Changes to the New Homes Bonus – we want your views

The Government is consulting on potential changes to the New Homes Bonus.  The NHC will be responding to the consultation as part of our efforts to make housing policy work for the North, and we’d like to hear member views.

The New Homes Bonus was introduced in 2011 as part of the Coalition government’s localism initiatives, and was intended to reward and incentivise housing growth.  It has been subject to change since it was introduced, and now Government has launched a consultation proposing a number of options for further change, these are around:

  • How housing growth is measured and rewarded by the Bonus
  • The potential for the Bonus to be utilised to support infrastructure in areas with low land values
  • Using the Bonus to incentivise use of modern methods of construction
  • Potential to require an up-to-date local plan in order to receive the Bonus.

The consultation can be accessed here, and a summary list of questions being posed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is also available.

The NHC would welcome member views on the proposals in the consultation. Whilst our local authority members would be most directly affected by changes to the Bonus, we recognise that housing associations, ALMOs and combined authorities may also have views they wish to contribute.  Karen Brown (Senior Policy Advisor) is coordinating our response. She can be contacted at or on 0191 566 1021.   Please ensure comments reach Karen by 26th March so that they can be considered as part of our response.

Decent Homes Review – update

The NHC is a core participant in the Sounding Board for Government’s Review of the Decent Homes Standard. The Review is now underway, and the Sounding Board met for the first time in February.

MHCLG are running the Review in two phases – the first phase, running over Spring and Summer, is considering the case for change to the existing criteria.  Subject to the outcomes of the first phase, a second phase will then seek to redefine decency.

In January, the NHC launched a survey of members asking for views on the current standard. Many thanks to members from councils, housing associations and ALMOs across the North who completed our survey.

The first meeting of the Sounding Board considered the current statutory minimum standard for housing. In our contributions at the meeting and in writing, the NHC has been keen to make the following points on the statutory minimum:

  • That the Decent Homes Standard should maintain a read-across to the private rented sector: while the focus of the Review is the social housing sector, it is important that the aspiration for private rented homes to reach the standard is not abandoned, particularly where the PRS is home to households with vulnerabilities 
  • The importance of aligning the Standard with other aspects of legislation and regulation: for example, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act; and the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards set by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 
  • The challenges in using a rating system to set a minimum standard : members responding to our survey felt that the use of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) resulted in a standard which manages to be both technical and subjective, and is therefore particularly difficult for tenants to interpret. It should be noted the HHSRS is itself subject to a separate review process at present, and the outcomes of this review will need to be considered carefully as part of the Decent Homes Review.

The next meeting of the Sounding Board Group, in April, will consider the ‘Reasonable State of Repair’ Criterion, with further meetings planned in June on the Modern Facilities and Services Criterion ; and in August on the Thermal Comfort Criterion.

We still welcome views and comments from NHC members on the Review – please contact Executive Director (Policy and Public Affairs) Brian Robson –

Members can also register with MHCLG to receive papers and updates related to the Review. Details of how to do this can be found on the MHCLG website.

Northern Housing Consortium Universal Credit – Resources Report Published

The current health crisis has had a significant impact on employment levels across the north. This has had a knock-on effect on the welfare system with one-third of claims to Universal Credit since it’s roll out being made during the pandemic. The Government has offered low-income families the lifeline of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit which has made a real difference to those struggling with the effects of Covid-19 but there are still issues that impact claimants and are of concern to our members. Other agencies that may usually provide support through the claim process and financial hardship such as Citizens Advice Bureaux can no longer offer face to face support and housing provider and local authority caseloads are increasing.

Northern Housing Consortium’s investigation into the impact of Universal Credit has hitherto been concentrated on collecting insights into how our members’ tenants and residents have been affected by the implementation of the new benefit system. However, the ramifications of UC are not limited to claimants and anecdotal evidence collected through our regular roundtable events which bring together our members and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) colleagues, suggested that landlords and those organisations that provide support to claimants were facing increased demands for their services and therefore suffering financial stress.

