02 Dec 2022

Providing homes not just houses

During a conference held at the end of November a senior civil servant stated that we currently have 14,000 individuals in temporary accommodation in Wales. All these individuals need permanent homes. Yet we are in the midst of a housing crisis where there are record numbers of individuals on social housing waiting lists and spiraling costs in the private rented sector.

Welsh Government is providing record levels of investment through the Social Housing Grant and is committed to delivering 20,000 new low carbon social homes in this Senedd term. Local Authorities are in the process of developing rapid rehousing plans as part of a programme to tackle and prevent homelessness.

Key to this is the narrative of providing more “homes” not just houses. So, what can we do to ensure the individuals we give tenancies to feel like they are moving into a home, not just an empty property?

As highlighted in our independent research, Time to re-focus through Tyfu Tai Cymru, we need a whole systems approach to allocations which must be seen as part of a whole system approach to housing. How often do housing professionals working in allocations get refusals on offers as it is too far from family support or schools for children? The whole system approach should include:

  • Distance to school, travel time and cost
  • Where childcare is located to enable access to employment
  • Access to healthcare needs
  • Other support networks and distance
  • Does the person have trauma connected to the area?

We all have areas within our Local Authority areas that are not popular. As part of a holistic approach to allocations we need to seek the views of residents and potential tenants as to why this is and look to solve them. One solution is to involve our tenants and residents in development plans. Our Tyfu Tai research report Right Place, Right Home, Right Size found a tension between what housing can be delivered and what may be seen as an attractive housing prospect. By involving tenants and residents in our development planning we can work towards overcoming this tension.

Ultimately, we need to remember that we are providing someone with a home. We need to consider what matters for someone to enable them to feel at home often after a period in temporary and transitional accommodation.

Once we have let a property, we also need to consider what we provide to make it feel like a home. TPAS highlighted in their report Floored-Provision of appropriate flooring in social housing that social housing is still let without flooring or window coverings. It is encouraging that flooring is now to be included in all rooms as part of the new WHQS 2023 which will have a significant positive impact on tenants’ finances and their wellbeing. However, this needs to go further to ensure ALL social tenants have flooring in all rooms no matter how long they have been a tenant and should be included as part of the regulations within the Renting Homes Act. There is also a need for window coverings to be a necessary provision so that tenants can have a sense of privacy in their own home.

We need to work with energy suppliers around the provision of prepayment meters. Often a legacy of the previous tenant’s debt prepayment meters penalise new tenants forcing them to pay standing charges and higher energy tariffs. Smart meters and cash only bank accounts now make it is much easier to put tenants on direct debit tariffs to reduce their costs and eliminate the need for expensive prepayment meters. This may need some money education, but it can help tenant’s finances in the long run. Moving people off smart meters on to cheaper tariffs is essential at a point in the cost of living crisis when 45% of all Welsh households are living in fuel poverty, and 98% of low income households in Wales are experiencing fuel poverty.

As a final thought, CIH Cymru is a founding partner, along with Tai Pawb and Shelter Cymru, of the campaign calling for the right to adequate housing to be incorporated into Welsh law. This right also needs to ensure that the houses provided feel like a warm safe home. Located in areas of individual choice so that our tenants can thrive in their new homes and contribute to a cohesive community.

Written by Cerys Clark

Cerys is the policy and public affairs manager for CIH Cymru. Cerys has a background in local authority work from frontline homelessness to housing strategy and policy work. She is currently undertaking a PhD at Cardiff Met and is a chartered CIH member.