Labour MP Kitty Ussher’s comments form part of a broader vision for housing policy which should be welcomed
When the former Labour Treasury minister Kitty Ussher argued that private rented housing should be forced to meet the government’s decent homes standard, her suggestion was warmly welcomed by housing professionals.
A Guardian housing network poll testing opinion on the matter is still open, but at the time of writing an overwhelming 84% of our readers said private sector landlords should be expected to meet the same decency standards as social housing providers; mandatory requirements are the only option to ensure better standards, they argued. Only 8% felt the private sector market was able to regulate itself.
Decency is not the only area where the private sector lags behind social housing providers. For many years, minimum space standards ensured that social tenants were allocated properties suitable for family life while private renters and outright owners were left to the whims of the property market, which leached growing profits out of smaller and smaller homes. Future social tenants now face the same fate as housing minister Grant Shapps axes these basic development standards for grant-funded housing providers.
Meanwhile, social tenancy families benefit from the wraparound community support services provided by housing providers while private renters have less immediate access to these resources despite often facing equal social and financial hardships.
Ussher’s comments, voiced in an essay for a Fabian Society pamphlet, The Shape of Things to Come: Labour’s new thinking, actually formed part of a much wider social housing strategy overlooked in some of the early reporting. Here is her proposition in full:
Housing benefit costs the taxpayer too much and benefits the landlords more than the tenants. As a first step, all landlords should be licensed and required to raise the quality of their homes to the decent homes standard required by the Department for Communities and Local Government. If they are unable to do so, they should hand over long-term management of their property to a social letting agency in return for a fixed, lower rate of return.
Ussher suggests that this social agency could raise funds on the open market, allocate private rented accommodation on the basis of need and maintain a “supportive, community-based relationship” with tenants.
Filling the gap where private landlords are failing their duty to provide tenants with decent accommodation makes much sense, and is an attractive policy for shadow housing minister Jack Dromey to consider as he looks to stabilise the private rented sector as it overtakes social housing in political significance.
Ussher goes on:
It should be normal for every public sector housing tenant to be able to acquire as much of their property as they are able to … it should be far more common for lower-paid workers to be able to move into a house that they only partly own
Her comments echo an appetite among local, government and opposition politicians alike to find new types of assets as home ownership creeps out of reach of the many. In London, councillors are already considering a “right to buy part” to retain public assets but help transfer some wealth to the poorest (more on this from the network soon).
From Monday, we’ll be running a week of content dedicated to issues around welfare policy, benefit reforms and social housing. It’s a perfect time to share new ideas about how the housing sector should look in five or 10 years time. Where Ussher has started a debate, it’s up to experienced housing professionals to take it on and guide their own future.
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Join the housing network to follow our dedicated Welfare Week from 6 to 10 August