In summer 2019 NHC surveyed members on how UC was impacting them both financially and structurally. While this report is mainly the result of a survey of NHC’s full members carried out prior to the current pandemic on the pressures on their resources directly because of the implementation of UC, it highlights issues still current for our members and in light of the Coronavirus outbreak, we re-surveyed members to collect information on the impact the outbreak has had on their resources. This report comes at a time when housing providers are having to review their spending over the coming months due to severe pressure on budgets because of the Coronavirus pandemic and builds on the previous research on the impact of UC on tenants.

Read the full report.

Select committee recovery report cites NHC evidence

An influential House of Commons committee has cited the NHC’s evidence on net zero and levelling up three times in their latest report on ‘greening the recovery’.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Phillip Dunne, published their latest report Growing back better: putting nature and net zero at the heart of the economic recovery on 17th February. It sets out how the Government can ‘grow back better’ after Covid-19.

The Committee cites the NHC’s evidence on how making a long-term investment in housing retrofit could help the Government to deliver on net zero and levelling-up, and our recommendations around creating a long-term retrofit funding programme that would enable social housing providers to invest at scale.

The report notes that Some submissions identified specific opportunities where green measures could help to rebalance the UK; both between north and south and between urban and rural communities. The Northern Housing Consortium said that a programme of improving existing homes in the North to increase their energy efficiency ‘would not only reduce carbon emissions and improve living standards, but also create new skills and employment opportunities in the region.’ It pointed out that the North’s existing homes ‘are older and colder than the English average’ with 833,000 households across the North living in fuel poverty. It said that the ‘labour-intensive nature of improving the energy performance’ of housing stock could be used to contribute to the economic recovery of the North”

The report also notes the NHC’s evidence in relation to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund : “[The NHC] said the Green Homes Grant scheme was a welcome development but urged the ‘Government to open up the full £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund outlined in the Conservative Manifesto to enable social housing providers to invest at scale.”

The report recommends to Government “that the Green Homes Grant is urgently overhauled and extended to provide a long-term stimulus to the domestic energy efficiency sector.”.  The Committee have also called for a reduction in the rate of VAT applied to home renovations.  The Government has until

Commenting, NHC Executive Director (Policy and Public Affairs) Brian Robson said “It’s great to see our evidence cited by the Committee, and particularly in a way that reflects the potential of domestic retrofit to deliver on the Government’s commitments around net zero and levelling-up. We agree with the Committee that a long-term stimulus is required : we think that’s exactly what the social housing decarbonisation fund can provide.”

The Committee’s report and recommendations can be read in full here. Government has until April 17th to respond to the Committtee’s report.  The NHC have also submitted written and oral evidence to the Committee’s Inquiry on Energy Efficiency of Existing Homes, which is ongoing.

Ward Hadaway appoints new director to head up social housing offering in Manchester

Law firm Ward Hadaway has extended its social housing offering with the appointment of an experienced new lawyer in its Manchester office.

Melanie Dirom has joined as a director in Ward Hadaway’s Built Environment Team in Manchester.

Melanie Dirom has joined as director, responsible for advising and providing legal advice and litigation services to many of the firm’s social housing clients and local authorities. Melanie is recognised in both Legal 500 and Chambers Directories for social housing.

Based at the firm’s Manchester office, Melanie is a solicitor and brings with her over 19 years’ experience working as a housing lawyer. She joins from her previous firm, where she was a Partner in the housing team specialising in civil and contentious property litigation for landlords and local authorities in the housing and regeneration sectors.

She started her new role as director in Ward Hadaway’s Built Environment Team this week and is looking forward to working within a well-established team. She said: “It feels great to be back in a firm that specialises and focuses on social housing and where sector specialisms are valued. This is a great career move for me and I am looking forward to working with the firms’ existing housing providers, construction companies and local authorities and growing this offer across the North West region.

