NE England bucks homelessness trends

In September 2017 the National Audit Office stated that homelessness of all kinds has increased ‘significantly’ over the previous six years. In England, 2010-2017, there had been a 134% rise in the number of rise in rough sleepers and a 60% rise in households living in temporary accommodation.

Local authorities in England spent £1.15bn on  homelessness services during 2015-16.

“Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors. Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms…  It is difficult to understand why the Department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”  Amyas Morse, National Audit Office, 13 September 2017

However, the NAO data shows that in NE England the number of people housed in temporary accommodation declined 36% from 220 in 2010-11 to 140 in 2016-17.  Relative to the rest of England, cases of homelessness prevented was higher and numbers in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough lower.

Why? Among the  reasons given in a Newcastle Chronicle report are firstly that councils have doubled their activity to prevent families from becoming homeless and secondly that private sector rents have not risen as fast as in other areas of England.



Rent trends 2011-17

An experimental price index tracking rents paid to private landlords has been produced by the Office of National Statistics – the Index of Private Housing Rental Prices (IPHRP).    The trend shown is an upwards one from 2011-2017, with rents rising most in London.  However, the new index may not be giving the full picture.  Firstly, the statistics exclude rooms in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which is a growing part of the private rented sector, particularly for students and young professionals.  Secondly, there is evidence that some private landlords are avoiding declaring income earned from let property and these may not be included.Private rental costs Jan 2011 to July 2017 (source ONS).

Private rental costs Jan 2011 to July 2017 (source ONS).

“Between January 2011 and July 2017, private rental prices in Great Britain increased by 15.0%, strongly driven by the historical growth in private rental prices within London. When London is excluded, private rental prices increased by 10.9% over the same period” IPHRP webpage August 2017

The Valuation Office reports ‘all’ monthly rents recorded between 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 for the North East of England show median rents in the region varying from £433 in Hartlepool to £625 in Newcastle [Maps page 3].  However, the North East had the lowest median rent at £495.  London had the highest median monthly rents and largest variation in rental values, followed by the South East.  The median rent in London (£1,495) was more than double the English median rent [Summary April 2016-March 2017].

Totally accurate statistics for private rentals, compared to those for council housing, may be difficult to get.  Newham council in London estimates the tax collectors may be losing £200m a year in London alone after finding half its 27,000 landlords had failed to register for self-assessment [The Guardian 13 Aug 2017].

“HMRC’s Let Property Campaign was launched in 2014 amid concerns that up to 1m buy-to-let landlords are not declaring their rental income. HMRC said at the time that it believed landlords were avoiding around £550m in tax, although Newham’s experience may suggest that the figure could be much higher.” The Guardian 13 Aug 2017

Last edited 3rd Sep 2017.

Bring back the prefabs?

A recent letter to the editor of The Guardian sang the praises of prefabricated housing (prefabs) describing them as “imaginative and wonderful dwellings” that helped to solve the post-war housing shortage after 1945.
Moredun prefabs, Edinburgh

“These prefabs were undoubtedly very small, but their kitchens and bathrooms would have been a revelation to people whose previous dwellings would have had shared outside toilets and no running hot water.  My in-laws lived in central London and were not bombed but they did not get such facilities, that we today consider essential, until the London county council rehoused them in 1959. It is very easy to sneer at efforts like the introduction of these dwellings from our 21st-century expectations but all progress has to be judged against the needs of its time.” Norman Bone, Derby The Guardian May 18 2017

For the historical background, the University of the West of England’s history of council housing covers the origins of the shortage and the prefabricated bungalows built.  The Excalibur Estate was one such development of prefabs – meant to last 10 years, but still being lived in in the 2010s (Municipal Dreams blog post 18 March 2014).  Visit the Prefab Museum to learn why these instant homes have their fans.

Could 21st century prefabs be part of the answer to current problems?  Urban Splash who build ‘off site’ homes certainly think so. L&G Homes are also pursuing what they call modular construction methods.

“…off-site-built homes can be produced in about half the time of traditional construction as the house itself can be built in the factory while foundations are being laid on site” The Guardian 26th January 2017

Today’s prefabs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and have given architects a chance to experiment as Inhabit demonstrate.  You can even build your own prefabricated home – as they have been doing in the Netherlands for some time (The Guardian 25 Nov 2011).  Alternatively you can have a custom-built home (Redruth, Cornwall; Graven Hill, near Bicester, Oxfordshire). Perhaps a slightly less Grand Design but without a lot of the hassle.

