Winds of change: The legacy of Storm Ciara and Dennis

by Dewi John

The sky above us is grey… It is that time of year yet again, storm season, which for many people across Wales can only mean one thing… flooding. This will mean sleepless nights for hundreds of households across Wales – who worry about their homes every time it rains, thinking back to the memory of what happened this month two years ago. February 2020 brought with it record levels of flooding across Wales. Our communities are still dealing with the scars of these storms.

Shelter Cymru believes we must tackle our un-readiness to deal with the symptoms of climate change, especially as the Deputy Climate Change Minister warns that “the consequences of not acting will be profound for Wales”. Climate change will see sea levels rise by at least 1.3 – 2.6 feet by 2100. If we do not act now to mitigate the impacts of flooding and extreme weather events, we will further exacerbate existing inequalities, which will result in disruption to our infrastructure and will  cause some of our coastal communities to  disappear forever by 2050.

Together with our partners Tai Pawb and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, we are campaigning to enshrine the right to adequate housing into Welsh law. We’re pleased that the recent Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru includes a commitment to a White Paper to explore such a right. A right to adequate housing can help us to combat both the impacts of climate change but also catalyse our journey to achieving net zero.

A right to adequate housing will mean investment in flood defences for parts of Wales which are more susceptible to flooding, bringing a cost/benefit ratio of more than 5:1. It will help spur on the current Welsh Government’s ambitious housebuilding commitments, and, in the uncertain future, it will hardwire a commitment to improving people’s homes –  ensuring that good quality, greener homes are front and centre of the delivery agenda as well as defending and decarbonising our existing homes across Wales.

We welcome the commitment within the Cooperation Agreement to commission an independent review of the Section 19 reports produced into extreme flooding in Wales in the winter of 2020 and 2021, with the commitment to act on the recommendations made. We also welcome the commitment to deliver an increased investment into flood and coastal erosion risk management and mitigation over the course of this Senedd term to minimise the likelihood of flooding of homes by 2050.  We must not however, underestimate the scale of the challenge we face and its importance. Realising a right to adequate housing will require agile and deliberate collaboration across the layers of governance. This however, is the right thing to do, to ensure that the painful lessons of two years ago are repeated as infrequently as possible in the future.

Shelter Cymru believes that home is everything and that everyone deserves a good home. But unless our current and new homes can withstand the pressures of extreme weather events, our shared housing emergency will only become further entrenched by climate change.

There’s no place like home: dealing with LGBTQ+ discrimination within the housing sector

As we mark LGBTQ+ History Month, it is important that we reflect on the past and take note of the progress that has been made, but it is equally important to look towards the future and learn from our shared past to create a more equal Wales. Recent surveys have consistently shown that the Welsh public supports LGBTQ+ equality and it is imperative that we deliver on this goal.  A 2019 BBC Wales report showed that 56% of the population felt very comfortable about an adult being in a same-sex relationship, whilst only 8% felt not comfortable at all. At Shelter Cymru we welcome these statistics and the recently published Welsh Government LGBTQ+ action plan.

A recent story from BBC London has shone a spotlight on the issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination within the housing sector, which is still a problem in 2022, with a gay couple being refused a house viewing and purchase. It is important that we take notice and stand together against prejudice and discrimination. We know that this issue isn’t just limited to LGBTQ+ people purchasing properties but also trying to access private rental properties. Our soon-to-be-released report based on a survey of private landlords in Wales shows that although the vast majority of landlords are accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, a minority of prejudiced attitudes still persists. Although over 90% of landlords said they would let a trans person, 4% of landlords said that they would not rent to someone who is transgender on the basis of old stereotypes directed at the LGBTQ+ community such as promiscuity, with one landlord saying “with regular different partners you would have your property trashed.”

We know from our research that LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately at risk of homelessness due to familial rejection. The same report showed that this disproportionate risk is even greater among transgender people due to family rejection, relationship breakdown and economic precariousness. To make matters worse there is a mental health crisis within the LGBTQ+ community, with an increased risk of mental illness and an increased risk of suicide as a result of bullying and discrimination. Clearly more needs to be to encourage and facilitate joint working between public organisations to tackle the scourge of hate crimes in Wales. A recent Vice report highlights the true extent of what discrimination can lead to: homophobic hate crimes have risen by 210% over the past six years in the UK, whilst transphobic hate crime has risen by 332%. To help tackle the higher risk of mental illness and suicide within the LGBTQ+ community, we must all work together to end the scourge of violence and discrimination, otherwise we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our shared past.