“I will bring my experience of being a busy housing practitioner to Ward Hadaway. I have a very broad working knowledge and experience of all things housing but also have a strong interest and practice in leasehold disputes”.

Welcoming her appointment is John Murray, Partner and head of social housing at the firm’s Leeds office. He said: “I am delighted to welcome Melanie to the social housing team. She brings with her a wealth of experience and knowledge that will further strengthen our offer to new and existing clients, particularly in the Manchester area.

“She is a very highly regarded professional within the sector across the Northern region. I’m looking forward to working with her.”

Melanie graduated from Sheffield University with an LLB Law Degree and achieved her Legal Practice Court (LPC) at Northumbria University. In her spare time, she likes to keep active. She has also recently converted a campervan and is looking forward to exploring the UK.


About Ward Hadaway

  • Ward Hadaway operates from three offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester
  • More than 450 members of staff and 93 partners
  • UK Top 100 law firm
  • Rated as one of the leading law firms in the country by independent legal guides Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners
  • Ward Hadaway is a full service law firm, meeting all the legal needs of its wide-ranging client base from across the private and public sectors
  • For more information, please visit


 Media Contacts:

For Ward Hadaway’s built environment sector including property, construction and social housing, please contact Craig Downs at Up North Communications on 07811 287 922 or email

For all other media enquiries regarding Ward Hadaway, please contact Rachel McBryde at McBryde & Co on 07884 342 193 or email

The Social Housing White Paper – Cautious Optimism for Race Equality

Blog by Positive about Inclusion – consultants.

Released in November 2020 the Social Housing White Paper was the long awaited Government response to the Grenfell tragedy. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that the Paper had been prepared with the ‘views of those devastated by Grenfell in mind’ and set in this context there were valid reasons to expect that equality, diversity and inclusion would be at the very heart of the document.

After all, one of the fundamental issues surrounding the tragedy at Grenfell is race equality. As the lawyer representing the bereaved families, Leslie Thomas QC said in July 2020, the fire “did not happen in a vacuum, a majority of the Grenfell residents who died were people of colour. Grenfell is inextricably linked with race. It is the elephant in the room.” Furthermore the Equality and Human Rights Commission in launching its own enquiry into the disaster said that the events surrounding the fire raised serious human rights and equality issues.

Despite all of the evidence that race and inequality played a huge part in the disaster and despite the fact that they continue to be subject of much of the debate during the ongoing inquiry, neither the word ‘race’ or ‘equality’ actually appear in the White Paper.

So, what can we expect in 2021 for race equality in the sector? Should we bemoan the Social Housing White Paper omissions or take heart from what we have learnt during 2020 and how we have moved on since its launch? Whilst it would be too dramatic to say there are reasons to be cheerful, there certainly are three reasons to be cautiously optimistic….


Reason 1 – Growing Commitment

Since the White Paper the world has moved on at pace, 2020 saw a step change for equality with the tragic murder of George Floyd prompting the resurgence of the international Black Lives Matter movement. For the first time society witnessed the power of consumer consciousness as the public challenged organisations to prove their credentials as a force for good. Not just wanting organisations to say that they were inclusive but to visibly and actively demonstrate it. And many in the sector did just that, responding with very clear statements about their organisations commitment to race and equality.

Reason 2 – Increased Awareness

In December the National Housing Federation published its report on equality, diversity and inclusion. Unsurprisingly identifying a lack of diversity in leadership, the report calls for real and sustained change starting with open and honest conversations. The report is the first step in a commitment the National Housing Federation have made to champion the agenda, pledging to deliver in 2021 a sector-wide picture of the diversity of workplaces compared to the demographics of the areas in which housing associations operate. For many this will undoubtedly make for uncomfortable, but very necessary, reading.

