Sunday, 14 April 2013

Reflections on social housing

Before the end of "New Labour", when the then Govt was gleefully sycophantic towards the media and the banks, there was a trend in social housing. I'm not talking of a Thatcherite trend in depleting stock, but a trend in rents.

Towards the tale end of the Noughties rents were rising. The Govt felt that social housing rent should "reflect the market rate" and so was slapping above inflation increases upon rents wherever possible. If memory serves the target was 90% of market rates, though I'm not sure where it is now. Pondering that trend, I wonder, do social housing tenants get 90% of the service of private tenants? My impression is that this isn't the case, though I am happy to be corrected.

In private rented accommodation you can expect certain basic rights or starting points when you move in. The property will generally have flooring in the form of carpet or laminate. The property will have been cleaned and will have had a lick of paint. You will get to choose where you live, finances permitting, and you can expect semi-regular contact with your new landlord including basic repairs (mostly without a call to environmental health).

Presumably, therefore, you can expect most of that in social housing. My experience is that this isn't the case at all. For the recent increase in rents the only thing that seems to be in line with the private sector is choice. Of course this choice is based on priority, rather than finances, but no system is perfect.

Flooring, is often paid for by the tenant. Cleaning and initial painting is the same. Getting anything done is a gauntlet of faceless Managers all gleefully passing you sideways until you involve the media or one of the sometimes all too distant Cllrs. Even after fundamental issues are sorted, you may be expected to make good paintwork, shoddy workmanship or get rid of excess rubbish.

There'll be a certain amount of the above in private rented accommodation and there will be many who think, "So what. Social housing isn't meant to be as good as private rented". That's a debate I will steer clear of for now in the current "rush to the bottom" culture being engendered by David Cameron's Conservatives in an effort to justify their efforts to dismantle the welfare state. The question I have today is simple. If social housing is coming into line with the rents in the private sector, why aren't tenants getting the same level of customer service (shoddy though it is for some).

Answers, or disagreement, on a postcard please.

No comments: