Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

11/05/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Alun Davies MS
Carolyn Thomas MS
Joel James MS
John Griffiths MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS
Sam Rowlands MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Bonnie Williams Cyfarwyddwr, Cyfiawnder Tai Cymru
Director, Housing Justice Cymru
Debra Carter Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Diwygio Cyllid Llywodraeth Leol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director Local Government Finance Reform, Welsh Government
Huw Maguire Pennaeth y Polisi Ail Gartrefi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Second Homes Policy, Welsh Government
Julie James MS Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Neil Hemington Prif Gynllunydd, Llywodraeth Cymru
Chief Planner, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Manon George Clerc
Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:11.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:11.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. We are holding this meeting in hybrid format, with some attendees joining by video-conference. Aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that hybrid format, all other Standing Order requirements remain. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No, then we will move on to item 2—

Mabon has raised his hand.

Diolch yn fawr. Dim ond i ddatgan beth sydd ar y record gyhoeddus, os gwelwch yn dda.

Thank you. Just to declare what is on the public record, please.

2. Cartrefi i ffoaduriaid o Wcráin: Briff gan Cyfiawnder Tai Cymru
2. Housing Ukrainian refugees: Briefing from Housing Justice Cymru

We will move on, then, to item 2, housing Ukrainian refugees and a briefing from Housing Justice Cymru, and I'm very pleased that Bonnie Williams, the director of Housing Justice Cymru, has been able to join us this morning. Bonnie will give us a briefing on the experience to date in relation to Ukrainian refugees coming to Wales and their housing experiences and housing issues, and there will then be an opportunity for Members to ask questions, following that briefing. So, Bonnie, thanks very much, and over to you.

Thanks, John, and lovely to be here this morning and to meet you all. So, as you said, I run Housing Justice Cymru, which is the Welsh arm of a national Christian charity that takes action on homelessness and housing need. For a short while now, we've been looking at hosting and fulfilling Welsh Government's commitments to becoming a nation of sanctuary. When we announced that as a country, we were aware that we didn't have the accommodation solutions in place, so Welsh Government undertook a feasibility study to look at what possible solutions there were, which identified hosting as a key option for accommodating people seeking asylum in Wales, because until people are granted refugee status they're not able to access any form of benefit or work, so that does leave people in an extremely complex situation and very vulnerable. So, as a charity, we've taken on a piece of work to increase the hosting capacity across Wales, while also looking at other accommodation solutions, and this work started prior to the Ukraine situation. So, we are now working with a wide number of partners, leading this work across Wales, and that's led us to being in a position to hopefully help and support Welsh Government around the hosting scheme for Ukraine.

As part of the work that we do, we're funded by Welsh Government to look at how we can improve the quantity and quality of existing hosting placements in Wales. So, we're very interested in consistency of standards and making sure that we have the higher standards that we would expect for the level of vulnerability of the people that we are obviously accommodating through hosting provision. And so, our position in the Homes for Ukraine scheme is to make sure that, where possible, despite the speed and the need for accommodation, we can replicate the standards that we would like to see for hosting in Wales as an ongoing solution for accommodating asylum seekers.

09:15

Okay, Bonnie. That's very succinct. Thank you very much. How would you characterise the up-to-date situation, Bonnie, in terms of numbers and availability of that housing that would be an adequate response from Wales to what is an emergency situation, really?

Yes, certainly, and 'emergency' is the critical word there. So, what we've seen is Wales committing to being a supersponsor in the same way as we have in Scotland, and that commitment looks like, in the first stage, it will translate into 1,000 households that we will sponsor as a country. To date, we've taken in through that route, or agreed to sponsor, about 670 individuals, but that is thought to be individuals as opposed to our overall commitment, which will be 1,000 households. Of course, that is separate to the family and personal scheme, where you can go online and match yourself to either family members or people that you meet that are needing to come to Wales.

What we can see with the commitment to becoming a supersponsor is that we are taking things much more slowly than central Government, but in a healthy way, I would advocate. We are suggesting that people come initially into welcome centres, so we're promoting—from what we can see from Welsh Government—five welcome centres across Wales that will allow people to come and reside in what looks like possibly a hotel for approximately three months. Sometimes that will be less, sometimes that will be more, but generally it's envisaged that that will be three months. And then, in Wales, we envisage that people will then go on to be hosted or potentially go on to find their own tenancy, whereas what we can see in England is people are going straight into those hosting placements. As of 8 May, we can see, just a couple of days ago, that the media is showing that, in England, people going straight into hosting placements has already led to at least 600 people—as of 8 May, so that's probably escalated—having to find what's being referred to as holding accommodation, because the sponsored hosts that they were going to are not suitable. So, it's really playing out to show that the speed at which central Government are doing this is resulting in some really problematic situations—so, people arriving to find that the accommodation that they had been matched with or are intending to come to is infested with rats and mice, doesn't have any heating, has one very small bedroom that three of them are expected to sleep in, has a member of the family taking drugs. There are some really worrying issues that have meant that 600 people now have gone to those hosting placements, found that they're not suitable and central Government's having to look at how to house them, and I think that we can see that the caution that Welsh Government is taking by creating welcome centres is going to be a much safer alternative arrangement.

However, I suppose the concentration then comes on making sure that when people are in those welcome centres they're able to access all the services that they need, and that we're not traumatising traumatised people by moving them again, and then when they do go on to their hosting placements that those have been checked. And I think that's what we're seeing, really, is that a home visit would have prevented a huge amount of the problems that we're seeing now.

And, of course, crucially, getting this right is vital to us as a country, because we intend to continue hosting as part of our commitment to being a nation of sanctuary, so we don't want people to have bad experiences, either those being hosted or the hosts, because we hope that this will increase our capacity to host and help asylum seekers in the future as well.

Bonnie, obviously, it's an emerging situation day by day, really, isn't it, but is it possible to give us some idea at this stage what sort of periods of time refugees will be spending in those welcome centres?

We estimate that to be around three months for the average stay. Sometimes, people may move through quicker, but while they're there we'll need to verify that the information that we have on them is right and verify that the hosting placement is safe and secure. I think there'll also need to be some assessment of the hosting placement being able to enable them to access schools, medical services, social services where needed. We know that, for each refugee that a local authority takes, they will be given £10,500 by Welsh Government to provide wraparound services and support, and that will be vital to make sure that the local public sector services can respond to those individuals' needs. I suppose that the slight worry with that situation is, 'Are those services available, even if money is provided for them, to step up and suddenly wraparound a whole new influx of individuals, certainly when we look at social servicing, policing and education?' We know that already it's very difficult to get your children into some schools in some local authority areas, for social services to stay on top of their numbers, and policing has been cut for years. So, it is complex. Even if there's going to additional money, will that respond to the people's needs?

And, of course, the complexity within that is the trauma. So, a lot of our systems don't necessarily recognise the trauma that refugees fleeing are experiencing, but, of course, if you're coming from war, you've already been traumatised, you've had to lose your home and your family, you're coming to a new culture, potentially a new language, without a support network and potentially with little means. So, we're seeing a lot of people, like the Afghan resettlement programme, arriving with nothing but a backpack on their back. So, again, that does leave people very, very vulnerable to exploitation, and then the crimes that are committed against these sort of people can be things like sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and those are some of the most harmful crimes that we have in Britain. So, making sure that they're going to a host or a community that is understanding of their wider needs is going to be really important.

09:20

Absolutely. Bonnie, could you say a little bit about the situation with our local authorities as well, because, obviously, this is a major challenge for them and they're going to have to work with a lot of other organisations and basically build very quickly effective partnerships? Is it possible, at this stage, to give us an idea of what the current position is? 

Certainly. Well, what we're seeing at the moment from local authorities is that some are able, I suppose, and willing and ready. Particularly, if they've got their own housing stock, they have a significant number of staff who are on the ground, in their estates, in and out of properties, in and out of communities, and quite well versed in things like home checks and supporting community cohesion issues and vulnerable families. Where a local authority has sold their stock, which is now in a housing association, they're less likely to have the capacity and experience to support this number of new people coming to their areas. So, what we really need to see at this point in the planning is that work with local police forces and third sector organisations. So, what we really need to see is that they're already looking to, hopefully, organisations like us, and their third sector equivalents in their areas, who have the connections on the ground, who have people on the ground who can support their function and make sure that those families are being supported. Because, at the moment, we're requiring one home visit on the host address, and it's really important, after that, that if things are going awry, there are some services around to pick up on those warning signs. 

Thank you. And thank you for your time this morning, Bonnie. In terms of the structures that are in place, you've described the Welsh Government approach and you seem to be telling us that, in theory, it's a reasonably good approach. I'm interested to see how it's working in practice. The media are still reporting the difficulties, and my own experience as a constituency Member is that there are significant difficulties in accessing the documentation necessary to actually reach the UK, and the structures that are in place are not actually delivering that journey, if you like. I don't know if that's your experience. But, in terms of what happens when a family, for argument's sake, arrive here in Wales, is the process that they go through working? Are there structures in place to enable—? For example, we talked about local authorities. Do local authorities work with housing associations sufficiently well, or other providers—private providers if necessary—to provide the sort of homes and housing that are necessary in the numbers that we require?

I think it's a really good question. As you say, it's such a moving feast at the moment that it's quite difficult to know, in practice, how it's working in Wales, because we're slightly behind on the numbers that are coming in to England at the moment, because our more cautious approach is focusing on setting up those welcome centres, which, in theory, should give us some of the security and vital aspects that you've mentioned. I think, though, in terms of local authorities working with partners and, as you say, housing associations would be a critical one—they've got a lot of services set up for this kind of need—we would expect that work to be done now. I suppose what we're really keen to see more evidence of is those connections being made with existing services. I think there's a lot of focus at the moment on what they will have to do in-house, but it would be great, in parallel, to see people reaching out to housing associations and other organisations to see what support they can provide. What we have seen, though, is some housing associations already saying that they don't have any further capacity to help with this.

And then, of course, there's the issue that once people leave the welcome centres after three months, it's envisaged that they may go into hosting, but ideally, they'll go into a tenancy, because that will prevent them having to move from a welcome centre to hosting to a tenancy. That's the hope in Wales. However, we know that we've already got 7,000 people in temporary accommodation and we're struggling to accommodate those. We also have Afghanistan families still in temporary or emergency accommodation and we're unable to house those at the moment. So, my main concern is where the Ukrainian refugees will go, whether it's after the three months in the welcome centres, or after the six-month hosting placement, because we just know that if we have 7,000 people already that we can't accommodate, how are we going to find what will need to be affordable housing primarily for this increased 1,000 households. We can also see that the numbers in temporary accommodation are continuing to rise at a rate that is not matching how quickly we're able to rehouse people. 

