HC Deb 16 March 1994 vol 239 cc863-5
1. Mr. Miller

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the average housing association rent.

2. Mr. Wicks

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the average rent for a housing association dwelling in 1978–79 and at the latest available date.

The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young)

The average housing association rent in England on 31 March 1993 was £34.03 per week.

Although the data were not collected on a comparable basis, the average housing association registered fair rent in England and Wales in 1978–79 was £10.08 per week.

Mr. Miller

Does the Minister accept that, following the proposed cuts in the Housing Corporation budget, those rents will increase significantly—probably well ahead of inflation? That must be added to the difficulties facing local authorities, particularly lean and well-managed authorities such as Ellesmere Port and Neston. Does the Minister accept that, if those factors are added together, his policies will have dire consequences for people who need low-cost affordable homes? Will he reverse his policies and act positively in the interests of tenants both of housing associations and of local authorities?

Sir George Young

I find it hard to take seriously the remarks that the hon. Gentleman has just made. On Monday, the House was invited to vote to give an extra £213 million to my Department, part of which would go to the Housing Corporation budget. I regret to have to tell the House that the hon. Gentleman voted against the provision of that sum. Against that background, I am surprised that he has the nerve to ask about resources for the Housing Corporation.

Mr. Wicks

Given the average rent figures, and not least the higher figures in many metropolitan areas, does the Minister believe that ordinary families can now afford to be in unsubsidised housing association accommodation? Is not the effect of the policy to drive up housing benefit expenditure? How does that square with the declared policy of the Secretary of State for Social Security to drive down such expenditure?

Sir George Young

I believe that £34 a week is a reasonable rent for housing association property, especially as so much of it is of good quality. The hon. Gentleman must ask himself a question. If he wants to keep rents down, he will find that there are fewer homes being built to meet the needs of those who have a housing problem.

Mr. Michael Spicer

Is not the real issue the speed with which we move towards market rents, to ensure that any assistance through housing benefit is given directly to those who need it, rather than through subventions to the corporation, which are spread among rich and poor alike?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. We have made it clear that we believe that a more effective use of public resources is to move away from indiscriminate bricks and mortar subsidies towards more sensitively directed personal subsidies. It inevitably follows that the housing benefit bill will rise, but we believe that it is a more sensible use of public resources and will enable us to build more homes.

Mr. Devlin

Is my right hon. Friend aware of how proud we in Teesside are of the new housing association rented properties that are coming on stream on the Teesdale sites? Those have been built with the assistance of Teesside development corporation as part of 155,000 properties that have come into being since the general election as a direct result of Government policy.

Sir George Young

The House will be delighted to hear of the good-quality accommodation that is being provided in my hon. Friend's constituency. He is right to point out that the number of units provided by the Housing Corporation have exceeded by 25,000 the commitment that we gave at the general election.

Mr. Raynsford

Will the Minister reconsider his earlier answers and tell the House the figures that the National Federation of Housing Associations supplied to his Department recently, which show that the average rent for all housing association lettings in England is £43.86 a week and that the average for new lettings, which is obviously the most crucial figure, is no less than £51.12 a week? Will the Minister stop misleading the House with figures that are not accurate and tell us the truth? Those rents are not affordable.

Sir George Young

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the answer that I gave to Questions 1 and 2 was incorrect. They were the correct figures. The figure for new properties is, indeed, about £51 per week. That is not the figure that is paid by the vast majority of housing association tenants. Those tenants who are invited to pay the newer rents are eligible for housing benefit if they do not have the income with which to pay.