CLG press releases these days are strong on message and weak on information. Yesterday’s big announcement, which led to Grant Shapps tweeting every few minutes about yet another local radio interview he was doing, sounded clever and appealing. The press statement said “Housing Minister Grant Shapps today offered tenants a Cashback deal worth billions to take control of their own homes.”
Wow. Billions! And what does the scheme involve? Well it “will allow residents to take more control of their repairs budgets for their homes, for example carry out their own DIY, or commission it locally and pocket any savings made. Cash they could use however they want – for example, towards a deposit on their own house. With maintenance and repair costing £4billion a year, the move could see a bonanza for small businesses. The Government wants all landlords to offer their tenants the chance to manage more of their repairs budgets – and will consult on bringing forward changes to regulations to give all tenants the option to request it from their landlord.”
Does the press statement answer any of the obvious questions about the scheme? Well, no. Not one. Here’s my starter for 10.
- Will all repairs be eligible? Many repairs involve a statutory requirement on the landlord, for example in relation to the structure, dampness, ventilation, electrics and, perhaps above all, gas. So far as I am aware, the landlord cannot devolve these duties and any other health and safety responsibilities to the tenant.
- Who can the tenant employ to do the repairs? Could they for example do electrical or gas works themselves unsupervised or give work to someone unqualified or to someone without insurance? Could they use someone who illegally evades VAT or tax?
- If the tenant fails to get the repair done properly, or it needs to be rectified by the landlord, who pays?
- The press statement talks about painting work and carpentry work – but aren’t the vast majority of these jobs, if they are internal, already the tenants’ responsibility under the tenancy agreement?
- What is in the proposal that can’t be done by landlords already? And does localism take a back seat when there is a juicy announcement to make?
- What evidence has been collected about current innovations in repairs to inform this decision? There have been huge changes in repairs procurement in recent years, presumably some research and evidence gathering has been done.
- Of the £4bn spent on social housing repairs and maintenance each year, £1000 per home, how much is it estimated could be devolved to tenants, and how does Shapps know it will be ‘billions’.
- Shapps says “Doing your own DIY or choosing a local handyman to do the work – will allow tenants to pocket any savings they make.” Where is the evidence that a tenant can get a job done cheaper than the council’s contractor? How much will they be allowed to ‘pocket’?
- How will the scheme work – will tenants receive a grant from the landlord or payment against invoices and receipts?
- Who will check jobs for quality and safety? Will tenants in homes that need a lot of repairs get more?
In the words of Johnny Nash –
“There are more questions than answers
And the more I find out the less I know.”