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100 Years of Council Housing

Count down with us to celebrating the centenary of what is commonly thought of as the birth of council housing - the 1919 Housing Act. We will be releasing snippets of information over the next 100 days from the last 100 years of housing history - culminating in an event planned for the 31 July.

31 July

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Today's the day we celebrate 100 years of Council housing in Cornwall at a special event at the Chy Trevail Offices in Bodmin. One hundred tenants were invited - Cornwall Council tenants and tenants of former districts who now rent from Coastline, LiveWest and Ocean. Keep viewing these pages to see more news from the day - and have a look at our timeline poster which summarises what has changed over the last one hundred years. Have a look at our media release for the event which includes some comments from tenants and our Partners and a video of clips from our Portfolio Holder, Hazel one of our tenants plus some images of the interior of the new houses. 

On this day in history ... in 1977 the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act came into force. The Act set out how local authorities must make accommodation available, usually council housing, to certain categories of homeless people including families with children and vulnerable adults but did make it difficult for some groups like single homeless people to get any help other than advice and guidance. Homelessness is on the increase and more recently the help people can receive has increased with the Homelessness Reduction Act. The Council commissions Cornwall Housing Ltd to provide a range of services to the 9,000 households that approach for support.

There were 1,573 lettings of social homes in 2018-19 through Cornwall Homechoice which meant that 3,660 people were rehoused including 1,428 children. The majority of lettings were let through five of the biggest landlords in Cornwall - Cornwall Housing, LiveWest, Ocean, Coastline and Sanctuary. See our briefing note for more information.

On this day in history ... in 2008 'Rent to Homebuy' was introduced. Recent Government policy, particularly since 2010, has tended to encourage home ownership rather than other housing tenures. 'Help to Buy' is the latest Government scheme to help people buy a share in their home - this scheme has received a lot of criticism recently as many feel it has mainly benefitted people who could afford to buy on the open market and the builders themselves.

On this day in history ... in 1964, the Housing Act establishes the Housing Corporation to regulate Housing Associations and channel funds for new affordable housing. Housing Associations were to become major providers of social housing in the years to come as councils built less and less due to Government policy. The table below shows how the tenure of housing has changed over the last 100 years in the UK:

YearCouncil RentedPrivate RentedOwner OccupiedHousing Association Rented
1914 1% 89% 10% 0%
1938 11% 57% 32% 0%
1961 24% 32% 44% 0%
1981 28% 11% 58% 2%
2009 8% 16% 66% 9%


On this day in history ... in 2013, in the 1st month of the 'bedroom tax', English councils saw their hardship funds rise by 300%. The 'bedroom tax' (or removal of the spare room subsidy) is the informal name for a measure introduced in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, by which the amount of housing benefit paid to a claimant is reduced if the property they are renting is judged to have more bedrooms than necessary. Information is available on the Welfare Reform pages including a step by step mguide to working out if you are over occupying a home.

On this day in history ... in 1965, a set of prescriptive national Building Regulations replaced Bye Laws for construction in England for the first time to give homeowners protection. The NHBRC warranty period for major structural defects in new homes increased from two to ten years.

On this day in history ... in 1988, the Government published guidelines on how tenants would be protected in the new age of stock transfer. In Cornwall, three of the ex Districts (Kerrier, Penwith and Restormel) transferred their council owned stock to Coastline Housing, Penwith HA (now LiveWest) and Ocean Housing. Caradon, Carrick and North Cornwall Districts kept their stock which is still owned by the Council and managed through Cornwall Housing Ltd.

On this day in history ... in July 2000, the Government announced it's 'Decent Homes Standard' target to ensure that all social housing would meet  set standards of decency by 2010. In Cornwall, we developed our own Cornish Housing Standard which is at a higher standard than the decent homes standard and was created jointly by tenants and staff from Cornwall Housing. Consultation with tenants took place at every stage in the development of the standard to ensure it would meet tenants’ expectations on quality.

