08 Nov 2022

Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023 - right ambition, right timing?

The aspirational intent of Welsh Government’s Welsh Housing Quality 2023 (WHQS2023) plan and achieving net zero cannot be faulted, and as a sector with social heart, we desire our communities to be places of safety, security and prosperity for all.

Gaps between ambition and reality can usually be expanded or contracted by considering different factors. In the case of WHQS2023, our current economic drivers and subsequent affecting factors are changing so rapidly that an iteration of a plan can be out of date before the ink has dried, so to speak.

The changeable weather we experienced in the summer brought the climate emergency to the forefront of our minds. Climate implications, combined with the exponential rise in living costs, uncertainty over closer to home impacts of the Russian war, the ever revolving Number 10 door, and ongoing realisation of Brexit implications all lead to thoughts of consolidation rather than ambition.

Immediate focus areas, not only for businesses but for each of us personally, are to ensure sustainability around our cost control and future-proofing our resources. The cost of living crisis is really impacting on us as we look to support both tenants and staff, against a backdrop of uncertainty around the rent settlement. Therefore, considerations must be made on the reality of implementation of the WHQS2023 aims.

Organisations have basic timelines prepared in line with WHQS2023 requirements to look at resource needs, compliance policy updates and the ever-rising cost implications to delivery. However, stock estimates alone are exceeding business plan allowances and a lack of long-term clarity on any formal financial assistance is adding to the questions around delivery fruition.

It is not only cost inhibitors. As a sector we are also tackling the implementation of the Renting Homes Act, one of the largest policy changes seen in recent times, with the shortest lead period. These factors, coupled with the knock-on effects of supply chain pressures, repairs backlogs, recruitment pool reductions and COVID-19 recovery all lend weight to the wedge between reality and realism around the WHQS2023.

I feel as though I speak for the sector in welcoming the recent Welsh Government consultation on the plans and believe the response has been practically unanimous – we stand together in awaiting news on the final plan, and hopefully the further clarity on requirements, funding streams and realistic timescales that will accompany it.

A thought I do not have in isolation is the overall raising of the national living standards, energy efficiency and carbon considerations across Wales by the completion of WHQS2023 - when it applies to only 15 per cent of the housing in the country. It creates the question of to what standards owner occupiers (69 per cent market share) or private landlords (14 per cent) will be required to maintain their properties to – and when details, deadlines, and funding for this will be announced. Are we looking for the tadpole to jump before the frog?

Written by Charlotte Whitney

Charlotte Whitney is a CIH Housing Futures Cymru member and head of strategy, planning and communications at Hafod.