Reason 3 – Determined Regulation

And so far 2021 is maintaining the pace of change we witnessed last year. In appointing Kate Dodsworth as its first Director of Consumer Regulation, the Regulator has nailed its equality commitment firmly to the mast. Kate is current Chief Executive of Gateway Housing and set to start in her new role in the summer, she is one of the founding members of Leadership 2025 and a trustee of the charity that is taking this work forward. Leadership 2025 was set up to address diversity gaps in housing leadership and has a long-term ambition of supporting the creation of a housing sector that is vibrant and diverse at all levels. And, if more evidence of Kate’s commitment to equality were required, then you’ve only got to look at Gateway’s website to see such a clear demonstration of the organisation’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. This appointment, coupled with recent comments from the Lead Regulator Fiona McGregor urging the sector “not to lose sight” of its focus on equality, diversity and inclusion sends a clear message and a very positive sign that the regulator means business when it comes to equality.

So, yes, I believe there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that in 2021 we can eliminate racism in our sector and that we can make it more diverse. The external backdrop and the environment is right – what is now required is action.

What we learnt in 2020 is that it is no longer enough to simply not be racist. We need to be anti-racist. Neutrality has not worked and proclaiming that we are “not racist” doesn’t require consideration of how to fight racism. To be anti-racist, on the other hand, means developing a philosophy that directly confronts that of a racist. The first week in February saw the inaugural Race Equality Week, established by Race Equality Matters, the week was created for organisations from across the country to unite to ‘seriously’ address race in the workplace. With the strap line of ‘let’s not go back to normal’, Race Equality Matters work to turn declarations of commitment and support into meaningful change. There are resources out there to help.

We all have an individual responsibility – we can’t rely on an optimistic external environment to afford real change. Change, as we all know, requires effort and the change we all need to make is about moving from being non-racist and passive to being active allies and anti-racist.

Because, as the philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797) quite rightly said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. So, what then are you going to do?


National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) survey

Fuel poverty charities National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) are undertaking research to investigate pre-payment meters (PPM) and the rollout of smart meters for pre-payment customers. We would like to hear your views through this call for evidence, which aims to collect information to inform this research.

In particular, NEA and EAS are collecting views to examine the issues traditional PPM customers still face; potential benefits of smart PPM; understand the barriers preventing uptake of smart PPM; and the range of potential interventions to maximise the adoption of smart PPM in the remaining years of the rollout. Parallel to this call for evidence, the research will also collect PPM customers’ own views on smart metering, particularly in the context of the current pandemic, but also to capture other key benefits to ensure the research continues to be impactful irrespective of Covid-19. They will also be undertaking interviews with key stakeholders and they will ask you to indicate in your response whether you would be happy for us to contact you to follow up on the feedback you provide. They will be working with Smart Energy GB to use the findings to inform a report that will be released later in the year.

The survey can be accessed here and will take approximately 30 minutes to complete depending on the detail you provide. The survey will remain open until the end of February.

They look forward to receiving your valuable response. In the meantime if you have any queries about the project please contact

Disrepair Claims: Reconvened Network and Full-Day Conference for NHC Members

The Dealing with Disrepair Network for NHC members reconvened this week after a short hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The group, organised by the NHC and Ward Hadaway, was originally formed in response to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. Since March 2020 the Act has imposed upon landlords an implied contractual obligation that all properties must be ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start of a new tenancy and will remain so for the duration.

Providing decent quality housing is of course a core priority for the social housing sector, but there is a persisting worry that ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers will exploit the Act, targeting tenants to issue disrepair claims against social landlords seen as a ‘soft touch’.

To counteract this, the Dealing with Disrepair Network was set up to offer a forum for NHC members to share good practice around preventing, mitigating, and challenging unjustified claims. With colleagues from Ward Hadaway guiding and inputting into conversations, attendees have discussed market intelligence and shared technical information pertaining to disrepair, as well network on organisational strategies to deal with disrepair.