09:25

Which question?

Can you answer that question, 'We don't know how we're going to—'?

I really can't. What I can say is that we have a really successful volunteer programme, where we have a very affordable model using people in communities to house people from emergency and temporary accommodation. So, from the 'everybody in' situation, we rapidly overhauled our operating model. And in Swansea over the last 12 months, we've housed 22 people, 90-plus per cent of whom have sustained their tenancies, using volunteers. I hope to see that, as we roll this out in Wales, we do look to our community members and organisations that are professionally using volunteers to help with the situation, because we are able to use volunteers to navigate the private rented market, to navigate the waiting lists of councils and housing associations. From my mind, that seems to be an incredibly successful, very affordable way of moving those people from temporary accommodation into sustainable tenancies. Not only does it work very well with helping people to find tenancies, but because it's volunteers, what we've seen through an independent evaluation from Cardiff Met is that the role of the volunteer gives the person who is often quite vulnerable the feeling of self-worth and self-belief, and the continued trusted adult relationship that enables them to sustain their tenancy. And again, all the evidence around trauma in Wales shows that being part of a community and having a trusted adult is absolutely vital to overcoming adversity. So, when it comes to Ukraine, I personally think that we're going to have to look outside of the box at how we will accommodate people post welcome centres or hosting.

Would it not be the case, though, that, over the last few years, we've had quite an intense experience of finding homes for people in an emergency, shall we say? Because we've had the issues around the pandemic, which I think worked reasonably well—you know, in the short term, but they worked—and we've been through the experience of the Afghan resettlement, and my experience in Blaenau Gwent is that people there are settling well into the community, although there are difficulties, of course. So, we do and we are accruing some significant experience, corporate experience as well as the experience of the individuals dealing with these matters. So, it would appear to me, from an outside point of view, if you like, from a layperson's point of view, that that experience would make working in the current crisis easier and not more difficult. Is that what you're finding—that we're able to put this experience to work?

Absolutely. I think we are gaining experience, but what we can see is that, more than ever, there's a pressure on the supply of affordable homes. Because of the Syrian situation and the Afghanistan situation, and then 'everybody in' where we accommodated thousands of people who previously weren't even registered or known to be homeless, we have a real bottleneck, now, of people in temporary and emergency accommodation needing homes. That's why we're still seeing 7,000 in temporary accommodation, and even Afghanistan families that we can't house, because there are just not enough homes. There are some places where it's harder than others; I think Newport, particularly, is very difficult, where we've seen a migration of people from Bristol, with the lower house rents in Newport. But all across Wales, we're just finding it very, very difficult to accommodate people, particularly when people are on benefits and with the amount of money that they're provided with, compared to current private rent and even under-35 rent levels for affordable homes. So, we're seeing that real struggle.

While we have gained experience, we have also seen a lot of burnout. The same services and the same individuals who were cancelling leave and working all hours were the same people around the Syrian situation, the Afghanistan situation, then the pandemic, and now this situation as well. So, when I'm looking to Welsh Government colleagues and the third sector, at the moment, we're seeing a real challenge with recruitment, we're seeing a lot of burnout, and those people haven't had a break for a long time. We're seeing leave being cancelled, holidays being forgone. Everybody's really keen to help, but I think that exhaustion, and then just the lack of properties—. You know, we're building as quickly as we can. We've never seen so much social housing grant available, but we almost can't build as quickly as the money is available or the numbers needed.

09:30

Thank you. You seem to be telling us—and tell me if I'm getting this wrong—that we are dealing, at the moment, by running fast, running hot, if you like, and dealing with all the temporary issues in terms of welcome centres and hosting—that what we have in place at the moment is not sustainable in the medium or long term. So, things are difficult at the moment, and the experience and the knowledge and the structures that the Government has put in place are enabling us to function, but we don't have the structures in place to deal with the long-term resettlement of people who are fleeing from war in Ukraine. Is that how you would summate or characterise your evidence this morning?

I think that's very accurate. I think we're trying incredibly hard, I think the Welsh Government are doing a really fantastic job. However, materialising the number of properties that we'll need I think is going to be a real challenge. While hosting may fill the void until people can find tenancies, hosting does bring its own complexities, and we haven't necessarily considered all of those in the current arrangements. It will be interesting to see how we can accommodate the new 1,000 households in addition to the 7,000, and rising, individuals that we already have in temporary accommodation.

Just a quick follow-up before I bring Sam in and Carolyn. In terms of that hosting arrangement, might we be in a situation where that continues for quite a length of time? Because, obviously, if a family, if an individual is being hosted and there isn't that availability of affordable housing for them to move on to, then that hosting could continue for quite some time.

Absolutely. Where hosting works well—and that generally is a result of a good setup period—those hosting placements can go on, if it's mutually beneficial, for a year or more. At the moment, people are being asked for a six-month offering. However, the sustainability of it long term I think will be a challenge, because we will see a reduction in the £350 that is being offered to hosts for at least the first six months, up to a year. After that, it will become quite a difficult situation.

We also know that, since this was announced, energy prices have changed significantly as well, so what was a nice-to-have payment may become a requirement for people with a larger household. But sustaining a hosting placement for one individual can be a challenge; for a family, it can be a real challenge, and I think what we would urge right now is that there are information sessions put on—we are running some ourselves, and hundreds of people are attending—to make sure that, when people are coming forward to host, they've got as much information as they can. Because you really need to consider things like are the whole family on board, is there public transport accessible for the individuals that you'll be hosting, will you allow them to have their own key and come back and forth. We've heard of examples in the media already of people being stranded outside their hosts' home for hours on end because they're not afforded their own front-door key. So, there's a lot of work we could be doing right now to make sure—[Interruption.] Not in Wales—that, actually, we give the hosting placements the best opportunity that we can give them, which, as you say, is vital, because we may need them for longer than we foresee.

Thanks, Chair. Good morning, Bonnie, and thank you for your evidence this morning. I was really encouraged to hear about the work you mentioned, about the success you see generally where volunteers are involved. I guess a lot of that is also to do with your work with churches and faith communities, and what they offer in terms of them living out their testimony, I suppose. It's really encouraging to hear that.

I was going to go down a similar sort of line to where Alun was in terms of the longer term assessment of this, but I think I'm fairly comfortable with where we landed on that. So, I'll just come back to, as the Chair mentioned, the here and now. You say in written evidence:

'the impact a six-month placement might have on the household.'

That's the phrase you use. I guess what you're saying is that six months probably isn't realistic in terms of what's expected of households, and that it's going to be longer than that. Is that right?

09:35

There are a number of things that we were referring to there, partly that six months can be a very long time to have to share your personal space, so making sure that people have got all that understanding upfront is really helpful. I think there are some things that we need to consider as part of this model, such as respite care. People are signing up for six months, potentially more, and not thinking through, maybe, when they have their family holiday, where will the guests go. Will they be happy for the guests to reside in their house while they're not there? What happens if their family have a bereavement or their children's house suddenly falls through and they have to come home? I think there are a lot of situations that are very difficult for us to plan for, but that means that a six-month placement is a long period of time and we should have resilience built into the model—so, ideally, respite hosts. There is some talk of local authorities already identifying hosts that people can move to when placements break down, but we are seeing already, given that this was only discussed and launched in March, placements breaking down in England, so having those back-up measures in place is going to be really important. Thinking through in advance can actually mean that hosting placements are more successful, so it can give both parties respite as well. 

With the risk of breakdown and trying to reduce that, I'd expect part of the measure could be to provide basic support and training for those host families. Is that provision in Wales at the moment?

That's what we would love to see more of—information sessions, really, just raising awareness, and then training and support. Building in things like hosts that just want to do respite would be really helpful as well. There are some people that can't feasibly do six months, but would be more than happy to do a couple of weeks at a time. Recruiting those in parallel to hosts that are able to do six months would be enormously helpful for the number of breakdowns that may occur or the respite that will be needed.

Just to come back to this training piece, whilst we're not trying to create lots of professional hosts, as it were, I guess some very basic understanding of some of the experiences that people may have coming into their home, that sort of training and briefing—is that happening at all at the moment, or is it just people are landed with a family to host and off you go?

As far as we're aware, we're the only organisation running those information sessions that would then progress into training sessions, because, at the moment, the information sessions see a significant drop-off after we've been through the reality of what a hosting placement entails. We know that of the number of people that have registered, thought to be about 150,000, 15,000 of those are in Wales, so we are afforded with the opportunity of making sure that we've got the right hosts.

I was speaking to a gentleman the other day who'd been to Ukraine to bring back his stepfamily and children, and he was challenging me, saying that their walls are imploding, and, actually, they're grateful for anything. While I completely understand that point of view, we have a duty, I think, to recognise that these people are vulnerable and are looking to us for safety, so making sure that they are afforded the basic safety checks is going to be absolutely vital. So, I think certainly training and awareness sessions are something that we could be and should be doing now.

Okay. Thanks. Just to go a little bit further, Chair, if I may, also in your paper that you provided to the committee you talk about recommending

'close monitoring of how the safety checks associated with this scheme are undertaken.'

As you said a moment ago, what we are seeing, obviously, is a Disclosure and Barring Service check and then perhaps one visit by a local authority. Did you want to expand on that any further? Because my concern is that somebody coming into a household is very vulnerable. If they are ever concerned about something, is there an ability to speak out? Because they are, at the end of the day, in a house, and I'm sure they're very grateful for that, but perhaps would worry about speaking out about something maybe happening there, and therefore may worry about losing that accommodation. It's not like a whistleblower-type thing, but is there anything in place that allows those families to be able to speak out and raise any issues of concern?

09:40

So, that should be built in from the local authorities. They should have a point of contact within their local authority. Ideally, it would be the same person that's been involved in the process and been doing the home visit and helping to match that person with their host address. But what we would like to see is more involvement of the third sector there, where we have people on the ground, we have those connections out in those communities, and that will provide an ongoing place for people to go to if they're feeling that something isn't right, because, unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of people with ill intentions throughout the scheme coming forward. There is a real issue with predatory males asking specifically for young women, in return for sexual favours or household favours, and so it really is open to exploitation—the scheme itself. So, making sure that, as you say, people have an opportunity to contact someone is absolutely vital.

You said that that should happen. Do you know if it is happening?

At the moment, I don't think we have the level of certainty that that is available across every local authority, and who that would be and how easy it would be for the person to contact. But, as you say, I think that is an absolutely vital thing that would be great to have further assurance of.

And if I could just add that the home visit that you mentioned there—ensuring that that happens before the placement is our main concern. That, for us, is the absolute safety net that would have prevented a lot of the issues that we're already seeing from happening. If it's someone with experience of home visits—although we would like a risk assessment, just having a conversation around an agreed set of questions would prevent a lot of the situations from going awry that we can currently see. So, 'Will you be affording the person their own front door key?' If the answer to that is 'no', then you don't need to go any further, really.

What's the position with those home visits in Wales then, Bonnie? Is it satisfactory, in terms of what's happened up to now, and what's being put in place?

So, so far, we can see that a lot more precaution is being taken. The welcome centres are absolutely vital in enabling us to do those further checks. It's just how we are managing sponsorship when it's between an individual family and individuals from Ukraine. And, in a way, we're seeing a two-tier system. We've got the family route, where families aren't afforded the £350, which is complex, because that means that some people are then finding, actually, they can't afford to accommodate their family or the people that they brought over. You can't switch between one scheme to another—that is a concern.

But in Wales, what we're seeing, where we are able to control things, such as providing welcome centres—because, of course, some of it is retained legislation and retained set-ups—what we're able to put in place is restricted. But we can see that the efforts are definitely working in the right direction, it's just, I think as Alun said, the implementation of that and the reality of that on the ground, and it's too early to say at the moment. So, watching that closely, particularly the role around local authorities, will be really important.

I'm just working out the funding and understanding it. So, if they come via the family route, you said they can't apply for the £350. It's only when families come forward, and then they have £350 a month. And that's for six months or one year did you say? And local authorities are given £10,500 per person, but anybody coming into the country, until they get refugee status, they don't have any recourse to public funds. Is that correct as well? I'm just trying to get my head around all of it.

So, in this situation, they will be given refugee status and leave to remain for three years. So, a bit like the Afghanistan situation, we will see those people coming here with a pre-agreed refugee status. So, that's quite different to a lot of the other asylum seekers we have in Wales. So, again, there's a real disparity there. But that means that they will be able to access benefits and they will be able to work. But until those payments are put in place, there will be a £200 upfront—we believe that's what's being stated—payment to cover initial costs.

Okay, thank you. Home visits are really important—you're learning that going forward—and we talked about volunteers and it's really important that they're embraced by the community. It's really difficult if you're coming to a new place, a new country, and you don't know anybody. And I think to be taken on by the local community and build friendships is really important. I'm concerned as well—. Broadly, public services are stretched and we don't have enough housing accommodation, and then it can build up animosity as well, can't it, to new people coming into the community? So, we just need to overcome that somehow and look at it on a personal basis, on a people basis, so it's really how can we overcome that so that they're embraced by the community? I think that's so important. But also it is important to have volunteers as well. I think volunteers are being stretched as well after helping out through the pandemic, and people have to work as well, so that's an issue. If you're having to do home/place checks beforehand, that needs to be done by a professional, doesn't it, really, not volunteers? So, we do need that public service funding, really, to sustain this.

09:45

I think there is a potential to get volunteers to a place where they would be able to do those visits, but that would require training and experience.

But, as you say, volunteering is a challenge post pandemic. We've seen a real decline in the numbers of people willing to volunteer in traditional ways because volunteers are often retired and people have lost two years of travelling and living their lives, people have got older and people are concerned about health issues as well, so volunteering is certainly changing. Finding new ways to recruit new people and to sustain them as volunteers is vital.

Is it on this point, Alun? No. I'll just bring Mabon in, then. Mabon.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Bonnie, for the evidence as well—really, really interesting. Can you hear me, by the way?

I had a message saying I was muted, sorry about that. I just wanted to check, first of all, I remember, going back to the beginning of COVID, everybody saying, 'Well, okay, we're going to have a lockdown. We're prepared. Three months and then it'll be over—let's prepare for three months', and I'm concerned that we're doing the same here. We've got a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people putting their names forward thinking it's going to be short term. Do you think that, as a society and as a Government, we are prepared for the long term? We heard today that Putin is preparing for a long war, are we prepared for the long term in as much as welcoming refugees here goes?

I think that's a great question, and I hope that the welcome centres and the slightly slower approach that we're taking will enable us to better prepare for the long term, really, because it will enable us to understand the people that we are housing and accommodating better and their needs. It will allow us to place them better where there are services and support for them, and it will enable us to have a more long-term, sustainable approach, whereas what we can see is where things are being rushed in England that that's leading to placements breaking down already, and that speed is obviously not helping. However, I think that we do need to be conscious that, as you say, it's actually going to go on for potentially years and that we will see more people choosing to come at a later point, so the number of people waiting to come to the UK at the moment is not the final amount, because as the war continues and further areas are challenged, then we'll see increasing numbers, potentially, over the next year or more, and while we have predominantly women and children coming at the moment, we can see that we will have males following up as well. So, the types of accommodation and the types of support that we need—we need to be thinking long term about that, because hosting placements for a woman and a child are one thing, but actually for a family, they are quite different, and, again, my main concern on that is where the accommodation and the housing will come from.

Thanks. Can I just ask, then, on that as well, following on from that, it is great that we've got people putting their names forward to be hosts, but sometimes some hosts can be in very isolated areas, in rural areas, and I'm just thinking about the network that a family of refugees might need to support them, not just that initial host support, but, as time goes on, they'll need a network of people that they might know, friends and family. Do you think we're doing enough to make sure that we are providing those networks and that people are being placed in places where they will be able to turn to friends and family or networks of people that they might be able to tap into for advice and assistance? Are we doing enough around that?

Certainly. We're working with Welsh Government to encourage that kind of conversation after the initial expression-of-interest form that we're seeing. People should be contacted then and those questions should be asked, because, as you say, setting someone up in an isolated place is likely to fail. It's not going to help those individuals to establish networks, to find jobs and to settle in for at least the period that they're going to be here, if not longer, if they're going to stay. So, making sure that the hosting placements and the accommodation is in the right location is absolutely vital. We can see the transition towards this in Wales as well, that affordable housing and social housing must be in the right locations, otherwise we're not affording people the opportunity to prosper. And so we hope that that will be part of the assessment made following the initial expression of interest and between placing somebody. And we would advocate, personally, that with the amount of people coming forward offering hosting, that we should only be really considering places that have at least public transport infrastructure, so that the individuals have that freedom to get out and can access support networks, job opportunities, access to immigration advice—things like that are going to be really important.

09:50

Thanks. Could I—? Sorry, Chair, if I may, just one final question—

Since we're discussing the wider issue rather than simply housing, again, do you think we're doing enough in educating schools—school staff, teachers and the pupils in schools—on how to welcome refugees and how to ensure that they are accommodated according to their need, because of the trauma that they will bring with them, so that we have that understanding in the schools when children enter the schools?

Again, it's a really good question, and that's one that I don't have enough information on to answer today. I could write afterwards to look at what is being provided in schools. But my gut response would be that more is always needed. Community cohesion issues continue to be an important aspect for us in Wales, particularly as a nation of sanctuary. So, from my point of view, whether we could use this opportunity in schools to raise awareness of our wider commitments as a nation of sanctuary, not only would it help those Ukrainian children coming into our education system now, but it would help us as a country, moving forward, to live our commitments as a nation of sanctuary. And there are many roles that could help with that. We know that we have police officers and police community support officers going in and out of schools, but we also have charities like ourselves that would be more than happy to provide information and sessions to schools and pupils.

I was just thinking, we're discussing where we are at the moment, but what would your shopping list to Government be? What are the actions that Government should be taking? We've agreed that, at the moment, the actions of Government are reasonable and fair and are coping with the current situation. We've also agreed that it isn't sustainable in the medium or long term. So, what actions do you believe the Welsh Government should be taking now in order to prepare for that medium and longer term?

Absolutely. So, the first thing is an absolute commitment to a home visit before somebody is placed in a hosting placement. The second would be Disclosure and Barring Service checks and, as we've seen, I think, already from the Welsh Government information, working with local police forces to gather information on individuals, because that's going to be vital—that local understanding of who we're working with. I would say that information and training sessions need to be provided now. That will help us to reduce the vast number of people that we're currently interviewing as prospective hosts. Actually, if they understand what they're signing up for, it will reduce the number and we can have more meaningful conversations and assessments. And then I would like to see requests for local authorities to be demonstrating what work they're doing with third sector partners and housing associations on the ground, and what provision is going into places like medical centres, schools and particularly that vital point of contact that the individuals have, so that if there are any issues, they know how to get help.

I agree with all of those points, and I think they're all very fair and reasonable, but I'm not sure they address the scale of the challenge that you described earlier.

Well, I think that the scale of the challenge is not the welcome centres. I think we've seen that before with the Afghan situation. We're familiar with that and we've got the experience, as you've said. We've got the money and we've got the hotels. The real challenge is the housing and, at the moment, nobody seems to have the answer to that. There are a couple of things that we can continue to look at, but we've already been looking at them: bringing voids back into use; reducing the number of second homes, and we're actively, as a charity, trying to do that; and build as quickly as we can and looking for land that is in addition to the land that private developers may normally consider. So, what can we repurpose? So, we work actively with churches to identify derelict land and buildings to convert into social homes.

Any options like that at the moment are going to be crucial, particularly because those sites are in communities, in thriving communities, and so derelict buildings at a time of a housing crisis is really uncomfortable, and that's part of our mission. But the complexity now following 'everybody in' and the 7,000 people that we have to accommodate means that there are no easy answers to what we can do. I think the only answer I can say is exploring every option—so, volunteers for helping people to find housing, building as quickly as we can, and looking at alternative options such as the conversion of existing buildings and bringing voids back into use.

09:55

Just a brief one. You've mentioned volunteers quite a few times. I appreciate, perhaps, where your main role would lie with all this, but are you detecting an unwillingness for Government at whatever level, whether it's local government or national government, to work with volunteers in a meaningful way? Is there any resistance there that we could perhaps understand further?

Thanks, Sam. I think that's a really good point, actually. I think that we can see good intentions around volunteers, but potentially an implementation gap. I think it's akin to the future gens legislation; with what we intend and what happens on the ground, there isn't always that right reflection. We can see that there is currently funding and promotional work going on to increase volunteers, and to see volunteers and communities as part of the options. We know that Welsh Government is, for example, asking local authorities for their rapid rehousing plans by September, and that part of that is to consider community and volunteer responses. However, what we can't see is local authorities coming to us as an organisation that has a successful rapid rehousing and tenancy sustainment programme saying, 'How can we work with you and volunteers?' Prior to the pandemic we had over 600 on our books—volunteers—and we've seen huge benefits for the cost, and actually better benefits than paid workers to the individuals that we're supporting.

I personally do feel there is an implementation gap between our aspirations for using volunteers, what the evidence base says that we need to do, which is to use community members and volunteers, and how that actually works out in reality. And I would, of course, as a third sector charity say, maybe, that we're potentially an afterthought, and in situations of crisis, more so. But again, I would urge us—this relates to Alun's point—when we're having to look at all options, to really consider the benefit of volunteers, because when they're DBS checked, reference checked, trained and supported, they can be incredibly effective.

Bonnie, thank you very much for coming in to give evidence this morning. It's been very interesting, and I'm sure committee will want to discuss how we move forward to help address these issues and scrutinise the action that's being taken and is planned. Good luck with your work, Bonnie. Thanks very much. We will send you a transcript to check for factual accuracy. 

Thank you all for your time this morning. 

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i wahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod yn ystod yr eitemau a ganlyn: 4, 5 ac 8
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the following items: 4, 5 and 8

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4, 5 ac 8 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4, 5 and 8 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Our next item, item 3, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to exclude the public from this meeting for items 4, 5 and 8. Is committee content to do so? Yes. I see that committee is. Thank you very much. We will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:58.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:58.

10:35

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:37.

The committee reconvened in public at 10:37.

6. Ymchwiliad i ail gartrefi: sesiwn dystiolaeth 9—y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
6. Inquiry into second homes: evidence session 9—Minister for Climate Change

Item 6 on our agenda today is our inquiry into second homes. I'm very pleased that we have the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, with us this morning, and also Debra Carter, deputy director of local government finance reform with Welsh Government, Neil Hemington, chief planner with Welsh Government, and Huw Maguire, head of second homes policy with the Welsh Government. Huw is joining us remotely. Thank you all for coming along today.

Perhaps I might begin, Minister, with some initial questions. This reflects what we've heard from a number of our witnesses in connection with the second homes issues, which is that it's part of a much larger housing problem and the shortage of affordable homes across Wales. Indeed, Minister, you and your colleague the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language have said that the housing market is failing. Certainly, that's very much what we've heard. So, perhaps I might begin by asking what action the Welsh Government is taking to address that shortage of affordable homes across all tenures, including the private rented sector, and, of course, particularly in rural and coastal communities, and, indeed, the Dwyfor pilot area. 

Thank you very much, Chair. It's very nice to be here in person after a long absence on the old Zoom there. That's a big question that you asked there to start off with, and I could happily talk for an hour on it, but I'll just do some headlines and then we'll, no doubt, get into some of the detail.

Effectively, we're trying to take a range of broad actions across the piece in what is a difficult housing market for various different reasons in various different parts of Wales. There are acute problems in bits of Wales, but they're not the same problem. That's one of the biggest issues for us. The problem in west Wales and many of the tourist hotspots is a very different problem to the problem in Cardiff and east Swansea, for example. Trying to tailor that and work closely with our local authority colleagues to make sure that we have a solution that fits areas of Wales, not a one-size-fits-all, has been very much part of what we've been doing. We've obviously got our ambitious target to build 20,000 new low-carbon homes for social rent across the piece. We know that about half of our housing need, going forward, is market housing and about half of it is social. The figures vary depending on where you are, but it's around half and half—so, 4,000-ish on each side. It's 4,200 on one side and 3,700 on the other in some places, and so on, but around half.

As well, what we've been doing is working with our local authorities to make sure that the local developments plans are fit for purpose. Neil Hemington and his team have been doing a lot of work there, making sure that land that's identified for housing in local plans is in fact developable. We've got a number of schemes in place that allow access for developers to stalled sites, for example, to help them get affordability envelopes running on land that might need remediation before it's built on, that kind of thing. We also have a range of other things, depending on where you are in Wales, like the rural housing enablers. We've got community housing roles, where we work with the local communities to find out precisely what's going on, and then we have a range of initiatives to help bring housing that's already in place in Wales back into use, so the empty homes initiatives, and we have a range of initiatives to bring private rented accommodation up to standard, a whole series of leasing schemes and incentives to allow private rented sector landlords to access schemes that will allow them to improve their properties and keep them in the private rented sector.

I can go into more detail on all of those, but there's a vast array of different interventions depending on what the perceived problem in a particular area is and what we think the appropriate response to that is. Again, Chair, obviously, I could talk for 20 minutes on each one of those, but I imagine we'll want to go into some detail on some of those depending on where the committee wants to go with it. It's obviously a pretty big topic you've introduced there, right at the beginning.

10:40

It is indeed a pretty big topic, but an essential one for these issues, Minister. What would you say about worries about pace and scale in terms of what you've outlined? How quickly can the necessary work be carried out?

That's a really interesting one, isn't it? We can see already the effects of global changes. On the 20,000 low-carbon social homes, for example, we knew that was an ambitious target. I know that people think we should build more than that and so on, but because we worked very closely with our construction companies—we run a forum for construction companies across Wales—we know what the pipeline should look like, we know what the capacity is. So, trying to drive the capacity up to build more housing at the same time as making sure the supply chains all work and so on has been very much part of our calculation.

Actually, we know that the 20,000 social homes are struggling now because we've got two big issues there. We've got a global supply chain problem, particularly for timber, and for other issues. There's price inflation of around 30 per cent to 35 per cent on virtually all construction materials, so obviously that's putting the price of each home up by around 30 percent. It varies a little, but those are broad-brush. We have the issue that I know the committee is familiar with around the habitat directive and the phosphate—shortly to be also nitrate—issues around river flood catchment areas, especially the special areas of conservation, which are holding up a large number of housing and other developments across Wales. So, we're working on various complex solutions for different parts of that. We've worked very hard to try and get that pipeline running. We've also enabled our social house providers, so our councils and our registered social landlords, to buy off plan where small SME builders in particular are building, in an effort to encourage them to build to the social house standards, to enable their housing to be bought off plan, so that they don't experience the kind of terrible cash-flow problems that we know small construction firms have.

We've done a lot of work in trying to bring those various elements together. I'm absolutely not trying to pull the wool over the committee's eyes at all; we are struggling in that global market and the price inflation is causing us difficulty. So, we've been working very hard with a number of providers to make sure that we can make them as resilient as possible, and we've changed the way that we do the social housing grant for example, and the way that we do some of the other funding schemes, to enable the affordability envelopes on particular sites to be adjusted to enable them to come forward despite the increase in the supply chain costing. So, again you can hear there's a lot of nuance behind some of this, so we are working very hard to do that. 

We remain, so far anyway, on track to build the 20,000 low-carbon homes, but it's ambitious for sure. And, clearly, the other part of that equation is to make sure that the market housing comes forward, because the market housing then drives the affordability, the social housing on those sites as well, although, typically, other than on Welsh Government's property, where it's 50 per cent now, that's about 20 per cent social housing and sometimes even lower than that. So, we're working with the local authorities to make sure that they're in the best possible place to negotiate those numbers with the developers as those sites come forward as well. 

10:45

Okay. One aspect of course is the availability of land for building, Minister. In terms of public land, is Welsh Government confident now that you have up-to-date information on availability, that you are aware of public land that could be used for housing in Wales?

Yes, indeed. Again, we've got a system called 'Lle', which maps out where the land is available. We've also been working with local authorities to make sure that their land is available. Very specifically, though, we've been working with them to make sure that the local development plans reflect the availability of land properly, and we don't have sites brought forward that have 'housing' written on them where no house has been built for the last 50 years but the plan looks good. I'm trying very desperately not to name any local authority in particular, but we've been working very hard to poke that. So, Neil's team have been putting in commentary on local development plans as they come forward, around making sure that land that's identified for housing is in fact available to build housing, and then, as I say, to make sure that our stalled sites fund and our property development funds are available, to make sure that, for remediation works, if there's contaminated land or something, those funds are available to builders to make sure that we can get those sites to be buildable so that the affordability envelope is there. 

And that's no small thing in Wales. A large number of the brownfield sites that we want to see developed, because we don't want development of greenfield for no reason, have remediation problems, and so they are out of reach of small builders who can't afford the upfront remediation. So, again, working with the local authority to make sure that they do that where it's appropriate, or that we have access to funds that allow the builders to do that, is a really important part of the piece of making sure the land comes forward properly for development. 

Okay. One further question from me at this stage, Minister, and then I'm sure other committee members will have questions. On the well-being of future generations Act and second home issues, how important, how significant do you see the legislation in terms of what you want to do and what needs to be done to address the issues? And have you had any discussions with the commissioner?

Yes, very important indeed. I had a very good discussion with the commissioner and, indeed, the late Aled Roberts, just before Christmas, where we had a wide-ranging discussion about what needed to be done in particular communities. So, my colleague Jeremy Miles, I know, has spoken to you about the Welsh language plan as well—the Welsh language and communities plan for this—and we had a very wide-ranging discussion. They fed back the views of a number of people that they'd consulted with. We also separately met with and consulted with a wide range of people.

So, absolutely, this is about the well-being of future generations, but we're not at all—. We're not in a good place here. Because of the pandemic, the true level of hidden homelessness across Wales has become evident. So, these are not people who are rough-sleeping. These are people with insecure accommodation that wasn't sustainable through the pandemic. We've housed a phenomenal number of people, but we've still got 10,000 people in temporary accommodation. So, we need to build the houses that get these people into sustainable homes. We all know that a warm, safe, secure home drives health and well-being, and it drives the ability of future generations to thrive as well. And that's why we're very keen on building those homes to the right standard. I'm often asked, 'Why don't you lower the standard so that we can build the homes faster?' But that's just storing up the retrofit problem. We have a massive problem in Wales with retrofitting our existing homes even with people living in them, so I'm very determined that the homes we're building at the moment won't be a retrofit problem in 10 years' time. So, we're not going to rob Peter to pay Paul, to use the old cliché. We are insisting on building to the right standard, but we need to build these homes as fast as possible, and also in the right place so that people can live and thrive in the communities that they want to live and thrive in.

10:50

Thank you, Chair. I'd like to welcome you back to the Senedd, Minister. I like what you've been saying, Minister, about dealing with the issues of second homes, and I agree with the policy proposals that you've been making over the last period since the election. I think that is very good and I think it's very welcome. I'm also interested in the future generations issues, because I think, sometimes, there's a danger that the future generations legislation becomes a tool of rhetoric, rather than a policy tool. And I'm interested in understanding—you were starting a conversation there that could go on for the rest of the day but we've got to be careful to wind it back—I'm interested in understanding how will you know when you've achieved your ambitions. Because the criticism that's made of the future generations legislation is that it's so wide-ranging as to become meaningless and intangible. So, in the conversation you had with the commissioner and with the late Welsh Language Commissioner, did you discuss there the detail of objectives, of targets, and how would you describe the policy objectives that you have? You have a suite of policy interventions—as I said, I agree with all of them, I think. But how will you know when they've achieved the objectives that you've set for them?

Well, that's a really good question, isn't it? We haven't got formal results based like that, but my automatic gut response to that is, 'When I don't have 10,000 people in temporary accommodation.'

Sure, but how will you know, and what does that mean in reality? For example, one of the issues we discussed earlier in this inquiry was some communities that Mabon represents on Llŷn. What difference would this make for a community like, I don't know, Llanbedrog—I take that off the top of my head—or Abderdaron, for example? What does it mean for people?

What we're trying to do is, by a suite of measures, including house building, but also all of 'Future Wales', 'Planning Policy Wales', and so on, force a planned system into place that makes our communities sustainable, so they're good, mixed communities. We know that mixed communities have the best mental health outcomes, the best education outcomes, the best poverty outcomes. And communities that become skewed, so that they're all one tenure, of any sort of tenure, actually—it doesn't matter what that tenure is—if you pick it and that's all you get, you do not have a sustainable community. So, that's the case for market housing, it's the case for social housing, it's the case for second homes, it's the case for student houses in multiple occupation. If you've got a lovely mix of all of those things, you have a nice, sustainable community. If you only have one of those things, you get a community that really isn't sustainable—it becomes out of touch and out of reach for other sectors of the community. We know that that doesn't work—we can learn the mistakes of the past from that. So, all of our policies are designed to get as much mixed tenure sustainability into our places as possible, and also to introduce all the other things that we know make for a good place—so, good access to services, good access to the right kind of infrastructure, good access to green space, which is a real issue. We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that our developers and our local authorities have the right kinds of green spaces around the housing and other infrastructure that they develop, and so on. So, there's no easy, magic wand to that, but if you look at the communities that are successful, they are those mixed, sustainable communities, which have a good mix across them.

Okay. Could you name a community that's successful? Would you like to identify one?

There are many across Wales that are sustainable communities, and they tend to be a good mix.

It's invidious to do that, isn't it? But there are plenty of places that appear in lists of 'The best place to live in', and all those—

They're mostly places we couldn't afford to live in.

No, it's not just about affordability. I grew up in a north Swansea council estate, which is widely regarded as a lovely place to live, because it has big, green open spaces, lovely spacious housing, and it's a close-knit community. So, those community things are what people like about where they live, and access to those kinds of community things, where you are valued in your sustainable community—we know that's what drives it. And the well-being of future generations is there to try and get us to get everyone into that position. We're a long way off that. If we've got 10,000 people in temporary accommodation, we're a long way off that. So, it's about building the homes in the right place, with the right kind of infrastructure and the right kind of community infrastructure around them to make them sustainable.

Chair, I could go on at great length about the homelessness stuff that we're talking about, because this isn't about four walls and a roof. We know that that's not what people mean by a home. So, just putting people into the nearest available four walls and a roof does not work—they're not sustainable tenancies; people can't sustain that lifestyle. If you put me into a high-rise block in Manchester, I would not be able to sustain that tenancy. Another person would be very happy there. So, it's about getting the right house for the right person in the right community for them and making sure that they have the support mechanisms around them to sustain that.

10:55

Okay. Just to finish off, you don't have the objectives at the moment and that's fair enough. Is it your intention through this Senedd, through the mandate of the current Government, to develop objectives and targets for different elements of your work?

No, we have objectives around how many houses we want to build—

Yes, and we have objectives around ending homelessness, for example. We haven't developed a—. I don't even know how to begin to do that, if I'm honest. I'm not averse to it and I'd be very happy to work with the committee, but I don't even know what that would look like, Alun, if I'm honest, because that is almost 'how long is a bit of string', isn't it? What makes somebody happy in their home is very different—

But, you know, this is my worry about future generations legislation. We all say we agree with it and I'm old enough to have voted for it, and I just don't know what it means in reality, and it appears neither do you. And that's fair enough in some ways, but it just means that—

Well, I think I know what it means; I just don't know how to measure it, and I think those are two different things.

I think we'll have to leave this at this stage due to time constraints and move on to Mabon.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd, a diolch i'r Gweinidog am ddod i mewn. Rwy'n falch iawn i glywed y Gweinidog yn sôn i gychwyn am ddigartrefedd ac effaith y pandemig. Yng Ngwynedd, er enghraifft, roedden nhw'n delio efo tua 30 achos o ddigartrefedd y mis cyn y pandemig, bellach mae hynna wedi pedryblu i rywle rhwng 120 a 150 o achosion o ddigartrefedd y mis yng Ngwynedd yn unig.

Roeddwn i'n cerdded y stryd ym Morth-y-gest yn ddiweddar ac roedd y stryd gyfan, ac eithrio un tŷ, yn dai gwyliau—ail dai a lletyau gwyliau ac yn y blaen. Roeddwn i yn Nhywyn yn ddiweddar iawn, ac ar hyd y seafront yn Nhywyn roedd tua 20 o dai, a dim ond dau ohonyn nhw efo rhywun yn byw ynddyn nhw. A ydych chi, Weinidog, yn credu ei bod hi'n od ein bod ni'n rhoi pobl ddigartref mewn gwestai, lle mae pobl ar wyliau fod i fynd, tra bod pobl ar wyliau bellach yn cymryd tai y mae pobl fod i fyw ynddyn nhw?

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank to the Minister for joining us today. I am very pleased to hear the Minister talking about homelessness at the beginning there and the impact of the pandemic. In Gwynedd, for example, they were dealing with around 30 cases of homelessness a month prior to the pandemic, but that has quadrupled to somewhere between 120 and 150 cases of homelessness per month in Gwynedd alone.

I was walking along a street in Borth-y-gest recently and the whole street, with the exception of one house, was taken up by holiday homes—second homes and holiday accommodation and so on. I was in Tywyn recently, and along the seafront in Tywyn there were some 20 houses, and only two of them had people living in them. So, do you believe, Minister, that it's strange that we are placing homeless people in hotels, where people on holiday are meant to go, whilst people on holiday now take up housing stock that people are meant to live in?

Absolutely, Mabon, and, as I was saying, anything that is a single tenure is not a sustainable community. And I can give you an example from my own constituency where I have road after road of student HMOs and absolutely nobody else living there. The students bring wealth, health, vitality, vibrancy into the city, but when concentrated into a single area, they drive everybody else out. That's not sustainable any more than a village with no actual residents in it is sustainable. So, what we need is a suite of policies, and that's what we're putting forward, which allows a mixed tenure across all of those things. So, for me, it's about making sure that we don't have an over-supply of second homes/holiday lets in one area, but we have a good sustainable mix of those things. So, it's about developing policies that allow local authorities to develop for themselves the things that would drive a mixed community—a sustainable community—in their area.

And the issue is that each community has a different issue. So, second homes and holiday lets are absolutely issues in many of the beauty spots in Wales, and indeed they are in some parts of my constituency. Students are a big issue in most of the university towns in Wales. We still have just short of 1,000 people a month presenting as homeless across all of the councils in Wales, still being driven by some of the socioeconomic conditions that we have as a result of the pandemic, but also as a result of choices around welfare, and all the rest of it, that drive family break-up. So, we need to get ahead of some of these things and get the policies in place that allow local authorities to develop plans to drive more sustainable communities back into place. The difficulty with that is that it's not national. That has to be done so that we enable the local authorities to do what works for them in their area, and sometimes not even across the whole area but in a sub-area of that local authority, because different parts of the local authority will have very different issues. So, it's about trying to develop a suite of policies that give people the levers locally to understand what the issue is locally and what will solve it: so, again, bringing empty homes back into use, making sure that we don't have an oversupply of holiday lets, making sure that second home owners pay a fair amount of money into the local community for the services and so on that they still require, making sure that we have affordable housing for local people to live in the communities that they want to stay in when they've grown up, making sure that we have opportunities for local people to have employment and sustainable lifestyles right across Wales. But, unfortunately, those things look different in each local authority, depending on what their current set of conditions are. So, if you speak to Alun Davies here about some of the conditions in Blaenau Gwent, what you've described will not be what he's looking at. So, we need to make sure that our local authorities have the levers necessary to solve the problem in their area.

11:00

Diolch, Weinidog. Os caf i roi un enghraifft arall ichi, yng Nghriccieth, er enghraifft, roedd yna etholwr i fi eisiau prynu tŷ. Roedd yr etholwr yna ar gyflog reit dda ond yn mynd i ymestyn ei hun er mwyn cael tŷ teuluol efo morgais eithaf mawr, ac roedd y tŷ yn mynd am ryw £400,000. Ond, yn anffodus i'r etholwr hwnnw, ddaru prynwr ddod i mewn efo cash a phrynu'r tŷ am £450,000—£50,000 dros y pris gofyn—a hynny efo cash, a hynny fel tŷ haf, fel ail dŷ, tŷ gwyliau, neu ba bynnag derm rydych chi eisiau rhoi arno fo. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod—? Mae grym cyfalaf ydy hyn mewn gwirionedd, sydd yn milwrio yn erbyn gallu pobl i brynu tai yn eu cymunedau, a sut ydych chi'n meddwl bydd y polisïau yma rydych chi'n eu cyflwyno ac yn eu treialu yn mynd i helpu pobl yn ein cymunedau ni i fedru fforddio prynu tai ac atal pobl sydd â lot fawr o bres rhag dod i mewn a'u 'gazump-io' nhw a'u prisio nhw allan o'r farchnad?

Thank you, Minister. If I can give you another example, in Criccieth, for example, there was a constituent of mine who wanted to buy a home. That constituent was on a good wage but had stretched themselves to get a family home with a large mortgage, and the house was going for around £400,000. But, unfortunately for that constituent, a buyer came in with a cash offer and bought the house for £450,000—£50,000 over the asking price—and they bought it as a second home or a holiday home or holiday let, whichever term you want to use. Do you think that—? This is the power of capital that militates against people's ability to buy homes in their own communities, and how are these policies that you're going to introduce and are trialling going to help people in our communities to be able to afford to buy homes and prevent people who have a great deal of money from coming in and gazumping them and pricing them out of the market?

Thanks, Mabon. So, the whole issue of gazumping and so on, unfortunately, isn't one of the powers the Welsh Government has. If I had the power to change the way that conveyancing is done in Wales I absolutely would, because the whole issue around at what point you are able to back out of your promise to sell or buy is a real issue, and successive UK Governments have not seen fit to put that in place. In fact, it was put in place by a Labour Government and then taken away again by a Tory Government, so unfortunately the levers for that are not in our hands, so I can't change the conveyancing system to stop gazumping; I wish I could.

What we can do, though, is we can put schemes like homebuy in place, which allow us to assist people to buy housing in their local area by using schemes that allow shared equity and low-cost loans and so on, and you'll be aware, I think, Mabon, that we've just very recently had a success in Gwynedd for the first time, where we've got a homebuy completion in Dwyfor as part of the pilot, and we've made £13.5 million available to make sure that the homebuy scheme works in areas where the property market is hot, as they say, and getting hotter by the moment, to make sure that we are helping people buy homes in local communities, and I'm very keen that we do that. We've also enabled local authorities and registered social landlords to buy housing already existing in the private sector to get into that market and actually buy out the housing, but of course they are still subject to the normal conveyancing rules, so the gazumping thing can still happen, but we're very keen to make sure that we trial the new homebuy scheme with the new rules that we've recently put in place. I'm very pleased that we've had that success in Gwynedd, and I'm hoping to encourage other authorities to get into that market, because that's the way to do it, to help people to come back into those markets and to make sure that those communities have a good mix of people who are resident there all the time and then the tourists that bring vibrancy and money and jobs and so on to the area. So, I'm very keen to do that. I'm very pleased that that's worked, and we'll certainly be looking to see whether we can roll that out and what the issues have been and whether we can accelerate it to help exactly the situation you've just described.

Diolch. Os caf i, Gadeirydd, un cwestiwn arall yn dilyn ymlaen ar hynny. Rydym ni i gyd yn gyfarwydd a wedi clywed amryw o weithiau yn ein tystiolaeth ni am Abersoch a'r ffordd mae cynifer o dai bellach yn Abersoch yn dai gwyliau o ryw fath neu'i gilydd, ac rydym ni wedi derbyn tystiolaeth gadarn gan Gyngor Tref Nefyn yn datgan yn glir eu bod nhw'n pryderu bod Morfa Nefyn yn enwedig, a Nefyn yn ehangach, yn mynd i droi i mewn i’r Abersoch nesaf—hynny ydy, bod cymaint o dai yno bellach yn cael eu gwerthu fel ail dai neu lletyau gwyliau tymor byr.

O ran Morfa Nefyn a Nefyn, ydych chi'n credu bod y polisïau yma rydych chi'n eu cyflwyno rŵan yn mynd i atal hynny rhag ddigwydd ac yn mynd i sicrhau bod Morfa Nefyn a Nefyn a chymunedau eraill ar draws Cymru—o sir Fôn lawr i sir Benfro a draw i'r Gŵyr ac yn y blaen—eu bod nhw'n mynd i barhau yn gymunedau hyfyw, yn symud ymlaen?

Thank you. If I may, Chair, one further question following on from that. We're all familiar with the evidence with regard to Abersoch and the way that so many homes in Abersoch are now holiday homes of one kind or another and we've received robust evidence from Nefyn Town Council stating clearly that they're concerned that Morfa Nefyn in particular, and Nefyn more widely, are going to turn into the next Abersoch—namely, that so many homes there are being sold as second homes or short-term holiday lets.

In terms of Morfa Nefyn and Nefyn, do you believe that these policies that you are putting forward now are going to prevent that from happening and are going to ensure that Morfa Nefyn and Nefyn and other communities across Wales—from Anglesey to Pembrokeshire and over to the Gower and so on—that they're going to continue to be viable communities moving forward?

11:05

So, I can't guarantee that, obviously, Mabon, but what we're trying to do is put a number of policy levers in place that make sure that we do the best we can in those circumstances. You'll know the range of things that we're looking at. So, we're looking at changing the use class Order. We've just been out to consultation and we've had a large number of consultation responses back. These are clearly hot issues right across Wales, because we've got record numbers of people replying to planning consultations—1,600 or something; way more than we've ever had for anything else. So, we're just going through those now. But you'll know that what we're looking at is changing the use class Order for Wales, which permits you to just swap from a residential home to a second home and back again without planning consent, and that will allow local authorities who see the need to put what's called an article 4 direction in place, which will require planning consent to swap between the two. Just to be clear, that runs with the land, it's not personal to the people, so the house will be designated one way or the other, and then it runs with the land and you have to apply for consent to go back, to change it. So, we're just analysing the consultation. Neil's team have been working very hard to make sure that we've got the analysis of that and we'll share that with the committee as soon as we have it. But that's one of the big plans there. The other thing is, as I say, to enable people to buy into that market to make sure that the houses come back into residential use, or stay in residential use and aren't bought out. And obviously, the change of use thing will help there.

And the other issue, as you know, is that we've been consulting on the holiday let situation and when people should pay council tax or be allowed to flip to business rates, and whether that will have an effect on whether they want or don't want to be in that market, and we're about to announce the results of the various consultations and outcomes of that as well, as part of the piece of work I know you're aware of, Mabon, that we've been doing in that area.

Also, the whole issue around building affordable housing that stays affordable, so isn't sold off into the market—and that's one of the issues with the homebuy scheme as well—is there. So, we need to do that, and then the whole issue around making sure that we have good co-operative housing, we have community land trusts operating, and then we allow local people to come together and act as finance to buy out some of the housing that's there and either operate it themselves as an income source or to turn it back into residential.

And then the other big issue is helping our local authorities to identify empty homes, as opposed to homes in use as tourist and second homes; there's quite a big difference between those. That actually turns out to be much more difficult than we'd expect, because the definition of empty homes includes properties for sale, for example. So, trying to identify homes that are actually empty and not on the market for sale is one of the things we're working with our local authorities to do. Currently, the definition of an empty home is a home that's been empty for six months, but lots of houses—well, not in every area, but lots of houses—could be on the market for longer than that. So, trying to come up with a definition of a longer term empty home and then empower the local authority to actually do something about that with a series of incentives: so loan finance, grant finance to the equitable owners of those homes to bring them back into use—we've rolled that out across Wales, having had very successful pilots there—but also to allow the local authority to compulsory purchase them to bring them back into use as well, and to provide the financing to do that. So, we've done a lot of work; Neil's team again have been doing a lot of work around Wales with training packages for local authority officers on compulsory purchase in those circumstances and so on.

So, there's a range of other things we're also doing, Mabon, to bring as many properties back into use, because I absolutely take your point: it clearly is nonsensical to have people who need homes in hotels and then the homes that should be available for them being used as holiday accommodation; that's clearly not what they'd call optimal. So, we're working very hard on a set of levers to make sure that we can do that.

And then the last thing, Chair, I want to say about that on the homelessness front—because that's a whole other session for the committee, I'm sure—is that one of the things we absolutely have to do is get upstream of that. We cannot have nearly 1,000 people across Wales presenting as homeless as a sustainable future for people. That's clearly not a sustainable future plan. So, trying to get underneath what is causing people to fall out of their accommodation, what's causing their family relationship breakdowns and all the rest of it, what is causing that pipeline, is one of the big issues for us. And we're about to put a series of White Papers and so on out around changing the homelessness legislation and the duties on local authorities to get upstream of people falling out of accommodation so that we can try and stop people falling into the river as opposed to fishing them out when they've already fallen in, to use the old expression. I think Deputy Minister Lynne Neagle is very fond of using that analogy, but it works for this too. So, just to say that that's a whole other piece of work in this space, which is connected.

11:10

You've outlined a number of different proposals and policy responses that you're going to be putting in place there. Would it be possible for you to drop a line, a note, to the committee on a potential timescale for some of those matters, because it would affect the work of the committee in terms of addressing some of these matters? We understand that you can't be held to this, and we're not asking you for that sort of detail, but an indicative timeline for announcements for those matters.

Yes. Fine. If that exists, I can easily share it with the committee.

Thanks, Chair, and morning, Minister. I really welcomed your frank assessment of things right at the opening of this morning's session. There are huge challenges ahead of us. And whilst I accept that some of that has been exacerbated by inflation and post pandemic, a number of these issues, obviously, were existing beforehand as well.

Just particularly on the second homes, I've got a couple of questions. In Wales, we do have 1,397,387 properties, of which fewer than 20,000 are second homes. I think that context is really helpful sometimes. And I think you were right, when you opened, to mention that the second homes issue is certainly an issue in some communities, but it's certainly not broad-brush across the areas. So, do you think there's a risk that the focus and attention on second homes is drawing attention away from the fundamental issue, which is that we're just not building enough houses?

So, it is exactly as I said at the beginning. It's about building sustainable communities, isn't it? So, absolutely, second homes are not an issue right across Wales. And, in fact, in Cardiff, they're very much welcome, because much of the city's strategy is predicated on attracting people—like most of us, actually—into the city to work for part of time, and have a second home in the city, and then go back to their primary residence at weekends. So, Cardiff would not be a city, I would—. Well, you'd have to ask them, but I would guess that Cardiff is not going to be a city that's going to put an article 4 direction in place, because they have the exact opposite issue. And that's what I meant about making sure that we're working with our local authorities to make sure that they have the levers to solve the problem that they have in their area, because they don't have the same problems. That's the real issue. So, again, apologies, Chair, to take my own local authority for a moment, but the issue that Swansea council has on Gower is very similar to what Mabon is describing in Llŷn; the issue that it has in Swansea East is very similar to the issues that we have in Blaenau Gwent. So, clearly, one size won't even fit one local authority, never mind the whole of Wales. So, trying to work with the local authorities to make sure they have the right levers in place for the particular issues they face is one of the big issues for us.

