5 top challenges in the social housing sector

Posted on 18 Oct, 2021

The latest Government reshuffle has seen the instalment of yet another new Communities and Housing Secretary. This time, the mantle has been taken up by Michael Gove and commentators have been quick to point out that he’s a minister who likes to get things done.

True to form, Gove wasted no time in branding the state of social housing in some parts of the country ‘scandalous’, recognising that conditions were often ‘overcrowded’ and ‘poor’. His comments in October 2021 highlighted the challenges that face the social housing sector – aspects that have recently found their way into the mainstream press.

Finding the energy to go green

Social Housing’s eco credentials have been thrust into the spotlight, partly thanks to the actions of Extinction Rebellion off shoot, Insulate Britain. The group’s primary objective is to make the Government take responsibility for and fully fund insulation in social housing by 2025. While it remains to be seen whether sit-down motorway protests will have the desired effect, there is no escaping the Government’s pledge to make all homes net carbon zero by 2050 and social housing has a pivotal role to play. 

Targets have already been set and social housing providers have the taxing job of achieving C-class Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) for rented properties by 2030 for ‘fuel poor’ households and by 2035 for other dwellings. While it’s an easier goal to achieve when building from scratch, improving existing stock will be tough. 

The National Housing Federation identified bringing an existing EPC up from D to C as the greatest challenge, commenting that these properties may have already had their eco-efficiency credentials improved by means of more traditional interventions, such as insulation. As a result, more complex alterations – such as the installation, or use, of renewables – may be required to create legally compliant social lets.

Cladding issues continue to be identified

Another challenge for social housing providers concerning a building’s fabrication and performance is cladding. Blocks with Grenfell-style cladding are still being identified – with three new towers added to the list as recently as April 2021, despite the tragic event taking place more than four years ago. 

Data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has, to date, identified at least 160 social housing high rises in need of remediation and cladding removal. The logistics involved in specifying, scheduling and completing these essential works will stretch even the most well-resourced social housing departments for months – years even - to come. 

The threat of legal action

Fire safety is just one of a growing number of compliance and safety issues that is plaguing the social housing sector, with overwhelming amounts of maintenance to perform, red tape to navigate and boxes to tick. Instead of offering support, some local councils are rounding on social housing providers. In fact, Lambeth Council in London has started legal proceedings against three housing associations after persistent damp and mould was found in at least 23 managed blocks.

Supply and demand still a major concern

While existing social housing continues to be a cause for concern, a greater black hole is emerging when it comes to the delivery of much-needed new dwellings. The Government’s own figures indicated in excess of 1.15 million households were on social housing waiting lists in England at the end of 2020, with rehoming delays of up to 10 years not unheard of in the most in-demand, urban locations.

The number of available social housing units is still well behind what’s needed. The supply of both the labour and the materials needed to increase the build-rate of housing association homes has been affected by Brexit and the pandemic, further compounded by a crisis in the energy and fuel markets. It’s an uncomfortable set of circumstances in light of a review by Shelter. The charity claims an additional 3 million social homes and a 20-year, £214 billion house building programme is needed to solve the current housing shortage. 

Finding the time for tenants

Retrofitting, decarbonisation, placemaking, social mobility, cuts to Universal Credit, strategic partnership deals – the list of complex considerations is so long that staff in the social housing sector rarely have time to exclusively focus on their core client - tenants.

Viewber’s property visit and viewing services are designed to support overstretched social housing departments, either with visits or checking existing stock or hitting KPIs. Talk to us about freeing your time for the more demanding tasks, with a Viewber able to visit properties, tenants and blocks on your behalf.


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