‘Bedroom Tax’ – tenants pushed from pillar to post

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A letter to the Swindon Advertiser

‘Bedroom Tax’ – tenants pushed from pillar to post

In reply to Justin Tomlinson’s ‘challenge’ (Swindon Advertiser, ‘Bedroom Tax is not working’) we know that there are people living in over-crowded accommodation. However, unlike Justin we don’t think the solution is to set different tenants at each other’s throats as if some of them were the cause of the problems of the others. The responsibility for the housing shortage rests on the shoulders of politicians, both Tory and Labour, who since 1980 have created a shortage of Council homes by selling them on the cheap and refusing to build replacements.

If Justin is really concerned about families in over-crowded accommodation then why does he support government policy which sells family homes on the cheap? Last year three quarters of Council homes sold in Swindon under ‘right to buy’ were 3 or 4 bed properties. The government is now proposing to encourage the sale of even more homes by cutting the qualifying period from 5 to 3 years. If the Council has at its disposal less and less homes then the only result will be that those on the waiting list will have to wait for longer. More

One Year of the ‘bedroom tax’ – time to repeal it

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group: Media Release March 30th 2014

The ‘bedroom tax’ (or ‘under-occupation’ regulations) is one year old. The government has allowed those responsible for the financial crisis to get away scot free. Instead they have made the poor suffer the consequences of a crisis not of their making. It is the poor who have been hit hardest by their ‘austerity’ measures, one of which was the ‘bedroom tax’. Its purpose was supposed to be to save money (by cutting spending on housing benefit) and to free up so-called ‘spare’ rooms. Yet if people ‘downsize’ then no money is saved. It’s only if tenants remain in their current homes that their housing benefit is cut. This is the contradiction at the heart of the policy.

In some areas of the country there are very few smaller homes so there is no possibility of tenants being able to move, even if they want to. In Swindon there are more smaller homes than many other towns, but nowhere near enough for all the people affected to ‘downsize’ even if they want to. The latest figures show 140 households having moved, but still there are over 800 tenant households having to find extra money from their meagre income to pay 14% or 25% of their rent. Those on Job Seekers Allowance are forced to pay up to 25% of their rent from £72 a week. Just over 50% of tenants having their HB cut are in arrears. But for the Discretionary Housing Payment that some have received, the arrears would be much worse. Even the majority of people who have at some stage received DHP are in arrears. More

Does the cap fit?

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From Inside Housing

Jules Birch writes on the recently announced ‘benefit cap’

26/03/2014

The debate about the welfare cap seems to be all about the politics. It should be about the contradictions at the heart of the policy too.

The coalition parties and the opposition are all supporting the measure that will place a legal restriction on most welfare spending from 2015/16 so, despite an expected Labour rebellion, it seems more or less certain to go through.

The cap started off as a political trap set by the Conservatives and Labour support reflects a determination not to fall into it.

Judging from his appearance on the Today programme this morning, Iain Duncan Smith seems determined to act as though Labour doesn’t really mean its support. But the example he chose says much about his priorities and the way the cap will operate.

IDS cited Labour’s pledge to repeal what he calls the removal of the spare room subsidy. Only JSA-passported housing benefit will be outside the cap, so his point was that ending the bedroom tax will automatically increase spending within the cap and Labour should have to say what it will cut instead. More

Swindon’s Housing Advisory Forum tells the Council: reject “affordable rent”

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The Housing Advisory Forum recently discussed the government’s “Affordable Homes” programme. The government is inviting bids from housing providers for grants from the Homes and Communities Agency. Swindon Council is considering putting in a bid. The money, however, what little there is of it, comes attached with strings. The first round of the coalition government’s programme was part and parcel of its austerity package. Whereas the previous government’s National Affordable Homes Programme (NAHP) offered a subsidy of £60,000 per home the coalition government’s programme cut this to £20,000. In fact the average grant per property eventually given in their 2011-2015 programme was £18,838 nationally and £17,545 for our area.

Under the NAHP Swindon was able to build its first Council homes for 25 years, albeit on a small scale (42 homes), building Council homes with Council rents. In contrast the coalition government’s programme imposes “affordable rent” on bidders, i.e. up to 80% of private rents. More

Tackling Swindon’s Housing Crisis

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Media Release March 9th 2014 

Swindon Housing Strategy: a Council house building programme is needed to tackle the housing crisis

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has produced a discussion document analysing Swindon’s housing crisis and how it can be tackled. It’s a response to the “Housing Market Support” document voted through by the Council last year. Swindon Borough Council will soon open up a consultation on updating its housing strategy. STCG has put forward a series of practical proposals. Read or dowload the document here stcghousingsubmission

According to the Council’s own estimate each year the town builds 800 too few “affordable homes”. That is, every year the shortage increases. However, its outline proposals in the “Housing Market Support” document fail to put forward proposals to tackle this shortage and provide genuinely affordable homes for rent. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is proposing that the Council should

  • Launch an annual Council house building programme, borrowing money from the Public Works Loan Board, which offers cheaper interest rates than the market, and using some of the money from the ‘New Homes Bonus’.
  • Maintain Council rents for all Council homes rather than introducing the government’s “Affordable rent model” (up to 80% of market rates).
  • Provide additional resources to enable Council staff to try to improve the quality of housing in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in which over 30,000 people now live.
  • Examine introducing licensing for all Houses in Multiple Occupation and selective licensing of other rented accommodation in the town.
  • Campaign for a change in housing policy at the national level: for national subsidy for Council house building, and for ending to ‘Right to Buy’ which is responsible for the loss of badly needed homes from the Council stock.  More

Swindon Council rent increase

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This is a letter to the Swindon Adveriser in response to a letter from Councillor Russell Holland on the 3.7% Council rent increase for this year. Rumours that tenants have been queuing up at Euclid St to thank Councillors for the above inflation rent increase have, apparently been denied by the Council.

To read Russell Holland’s letter (“Rent increase is for the best”) you would imagine that the only people to oppose an above inflation rent increase for Council tenants, in the words of his crude amalgam, were “the Labour Party and Martin Wicks”. What he neglected to tell readers was that the proposal for a rent increase “no higher than inflation” came from tenants. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group and Swindon Tenants Voice both supported an inflation level increase, as indeed did the Council’s very own Housing Advisory Forum. More

Smoke Alarms and safety in the Private Rented Sector

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This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Smoke Alarms and safety in the Private Rented Sector

The recent report in the Advertiser of the death in a fire in a privately rented flat in Rodbourne (“Alarm might have saved woman’s life”) highlights the issue of safety in the private rented sector (PRS). Unfortunately the flat in question did not have a smoke alarm. The inquest determined that it was an “accidental death” but the Coroner made the point that if a smoke alarm had been fitted the life of the woman might have been saved.

No doubt many people will have wondered, is the fitting of such alarms not a legal obligation in the PRS? In fact as long ago as 1991 a law was introduced which made smoke alarms a legal requirement in properties built from 1992. Yet 22 years later it is still not a legal requirement for buildings in the PRS built before then (except in the case of Homes in Multiple Occupation). More

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