A new year and a new era for social housing. The startling shift in policy over the past 12 months has fuelled a widespread sense of optimism. With the sector and the government more aligned than they have been for years, associations are now looking forward to a future of delivery, innovation and transformation.
The government has shown it is prepared to listen. In recent months, ministers have answered the sector’s calls for development stimuli, pledging an extra £2bn for social housing and committing to cut planning red tape and increase the availability of land. The changes were widely applauded and ushered a change in tact across the sector.
After years of cost cutting, attention is now firmly focused on housebuilding. The sector’s foot is on the gas, with 79 per cent of associations saying the government cash injection will boost the delivery of social homes. In this new era, the sector is no longer seen as part of the problem, but part of the solution.
Associations are also becoming more forward-thinking. New technology is seen as the key to unlock further efficiencies as well as improve tenant and community services. Digital innovation has become the mood of the day, with 85 per cent planning technology updates in the year ahead.
The recent relaunch of the HCA as Homes England and the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is seen as yet another chance to do things differently. While RPs generally support the current regulatory approach, calls are increasing for a more balanced focus, with a greater emphasis on consumer standards.
In these effervescent times, associations must not lose sight of looming risks: Welfare Reform concerns continue to linger; pension contributions are widely expected to soar from April 2019; and there is growing nervousness around the future of the SHPS and SHAPS.
If concerns turn into reality, the sector could face some unpalatable choices once more. Vigilance remains just as important in good times as in bad.
In our survey findings we consider the following:
- How will Brexit affect social housing organisations?
- If rents are increased by the full CPI+1 per cent, do housing associations consider that this will result in increased bad debts, if full rents eventually become unaffordable for tenants?
- Will the further changes to the Welfare Reform Act have a significant impact on organisations?
- Do housing associations think the Regulator of Social Housing and Scottish Housing Regulator are more intrusive than five years ago?
- What impact is deregulation likely to have on the sector?
- Are pension costs set to soar in England?
- With previous actions failing to stem the increasing deficit and with some major RPs having left SHPS, is this the start of the break-up of the SHPS/SHAPS pension schemes?
- Has your organisation undertaken a cyber security review?
- Will the social housing sector be GDPR ready by May?
- With the move towards greater consolidation in the sector, albeit occurring more gradually in Scotland, do you believe mergers improve the conditions for the organisation, their tenants or their staff?