Space standards in our homes have changed over the years - and not always for the better! The table below gives an idea of how average room sizes have changed 80 to 90 years:

Year BedroomLiving RoomKitchen
1930's 15.3 sqm 16 sqm 12.3 sqm
1950's 14.5 sqm 22 sqm 14 sqm
1970's 14.7 sqm 24.9 sqm 14.9 sqm
1990's 13.9 sqm 21.3 sqm 13.8 sqm
Current 13.4 sqm 17.1 sqm 13.4 sqm


On this day in history ... in 1990, the National Health Service and Community Care Act - commonly referred to as 'Care in the Community' – was implemented. The purpose of this Act was to close down institutions and provide support for people with mental health issues in their own homes – and often resulted in many people with severe difficulties being placed in council accommodation. In Cornwall, we are working hard to ensure that vulnerable residents live in the homes they need. For example, we have embedded housing services in our approach to health and social care integration, we are commissioning 800 extra-care homes that better reflect our older population’s aspirations for accommodation and have recently completed new homes at Penzance and St Austell that support adults with learning difficulties.

On this day in history ... in 1984, the Housing and Building Control Act 1984 extended the Right to Buy to tenants of two years standing and increased the maximum discount to 60%.

On this day in history ... in 2017, tragically 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. 

The Housing Service collects a lot of information around housing and makes this available through our Housing Intelligence pages. Subscribe to these pages as we are updating them on a regular basis.

On this day in history .... in 1968, Ronan Point was a 22-storey tower block in Canning Town in Newham, East London, which partly collapsed only two months after it had opened. A gas explosion blew out some load-bearing walls, causing the collapse of one entire corner of the building, killing four people and injuring 17. The spectacular nature of the failure (caused by both poor design and poor construction) led to a loss of public confidence in high-rise residential buildings, and major changes in UK building regulations resulted.

This week is mental health awareness week and a range of activities are being hosted in Cornwall. 

On this day in history .... in 2016 the Government's Housing and Planning Act 2016 sought to introduce fixed term tenancies for all new council house lettings, make it mandatory for councils to charge a higher rent to their tenants that earned over a certain amount ('Pay to Stay') and require councils to sell of their homes with the highest values to fund Right to Buy in Houisng Associations. Although still on the statute book none of these measures has been introduced.

On this day in history.... in 1998  a leading houisng magazine 'Inside Housing' was wondering how social landlords should approach the next bit thing.... the internet. In just over 20 years - access to the internet has changed the way most of us access services, including housing services.

The tenure of the homes we live in has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Around the time of the First World War the majority of people in England (about 9 out of 10 families) lived in private rented accommodation. Nowadays most families live in owner occupied homes (about 65-70%). In terms of social housing - a hundred years ago only 1 out of a hundred homes were rented from a local authority in England and while numbers rose to around 3 out of ten households in the 1970's and 80's the figure has since reduced to about 8%. Housing Associations were created in the 1960's and by the 1980's accounted for around 2 out of 100 homes. Now around 9 out of a 100 homes are owned by housing associations. The proprtion of homes owned by local authorities and housing associations together now accounts for around 17% of all homes in England.

In this week in history… in 1998 one of the main magazines for housing professionals 'Inside Housing' was musing on how social landlords should approach the next big thing…. 'The internet'. 

On this day in History…. in 1979 Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister. She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office. Described as the ‘Sale of the Century’ the 1980 Housing Act introduces the Right to Buy policy which gave five million council house tenants in England and Wales the Right to Buy their house from their local authority. The Act came into force on 3 October 1980 and is seen as a defining policy of Thatcherism. More than 10,400 Council owned homes have been sold in Cornwall since the ‘right to buy’ was introduced.

This year the Council is reminding people who have bought properties under the Right to Buy scheme that there are legal restrictions on what they can do with their properties once they have bought them. Houses bought under the government’s  Right to Buy scheme  usually have a legal restriction on them which means that the owner should not be renting them out as holiday lets, letting them out to students or making significant alterations to their property.

Just two years into the Addison Act the Government started to worry about rising national debt leading to ‘Geddes Axe’ which cut public spending by £90m. The government under Lloyd George had promised a 'land fit for heroes' and then began to cut back on those promises. Addison resigns in protest after just 213,000 of the 500,000 homes planned to be built over 3 years were built. The aim of the new Housing Act (the ‘Chamberlain Act’) of April 1923 was to incentive the private sector to supply housing. A local authority could only receive a subsidy to build, once they had proven that private developers were not meeting demand.

'Homes fit for heroes': The 1919 Act - often known as the ‘Addison Act’ after its author Dr Christopher Addison, the Minister of Health - was a highly significant step forward in providing homes built through the public purse. It made housing a national responsibility - and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people. Cornwall Council still owns and rents to tenants homes built following the 1919 Act in Falmouth, Newlyn East, Perranwell Station, Perranporth, Liskeard, Looe, Tresillian, Saltash and Mylor Bridge.