Following a meeting in July of last year it was decided that the group would go on a short hiatus, the feeling being that the most pressing concern for organisations was ensuring a continuity of service for repairs and maintenance works during lockdown and to prepare to address a backlog of repairs once lockdown had lifted. With disrepair claims back on the rise, the time felt right to reconvene the group. With around 50 NHC members in attendance, the meeting saw group discussion centre on recent and regional trends to disrepair claims, the continued effects of lockdown on planned maintenance, arranging disrepair inspections, and issues around access and tenant shielding.

The Dealing with Disrepair Network were also the first to hear of the Disrepair Conference being arranged by the NHC and Ward Hadaway.  Taking place online on the 7th April, Handling Disrepair Claims: A Journey from Complaints to Costs will see leading practitioners and legal experts share good practice and aim to equip attendees with the confidence and knowledge to challenge spurious claims through asset management and legal approaches. With Disrepair Claims happening and on the rise, the NHC and Ward Hadaway hope the full-day agenda will provide attendees with the advice and tips help move challenging claims ‘in-house’ – upskilling staff, saving time, and offering value for money.

Handling Disrepair Claims: A Journey from Complaints to Costs takes place 7th April 2021, 10.00 – 16.15. Tickets are priced at £99 for NHC members and £129 for non-members. For more information on confirmed topics and speakers, and to book your place, click here:

 The Dealing with Disrepair Network is an NHC member only group that meets quarterly. To add your name to the mailing list to be notified of future meetings, email

Fuel Poverty Strategy Published

BEIS has finally published the updated Fuel Poverty Strategy called “Sustainable Warmth: Protecting Vulnerable Households in England.”

The new strategy makes 21 commitments to “ensure everyone can afford the energy required to keep their lights and heating on.”

It sets out how it will meet the UK’s legal target to “improve as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable to a minimum energy efficiency rating of EPC Band C, by the end of 2030.”

The first question to ask is if the strategy commits to the resources needed to address fuel poverty.

Key announcements:

  • Extending the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) to £1bn per annum to install heating, insulation, or other energy saving measures in the homes of people who are living on a low-income, are vulnerable or fuel poor.
  • Investing £150 million in the Home Upgrade Grant from 2022 to support low-income households off the gas network.
  • The continuation of the Green Home Grant (GHG), and the Local Authority Delivery (LAD) and evaluation of the scheme.
  • Extending the Warm Home Discount to provide rebates and wider support to reduce energy bills for low-income pensioners and other low-income households with high energy bills.
  • Higher regulatory standards in the private rented sector driving over ‘£10 billion of investment in energy efficiency.’

Definition of fuel poverty

The strategy alters the definition of fuel poverty moving away from the Low Income High Costs (LIHC) definition of fuel poverty. That is a relative indicator which has not allowed Government to reduce the overall number of households in fuel poverty despite action taken. The new indicator will be Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE). It will capture households that have a residual income below the poverty line (after accounting for fuel costs) and live in a home that has an energy efficiency rating below Band C. Consequently, the numbers recorded as in fuel poverty will fall as the energy efficiency rating of the homes of low-income households reaches Band C.

Benefits which are not means tested are excluded as residual income as the income of those receiving the benefits is artificially inflated and therefore not accurately portraying their likely income versus expenditure, including whether they are likely to be vulnerable to living in a cold home.

The strategy recognises that there are important questions regarding households that fall outside of the definition. For example, a low-income household living in an A-C rated home who would not be classed as fuel poor under the LILEE definition and would therefore not qualify for energy efficiency improvements.

There is a strong case for continuing to monitor whether low income and vulnerable households who live in reasonably efficient homes continue to receive support to heat their homes.

Fuel Poverty Targets

The fuel poverty target remains the same – to ensure that as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable achieve a minimum energy efficiency rating of Band C, by 2030. Milestones also remain unchanged, “as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable to Band E by 2020 and as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable to Band D by 2025.”

The strategy is less clear about actions to be taken if fuel poverty schemes fail to achieve these milestones.