Student houses in multiple occupation are not currently a part of this discussion, but I can tell you that, in most university towns in Wales, they are a hot topic, very similar to this. So, for me, it's not about the number of homes overall; it's about what's happening in each community and how can we make sure that that community has the best chance to stay and make a sustainable community, and to make sure that we don't have an over-supply of particular types of housing in particular areas. Student HMOs are not a problem across Wales, but they are a problem in university cities. If we had a one-size-fits-all, we'll never solve that problem. So, what we've done is we've come up with a system for that, which allows local authorities to have density policies and to have licensing arrangements that allow the control of that, so that we don't get an unsustainable community. We need to look at those kinds of levers for second homes and holiday lets in areas where they are a problem, without discouraging them where they're not a problem, because, actually, they also bring vibrancy, jobs and so on. So, Sam, I think that's a very long-winded way of saying, 'It depends'.

Okay. My point is, really, even if every single one of those second homes was brought into primary home use, that's fewer homes than the 20,000 low-carbon that you want to build. So, I'm just trying to get a balance right between where the focus and attention should be. The longer we've been doing this work as a committee, it strikes me more and more that, whilst I know that building more houses isn't the single silver bullet, it's quite obvious to me that it's quite a large part of the ammunition that needs to be fired to make sure that houses and homes are available for people. So, are there tools at the moment that you would like to have to be able to accelerate the building of houses in Wales that you don't have currently? Are there barriers across departments within Government that are preventing you, as Minister, from seeing these houses getting built at the rate that you would like them being built?

11:15

The biggest problem that we have at the moment in building the homes that we want is the global market situation. So, as I described at the beginning, the price inflation has been pretty awful, and that's the case for social, so about 30 to 35 per cent extra for each home that we build in the social sector, and that's also happening in the private sector, so obviously that's driving some of the price inflation, as well as the heated housing market. So, trying to make sure that, in particular, our SME builders stay in business while that's happening has been one of the things that we've been looking to do. As I say, we run a construction forum, where we engage with them on a very regular basis and try and make sure that there is at least a Government pipeline of work to keep them going, so that they don't have real bad cash flow, although, I mean, that's not to say that we can solve every problem, because we haven't been able to. 

And, absolutely, the whole issue about access to land and the land values—that's what Neil's reminded me of. So, what we've been doing is developing a different system for the way that we support social housing, so that we look at the affordability of the site overall, rather than a single intervention rate. So, for many years, we've had a single intervention rate, but obviously there are some areas in Wales that have a high enough land value to not need that intervention and there are other areas that need a higher intervention rate to make the houses buildable. So, we've been pulling all the levers we can to do that.

I've also had lots of meetings with the big house builders in Wales, which have been surprisingly helpful in some areas. We haven't always seen eye to eye, but actually, we've seen more eye to eye than people would, perhaps, expect. And many of the bigger house builders have actually embraced our new standards for all kinds of reasons, not least that we've been enabling, as I say, the social house buyers to buy off-plan, which really helps with a mixed community. 

We have a huge issue with the phosphate and nitrate issue, on which I'm hoping that the First Minister is going to chair a summit, possibly at the Royal Welsh, with a whole series of interested parties, about how on earth we're going to get underneath that problem. That's a very, very difficult problem with no obvious solution to it—we need to attack that on a number of fronts. And then, this whole issue about making sure that the land supply is there and that we have all of the levers I talked about earlier about building on brownfield, in particular, and those funds to make sure that builders can remediate the property—you know, remediate the land before it goes on. 

And then, Chair, there is a whole series of smaller things that I haven't had the time to mention today. So, we have Self Build Wales, we have a whole series of initiatives around smaller scale housing, but it all helps, basically; it all helps with in-fill sites, it all helps people to have a sustainable home of one sort or another. We support community land trusts, and I've had really interesting conversations with the CPA and others about how we can get access to land, and a very interesting conversation with the Church in Wales about access to some of their land and buildings for housing, and so on. So, I assure you that we are happy to talk to anyone you can think of who might be able to help us with some of that.

Yes. And I know, Chair, that other Members want to speak, so I'm not going to ask a question, just a quick point. I just do worry, sometimes, that we're overcomplicating things and I suppose it's getting the balance right between putting measures in place whilst also allowing the market to get on and do the thing that they do best, which is just to build houses. Because, frankly, there is quite a lot of land available in Wales, and sometimes, I do wonder whether we make it so complicated to allow those who want to develop to develop in those spaces. And I just would welcome a continued urgency and desire to see it as easy as possible for the developers to build. There are good-quality houses being developed in our communities, but—

I don't disagree with that, Sam, but just to make the comment: I'm sorry, but one of the issues that we have is that developers will go to the easiest place to develop without any consideration of the infrastructure around it. So, we have a constant problem with people trying to build either side of the M4, away from all other community envelopes. And actually, one of the other things we need is sustainable communities, communities that have access to public transport, schools, hospitals, and so on. So, it isn't just about, 'Chuck the houses up anywhere'; it is about actually building houses that make communities of people who have sustainable lifestyles. Because, actually, one of the things that's driving the homelessness epidemic is that people have housing that isn't sustainable and they aren't able to sustain it. So, I absolutely take the point you're making, but it is about getting the balance as well, trying to direct the developers to the land that has access to services and all the rest of it, and it isn't just a green field closest to the motorway. So, that's been a continuing saga.

11:20

Thank you, Chair, and apologies that I'm slightly late this morning—traffic was quite bad. And thank you, Minister, for coming today for this evidence session. Obviously, there's been a lot of coverage about that potential 300 per cent increase in council tax premium for second homes. What do you think would be the impact in local authority areas, where that is enacted, on the second home market there, and then also on the natural housing market there as well?

So, the whole purpose of allowing the local authorities to do that, as opposed as imposing it, is to make sure that the local authority itself gets the evidence base together to understand what impact that would have in its local area. And that's exactly why we were doing it as an enabler as opposed to a—. You know, it's not a mandate from me; they don't have to do it. And, in fact, they've been able to do the 100 per cent uplift for quite some time, and not very many of them have, for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons that we're keen on running a pilot with Gwynedd Council is to understand what that evidence base looks like and how much effort for the local authority it is to get it together, and also what enforcement and other provisions look like afterwards. There's nothing to stop other local authorities doing it, but, obviously, we're doing a piece of work with one particular council to understand exactly what that might look like and what the burden, if you like, on the local authority to do that piece of work is, so that we can assist with it. So, I don't know the answer to the question, really. The reason for doing it locally, though, is to make sure that we do get that evidence base together before the decision is made. All we've done is enable that to happen. I don't anticipate that that would happen in very many, if any places in Wales, but, you know, what the local authorities need to do is start to get that evidence base together to see what that tells them about what effect it would have in their area. Mabon has described a situation in parts of his area there, where a council may well want to have a look at what will happen, because they don't have a sustainable community as a result of that. And we know that there are lots of other places in Wales where there are virtually no second homes at all, who are most unlikely to want to do it. So, again, what we're trying to do here is give people the levers that will help them to solve the problem in their area, and they're very different problems in different areas.

Okey-dokey. Perfect. Thank you, Minister. I know from the evidence sessions we've had previously with local authority leaders and various community groups and everything, when we've talked about what is the point of that 300 per cent potential—is it to raise revenue or is it to penalise and to be punitive, you know, to discourage second homes—how do you see that? Do you see that as a way of local authorities raising extra revenue to invest in affordable housing or improve the infrastructure there, or do you see it as a way of discouraging second home ownership, if that makes sense?

Yes. What sort of measures could be taken, then, to encourage local authorities to invest that premium into affordable housing? Because I don't necessarily think that it's up to the local authority, then, to decide where they spend that money.

Yes. So, again, when the measures come in, they'll have a regulatory impact assessment with them, and we'll go through all of that more formally. But, in the end, what we're talking about is getting the local authority to produce an evidence base before it does any of these things. From that evidence base, you'd be able to see what that local authority anticipated in terms of revenue, what it anticipated in terms of behaviour change and so on, and that would be part of the evidence it would be expected to produce and consider in making a decision. So, just to be really clear: the local authority would have to make a formal decision to do that, and in order to do that, it would have to have a set of papers in front of it that had all the relevant considerations to make that decision, and all the evidence base in front of it. What we're trying to do with Gwynedd is understand how much effort that is, what that would look like, what we think the evidence base should look like, and test that out, so that when we roll it out across Wales, we know what that might look like.

I have no way of knowing, but I would be very surprised if more than a couple of local authorities even considered doing that, never mind actually got to doing it. But, for us, this is about enabling that local democratic level to make that decision for themselves, depending on what the conditions on the ground look like, as I think I've emphasised a number of times. So, I can't answer the question, 'What effect will it have?', because that will be part of the evidence base they will be expected to produce in order to make a lawful decision at council level. We've structured it like that in order to get that evidence base together to see what effect it will have.

Any intervention in the property market will have some unintended consequences, and the evidence base will be expected to run through what those might look like. So, there are lots of places in the world that have this problem, we're certainly not alone in Wales, and we've talked to a lot of the other places. So, Cornwall, the Lake district, lots of places across the continent have this problem. All of them have tried solutions that have then had unintended consequences, so trying to take that all into account in the evidence base will be very, very important. Chair, I don't know if the committee's had a chance to look at some of the things that happened in St Ives in Cornwall, for example, but that's a very interesting case study in terms of unintended consequences.

11:25

We've certainly had a briefing on other areas, but we could perhaps look at that particular area again, Minister, if it's particularly instructive. Joel.

Thank you, Chair. It was just one final question, really. Obviously, in one of the evidence sessions we had, we had representatives from the tourist sector, and I think we've all been contacted individually by various businesses and business owners worried about that change in the threshold in terms of holiday accommodation and holiday lettings. People there are generally concerned that they won't be able to fill that quota, really. What sort of impact do you think that will have? Could you see a situation where either businesses are going out of business or there's that flipping of homes, where they're allowed, because in some areas they have planning constraints on them that don't allow them to be anything other than a holiday let or something? What sort of impact do you think that will have on the market there?