Green, Green Grass of Home: A greener future for our homes

The fight for home must also be a fight against discrimination

Supported by Shelter, Stephen, who is disabled,  successfully proved ‘No DSS’ discrimination is unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act
By Matthew Palmer

Did you know that if a landlord or estate agent discriminates against someone claiming housing benefit in Wales, then they are in breach of their licensing conditions? Many people may not know, which may be why we are still seeing cases of discrimination against people across Wales who are in receipt of housing benefit.

Even before the pandemic, around half of the Welsh population received some kind of benefit. Unsurprisingly, as the effects of the pandemic hit, more people claimed benefits as incomes fell.

Despite this additional pressure falling upon so many people, we are still seeing cases of people entitled to housing benefit being discriminated against when trying to secure somewhere to call home. Discrimination should never deny the right to a safe home.

This discrimination can take many forms. From blatantly unlawful ‘No DSS’ or ‘no Universal Credit’ adverts, to more creative approaches, such as advertising for ‘professionals only’ or asking for multiple months’ rent in advance.

Our recent research showed that around 75,000 (3%) of adults in Wales said they had experienced discrimination when they tried to find their current home and felt it was because of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or disability. While we know that it is a minority of landlords wriggling through loopholes or brazenly breaking the law to discriminate against people on benefits, one instance of discrimination is one too many – as it means yet another person in Wales is denied the right to a safe home.

At a time where incomes for many are stagnated or still falling and the cost of living is increasing, it’s vital that we take action. That’s because home is everything, and without it we cannot lead happy, healthy and productive lives. We’re campaigning to end housing benefit discrimination, by ensuring that landlords and agents who breach their licensing conditions in this way don’t get away with it.

So, if you agree with us – and the law – that one instance of discrimination is one too many and you want to do something about it, then drop Matt an email (campaigns@sheltercymru.org.uk) and we’ll let you know how you can help. As little as one hour of your time will help us take discriminating landlords to task.

Together we can end this awful practice and take another step forward in our fight for home.

The 6th Senedd

On behalf of Shelter Cymru, I congratulate each and every new and returning member of the Senedd. We look forward to working with you all over the course of the 6th Senedd.

The 6th Senedd starts during a period of immense challenge across Wales. As we look to build back better and fairer from the pandemic, we must ensure that people’s homes are front and centre. We cannot expect people to get back into work, children to excel in their education and for people to live healthy and happy lives without good homes. Home is everything.

All parties gave housing attention and focus in their campaigns. We now need to start address the housing emergency. We’re keen to work with the new Welsh Government to deliver on their key commitments to housing. From 20,000 new social homes, more protections for renters across Wales and  ensuring that people in temporary housing are helped into long term homes, and no-one is forced to return to the streets. The challenges are immense. Only by working in partnership, will Wales be able to achieve the ambitious goal of ending our housing emergency, once and for all.

Shelter Cymru has a proud record of supporting people in housing need and fighting for good homes for everyone. We stand ready to help all of our new MSs as they face some of the biggest challenges of our time. We also stand ready to push and drive change where needed, being a critical friend to government and making the  voices of people – people across Wales whose daily lives are affected by homelessness or poor and unaffordable housing –  heard at the highest level. There is lots to do, but we look forward to contributing to ending the housing emergency in Wales.

We wish you all success in rising to the challenges and opportunities of the 6th Senedd.

Yours,

Ruth Power | CEO, Shelter Cymru

 

 

Wales goes to the polls, what next for housing?

By Rob Simkins, Campaigns Manager

 

Tomorrow, Wales will go to the polls to elect our next Welsh Government and members of the Senedd, MSs. In the midst of a housing emergency – among the other crises gripping our nation – we’ll take a look at what we think our next MSs will be grappling with when it comes to housing during the 6th Senedd.

