'Reasons to be optimistic as we head into 2018.'
There are reasons to be optimistic but the housing sector has to continue making its case, says CIH Cymru's policy expert Matt Kennedy takes a look ahead to what to look out for in 2018.
As we find ourselves at the start of 2018 there’s much cause for optimism in Wales despite stubborn challenges remaining with us.
While the decision not to apply the Local Housing Allowance cap in the social sector bred a collective sigh of relief, the freeze on rates however will continue to impact affordability more broadly.
With the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) continuing and accelerating across Wales in 2018 we must remain strong in voicing concerns and calling for a pause and fix approach during the roll-out. In Wales there are 25,963 people on UC; by 2022 Citizens Advise report that will grow to around 400,000 households, meaning at present we’re only 6.5% per cent of the way through the process.
Torfaen Citizens advice report that since full service began in the region the redemption of food vouchers had increase by 50%, increasing need for Discretionary Housing Payments and an increase in arrears caused by delays in payments. This sadly is a familiar picture across the UK and these symptoms are no doubt set to continue unless further substantial changes are made.
Outside of welfare, the uncertainty surrounding the Supporting People Programme grant will be a cause for concern and we’ll be keen to ensure that the risk with merging the fund, or removing the ring fence is well-understood. That is not to say however that a different approach to delivering the fund that strengthens rather than waters down its impact may not be the right way to go.
The changes in how homelessness is addressed in Wales, made through the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 have had a far reaching, largely positive impact on meeting demand. Despite this homelessness remains one of the largest and most visible challenges for the sector and other partners to address.
In Wales we know that giving everyone some form of assistance is creating better results. But we also know that the greater flexibility with which Local Authorities can now act to help someone is still largely being used to provide financial support to access a tenancy. Therefore, there is less activity focussed on mediation and sustaining tenancies. This is where we need to see a shift change if the approaches current success it to continued on an upwards trajectory.
And lastly, in further progress toward protecting social housing the abolition of the right to buy will be put into practice in Wales and we can expect legislation to abolish letting agency fees to be brought forward. Both will have a big impact, despite being quite contentious and divisive issues on the whole.
For CIH Cymru, it’ll be an exciting time as we formally launch our Tyfu Tai Cymru project at TAI in April where we’ll be setting out how this new project will –
• Support the delivery of the 20,000 affordable homes target
• Keep housing high on the local government agenda
• Create and share the tangible links between health, housing and social care
We know that a strong evidence base, informed and shaped by the expertise of members is one of the ways we’ll be able to overcome challenges ahead and build the flexibility to take risks, try something new, work collaboratively with communities and ultimately produce results that resonate across the UK.
Matt Kennedy is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru