Tuesday 18 January 2022


The new administration at the unitary authority has just issued a press release celebrating that Cornwall “delivered the second-highest number of affordable homes in ‘England’ in 2020-21.” This followed the publication of figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which shows that a total of 814 affordable homes had been completed to the west of the Tamar last year.

The press release was similar to another one from 12 months ago, put out by the previous administration, when 832 such homes were completed for the year 2019-20.

Obviously, this comparison between council areas of varying size is quite artificial, and I feel it is important that we look beyond the headline figures.

The detailed information shows that 288 of the housing units were for low-cost ownership, discounted sale or shared ownership. In terms of the rental properties, these comprised 47 intermediate rent and 469 for affordable rent, but only ten were for social rent.

It is well-known that I have been a critic of the “affordable rent” concept, which sets rents at 80% of the extremely inflated rent levels that might otherwise be achieved on the open-market.

The level of chargeable rents are high, though supporters of the model point out that rents are capped at LHA (Local Housing Allowance) levels, which is based on the maximum benefit that could be secured to pay for housing costs.

As an example, the LHA figure for the western two-thirds of Cornwall would allow £169.15 a week to be charged for a three-bed property. That could equate to a monthly rent of up to £732.98, which I feel makes a mockery of its description as affordable housing. For North Cornwall, the maximum weekly figure is £149.59, while in South East Cornwall it is £159.95.

By comparison, recent adverts for three-bed social rent properties on the Cornwall Homechoice system showed weekly rents at between £81.91 and £104.76 – a much more reasonable figure.

The affordable rent model was introduced by David Cameron’s Coalition Government about a decade ago. Data from the UK Government shows that the consequence has been a near total replacement of social rent properties with affordable rent ones. For example, in the three years between 2008-09 and 2010-11, just before the government-directed change in approach to subsidised housing, the number of social rent units constructed in Cornwall were 441, 562 and 614 respectively

I do welcome that Cornwall Council is stating the “focus” of its “current development programme” is social rent. But we need to see the UK Government take the same approach, along with local Housing Associations.

This was my article in last week’s Cornish Guardian newspaper.

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