Strategic Principles

The updated strategy confirms four guiding principles for tackling fuel poverty:

The ‘Worst First’ principle has been retained, prioritising upgrades to the least efficient homes.

The cost-effectiveness principle is retained seeking the best return from investment but emphasises that landlords will need to make ‘significant up-front investments’ in housing stock.

The vulnerability principle updates the view of vulnerability explicitly referring to older people, younger people, those with certain cold related health conditions and those with conditions that require more time to be spent at home.

A new sustainability principle ensures fuel poverty policies are aligned with the need to reach net zero, making it a central part of work to achieve a just energy transition.

Key commitments to deliver change.

  • Improved energy efficiency standards through the Future Homes Standard, and review of the Decent Homes Standard.
  • MHCLG is currently reviewing the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). BEIS and MHCLG will work together to ensure the HHSRS review takes account of evidence on cold homes and aligns with wider Government aims on energy efficiency and fuel poverty.
  • Warm Home Discount – consultation on reforms, to improve the fuel poverty targeting of the scheme and expand automatic bill rebates will be held later in 2021.
  • Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards – increased regulation of the private rented sector will play an important role in meeting the fuel poverty target and in making a major contribution towards wider energy efficiency and decarbonisation objectives.
  • New guidance for landlords of HMOs will be published to clarify when an EPC is required and when the PRS Regulations 2015 apply to HMOs.
  • Energy Company Obligation – the next iteration of ECO (2022-26) will increase in value from £640m to £1bn per year. It will be designed to align with other domestic energy efficiency policies in social housing and the private rented sector.
  • The Strategy commits to monitoring the delivery of energy efficiency schemes, such as ECO and parts of the Green Homes Grant Voucher and LAD schemes, to identify where delivery is at lower-than expected levels. BEIS is currently evaluating the targeting and impact of the ECO scheme. The results of these evaluations will be publicly available when complete.
  • Home Upgrade Grant – a commitment has been made to introduce HUG as a successor to the Green Homes Grant, with £150m in 2021/22. This is expected to rise significantly in the following years, in line with previous statements and the Conservative Manifesto commitment of £2.5bn.
  • Social Housing – grant recipients for the initial £50 million Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund demonstrators will be announced in February 2021. At SR20, a further £60 million was committed for the SHDF. We continue to call for the remainder of the £3.8bn earmarked for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund to be brought forward to assist economic recovery in Northern regions.
  • Local Partnerships – In March 2020 BEIS allocated each of the 5 Local Energy Hubs £75,000 for fuel poverty work in financial year 2020/2021. The Hubs are using this resource to employ an energy officer to support local authorities to develop their ECO Flexible Eligibility scheme and to develop bids for Local Area Delivery programmes of the Green Homes Grant.
  • Hard to Treat Homes – £7.7 million has been awarded to three organisations through the Whole House Retrofit Challenge Fund to explore innovative approaches to reducing the cost of whole house retrofit.

Consultations will take place early next financial year on both the future of ECO and the Warm Home Discount. In the short-term, BEIS are holding workshops on the development of HUG and will release the consultation response and draft regulations to next financial year’s 1-year extension to WHD in the coming weeks.

Targeting of fuel poor households

Meeting the statutory fuel poverty target in a cost-effective way requires support to be targeted at those living in fuel poverty. There is no single list of which households are fuel poor. The Committee on Fuel Poverty has called for better use of data to find the households most in need and eliminate the need for bureaucratic application processes. In our report, No Home Left Behind, we called for a local approach to the ECO scheme to allow better use of data, guided by local authorities and allowing for the blending of ECO with grant funding.

Consultation will be held on a reformed ECO Flexible Eligibility scheme, designed to allow local authorities to identify low income households, under any future successor ECO schemes.

Reaction to the Strategy

The updated strategy includes some welcome and enhanced resources to meet the challenge of ending fuel poverty.

We are pleased to see that the Government’s intention to focus on more intensive improvements to the worst homes will be backed up by an Energy Company Obligation that increases to £1bn a year from April 2022, and that stronger efforts will be made to identify households in need.