“Housing experts believe custom build could help tackle Britain’s housing crisis, partly due to the speed of building these homes, which often use prefab elements. The government is targeting 20,000 self- and custom-build homes by 2020, a steep rise from last year’s 12,945.” The Guardian 14th May 2017

Housing problem ‘likely to persist for years’

Just as the UK Parliament is about to be dissolved, two House of Commons select committee reports have been published criticising Government plans to fix a broken housing market and address homelessness in England.

The Housing: State of the Nation report states the number of homes built in England has lagged behind demand for decades making it difficult for people to buy or even afford their rent.

The Capacity in the homebuilding industry report reiterates that the housing market is broken and that to fix the broken market, both risk and volatility must be reduced, especially for small and medium developers.  It states local authorities do not yet have the tools they need to make an effective contribution to solving our housing crisis.  The report suggests self-build has greater potential to contribute to output and that the industry faces a skills crisis and more needs to be done to support further education routes into the construction industry.

“If the country remains dependent on volume housebuilders to meet our housing demand, then the housing market will continue to be shaped by the cyclical nature of the economy. This is why we believe that public money can be used to increase housing output and to protect the sector against market cyclicality.” Capacity in the homebuilding industry [28 April 2017] Summary

Both reports report criticise Department for Communities and Local Government plans, in the February housing white paper, for remaining dependent on the existing market, dominated by a handful of private developers, to build the one million homes it seeks to create. According to the State of the Nation report, even if achieved, this will not come close to meeting actual housing need, meaning problems of affordability and homelessness are ‘likely to persist for years to come’.

The State of the Nation report also criticises the lack of information on the value for money the £21 billion the government spends each year on housing benefit provides.

  • The ‘housing gap’ is growing: Between 2001 and 2010 an average of only 144,000 new homes were completed annually -100,000 fewer per year than in the 1970s.  The Government estimates between 225,000 and 275,000 additional homes are needed each year.  This shortfall increases the scale of the housing gap between supply and demand.  The report recommends Government publish a ‘housing gap’ statistic.
  • It points to the growing problem of homelessness, with the number of families living in temporary accommodation rising from 50,000 in 2011–12 to 72,000 in 2015–16.  (NB: The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 27th April – see Homelessness page.)
  • It recommends research be done on how many non-decent homes in the private rented sector are being subsidised through housing benefit, the total amount of housing benefit this represents, and ways to raise the quality of the housing government subsidises.

“Too often, the Government is subsidising landlords in the private rented sector to provide homes below a decent standard.” Housing: State of the Nation [25 April 2017] Conclusion.

“Not only does becoming homeless people represent a terrible blight on people’s lives, it also places additional strain on public spending: councils’ spending on temporary accommodation amounted to £840 million in 2015–16, a real-terms rise of nearly half (46%) in just five years.” Housing: State of the Nation [25 April 2017] Conclusion.

Updated 29th April 2017 to include home building report

Most expensive streets in Newcastle

The Grove, Gosforth, mostly dating from the interwar 1919-39 period (May 2014)
The Grove, Gosforth, mostly dating from the interwar 1919-39 period (May 2014)

Back in 2014 figures  based on Land Registry data, giving averages for each road based on the mean of all non-commercial sale prices in 2014, showed that Newcastle had six of the top ten most expensive streets in the North East of England.  All of these streets were in either Jesmond or Gosforth.  Osborne Villas, Jesmond, and Elmfield Road, Gosforth, came top in 2014 and both had averages over £990,000.

Are these still the most expensive?  With new housing and changing tastes are the traditionally popular areas still topping the list?

The Newcastle Chronicle has used Zoopla to try and find out [12 March 2017].  Incidentally Zoopla uses Land Registry data and adjusts this to give a current average property value based on their current estimates; it is reasonably accurate.  Houses in The Grove, Gosforth, (above) sold for an average of £590,375 in the last 12 months and Zoopla puts the current average value at £625,531 [Zoopla search 17 April 2017].

Five of the top ten are in Newcastle and all of these are in Gosforth.  Elmfield Park comes in at £1,088,576 with Graham Park Road just behind at £1,079,198 and Westfield Drive at £934,937.  North Avenue and Elmfield Road also make the top ten.  Surprisingly no other street in Newcastle made the list; there were none from Jesmond!

