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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

A guessing game for housing policy

23/04/2020


Where do we go from here? Today CIH policy officer Alex Gibson scans the horizon to see what we’ll need to do once COVID 19 is finally beaten.

One thing is for certain: at some point we will be out of lockdown. How we navigate our way through the complexities of emerging from these unprecedented measures, however, is an uncertainty that is flaring up concerns for everyone.

Exiting from such special measures is going to be a headache politically, economically, and socially. We’ve seen massive changes to welfare policy, such as the increase in Universal Credit payments, and there is now a number of schemes intended to support people in the private rented sector, including halting evictions for three months and raising the Local Housing Allowance rate. Then we must consider the colossal furloughing scheme, loans and deferrals of VAT payments (among a raft of other costs). The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that unemployment could rise by two million, while the UK could be left with the biggest deficit as a proportion of GDP since the Second World War.

As part of the response to COVID-19, the Government has launched the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, whereby local authorities are required to house rough sleepers in hotels or emergency accommodation. It’s also announced £3.2 million in funding for local authorities to protect those who are homeless. Concerns have been raised about the short-term implications of these plans, but now we are really beginning to consider the long-term impact of these strategies when social distancing measures are reduced and lockdown is lessened; what about people in the PRS who may build up rent arrears over the coming months and still face eviction when the three month ban expires? Do we have a plan to continue with ‘Everyone In’ to ensure that nobody should have to return to the streets?

An inquiry has now been launched and will examine how effective the Government support has been in supporting individuals in the private rented sector or who are homeless. It will also look at what long term strategies will need to be put in place to support both groups in the long-term, once current measures expire.

Suddenly reversing all of these changes on the day it is decided we no longer need to be staying at home to stay safe would be nothing short of calamitous, not just for the economy but for the wellbeing and lives of those that these policies directly impact – which is a fair few. Crucial decisions are going to have to be made as to whether, and how, to extend or make permanent these changes; how to ease them, or implement them further, over time; and what other support is needed. When we truly reflect on the changes to welfare over these past few weeks, Government simply cannot expect us to flip a switch and return to what once was.

For housing and welfare policy, exiting the current situation is going to be complicated, and it’s going to be complex. We are all playing a guessing game as to what the Government plans to do when weaving the country out of lockdown, and the reluctance of ministers to respond to growing calls for their thinking on any potential strategies to be published remains the same. Taking a deep breath and planning accordingly for an increase in workload as a result of further changes is all that we can do for now.

CIH will be responding to the HCLG committee inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on homelessness and the private rented sector.


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