We need more Council homes with Council rents, not less

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This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Given the fact that there have been hardly any Councils homes built over the last few decades the fanfare over “biggest build for 30 years”  is spurious. Under the New Labour government’s National Affordable Homes Programme there were, I think, only 42 built, though these did at least charge Council rents. The 100 under this government’s “Affordable Homes” programme might sound like an improvement on very little. In fact it’s less than it appears. The bid that has been accepted will not provide an additional 100 homes, but only 67, since 33 flats at Sussex Square will be demolished. So it doesn’t even add up to the 33 homes per year that Mark Dempsey suggested.

David Renard told the Adver: “It shows we are committed to investing in our housing stock and providing sustainable homes for people who need them.” It shows nothing of the sort. To put it in context, the Council lost 67 homes through ‘right to buy’ in just one year, 2013-14. So a programme which produces an additional 67 homes over three years will not even keep pace with the loss of homes through ‘right to buy’. More

Why does Salford Labour Council support the coalition government’s housing policy?

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Download a PDF of this article here salfordtransfer

I’ve just been sent, via the Defend Council Housing campaign, a copy of Salford Council’s “Formal Application for Stock Transfer”; its appeal to the coalition government for permission to ‘transfer’ its Council housing stock. It’s a long and detailed document so these are just some first observations.

A Labour Council proposing to ‘transfer’ its stock to a Housing Association is nothing new. Under the New Labour government there was a policy of transferring 200,000 homes a year. There were financial inducements (including the writing off of housing debt) which were used to pressure the tenants into voting for ‘transfer’. What’s different about this proposal is that a Labour Council is appealing to a Tory-Liberal coalition government for permission to ‘transfer’, and asking for it to write off the housing debt in order to facilitate it. As we all of the ballots tenants are being told stay with the Council and get nothing, vote for ‘transfer’ and you’ll get new windows and bathrooms. 

Salford Council is proposing to ‘transfer’ 85% of the Council housing stock to Salix Homes, the ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) which manages their stock. Salix would be transformed into a Private Registered Provider. The rest of the stock is covered by a Private Finance Initiative instituted under the New Labour government. More

Swindon Council ends ‘secure tenancies’ for new tenants

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Despite the opposition of all the tenant groups in Swindon and the Housing Advisory Forum (HAF), the Council is introducing ‘fixed term’ or ‘flexible’ tenancies for new tenants, starting some time in the autumn. (See Swindon Tenants Campaign Group response to the Council’s proposed changes to it’s Housing Allocations Policy ). Although existing tenants are unaffected, if ‘flexible tenancies’ are maintained over time this would eventually mean the end of ‘secure tenancies’. At the rate of 500 new tenants a year half of the tenant body would be on ‘flexible tenancies’ in 10 years.

The Council is proposing five year tenancies for single people or couples without children and ten years for those with children. A review will take place nine months before the end of the ‘fixed term’, to decide whether to offer a new tenancy or end it, forcing them to leave. Originally the Council was proposing an introductory tenancy of one year, something which has previously been applied to all new tenants. However, they have now proposed to introduce them only for tenants ‘at risk’. Apparently, for some reason, this included anybody under 25! Probably this was because they only receive the lower rate of Job Seekers Allowance, £54 a week. We opposed this on the grounds that every tenant or none should have an introductory tenancy. If it was left to the discretion of officers then there is a danger of injustice based on subjective assessments. The HAF passed a resolution calling for introductory tenancies for all tenants on ‘flexible tenancies’. We await to see whether the Lead Member will agree or not. More

Swindon rent arrears and the ‘bedroom tax’

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At last Wednesday’s Housing Advisory Forum we were given the latest statistics for rent arrears for those affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. Under new Housing Benefit regulations tenants in receipt of HB were deemed to be ‘under-occupying’ if they had ‘spare’ bedrooms. The number of Council tenants on housing benefit considered to be ‘under-occupying’ has fallen from 1,095 in April 2013, to 835 today. When the ‘bedroom tax’ was introduced 368 of the 1,095 were already in arrears to the tune of £108,286. On May 18th 2014 the number in arrears was 394. That the increase has been relatively slight is both the result of

  • 140 tenants having ‘downsized’ in order to avoid having to pay the 14% or 25% of their rent, and
  • the payment of Discretionary Housing Payments (a grant from central government) to some tenants affected.

However, the 394 in arrears still represents 47% of those still subject to the ‘bedroom tax’.

There are also 377 Housing Association tenants affected, giving a combined figure for the town of 1212 having their housing benefit cut. More

Throwing people off the Housing list cannot disguise the depth of the housing crisis

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Download a PDF of this article here byebyebandc

Slavishly following coalition government policy Swindon Borough Council’s new Housing Allocations Policy is being implemented. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, other tenant groups and the Council’s own Housing Advisory Forum opposed these changes (see our response[1] to the proposals). We believe that the only serious way to address the housing shortage is to start building a new generation of Council homes (See “Tackling Swindon’s Housing Crisis”[2]). However you police the list there is an acute shortage of ‘social housing’ that can only be overcome by reducing the shortage by new build.

One of the proposals which the Council has now implemented is the closure of Bands C (‘in low need’) and D (people who for various reasons cannot bid for properties). The Council has written to around 8,000 households telling them that in order to remain on the Housing Register they have to meet the new criteria in the Allocations Policy (see Appendix below) or they would be removed from the list. As we shall see later some of those on Band C have been reassigned to Band B, but the list has shrunk by 7,845 households to 8,272. The numbers on the previous list, in October of last year were 16,117. More

Swindon Council’s housing policy – making the crisis worse

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Download a PDF of this document here sbcbid

Swindon Council’s Cabinet nodded through the document on the government’s “Affordable Homes Programme” at its meeting last Wednesday. They will be bidding for grant under this programme, which comes attached with central government conditions. As we have explained elsewhere (“Why Swindon Council should keep Council rents for Council homes” [1]) if Swindon wins the bid and proceeds with the work it appears to mean the loss of as many as 203 Council homes with Council rent, which will be converted to the government’s risible “affordable rent” (80% of market rents).

The document presented to the Cabinet was shoddy even by their standards. It said that the programme would provide new homes for “150 additional households”. However, it neglected to mention that it includes the demolition of up to 83 existing properties[2], meaning that a 3 or 4 year programme would only produce 67 additional properties, all at “affordable rent”. I say appears to include because of some confusion over exactly what is in the programme. More

Why Swindon Council should keep Council rents for Council homes

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To Swindon Council Cabinet members

You can download a PDF of this here ahp2015-18cab

At your meeting on April 23rd you have before you a document on the government’s “Affordable Homes Programme” (AHP) for 2015-18. The proposal is to put in a bid for grant in the second round of this programme. The very act of putting in a bid means accepting conditions which the government is imposing on bidders. Although the document neglects to inform you, you should know that the Housing Advisory Forum, at its last meeting, called on you not to put in a bid on the grounds that the conditions attached are unacceptable. Both Swindon Tenants Campaign Group and Swindon Tenants Voice have adopted the same point of view. 

We will explain why we think the conditions associated with the AHP are unacceptable, but firstly it’s necessary to correct a number of inaccuracies and misleading ‘spin’ in the document you will vote on.

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