However, according to a Lloyd’s Bank report Jesmond continues to be popular with professionals with house buyers prepared to pay  £73,700 more than average to live there, compared to the surrounding areas, making it one of the hottest property spots in the country to live in.  Property in Jesmond costs on average £268,877 while for the city as a whole it is £195,177 – a 38% premium [Chronicle 17 April 2017].

Don’t be deceived by averages.  Although there are currently houses for sale above the million mark on Zoopla (17 April 2017) the highest prices being sought tend to be for properties in Ponteland and Woolsington just outside the city boundary.  Some detached houses in Fenham and Heaton are also being marketed at over £700,000, so the picture is perhaps more varied than the top ten suggests.

No one turned away

The Homelessness Reduction Act received Royal Assent on April 27th 2017 [BBC News March 20 2017; (27 April 2017).

Councils are being given time to prepare and the Government will need time to provide guidance.  However, it has been announced local authorities will have £61 million over two years to start delivering the new duties in the Act. The Government has said it will review  how the duties are working within that two years.

This was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Bob Blackman following an influential Crisis report. The Bill received government backing. It places a new duty on local authorities in England to assist people threatened with homelessness within 56 days and to assess, prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants including single homeless people. In short, no one should be turned away [Crisis Bill in a nutshell pdf].  It builds on measures introduced in Wales and elsewhere which seek to prevent eviction [policy fact sheet 1(pdf)].

“In a nutshell, the Homelessness Reduction Bill transforms the help councils are expected to provide to homeless people.” Alice Ashworth, Crisis blog 23 March 2017

Critics have described it as ‘a small step in the right direction’ but have pointed out adequate funding is required [Dawn Foster, The Guardian 27 Jan 2017]. Without funding Shelter say there could be unintended  ‘gate-keeping’ of services and repeat homelessness (Shelter briefing on the Bill).

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association – which represents England’s councils, said: “It is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness. It is crucial that the government recognise and address the wider factors that are increasing homelessness, such as the lack of affordable housing and welfare reforms. Without this, the bill will struggle to achieve its aim of reducing homelessness.  Councils need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills. This is the only way to deliver our collective ambition to end homelessness.” [As reported by BBC News March 20 2017]

Edited to reflect Royal Assent from Bill to Act, 28th April 2017

Asylum seekers in poorest parts of UK

The Guardian has published an article based on Home Office and Office of National Statistics end of year 2016 data about the uneven geographical distribution of asylum seekers [online 9 April 2017]. The data shows most asylum seekers are put in the poorest parts of Britain.

“At the end of 2016 there were 39,389 asylum seekers in the country receiving some support from the government. The north-west houses 9,491 asylum seekers, 16 times the number accommodated by local authorities in the south-east (580), despite the south-east having a larger population than the north-west by 1.7 million people.”

“Ten local authorities are responsible for supporting more than one third of all asylum seekers in the UK (35.5%). Six of these – Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Nottingham, Leicester and Swansea – have a median annual income that places them in the poorest 25% of the country.”  [The Guardian online 9 April 2017]

The local authority taking the largest number of asylum seekers is Glasgow (well over 3,000 – at least twice that of any other authority in the top ten).

Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and chair of the home affairs select committee, is quoted as saying:  “…the problems stemmed from a change of policy in 2012 by the Conservatives, which saw the contracts for housing asylum seekers privatised and given to G4S, Serco and Clearsprings. She said these contracts, and the reduced money they were given to execute them, inevitably meant that companies sought to procure cheap housing in poor parts of the country.” [The Guardian online 9 April 2017]

The article goes on to contrast this with how asylum seekers are dispersed elsewhere in Europe, using Germany as an example.

