Neglecting owner occupied homes is a missed opportunity to level up
The Levelling Up White Paper fails to state any plans for improving the owner-occupied housing sector – an area in need of serious attention.
David Orr, Chair of the Good Home Inquiry, explains how ignoring owner-occupied homes is a wasted chance to help level up communities.
It was great to see the commitment in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper to reduce by half the number of non-decent homes in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) – a sector in desperate need of investment and accountability.
The government is, though, eerily quiet on over 2.5 million homes that are privately owned, and which also fail the decency standard. There is no mention of the much-needed support for the many homeowners living in these homes – often older people with very little spare cash in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods, living in homes with no or low equity.
Instead of simply leaving the burden of maintaining the safety and energy efficiency of our homes with their owners, as a society we need to see our housing stock for the national asset that it is. Leadership from government is needed to enable those able to take action to do so and provide help to those unable to afford to maintain their homes in a decent condition.
Another piece of the puzzle is the significant lack of data on where the swathes of these non-decent owner-occupied homes are situated. Addressing this is a fundamental first step in improving the state of homes and fostering thriving neighbourhoods and communities, a target the government has rightly set itself.
The Good Home Inquiry, which was supported by the Centre for Ageing Better and which I chaired, made clear recommendations in its 'Good homes for all' report on the need for advice, information and, in some cases, financial support for this group, particularly through a network of local Good Home Agencies – one stop shops that bring together information and access to services.
Having a decent, safe, warm, accessible home can be the most important foundation in many people’s lives. This should be a right, not a lucky dip.
Such support would reduce demands on the health service, make homes cheaper to heat, reduce accidents in the home and hugely improve the lives of millions. For a government committed to homeowners, it is imperative that this group receives this support. Levelling up can not only be about those who live in rented homes.
An agency exists already in England to act on the housing challenges: Homes England. However, its objectives from government all relate to building new houses and promoting home ownership. With 80% of our existing housing still expected to be in use by 2050, it is crucial that their powers and remit are extended to improve the poor quality of our existing homes.
The upcoming White Paper on reform of the private rented sector is a chance to bring meaningful change to tenants living in sub-standard homes. One of the proposals to be included is the legal requirement for the private rented sector to meet the enhanced Decent Homes Standard – something that if extended to home ownership too, could be the real instrument for levelling up that we have been waiting for.
Living in one of the millions of non-decent homes, whether owned or rented, immediately ties one hand behind the back of many who are already facing many other forms of hardship. Having a decent, safe, warm, accessible home can be the most important foundation in many people’s lives. This should be a right, not a lucky dip.