Social housing plays a key role in providing affordable housing for vulnerable and low income households. Most social housing properties are let on lifetime tenancies and at rents set below market rent levels (the rent that private landlords charge). The allocation of housing is through a waiting list system, and is made available to those who are most in need – usually those who are homeless, severely overcrowded or whose current home is unsuitable for health reasons
Increasingly, as pressures on the general availability of affordable homes within the housing market have increased any social housing that becomes available tends to be allocated to the most vulnerable in our society – people with health problems, complex social needs and on low incomes. Under current legislation, being unable to afford to buy a house or rent within the private market is not, on its own, sufficient indicator of housing need and does not mean social housing will be available.
Welfare Reforms have meant that for many unemployed or low income families, whether in the social and private housing sectors, access to many state benefits has been reduced or removed completely. Where they are still awarded benefit levels are frozen, whilst housing costs rise. As well as overall squeezes on household finances, the Welfare Reforms and moves to Universal Credit mean that the housing element of benefits payments are paid directly to the claimant, where previously they were paid to the landlord. This could lead to an increase in people falling into rent arrears, and ultimately a rise in homelessness.
The impact of Welfare Reforms and the new Housing (Wales) Act 2014 are particularly felt by young, single people under the age of 35 who are unemployed or in low wage employment. Housing benefit is restricted to the single room rate which is not sufficient to cover renting homes of their own and the only affordable option is shared housing. However, there is no availability of shared housing within the social housing sector, and work to improve the standard of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) across the area has reduced the availability of shared housing in the private sector. Improvements to private housing stock often result in an increase in market rents.
In February 2016, the spare room subsidy/bedroom tax reduced housing benefit payments were reduced by an average of £14.93 a week for 545 recipients in Conwy CB and by an average of £13.11 for 586 recipients in Denbighshire. This was 13.3% of all housing benefit recipients within the social rented sector. The reduction isn’t applicable to tenants in the private rented sector.
At 31st March 2015, there were 12,558 dwellings within the social housing sector in the area (6,593 in Conwy CB and 5,965 in Denbighshire). This was 135 for every 1,000 households, which was significantly below the all-Wales level of 175 for every 1,000 households (Conwy CB = 127 for every 1,000 households, Denbighshire = 145 for every 1,000 households).
Most of the area’s general needs1 social housing stock has at least three-bedrooms (55% overall: 56% in Conwy CB and 53% in Denbighshire). This is higher than the all-Wales figure (48%). Overall less than 14% of stock is in one-bedroomed accommodation, which limits the opportunities for tenants to downsize if they are affected by caps on housing benefits due to under occupation in their existing accommodation (the so-called ‘bedroom tax’).
The under supply of one bedroomed accommodation in the housing stock makes it difficult to find adequate social housing for some of the most vulnerable people in housing need, including those who have mental health issues, recovering addicts, veterans and ex-offenders. Single men in particular are disadvantaged by the lack of one bedroom properties.
Social housing stock by number of bedrooms, March 2015
All general needs dwellings
Five bedrooms or more
Source: social landlord stock and rents data collection, Welsh Government
The main social housing providers in the area are Cartrefi Conwy and Denbighshire Council. Cartrefi Conwy was the company formed in 2008 when Conwy County Borough Council underwent the stock-transfer process. Together they provide 57% of all social housing in the area. Other major providers are Clwyd Alyn Housing Association (15%), North Wales Housing Association (12%), Grwp Cynefin (9%) and Wales and West Housing (5%).
 Does not include sheltered housing, hostels or Extra Care provision
Social housing stock has increased by only 7% – about 800 dwellings – in the 25 years since 1991. Housing stock in the private sector (rented and owner occupied) increased by 26% or about 18,250 dwellings in the same period. This has lead to a proportional decrease in the amount of social housing available within the overall housing stock, and has meant that social provision has had to focus on those in the very greatest need, and affordability alone is no longer a criteria for acceptance to local housing waiting lists. As the route to social housing has closed down for those who a generation ago would have been eligible for council housing, for a growing number of people finding a suitable home they can afford has become increasingly difficult.
Homeless presentations have become more complex as other services which previously helped support vulnerable residents have reduced in size and scope. There has been an increase in the proportion of households that require assistance from the local authority that contain people with mental health or other health problems; people with alcohol or drug dependency problems; those with chaotic lifestyles.
Since 1996 nearly 1,700 social housing properties have been sold in Conwy CB and Denbighshire under right-to-buy schemes. Though some of this stock has been replaced this has fallen short of a direct one-for-one replacement. Over all this has depleted the stock available to meet social housing need.
In the new Housing (Wales) Act 2014, which came into force 1st April 2015, new responsibilities regarding homelessness prevention where given to local authorities and their partners. It places a duty on local authorities to work with people who are at risk of losing their home within 56 days to help find a solution to their problems and hopes to prevent 3 out of 4 people at risk of homelessness from losing their home. This duty is towards all seeking help, not just those with a local connection.
Demand for help with homelessness under the terms of the new Act has increased slightly whilst the overall amount of casework involved in preventative work has increased more significantly.
Because the provision of social housing is now concentrated on the most vulnerable individuals and families, it can often concentration these groups in the same area. This can create neighbourhoods which are isolated from the community at large, increasing levels of social exclusion and the risk of antisocial behaviour. Research by Shelter draws a link between deprived neighbourhoods and reduced life chances, meaning that children who grow up in such areas can lack the resources, reasons, skills and confidence to move on[i].
[i] Chapter 5, Social Housing and Spatial Segregation ,The Future of Social Housing, Shelter, 2008,