The link between health, wellbeing and good quality housing are well documented. ‘Poor housing’ may refer to the conditions of the building itself but can also be used to describe overcrowded conditions.
The government describes a decent home as one that is wind and weather tight, warm and has modern facilities, therefore, housing not meeting these standards can be structurally unsafe, damp, cold, infested or lacking in modern facilities.
Homelessness is the condition of people without a regular dwelling. People who are homeless may not necessarily be sleeping rough, but do lack a “fixed, regular and adequate residence”. Families found to be homeless by the local authority may be placed in temporary accommodation.
According to a 2015 Report by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the health effects of poor housing in England costs the NHS approximately £1.4 billion a year, this is a significant increase compared to the previous estimate in 2010 of £600 million a year.
According to Shelter’s report “Chance of a lifetime: the impact of bad housing on children’s lives” (2006) more than one million children in England live in bad housing and the impact of poor housing on health includes up to 25% higher risk of severe ill-health and disability during childhood and early adulthood.
This includes an increased risk of meningitis, asthma, and slow growth, which is linked to coronary heart disease in later life. Overcrowding, unfit housing and homelessness are also linked to mental health problems including anxiety and depression, lower educational attainment, greater likelihood of unemployment, and poverty.
Homelessness in particular is associated with poor physical and mental health, as well as poor access to preventative health services. (Source: The unhealthy state of homelessness Health Audit Results 2014). Homelessness places substantial costs on the NHS. In 2010 the Department of Health estimated that people who are rough sleeping or living in a hostel, a squat or ‘sofa surfing’ with friends or family, consume around four times more acute hospital services than the general population, costing at least £85 million in total per year.
The affordability of social housing in England has decreased between 2002 and 2014. On average, rent was equivalent to a larger percentage of weekly wages in 2014 than in 2002. Without taking into account benefits received, those on the lowest 10% of earnings spent the equivalent of nearly 56% of their weekly pay on social rent in 2002. By 2014, this had risen to 73% of weekly pay.
Slough has an unusually high proportion of privately rented homes which comprise 24% of all homes in the borough, compared to an average of 16% across the South East of England. 13% of rented homes are owned by the council and 7% from other social landlords.
Slough also has a large number of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) with approximately 3,500 across the borough but concentrated largely in the South.
The quality of private rented accommodation is variable and the Housing Regulation Team work with private landlords to address their tenants’ concerns with the aim of improving the quality of accommodation for low income households.
Demand for housing in Slough has risen dramatically, driving up the cost of property in the borough. The private rented sector is also buoyant and average rents are increasingly exceeding the Local Housing Allowance that low income households can claim to help towards their housing costs. The average monthly rental cost in Slough is £811 pcm, this is higher than the national average of £768 pcm.
Private rented accommodation available to house residents deemed to be ‘statutory homeless’ has decreased significantly due to rising rents and demand from London boroughs who are able to afford the higher rents and pay landlords incentives to accept their nominations whilst still saving money on the cost of renting locally.
The implementation of the new allocations scheme on 1 January 2014 resulted in a reduction of over 5,000 applicants on the waiting list for housing in the borough to just 1,780 on the waiting list as of 1 April 2015. 30% of people on the register require a one bedroom home, 31% are looking for 2 bedrooms and 33% for 3 bedrooms or more (Table 1).
The scheme awards additional preference to those applicants who meet set criteria for working, training or volunteering.
|Property Size||Demand||Social Housing
Lets to Homeless
In 2015/16 154 new properties were developed. The council’s policy was to allocate new homes to current tenants who have demonstrated that they are able to maintain their rent accounts and the condition of their homes. However, they will still be freeing up council housing stock for new tenants.
Temporary accommodation is offered, by the council, immediately to people who report as homeless and who don’t have anywhere to live while enquiries are made into their situation as long as they can evidence that they are homeless, they are eligible for assistance and they have a priority need. A person would also be considered homeless if:
Affordability is also a problem for those living in social housing. Social housing in Slough is among the most expensive in England at £116.34 per week. The national average cost is £92.30 per week (ONS: Annual Survey of House and Earnings).
The Home Improvement Agency (HIA) in Slough delivers home improvements through Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) to support vulnerable and disabled people to live independently in their home. In 2014/15 the HIA in Slough completed DFG works to 79 homes in the private sector and aids and adaptations works to 59 homes owned by the council.
According to the 2011 census Slough had relatively high levels of overcrowding in housing. 13% of households in Slough had one room too few, compared to 5% of households in England, and 4% in the South East. In 2011 Slough had the 11th highest incidence of overcrowded households of all local authorities in England. Slough is also ranked 2nd in England for household size. All but two wards in Slough were in the top 10% nationally for overcrowding rates. When compared to the rest of Slough, the ward with the highest level of overcrowding is Chalvey with over 34.4% of households with too few rooms per occupants. (Source: Census 2011)
With this profile in mind the council successfully bid for funding in 2009 to tackle severe overcrowding in social housing in Slough. As part of this bid, all applications on the council’s register were researched, comparing household sizes and current accommodation size against the Department for Community and Local Government’s bedroom standard. As a result of these investigations, the numbers of severely overcrowded households in the social stock was reduced from 34 families in April 2009 to 13 in April 2010, to a negligible number by December 2012 (Capita Housing System)
In a November 2015 survey of the borough it was found that 17 people were sleeping rough in Slough. While no formal statistics are available on this group of people in Slough and their demographics, local intelligence and reports from the survey suggests that there is a cohort of young men of Eastern European heritage living in tents in various locations. It is believed that many of these men are in employment but working for little money on a cash-in-hand basis.
The Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16
Though the final details of the Housing & Planning Bill are not yet confirmed (as of January 2016), this is likely to have a significant impact on the housing landscape both locally and nationally. Key features include a redefinition of the term ‘affordable housing’ and increased Right to Buy discounts.
A Housing and Planning Bill Impact Assessment highlights that "The Housing and Planning Bill will require local authorities to operate more efficiently and transparently in the way they manage their assets (releasing value form the most valuable housing, some of which will be returned to the Exchequer) and how they perform their duties as planning authorities (through the information they provide on available land, the impact of new development on the local area and the provision of plots for custom builders). These changes to the way they operate may incur some transitional and ongoing administrative cost"
The existing Slough Housing Strategy - 2005-2010 is currently being updated, with the new housing strategy due for publication in 2016.
As homelessness is not just a housing issue, the strategy shows how housing, social services, health services and the voluntary sector will work together to reduce homelessness. It will also make sure there is sufficient supply of housing and appropriate support for people who need it. A new Homelessness Strategy is currently in development.
The current housing environment will be challenging over the coming years as demand increases, costs rise and, potentially, supply either decreases or becomes increasingly less affordable for people on low (or even median) incomes.
There is need for inter-disciplinary work to mitigate the potential effects of these housing challenges.