Review, rethink, reset - Housing in COVID-19

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Very little about 2020 could be considered normal, compared with the world as it was and the lives that we led pre-March 2020.

The health, prosperity and welfare of the nation have all been affected by the pandemic, and this looks likely to continue in 2021. Against this backdrop, it is important that public service organisations pause, review and update plans to meet both current and future challenges.

The Public Services Committee published its first report, A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19 in November 2020. The Report makes interesting reading, presenting the first comprehensive analysis of how public services responded to COVID-19, with the Committee discussing lessons to be learned from the pandemic. It also recommends some principles to transform public service delivery.

The Committee identifed: 'weaknesses in public service delivery that give cause for concern', including:

  • Insufficient support for prevention and early intervention. 
  • Over-centralised delivery of public services, poor communication from the centre, and a tendency for service providers to work in silos rather than integrate service provision.
  • A lack of integration especially between services working with vulnerable children, and between helath care and adult social care.
  • An inability and unwillingness to share data between services.
  • Inequality to access to public services and a lack of user voice.

The Committee was: 'particularly concerned about public service provision during the pandemic for black, Asian and minority ethic, and gypsy, roma and traveller people. homeless people, and people with complex needs'. 

We may see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel a vaccination programme, but as we start another national lockdown, it is useful for all organisations to review the significant impact of the pandemic. The statistics for 2020 show some of the challenges the pandemic and resulting economic impact have brought.

Housing development

Affordable housebuilding increased by just one per cent last year. This was 90,000 homes short of the estimated target in England to solve the housing crisis. Between 1 April and 30 September 2020 housing starts on site delivered through programmes managed by Homes England in England (excluding London) were the lowest since 2012-13 and housing completions were the lowest since 2015-16. (11,313 housing starts and 11,358 completions.)

Affordable homes accounted for 79% of housing starts on site (8,897), representing a decrease of 32% on the 13,169 affordable homes started in the same period in 2019. Affordable starts were the lowest since 2017-18.

The situation was similar in Scotland, with affordable housing supply completions between 1 July 2020 and 30 September 2020 below equivalent levels in all of the previous four years.

The reduction in both starts and completions showed a slow-down in housebuilding activity linked to the pandemic. It is of note thate housebuilding, repairs and moves continue in England, Wales and Scotland during the current lockdown, which should limit the scale of reductions.


Quarterly statistics for statutory homelessness assessments and activities in England between 1 April and 30 June 2020, together with households in temporary accommodation under statutory homelessness duty in England, demonstrate the impact of the pandemic.

This is despite the raft of initiatives introduced during the first lockdown, including the successful Everyone in scheme in England, where thousands of rought sleepers were housed and offered opportunities for futures off the streets.

A ban on private rented sector evictions, and longer landlord notice periods (currently six months for an assured shorthold tenancy in England) have kept tenants in accommodation during the pandemic. 

During the three months to June 2020:

  • Households that owed a statutory homelessness duty reduced by 10.5%.
  • Households that owed a prevention duty, were down 32.1% from the same quarter in 2019.
  • Households initially assessed as homeless and owed a relief duty, were up 13.9% from the same quarter in 2019, (driven mainly by single males).
  • Households in temporary accommodation were up 14% on 2019. (Driven by single adult households, up 50.8%).

So far the Government has not reinstated the Everyone in scheme during this this lockdown, but an additional £10 million for all councils in England to tackle homelessness was announced last week. 

Cllr David Renard, Local Government Association housing spokesperson, said in December: “Efforts… have shown it is possible to make a significant difference to the numbers of people forced to sleep on the streets. But we need to strive to make this the new normal and not just an emergency respons.”

“Council housing waiting lists could nearly double as a result of COVID-19. It is vital that the Government lifts the no recourse to public funds condition to help prevent homelessness for migrants... There must also be a renewed focus on investing in homelessness prevention services, alongside removing right to buy restrictions, so councils have the ability to invest in building the social housing the country needs."

Chris Walker, ALARM Finance Director: "Against the backdrop of record borrowing and the largest fall in GDP for over 300 years, the housing crisis remains, and demand for high quality, affordable homes will only increase. Now more than ever, effective risk management is key to supporting providers as they strike a balance between capacity, demand and the potential contraints of a post-COVID-19 housing market."

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