Let them live in garages?

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George Osborne’s Autumn statement was bad news for people who stand no chance of obtaining a mortgage. There was no funding for building homes with ‘social rent’ which offer an alternative to the expensive private rental sector (PRS). Osborne is lining the pockets of the big builders by handing over to them £2.3 billion to subsidise a 20% cut in the price of ‘Starter Homes’.

The abandonment of any support for building ‘social rent’ homes will increase the shortage of genuinely affordable homes for rent as Council homes are sold off and not replaced. This shortage is reflected in the PRS in Swindon. Councillors and Council officers have started to find people renting garages to live in. The fact that such a situation can exist in our supposedly affluent town is shameful. It’s not something you would do if you had an alternative.

At the same time we have begun to find ‘gazumping’ in the PRS. Taking advantage of the shortage of affordable homes to rent some unscrupulous landlords are making would-be tenants compete with each other for a tenancy by offering rent way above the original asking asking price.

Both of these things are reflections of an imbalance in housing in the town. The phenomenal increase in the PRS from less than 6,000 at the time of the 2001 census to over 16,000 today is the result of a shortage of Council housing combined with a growing gulf between house prices and earnings.

Swindon Housing Action Campaign has been launched precisely to highlight the human consequences of this housing crisis and to campaign against exploitative landlords. The government has abandoned to their fate those people who cannot afford a mortgage. In London and other places we have read about ‘beds in sheds’. In Swindon we now have beds in garages. It’s a shameful indictment of a failed housing policy.

Martin Wicks

Swindon Housing Action Campaign

For further comment ring 07786 394593

SHAC can be contacted by email at housingaction@btinternet.com

Swindon Housing Action Campaign – Addressing Swindon’s housing crisis

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This is a media release from a new housing campaign which we are supporting.

Six local organisations (listed below) have come together to launch Swindon Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) in response to the worsening housing crisis. The new campaign will be leafleting Swindon town centre on November 28th, from 10 – 12 o’clock.

Swindon suffers from a crisis of affordability for both rent and ownership. It suffers from

  • A shortage of Council housing – our homes continue to be lost to ‘right to buy’ and not replaced;
  • House prices which are too high for many people to afford a mortgage – prices even for the lowest quartile homes are over 5 times the lowest quartile earnings;
  • A rapidly growing private rented sector (PRS) with insecure tenure, high rents and much poor quality housing.


Asset-stripping Housing Associations?

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There is clearly a whiff of panic in the corridors of power as the fateful day of the Autumn review approaches. Osborne is scrambling about for sources of money as he tries to overcome the impact of the spat in the House of Lords over the cut to Tax credits. A report in Friday’s Financial Times said that George Osborne was considering “selling off the government’s stake in the housing association sector” to private investors. In fact the government does not have “a stake” in housing associations. It, and previous governments, gave them grant for building new homes, not loans like Councils. The total grant, said to be £44 billion, goes back as far as 30 years. The money has been spent. It does not exist. It is like the Monty Python parrot. More

Social Housing lets – check your facts

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A Swindon Advertiser correspondent tells us that 61% of housing association homes last year were given to “East European migrants”. This is the reply.

I was reminded of the old maxim don’t believe everything you read in the papers when I read Jeff Adams letter (Drain on Infrastructure). Jeff wrote that “in the previous financial year, 61% of housing association properties went to East European migrants”. That’s an extroardinary statistic, or at least it would be if it was true. I don’t know where Jeff got this figure from. A quick Google finds reference to the 61% figure in the Telegraph and the Express. The Telegraph said

“Housing associations are also letting a bigger chunk of their stock to people from these EU accession countries. In the last financial year, more than six in 10 (61%) homes went to nationals from accession countries, up from 54% in 2007/08.”

This is complete nonsense. The article even managed to mention that 91% of homes went to UK nationals! The Express was more accurate.

