Tag Archives: housing act

The Housing Act Remains a Threat

by Glyn Robbins,  from Unite housing workers, Defend Council Housing and ‘Axe the Housing Act’

The partial U-turn on ‘Pay to Stay’ is very welcome, but it’s not enough.  The Housing and Planning Act remains a threat and must be repealed.  Instead of imposing rent hikes on council tenants themselves, the government is letting local authorities do it instead!  We must be very wary of councils using the legislation to fill funding gaps and push out tenants they think should be paying more for their home.  The same applies to housing associations (HAs), so-called ‘social’ landlords the Act is enabling to behave even more like private developers.

The delay in extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants – and therefore the envisaged sell-off of empty ‘high value’ council homes – is further evidence that the ill-conceived Act is falling apart.

But until the Act is axed, there’s still the danger that thousands of social rented homes will be lost, at a time when we need thousands more.  Although the Tories have done some back-tracking on Starter Homes, they still want them to replace genuinely affordable homes on new developments.  Likewise, the statement announcing the retreat on Pay to Stay indicates that the government will push harder to abolish secure tenancies for future council tenants – a massive threat to the stability of working class communities.  More council estates are still at risk of being broken-up by being re-designated as ‘brownfield’ sites.

But the fact that the government’s housing policy ‘flag ship’ is sinking is testament to the accumulated pressure of a united, concerted campaign against it.  Certainly, other issues have been factors, not least Brexit.  But this weak, divided government isn’t ready to take on the opposition to the Act, either inside or outside Parliament.  It’s announced a housing White Paper before Christmas, a sure sign – along with the concessions in yesterday’s Autumn Statement – that it’s feeling the heat on housing.

With the Tories’ housing policy in disarray, it’s vital that campaigners develop a real alternative.  That’s why the Axe the Housing Act alliance has produced its own Autumn Statement.  Even if the entire Act was dropped tomorrow, we’d still have a massive housing crisis, the product of an ideology that sees a home as a commodity.  We need to unite around the core demands of controlled rent and secure homes for all and build a broad, cross-tenure movement to demand a fundamental change in housing policy.

 

Winning!

Up against powerful vested interests and a government that supports (or shares) them, campaigning for a better housing system can often feel like fighting a losing battle. But not this week!

On Monday, the government quietly dropped its controversial ‘Pay to Stay’ plans to impose unaffordable market rents for social housing tenants on incomes above a stingy minimum. This policy was introduced earlier this year as part of the regressive Housing and Planning Act, which members of Radical Housing Network (RHN) joined with the Kill the Housing Bill campaign to organise against.

kensington-occupation march-march

We occupied a building in Kensington and helped build a march of thousands in protest against the Housing Bill

Then in yesterday’s budget, it was announced that letting agents will be banned from charging fees to tenants. Letting agent fees can often be £500 or more, making the already high costs of moving house impossible for renters to afford.

RHN members have for years have been calling for the law in the rest of the UK to be brought in line with Scotland, where this form of profiteering is already outlawed. As Hackney renters’ group, Digs, wrote yesterday:

“To be a renter is very often to feel totally powerless. But today’s announcement shows what can be achieved when communities get organised and turn up the heat on those who hold power.”

town-hall-group

F*ck fees! Digs’ action against letting agents’ fees, discrimination and other dodgy dealings in July 2013

These changes come hot on the heels of other local victories across London. Following concerted campaigning on the Aylesbury estate in south London, Southwark council have been prevented from evicting leaseholders after the government refused to grant compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to force them to leave. In west London, the local council recently refused a planning application by housing association Affinity Sutton which would have seen the Sutton estate demolished, resulting in a loss of social housing. And last week, RHN’s meeting was hosted by the inspiring campaigners on the Butterfield estate in Walthamstow, who shared how they have fought off evictions and attempts by their landlord to make huge rent rises.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. Social housing is still under attack on many fronts, and millions are stuck renting sub-standard insecure and unaffordable homes from private landlords, while Southwark council are appealing against the decision to block their CPOs on the Aylesbury estate (you can donate to the residents’ crowd-funder to fight it here).

But this week shows that by organising together we can win victories that make real differences to people’s lives – and the bigger we can build our movement, the more we will win!