 

Social Homes
Each of the main parties have made strong commitments to drastically increase the number of social homes in Wales. Shelter Cymru have long argued that another 20,000 social homes are needed to help alleviate some of the pressure on waiting lists across the nation and get families into homes they can afford. We will be watching closely to make sure that targets are met and that these homes are of a good quality, meet local need and are genuinely affordable to rent.

 

Supporting Renters
A Resolution Foundation report released earlier this year helped to paint the picture of: a growing crisis of debt and rent arrears in the social and privately rented sectors. 24% of private renters saw their incomes fall compared to 16% of adults with a mortgage and there are three times the amount of private renters behind on their rent as people behind on their mortgage payments. This figure increases to nearly five times the amount of social renters behind with their rent when compared to people with mortgages arrears.

While the current Welsh Government put in place the Tenancy Saver Loan scheme, the take-up of this has been limited and whoever forms the next Welsh Government will need to take swift action to stop the build-up of debt and arrears among renters. Failure to take action could result in a tidal wave of post-pandemic homelessness, damaging lives and perpetuating inequalities.

 

Priority Need
The Covid-19 pandemic saw a multi-partner effort from government, councils and the charity sector to provide temporary accommodation to everyone who was homeless for the duration of the pandemic. This was a huge success, dramatically driving down the numbers of people sleeping rough and providing a safe place to stay for thousands of people who normally would not have the right to temporary accommodation, due to not being deemed ‘priority need’. But the strain this put on temporary accommodation providers and the wider system across Wales cannot be underestimated. There are now more than 6,000 people now in temporary accommodation compared to a little over 2300 in March 2020. The next key step for whoever makes up the next Welsh Government will be to ensure that there is:

  • No return to the streets for people who were previously sleeping rough, and that
  • Households are not trapped in temporary accommodation and are moved into suitable, stable and long-term homes as soon as possible

To do this, we mustn’t be constrained by the old way of thinking when it comes to homelessness. The priority need test saw many homeless people fall through the gaps of a complex system of gatekeeping. It’s time to consider each person who is homeless or at risk of homelessness  as equally deserving of help.

 

The challenges in getting a social home
It is high time we reviewed the way social housing is allocated in Wales. Housing is devolved and yet allocations are still based on the non-devolved Housing Act 1996. One of the factors currently keeping many people trapped in temporary accommodation is the inflexibility of local allocation policies. Over the years various unhelpful practices have developed such as the automatic exclusion from waiting lists of people with old unpaid rent arrears. While there is much good practice out there (and much creative interpretation of old, inflexible local exclusion policies), too many people are still excluded from social housing because of past mistakes or misfortunes. Our good practice guide describes how landlords can ensure they get some of their rent owed paid back, while tenants are not stuck in homelessness but can get a fresh start. The bigger challenge, though, is how we get more consistency and fairness in how social housing is allocated across Wales – a new Government, committed to a large-scale programme of social housebuilding, must quickly give attention to this issue.

 

The Housing Emergency
Thought we’d save the little one for the end…

Wales is indeed in the midst of a housing emergency, which began before Covid-19 turned everyone’s world upside down. Waiting lists for social homes are at record levels, a generation face being trapped in high-cost, low-security private rented accommodation  and people in parts of Wales are being priced out of where they are rooted by a surge of second / holiday homes.

These problems are not new, nor are they small. They are, however, fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our society and the next Welsh Government must be bold and proactive in addressing them. Many of the issues talked about above are essentially rooted in the wider housing emergency, driven by the gap between ordinary people’s incomes and the cost of a home – this is not a time for tinkering with a system, which fails so many people in Wales.

It’d be remiss not to acknowledge, that the renewed focus on housing – reflected by party pledges and manifesto commitments – is both very welcome and a positive first step. We look forward to working in partnership with whoever takes up office after the 6th of May, so that together, we can radically re-think how we enable every person in Wales to have a decent home. Homes that provide the foundation of people’s personal, social and economic wellbeing.

We must end the housing emergency in Wales once and for all.

We’re excited to get to work with the next Welsh Government, fighting for good homes up and down Wales.