The opportunities and challenges that have emerged around the Green Homes Grant programme show just how much we need a long-term strategic approach to meeting the long-term goals. This strategy states that it does not set out the final path to meeting the 2030 target and is written as a ‘living document’ to be adapted. It is critical however that a  clear long-term plan should deliver the wider economic recovery and levelling up needed in some regions, including developing the jobs and skills needed to deliver energy efficiency works, as set out by IPPR North in Northern Powerhomes.

It is welcome that the strategy considers the interaction between different energy schemes and that they can be used alongside each other for the installation of measures at the same property.

A commitment to raise regulatory standards on private landlords is welcome but this must go hand in hand with increased capacity for local authorities to enforce the standards as we called for in our 2021 Budget Submission.

Building back greener will require embedding the principles set out in the strategy, linking energy efficiency directly to health, wellbeing, and job creation, and commitment to a Home Improvement Plan for the North.


Modern Methods of Construction – time for some honesty?


There is a growing body of experience of MMC in the social housing sector now, with a number of Registered Providers in the North having conducted pilot projects, large and small. LHC has worked on hundreds of projects for social landlords all around the UK, totalling more than 5,300 homes to date.

 However, it’s hard to escape the unspoken political pressure to present success and ensure the MMC story is a wholly positive one. So are we at risk of missing out on the detailed learning about mistakes?  Registered Providers want to know what worked well, but also what the MMC pioneers would not do again, so they can avoid the same problems.

 Gary Cawley, director of CPC, says it’s time for a bit of straight-talking Northern honesty. He shares the top five ‘lessons learned’ from the aggregation of MMC projects managed by LHC to date, explains how working with CPC can overcome barriers for local social housing clients, and calls for continued collaboration by local housing groups to help reduce risk and build confidence in MMC housing in the North.


Modern Methods of Construction – time for some honesty?

Gary Cawley, Director, North & Central England, CPC


Let’s face it. If you’re a small or medium sized housing association or social landlord, you are not going to want to be an early adopter. Trailblazing in the North for all to see? No, I don’t think so, despite all the marketing blurb about ‘innovation to meet local need’.


Specifically, I’m talking here about MMC (Modern Methods of Construction, aka offsite construction, near-site pre-manufacturing, or their close cousin, Design for Manufacture and Assembly). Yes, social housing development directors, this piece is targeted straight at you.


Because, when it comes to trying new construction methods for your development programme, any sensible Social Housing Provider is going to let other, bigger players take a lead, incur the cost of innovation, make all the mistakes and establish a robust supply chain with plenty of experience and useful lessons that you can tap into later.


We all get that. But what happens when the Board keeps muttering about risk, political pressure to promote MMC and ‘falling behind the curve’? From their point of view, the market is changing beyond recognition, facing new pressures post-Brexit and post-Covid, and everywhere they look there is news of another MMC social housing project.


Each one is being celebrated as faster, cheaper, safer and more sustainable than the last. There is talk of setting up local housing factories and delivering shed loads of social value, and it all sounds so easy. MPs and Mayors line up in their hard hats to have their photos taken next to the latest MMC project, and everyone declares everything as a resounding success.


But sorry, I think it’s time to be brutally honest here. Nobody’s talking openly about the costly failures, and the lessons from the bigger providers and MMC pioneers are not being shared openly with other Social Housing Providers in the region.


What about that housing association project that started off as a MMC development of two bungalows on a small infill site, then got reconfigured as three houses and ended up as four flats, with 18 months spent going through planning three times and over £500K of abortive design fees?


What about the housing association that identified a wonderful city centre site for a MMC pilot, acquired the land and planning permission for a great design based on volumetric construction, only to find out too late that a couple of low railway bridges on the main route into town meant that no lorry load of beautifully shrink-wrapped pods was ever going to make it within a mile of the site?