We haven't made that decision yet, just to be clear, and there are a series of considerations around things like planning constraints and so on that will have to be factored in. But just to be clear what we're talking about, what we're talking about is the flip to business rates, so that's all we're talking about. At the moment, the threshold for a flip to business rates is much lower than the ones that are being consulted on or discussed. If you can't make that threshold, then all that happens is that you stay in the council tax system and you pay the council tax on that property. Necessarily, that property isn't your main residence, it's a second property.

I think it's a real social justice issue that people don't pay council tax on additional properties that they own, so I don't really see what the problem is, if I'm honest. The tourist business in question has a capital asset that they're making money from, the return on that money is what it is. You can Google how much a room costs in virtually everywhere in Wales and how much the house costs and do the sums yourself, but most of them are making about a 6 per cent return. I don't know, Chair, whether any members of the committee are making a 6 per cent return on their capital, but if they are, perhaps they'd like to tell me privately how they're managing it. It's very hard to see how a business making a 6 per cent return can't afford the council tax. I'm sorry to be hard-hearted, but I really find that quite difficult in terms of quite understanding that.

But, again, if the council tax then has a percentage increase put on it, then part of the thing that the local authority will have to do in considering that is the effect on the supply of tourist accommodation in its area, and that would be very much part of the evidence base that we'd expect them to look at.

But we're hearing from Mabon that one of the problems in his area, for example, isn't the lack of tourist accommodation, it's the lack of main residential accommodation. So, what we're looking at here are levers to make sure that we have a set of sustainable communities, so perhaps there's an over-supply of tourist accommodation if they can't meet the thresholds for letting, and maybe that's an adjustment in the market that needs to take place. But that will be a conversation to have at local level, Chair, with the local evidence base that shows you what that particular supply looks like in that local area and what the interventions will do to change that. That's not something I can do from national level, and it's not something I would want to do from national level. That is very much something that the local authorities will have to do when they look at their evidence base for putting council tax up for particular bands of properties. So, these things are all connected and the evidence will have to look at the interconnection of the various policy levers that they have.

Going back to using article 4 to replace permitted development rights, is that going to be perhaps local rather than national, you know, the choice of local authorities? And have they said it could be difficult for them getting enough evidence to get that in place? Have you had that feedback yet?

11:30

So, that's why we're running the pilot with Gwynedd. 

So, yes it's local. The local authority would have to put an article 4 direction in place. In order to do that, they'd have to get a range of evidence together, in order to make a lawful decision to do that. And what we're doing is working with Gwynedd to understand what level of resource the local authority would have to put into that in order to be able to produce that evidence, and indeed what level of resource they'd have to do to police it afterwards, to enforce it afterwards. And that's part of the reason we're running it as a pilot. That's not to stop any other local authority going ahead if they want to, but we would like to understand what that looks like on the ground in terms of both resources for the local authority, what the evidential base should look like ideally, what we're asking local authorities—perhaps we can put guidance out about what that might look like. We're also very keen that the evidence base looks robust. So, we're working with the pilot area local authority to do that. If other local authorities want to go ahead and start the process, then they're free to do so, but we're hoping to get that information out of the pilot as it runs. 

We haven't made the—. So, just to be really clear, what we've done so far is consult on it. We haven't even got the outcome of the consultation yet, so we haven't made the decision to do this, so I should back up a little bit. If we make the decision to do that on the back of the consultation outcomes, then it would be a local authority decision to put the article 4 direction in place. Sorry, I can feel Neil about to write me a note. [Laughter.]

Is he kicking you under the table? [Laughter.] Gwynedd and Conwy don't have the local housing stock, do they, anymore? I was just wondering if they had also housing officers available and still had resources there; it was mentioned earlier in an evidence-taking session. 

Just going to the licensing and registration scheme, can you give me a bit more detail on that, please? In earlier evidence sessions, people were talking about that it should be a national scheme. I think the small letting providers like Airbnb were thinking it should be under Rent Smart Wales as a national scheme for registering holiday accommodation. I think Gwynedd would prefer it to be a local scheme, managed by local authorities, and then it would be better controlled. So, just really a bit more information on that, please. 

So, again, we're running a voluntary scheme as part of the pilot area, partly to get some information about what that looks like. A voluntary scheme is hardly the same thing, obviously, but it would be interesting to see what information we get back from that. And then one of things we'll have to do, in conversation with our local authority partners, is consider what, as a result of some of the information coming from the pilot, and a lot of conversations we've had with bigger groups like Airbnb—and there are others in that field as well—they think works. There are other countries that run licensing and registration schemes, so we'll be having a look at the evidence from them as well. 

Just to say that there's a big difference between a registration scheme and a licensing scheme. So, trying to understand what the difference between those two things is, and how that might work and who enforces it, and all the rest of it, will be part of that discussion. So, we're running the pilot to see what information we get, and, as I say, it's a voluntary pilot so that's obviously not the same thing. And we're in discussion with our local authority partners, and indeed, our co-operation agreement partners, about what the roll-out of that might look like in the future. But there's plenty of evidence from around the world about those schemes working and what effect they have. So, it will be interesting to see what the data tells us coming back. 

Just to say, Chair, this is just a policy aim of the Welsh Government. One of the things I'm very keen to do is to look at this whole thing right across all tenures. So, if you put the private rented sector into this, you get a much more complicated picture. So, one of the things we're very keen to do is encourage home owners across Wales to go into the private rented sector rather than the tourist sector in areas where there's a shortage of affordable housing. And at the moment, if you want to be a private sector rented landlord, you have to register with Rent Smart Wales, and you have to jump through quite a number of hoops to do that, rightly so, to ensure that you're doing the right thing. Your property has to comply with a number of things and so on. That's not the case for holiday lets, so I'm not sure that our policy levers are heading us in the direction we'd actually like to go on in an overall setting. So, one of the things the Welsh Government is currently doing is looking at that right across the piece, and making sure that we're actually trying to encourage—that our levers are having the effect of encouraging the behaviour we'd actually like to see on the ground, and not having unintended consequences. And you can hear that I think, although I have no empirical evidence yet, that they're likely to be encouraging the wrong behaviour. So, we're just having a look at that, and when we have more information, Chair, I'll  be very happy to share it with the committee.

11:35

My third question is about bringing empty homes and properties back into use, which you spoke about earlier, about offering loans and grants. I went to one place in Gwynedd, a little village there, and I was shocked at the amount of empty properties, properties not lived in, that were in a terrible state as well. There was some holiday accommodation, but some—nearly half the properties were in a terrible state that needed investment. There was one bungalow, much needed and valued in the community, where the community was hoping to buy it for the community, but the owner said, 'Not for sale'—he was hoping to use it for retirement, but he was retired already and already had other properties. So, we can encourage, but is there anything we can do, in another way, as a stick as well? So, that's like—'house banking' I call that now. And we've also seen a lot of land banking happen, where people have bought property, invested in land over the years, and then, as you said, developed easier lands, the green lands. So, I know you're looking at that as well, but is there anything else that could be done? I know the local authority where I was before, they would give two-year planning permission, rather than five years, to try and encourage that development—didn't work, though. So, is there anything we can be doing as a stick as well?

So, as I said, Carolyn, one of the things we're doing is—. Well, first of all, we're incentivising with carrots. So, there are grants available. You have to reside in the property or give it to us as a long-term social let in order to access those grants, quite rightly, so they're not grants to put the house on the market for sale. There's loan finance available for that as well, where £20,000 isn't sufficient to bring a house up to standard to live in. That's been very successful in various parts of Wales, where people have inherited houses that they would have liked to live in but just couldn't afford to bring them up to standard. So, we've had some good success with that—we've rolled that right out. The big issue there, though, is enabling the local authority to compulsory purchase property that's causing those kinds of problems. And as I said earlier, Neil has been working very hard with local authority officers to make sure all the right skills are in place and all the right procedures are in place to enable that to happen. We've been pushing very hard local authorities, particularly where there's a building that's blighting our community because it's an eyesore and it's perhaps pivotal to the community—for the local authority to take that sort of interventionist action to compulsory purchase a property, and then, obviously, to consult with the community about what to do with it once it's been purchased. So, that's quite a big stick, actually, and we are hoping to see more of those as that rolls out across Wales.

Okay. Well, thank you very much, Minister, and thank you to your officials, for coming in to give evidence today. If we were to write to you with any follow-up questions or issues, Minister, it would be very useful if you were able to expedite a reply, given the various difficulties we've had on timings during this inquiry. But we'll discuss your evidence—

I'll certainly do my best to do that, Chair. And I apologise—as you know, I've been off work for a little while, so that's held things up, I know. So, apologies for that. I will certainly make sure that we get you a response as fast as is humanly possible.

Thank you very much, Minister, and thank you for coming in to give evidence today. Diolch yn fawr. You will obviously be sent a transcript in the usual way.

7. Papurau i’w nodi
7. Papers to note

The next item before committee today is item 7, papers to note. Is committee willing to note those papers? We have paper 3, which is a letter from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on the electoral pilots. We have paper 4, a letter from the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee on their inquiry into mental health inequalities. Paper 5 is a letter from the Chair of the Finance Committee on the draft budget and engagement. Paper 6, a letter from the Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee on its annual scrutiny of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales's report. Paper 7, a letter from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on the supplementary lLegislative consent memorandum—memorandum No. 2—on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Paper 8, a letter from the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution in relation to the legislative consent memorandum on the Elections Bill. Paper 9 is a letter from Jane Dodds, Member of the Senedd, in relation to building safety. Paper 10, additional evidence from the Wales Tourism Alliance on our inquiry into second homes. Paper 11, also additional evidence, from Cymdeithas yr Iaith. And paper 12 and, indeed, paper 13, also additional evidence, from Dyfodol i'r Iaith and the Minister for Climate Change. Quite a number. Are Members content to note the papers? Sam.

11:40

The additional pieces of evidence, from the three letters, or three items of evidence—will they be part of the consideration for the draft report that's going ahead?

Okay, thank you very much. We will, then, move into private session for the remainder of our items.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:40.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:40.