“Germany operates a scrupulously fair system based on the population size and wealth of each region. The only snag is that it takes no account of area, so Berlin and Hamburg, the smallest regions by area, scramble for space…” [The Guardian online 9 April 2017]


Changing face of Newcastle

Real estate advisory business GVA has published a report on urban development in the Newcastle core-city region: The Changing Face of Newcastle  (March 2017).  The report identifies key locations where change has occurred over the last ten years, major developments in progress and regeneration opportunities:

  • Trinity Gardens and East Quayside
  • The Stephenson Quarter (commercial and offices next to Central Station)
  • Central Station – featuring the pedestrianised portico
  • Downing Plaza, which houses Newcastle University Business School
  • Wellbar Central and Time Central  (office developments in Gallowgate)
  • The Rise, Scotswood (1,800 homes and open space)
  • Newgate Shopping Centre (575 student beds, a hotel, retail and leisure space)
  • East Pilgrim Street (retail, leisure, commercial and residential)
  • Science Central (24-acre site of former Newcastle Brown Ale brewery)

“One of Newcastle’s great strengths is its knowledge economy. Over 100,000 students live in the city and surrounding region and it has one of the highest graduation retention rates at 55%. There… remains significant demand to provide more student accommodation in and around the city centre and to provide further facilities for the universities.” [GVA 2017 report p9]  (NB: The student figure appears to be a regional one including Durham and beyond.)

The Newcastle Chronicle has a virtual tour of Science Central’s Urban Science Building on the former breweries site: From coal mining to science hub [5 Feb 2017]. This is due to open in summer 2017.

“Newcastle Science Central is being delivered through a private and public sector partnership, led by Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University. It is set to create over 4,000 jobs, 500,000 sq ft of office space, and 450 new homes.”

According to an article in the Newcastle Chronicle there are 43,000 full-time students in Newcastle city (including 10,000 international students).  Purpose-built schemes of student flats, the accommodation favoured by international students, have provided more than 2,000 students beds since 2015 and planned schemes, if fully realised, are likely to provide 6,000 more.  These privately-funded schemes typically provide single hotel-style rooms with en-suite facilities, shared kitchenettes, self-serve laundries and some communal spaces. They are built to different standards than residential blocks of flats for the general population.  Rents are around £140 a week (and rising faster than inflation). [Newcastle Chronicle 15 March 2017]

Newcastle is one of ten Core Cities who want “all our UK cities to be fully empowered to shape their own future” (i.e. seeking some devolution of decision-making powers).  You can read the letter they sent to Prime Minister Theresa May:

Rise and fall of council housing

The rise and fall of council housing was charted by The Guardian at the foot of an article about local authority house building published on Saturday March 25th 2017 [].

The graph shows how local authority housebuilding peaked in the post-war period around 1950 while private enterprise building took longer to respond and peaked in the late 1960s.  However, even with a few peaks and troughs council houses have never been built on that scale since and plummeted in the 1980s with negligible numbers built since the mid 1990s.  By comparison private building, while fluctuating significantly and despite taking a severe hit in 2008, has never fallen below 100,000 in any year since the mid 1950s.

Some notable dates in The Guardian’s article:

  • 1954 Local authority building hit a peak of 239,580 in 1954.
  • 1979 40% of the British population are living in local authority housing.
  • 1980 Conservative government brings in ‘the right to buy’ – many tenants buy their council homes and limits are put on council borrowing for building new ones.
  • 2004 Building houses by local authorities falls to a low of 130 homes in the UK.

England: Trends in tenure

The latest English Housing Survey 2015-16 on people’s housing circumstances has just been published by

“Government data reveals that the private rented sector has doubled in size since 2004, with almost half of all people in England aged 25 to 34 paying a private landlord for their accommodation.” The Guardian March 2nd 2017

In 2015, the survey estimated there were 23.5m households in England, including occupied and vacant homes. Of these, 14.8m (63%) were owner occupied, 4.7m (20%) were private rented, 1.7m (7%) were local authority and 2.4m (10%) were housing association homes [Figure 2.1 and Annex Table 2.1 English Housing Survey].
Trends in tenure 1980-2016 [figure 1.1 English Housing Survey]
This shows a continuation in 21st century patterns of decreased owner-occupation and increased private renting particularly among younger and less affluent households.
“On average, those buying their home with a mortgage spent 18% of their household income on mortgage payments where rent payments were 28% of household income for social renters and 35% of household income for private renters.” [Headline report p2

In 2015-16 outright owner households were predominately older people; couples with no dependent children (45%) and one person households (33%). Almost half (47%) of households buying with a mortgage had dependent children compared with just 8% of outright owners. In the past decade (2005-06 to 2015-16) the proportion of households in the private rented sector with children increased from 30% to 36% (about 945,000 more households).  Over the same period, the proportion of households in the social rented sector with children decreased from 36% to 32% (around 123,000 fewer households).