I really do think it’s time that organisations like my own spilled the beans on what we know now, about what works and what doesn’t. So this is what I’d like to do here today.


CPC is a partnership between public sector procurement experts LHC and Northern Housing Consortium. LHC has a long heritage in MMC – it was formed over 50 years ago to coordinate industrialised building programmes across London.


Tracy Harrison, Chief Executive of NHC said “NHC has a similar commitment to MMC as we have consistently promoted modular construction matters in the north in order to ensure that our communities get levelled-up and that the region fully embraces all the technological and climate-led opportunities MMC has to offer. This is because now is the time to be ambitious and only we can help change housing for the better.”


We have more than 5,300 MMC-built social homes under our belt. Right now, we are working with 46 Social Housing Providers on projects with 12 MMC-specialist companies.


So we do have tales to tell and lessons to share, if you’re willing to hear them.


Here are my top five for starters:


  1. First, make sure you pick a MMC manufacturer who knows what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, the high-profile manufacturers the Board is always reading about are not always the best. You’re looking for a business that has got a solid track record and has been through proper technical checks and financial due diligence (ideally, someone who’s made it through the rigorous vetting process to get onto a LHC framework).


  1. Then tear up the old, single stage tender process for design and build. You are going to need a two-stage tender process, with an initial pre-contract service agreement with a MMC supplier who can help you with a proper site investigation, designs and budgeting, and with whom you can go through planning together. Through a better approach to sharing and minimising risk, you’ll reap significant benefits later on.


  1. Understand that you are going to need to work in a completely different way to before – it’s a re-education process for you as a client, as MMC requires a change in the way homes are designed, procured and delivered. This means getting your MMC supply chain involved at the very earliest stages, well before design and planning, even before Stage 1 of the RIBA Plan of Work. Stay open to the MMC manufacturer’s ideas on design. I heard a great example the other day, of a closed panel system manufacturer who saved one of our social landlord clients £200K a year, just simply by agreeing optimum floor to ceiling heights for walls, standardising designs in a way that hugely reduced plasterboard waste.


  1. Don’t pick that most difficult design / the most difficult site / the project that nobody else wants to do, and think that a MMC pilot on that site is going to solve everything for you. The truth is, you need clear advice tailored to you, built on trust and informed by third-party technical expertise from your suppliers and coordination by your procurement advisers. Start with small steps, and make sure each project manager passes on their knowledge to the next.


  1. Of course, carbon reduction and thermal performance targets are vital. But redefine your parameters for ‘sustainability’ to look beyond the environmental impacts, towards the economic and social sustainability that you can also build into a new, long-term relationship with a MMC supply chain which can grow with you and support you through the decades to come. Framework agreements allow these relationships to flourish over a longer-term period and help set out an integrated supply chain, without bumping up against any legal problems for your procurement team. And if you can’t find such a supply chain locally, then work with us to design a new framework that flushes out the best in the market for you to choose from.


MMC is still seen by many in this region as an expensive luxury, particularly regarding a high initial project cost. Some feel that because of this, MMC is an unviable option for the public sector.


However, in reality, we know it’s working well for our social housing clients and we are able to share their learning very openly. MMC homes have lower overall lifecycle costs; project delivery is much faster so you’ll see the sales or rent revenue much earlier. The message still needs to get through to social landlords that MMC homes also benefit from reduced maintenance costs thanks to the build quality. And as more MMC homes are procured, the additional volume of work results in an economy of scale; costs are likely to come down further as the market continues to mature.


My rallying call to social landlords in the North is to tap into the expertise and experience that CPC and NHC can provide you for free. It’s right here on your doorstep. And we will tell it as it is, so that you can dodge the risks, keep the Board happy and progress your development plans with confidence.


Web pages to be developed (Core Information)


NHC Construction Steering Group


MMC working group


LHC MMC website


Click here to read the procurement guide for NH2 (CPC’s framework for offsite construction of new homes).