“In the last financial year, 61 per cent of homes that went to nationals from these countries came from the housing associations, up from 54 per cent in 2007/08.”

The real figure for new tenancies going to people from Eastern Europe, which you can see in the Department of Communities & Local Government Households statistical release of October 6th 2015, is just over 3%. More than nine out of 10 new tenancies still go to UK nationals.

Martin Wicks
Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

Housing Advisory Forum calls for compensation for loss of income from rent cut

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The Housing Advisory Forum has called on Swindon Council to press the government for compensation for the loss of income resulting from the proposed ‘Council housing rent cut.

At its recent meeting Swindon Council’s Housing Advisory Forum passed this resolution:

“In the light of the significant loss of income which would result from the proposed rent cut the HAF calls on the Lead member to write to the government and our local MPs, calling for compensation to local authorities for that loss. To that end we believe the government should reopen the ‘debt settlement’ of 2012. Without such compensation we will have insufficient funds to prevent the deterioration of the stock.” (Read on below or download a PDF here hafdebtwriteoff ) More

ARCH (Association of Retained Council Housing) calls for £6 billion compensation for rent cut

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I recently wrote about the need to re-open the 2012 ‘debt settlement’ which was part of the introduction of the new Council Housing Finance system, ‘self financing’. The government is implementing a cut of 1% a year for Council tenants for four years from 2016. Inside Housing magazine has just reported that ARCH, the Association of Retained Council Housing, is calling on the government to cut the ‘debt’ by £6 billion.

As I explained previously (See “Starving Council Housing of Funds”) the level of ‘debt’ that each Council was given was based in part on an assessment of how much income they would take in over 30 years from tenants’ rent. Since the government is proposing to cut rents this means that Councils will have far less money than was estimated in their business plans. It also means that they will have more debt than they can cope with. Because of the loss of income Councils will have to scale back on the amount of work they have planned for the maintenance and renewal of their housing stock. This will lead to a backlog of necessary work and a deterioration in the standard of their homes.

Whilst there is a good case for writing off the whole ‘debt’ (over many years tenants have more than paid for the cost of building) this is obviously something which the Tories will not do. However, the demand of ARCH is an important point of support for a campaign to press the government to at least compensate Councils for the loss of money resulting from the rent cut.

When most people hear the word ‘debt’ they assume this is the result of borrowing. However, this wasn’t the case for Council housing ‘debt’ which was imposed on Councils in 2012. The ‘debt’ level was the result of what you might describe as creative accountancy by the Treasury.

Since the ‘debt’ distributed was based on an assessment of income over 30 years, then clearly if the amount of income shrinks because of government policies, then the ‘debt’ of each Council needs to be written off as a result of their loss of income. This is both logical and fair. ARCH itself, to which Councils with housing stock, has over 30 Conservative Council affiliates. If they can recognise the need to cut £6 billion off of the burden of Council Housing Revenue Accounts then there should be no reason why Swindon Council should not support this demand. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group will be calling on them to do just that.

Martin Wicks

September 24th 2015

Preparing their excuses beforehand


Why did Cameron say that Housing Associations were ‘part of the public sector’?

How could a man with a brain describe Housing Associations as part of the public sector? They are private businesses, most often, registered as charities. Yet David Cameron has described them as part of the public sector. Well, he certainly has a brain, of sorts, so why would he make this patently absurd statement? Did he not think we would notice?

The problem is that the government has got itself into a bit of a pickle. It is proposing to force Housing Associations to apply ‘right to buy’ to its homes; forcing them to sell off their homes at big discounts to the sitting tenants. How can they force private businesses to sell their homes and at a price less than their value? Imagine the furore if Labour demanded the ‘right to buy’ be applied to the private rented sector. The Tories would scream about expropriation. What about the sanctity of private property? How, they would say, could you force a private home owner (who rents out their property) to sell it? But that is exactly what they are proposing to do with Housing Associations. The only difference is they accept the need to give them some compensation. More

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