The History of Council Housing


9 The Future of Council Housing

Local councils are now faced with a stock of older houses and they will continue to need a large programme of investment to keep them up to date. With changing tastes and prefences, accommodation that is no longer suitable or acceptable to tenants will need to be replaced. Many councils were saddled with housing debt and this combined with restrictions on investment has effectively brought a halt to new building by councils themselves. Council housing has increasing become a residual housing tenure, providing home for only the very poor, homeless  and those with no alternative form of accommodation. This process of residualisation can be traced back through government policy - to the 1930s - the mid 1950s and confirmed by Conservative governments since 1979. Generally there has been a retreat from council house provision and a curb on housing expenditure along side measures to encourage the private sector.
Improvement and regeneration have become priorities. Housing providers now have an obligation to bring all their homes up to the set ‘decency’ standard by 2010 and to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged by where they live. New funds have been available from central government for a succession of regeneration programmes, they were however often conditional on transferring the management of their housing stock to housing associations or RSLs. This option has been widely taken since the 1990s as the nations stock aged and maintenance costs rose The process is known as stock transfer and was introduced in the Housing and Planning Act 1986. Already a quarter of local housing authorities in the country are no longer landlords – they do not have specific responsibilities such as rent collection or repairs and maintenance however they remain in law the local housing authority with the responsibility of providing a strategic and community leadership within their locality.
The make up and demographic of council estates have changed in tenure and appearance since their beginnings. The impact of the right to buy has turned the former council estates into mixed tenure areas, where tenants and homeowners live side by side. Some cities display a polarisation between the more successful council estates peppered with Right to Buys and less popular estates where a greater sense social deprivation is apparent.

Today the social rented sector (a combination of council and RSL managed housing) makes up 20% of the housing stock. The importance of provision of social rented housing in meeting housing shortage has diminished and government has placed more importance on its use as a safety net for vulnerable households. The country still has an overall strategic goal of providing decent affordable homes for its people and is proud to be one of the few countries in the world where specified groups, such as the homeless, have a legally enforceable right to housing.

©2008 University of the West of England, Bristol
except where acknowledged