Politicians have listened to our social housing campaign. Now it’s time for them to take action.

by Rob Simkins

The Welsh housing crisis. It’s a term often bandied around by a range of groups and individuals. Type it into a search engine and you won’t be short of opinions to sift through. The noise in this area has been taken up a notch more recently, especially with our latest campaign which has seen members of the Welsh public send around 1,000 emails to MSs demanding that 20,000 more social homes are built during the next Senedd term, 2021-26. It has been brilliant to see the impact of our campaign, with each of the three, main parties who could form a government (or the bulk of a government) putting social housing front and centre of their efforts to win over the Welsh electorate in May.

Demand currently far outstrips supply when it comes to social housing in Wales. Across Wales, there are around 67,000 households on waiting lists for social housing, who are often then forced into the private rented sector which can be unaffordable and more insecure – or even worse, they are forced into homelessness.

It is also important to differentiate social housing from affordable housing. While there remains demand for affordable housing in Wales, this definition means anything below market rent (including just below) and Help To Buy homes which can cost up to £300,000 – well above the average house price for most parts of Wales.

So how then, do each of the three biggest parties in our Senedd propose to address this clear and present need?

Well, let’s start with the current party in government, Welsh Labour. Speaking at Community Housing Cymru’s (CHC) annual conference on the 26th of November, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, revealed that Welsh Labour will commit to building 20,000 social homes for rent in the next Senedd term if they win the election. The Minister promised that this would be within the Welsh Labour manifesto for the 2021 elections, building on the previous target of 20,000 affordable (not social) homes by 2021 which the Welsh Government state that they are on track to meet.

Looking across to the Welsh Conservatives, leader of the Senedd Group, Paul Davies MS reiterated the party’s goal of delivering 100,000 homes over the next ten years – of which 40,000 would be social homes. This is reflected alongside wider policy points in the Welsh Conservatives’ 10-point action plan to tackle Wales’ homelessness crisis. The action plan also promises to legislate to make housing a basic human right in Wales, citing Shelter Cymru’s report; The right to adequate housing in Wales.

Plaid Cymru have also been quick to back the building of social homes too, proposing 30,000 social homes should they form the next government as part of a wider package of 50,000 affordable purchase and rental homes.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have also played a significant role in government with Welsh Labour over the current Senedd term and depending on election results could also be in a position to build 30,000 new social homes over the course of the next term. This would feature as part of a programme including the introduction of a Right to Adequate Housing into Welsh law.

Shelter Cymru, along with a number of other organisations has long  called for an increase in social housing in Wales. This is to ensure that waiting lists are kept as short as possible or ideally eliminated altogether, to ensure that as many people as possible are in good quality and safe homes , and to work towards ending homelessness in Wales. As such, we warmly welcome the commitments to helping to end the housing crisis by building more social homes, laid out by all parties in should they form the next Welsh Government.

The fact that housing has to this point been a pivotal part of each party’s policy process perhaps demonstrates that now is the time for a wider debate to be had on housing. The coronavirus crisis has shown that for many people in Wales, their housing situation is simply not good enough. This in turn has a knock-on effect on people’s lives, manifesting itself in everything that they do. From making people less productive in the workplace, to making them more susceptible to poor physical and/or mental health, to compromising their children’s education. Shelter Cymru’s Life in Lockdown report painted this picture, finding that 10% of households with children had no access to outdoor space during the first lockdown and that fewer than half of those who reported disrepair had their issues resolved between March and July 2020.

These are significant commitments and none of us  should underestimate the challenge that the next Welsh Government will face, whichever party is in government. To achieve any of the parties’ objectives will require investment above current levels.

A Welsh public who demand more social housing, and who stand ready to  hold the next government to account for their welcome promises will keep social housing, at the forefront of the debate. You can write to your MS, sign our petition or get involved in other ways by donating your money, time or energy and experience to Shelter Cymru.

Together, we can make sure that no matter where in Wales you call home, you have the right to an affordable, good and secure home.

Launch of Hwyl Fawr to Homelessness

by Paul Bevan

Nobody understands the realities of homelessness better than people who have gone through it themselves.

So, for our new report Shelter Cymru asked people who have experienced homelessness about how we can say hwyl fawr (goodbye) to homelessness for good. We heard from 253 people through surveys and focus groups and their views fed into the Welsh Government’s Homelessness Action Group which was set up to find solutions to ending homelessness in Wales (read their report to Welsh Ministers here). Homelessness has such a significant impact; it was alarming that most people who had experienced homelessness in the last five years told us that they still worried about their housing situation.

