the option of a front and back door, rent set at a fair level, and the support that a housing association offers. Local authorities and housing associations provide social support to their tenants that the private sector will never provide, whether that is advice on debt and money, benefits, or just somebody who can be asked for help when a repair is required. We should bear in mind those important social functions.

When my Gran was living on her own she had somebody to call if there was an issue with the heating or electricity. Over the years that she lived there, the local authority invested in that house with heating, rewiring, cavity wall installation and new windows. Good social landlords will invest in property, but private landlords will not.

In Govanhill in my constituency, there is an ongoing project to bring housing from private ownership back into housing association ownership because the situation has deteriorated so badly. The houses are falling down because private landlords cannot—and will not—take on that responsibility. There is a social imperative to take back those houses and ensure that they are sustained for future generations. Glasgow tenements are symbolic, and everybody knows them when they think of Glasgow. Over the years, however, they have been lost to private landlords who are charging a fortune for them—money that is going on the housing benefit bill. Those tenements are being lost, and there is a real need for them to come back to the social rented sector.

Housing associations plan and make investments on the basis of the rents they receive. When houses are sold off under the right to buy, housing associations cannot plan for that investment or for things such as new kitchens or bathrooms for their tenants. They receive their tenants’ money as income, and it gets reinvested, but that does not happen in many cases in the private sector.

Housing associations invest because they know that it will be worth it and they have a certainty of income. The Bill includes a 1% reduction in rents, and the head of the National Housing Federation had strong feelings about that when he gave evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee. It may have been a personal view rather than that of his organisation, but he felt strongly that the Government should not be in the business of telling housing associations what their rents should be, as that should be for local housing associations to decide on the basis of what their tenants want and can afford.

There are many consequences to the right-to-buy policy. Longer waiting lists have been mentioned, and fewer large family homes will be available in local areas. That will force people out of those areas and reduce their diversity and social mix. It also has a knock-on effect on the sustainability of those communities. The pay-to-stay policy and the “high income” of £33,000 was mentioned, but that is not a high income by anyone’s standards, and £40,000 in London does not seem high either.

The explanatory notes state:

“The policy intent is to take ‘household’ income into account when determining whether the high incomes thresholds are met and…the definition of household can be set by the Secretary of State”.

I am worried that in larger family homes where teenagers or those in their early twenties cannot afford to move out, that measure will count against them and they will be forced out. Older and younger adults might be living in the same house and then be forced out of the area because young people cannot afford to rent anywhere. That is worrying and there should be more clarity about what “household” should mean when it comes to the detail of that provision. I also have a slight concern about housing associations in urban areas that perhaps are unable to get other land close by—