The claim

“Only had 56 affordable homes (started) in last 6 months…got to build thousands.”

Ken Livingstone, Sky News London Mayor debate, 19 April 2012

The background

As the bitter battle for London’s City Hall rumbles on, Ken Livingstone threw in an old claim about affordable housing.

But was it a good one? Team Boris didn’t think so. Pinging an email through to FactCheck, Boris’ camp labelled Mr Livingstone’s statement as a “false claim”.

They added: “The London Development Database reports that there were actually 2,240 affordable starts over the same six month figures (April and September 2011)”.

Who’s right? FactCheck homes in.

The analysis

According to the latest figures from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), in the six months to the end of September 2011, there were a total of 56 affordable housing starts.

However, the HCA told FactCheck that the number of affordable housing starts was low across the country, reflecting the tailing off of Labour’s National Affordable Housing Programme (NAHP).

Indeed, the huge drop off in starts is blindingly clear – dropping to 207 across England over the six months – down from 35,735 in the previous six months.

And in London alone the number slid from 11,900 new starts to just 56 – as quoted by Ken Livingstone.

Labour’s scheme is being replaced with the four-year Affordable Homes Programme, which has £1.67bn of government funding. But the HCA told FactCheck the AHP’s first year was 2011-12 and in those particular six months it hadn’t yet produced any ‘starts’ as it was still ironing out contacts.

A spokesman told us that by the end of the year the new scheme is expected to deliver 35,000 affordable housing starts in England.

Almost the same as last year then. Rather inconveniently the annual figures aren’t due out until after the Mayoral election next month.

In recent years, London has typically accounted for just over a third of all affordable housing starts – in which case we could expect the annual figures to show around 12,000 starts in London over the 2011-12 financial year.

The HCA only reports on starts that use government money – and it doesn’t account for “affordable” homes built without government grants, which could explain the 2,240 starts mentioned by Boris’ team.

And indeed, that figure can be tracked down to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), whose stats on house building in the capital show that in Q3 of 2011 (July – September), a total of 2,240 dwellings were started.

But break that down and 1,330 of them were started by private enterprises, 860 by housing associations and just 40 by local authorities.  That doesn’t mean they are all ‘affordable’ – it just means that’s the number of home starts there were in London over that period.

We also wonder, if these ARE the figures for affordable housing starts – why didn’t Team Boris add the figures for Q2 on, in order to compare like with like (Ken was talking about April – September 2011). If they had, they’d have bumped the number of starts up to 6,340.

Could it be because they, like us, have no real way of knowing how many of them were “affordable” or not?

The verdict

Mr Livingstone is right that there were just 56 affordable home starts in London in the last six months recorded by the HCA (April – September 2011).

He did however fail to point out that the low number is due to the phasing out of Labour’s old affordable homes scheme, and the drafting in of the government’s Affordable Homes Programme – which only began in the 2011-12 financial year. Building starts are usually backloaded – so you wouldn’t expect to see any of the new starts until the annual figures come out next month.

As for Boris’ figure of 2,240? The HCA only measures starts funded by the government. But we managed to find the 2,240 in the DCLG’s records. These show that yes, 2,240 homes were started on in London, albeit between July and September 2011. That said, more than half of them are private enterprise developments; so the exact number of “affordable” homes for the period remains to be seen. (*see update below)

Regardless of what the actual annual figure is when it’s announced next month, it’s likely to be streets behind what’s needed.  The National Federation of Housing told us: “It’s generally accepted that London needs upwards of 30,000 homes per year to match unmet need and projected growth”.

As for Boris’s record against Ken’s – John Major holds the gong for Best Effort on housing – check out the graph below.

By Emma Thelwell

Source: DCLG

*Update: After going to press we received a belated response from Boris’ team. They pointed out that if you strip out private enterprise starts from the DCLG’s figures you’re left with the number of ‘affordable homes’ created without government funding by housing assocations and local authorities (we confirmed with the DCLG that these are ‘affordable’).

If you add Q2 and Q3 then you’re comparing the same time period quoted by Mr Livingstone; and over that period the total number of affordable starts was 2,270. That’s slightly more than the 2,240 originally mentioned – which Boris’ team put down to the fact they’re live figures which are “constantly revised”.

Mr Livingstone is still right about the number of starts funded by the government; but he didn’t mention the policy change and failed to acknowledge Boris’ point that almost 2,300 non-government funded affordable homes were created over the same period. We have therefore changed our verdict from a strong ‘fact’ to a ‘middle needle’.