People gave a range of practical suggestions for ending homelessness. These included more affordable and permanent homes being provided quickly when people become homeless, alongside support for as long as people need it. People said while there isn’t enough affordable housing, priority should be given to people in the greatest need.

People told us that there should be better co-ordination of help – this includes prisons, health, housing, homelessness and support services working more closely together. People said that a lot more work is needed to ensure no one leaves hospital or prison without a home. We were also told that consistent, straightforward, and co-ordinated homelessness and housing services are needed across Wales.

The quality of temporary accommodation for homeless people needs to be improved. Using B&Bs as temporary accommodation should be avoided, people sleeping rough should have easier access to emergency accommodation and people should be helped irrespective of whether they have a connection with the area.

Often people facing homelessness are in severe financial hardship – people told us that the welfare system needs to change so that people can afford their housing and living costs, and that tenants who struggle to pay their rent should be offered support very quickly as a way of preventing homelessness.

Two fundamental factors emerged from talking with people from which so much could stem. Firstly people felt that everyone should have a legal right to a home. Enshrined in law this should lead to a new perspective on the essential nature of a home – and much faster scaling up of the building of good quality affordable new homes or ensuring empty homes are used again. And secondly people called for kind and compassionate services and for homeless people to be treated with dignity and respect – bedrocks from which the right actions should spring.

This report involved listening to the views of people with experience of homelessness; they have told us and have told the Welsh Government what they feel is required. We must be much more willing to learn from people with experience of homelessness to ensure that their voices are heard much more clearly, as together we strengthen our resolve to say a resounding ‘hwyl fawr to homelessness’.

Allocation of Social Housing in Swansea

by Paul Bevan

Deciding who is allocated a home goes right to the heart of debates about the purpose of social housing. It begs the question ‘who is social housing for’? In a time of an undersupply of affordable social housing is it for everyone, is it for people in the most desperate need of housing or is it for a mix of people somewhere in between? We all need somewhere to live, but how do we define need and how do we decide that one person’s need is a higher priority than someone else’s?

Shelter Cymru’s new report Allocation of Social Housing in Swansea adds to this debate. Based on research before the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were introduced in March 2020, it remains relevant in Swansea and may apply to other areas of Wales.

During the research we interviewed staff in the four main social landlords covering Swansea – the council, Coastal, Family and Pobl housing associations – and shadowed staff in their daily work. We observed as people applied for housing and we interviewed applicants to learn about their experience.

Swansea is one of the only local authorities in Wales without a common housing register. Each landlord has a different system for applying for and deciding who gets a home. Depending on where people want to live, they need to apply to one, two, three or all four landlords, completing up to four applications and making follow-up enquiries with each one. Some people applying for a home told us that the system is difficult to understand and complicated. This made us question whether some people lose out because of this.

All of the landlords require people to be in housing need, but have different ways of prioritising applicants. Two give priority to people in the greatest need through giving them points or putting them in a category of need; one prioritises people who have waited the longest, and one matches people based on the value they bring to the community and the value that the property and community bring to them. Three landlords operate a waiting list, and the fourth has a choice based approach where people can apply for individual homes that they view on line.

All take a person’s former tenant history into account when deciding whether to offer a home – such as any former rent arrears, damage to a property or ‘anti social’ behaviour. The landlords consider each person on a case by case basis and are flexible on implementing their policy. But some applicants told us that former rent arrears are still an obstacle to getting a home. Getting the balance right is not easy, but we all need a home irrespective of what has happened in the past.

The landlords want people to be ready and able to manage in their new homes and to settle well into their communities. If people need help, all of the landlords have contacts with support providers; some offer support themselves. Some people, particularly in supported housing, told us that having to demonstrate they are ‘tenancy-ready’ caused delays. Being able to manage is important, but if people can get the support they need in their new homes, this could reduce their wait and help them to manage well.

Deciding the right approach to allocations is difficult. Swansea needs much more housing that is affordable, of the right type in the right areas. To help people more now, the landlords need to remove any unnecessary obstacles to ensuring that homeless people and others in the most need of a home are housed quickly and with the right support.