SFHA calls for housing to be kept centre-stage of Holyrood debates

Sally Thomas
Sally Thomas

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has today outlined three key issues for its members ahead of the Programme for Government 2017–18 being unveiled.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will outline her legislative plans for the coming year later today within which “significant measures” to improve the quality of housing are expected to be announced.

Ahead of the announcement, the SFHA has placed increasing affordable housing development, tackling fuel poverty and mitigating the effects of welfare reform as its three key priorities.

On meeting the demand for affordable homes, Sally Thomas, SFHA chief executive, said: “This autumn provides the opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to make long-term investment in affordable and social housing a priority across the parties as well as deliver the planning legislation needed to help our members build their share of the Scottish Government’s 50,000 affordable houses, abolish fuel poverty, and address the damaging impact of welfare changes.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to meeting the affordable housing target of 50,000 homes by March 2021 and have been pleased to see recent statements from several political parties that also acknowledge housing’s importance.

“It is vital that housing is kept centre stage of debates at the Scottish Parliament as having a warm, energy efficient, affordable home is vital for a person’s health and wellbeing.

“However, a lack of access to affordable land threatens the pace of development. In order to tackle this, we would like to see local authorities allowed to transfer land at existing value for development and national or regional bodies set up to deliver infrastructure up front in order to unlock key sites and increase the delivery of affordable housing. It is also important that housing is built where it is needed and regional, as well as national, targets will help facilitate this.

“We would also like to see the government commit to housing investment beyond the lifetime of the current parliament as this will allow for long-term planning.”

On tackling fuel poverty, Ms Thomas said: “We welcome this week’s call by the opposition parties for the forthcoming Warm Homes Bill to include a new target for ending fuel poverty as well as increased funding.

“At present, fuel poverty levels are unacceptably high in Scotland at 31% of households, and while housing associations have the most energy efficient homes in Scotland, the fact that tenants tend to be on lower incomes means that fuel poverty levels are 27%.

“Supporting housing associations to continue to invest in the energy efficiency of their homes makes social and economic sense. Research has shown that investing in energy efficiency creates jobs and stimulates the economy as well as having health benefits.”

On mitigating the effects of welfare reform, Ms Thomas added: “SFHA members are working hard to build a new generation of high quality affordable homes, however, the roll-out of Universal Credit, the Local Housing Allowance Cap and lack of clarity on supported housing are undermining the sustainability of the social rented sector. While these issues remain reserved to Westminster, it is crucial that the Scottish Government can mitigate their effects.

“We have asked that the Scottish Government ensures any recipients in receipt of Discretionary Housing Payments are seen as and treated as part of the ‘Scottish social security system’.

“We also want to see the Scottish Government use its capacity effectively to abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ and to exercise powers to vary Local Housing Allowance rates, eligible rent rates and the level of non-dependent deductions.

“We want to see local authorities given a duty to provide a Discretionary Housing Payment scheme, and we urgently need to see proposals from the Scottish Government on the use of top-up payments.

“There is a growing body of evidence that Universal Credit is not performing as it should. The DWP is intent on rolling it out regardless – despite calls from organisations with direct experience of the problems caused by the system, asking for the roll-out to be paused whilst solutions are put in place. In the absence of a pause, there will be a pressing need to mitigate Universal Credit’s more detrimental consequences.”

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