National Audit Office report on Homelessness highlights government failure

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Local authorities have increased their spending on homelessness while simultaneously reducing spending on preventing it.”

A report by the National Audit Office, despite its diplomatic language, highlights the responsibility of the government for an increase in homelessness. The statistics are stark.

  • Since March 2011 there has been a 60% increase in the number of households living in temporary accommodation; up to 77,240 in March 2017.

  • An increase of 73% in the numbers of children in temporary accommodation to 120,540.

  • An 134% increase in rough sleepers since 2010.

  • Spending on temporary accommodation has increased by 39% in real terms since 2010/11.

But for the efforts of local authorities to prevent homelessness the situation would be even worse. The number of cases where local authorities “took positive action to prevent homelessness” increased by 63% from 2009/10 to 2016/17; up to 105,240. They have also helped 93,390 households to obtain alternative accommodation, an increase of 23% over 2009/10.

The NAO estimates that three quarters of the rise in the numbers of households in temporary accommodation is the result of an unprecedented increase in the proportion of households who qualified for temporary accommodation because an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the private rented sector was ended by a landlord. They now make up 32% of homelessness cases. The report states:

The end of an ASTs is the defining characteristic of the increase of homelessness that has occurred since 2010.” Read on below or download a PDF here naoreporthomelessness More

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What is Labour’s council housing policy?

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One of the expectations of Labour supporters is that a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as leader would build council housing on a large scale once again. From the start of his first leadership election campaign up to just before the General Election Jeremy spoke of building 100,000 council homes a year. In April the Guardian reported that his “top priority” was to build more council housing and introduce tougher regulation in the private rented sector. However, Labour’s policy as expressed in its Manifesto was far different from Jeremy’s statements.

The draft version of the Manifesto which was leaked to the media spoke of a commitment to building 100,000 council and housing association homes, with no indication of the proportion for each. Yet even this figure, which diluted the council housing component, did not survive in the published document. It was transformed into 100,000 “affordable homes” for “rent and sale” by the end of the Parliament; i.e. by year five. There was no indication of how this would break down. Would it, for instance, be 50,000 of each? The Manifesto does say that Labour will “begin the biggest council housing programme for at least 30 years”. However, we checked how many were built then. In England it was only 16,000.  Read on below or download a PDF here labourschcommitment More

How many council homes is Labour committed to building?

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Jeremy Corbyn has previously said that Labour would build 100,000 council homes a year. In the draft of the Manifesto which was leaked to the media the 100,000 was described as council and housing association homes. This figure did not survive in the published document. It was transformed into 100,000 “affordable homes” for “rent and sale”. What Labour would do was counter-posed to what the 1945 Labour government did.

The post-war Labour government built long-term affordable homes to rent, the next Labour government will build affordable homes to rent and buy. ”

In what proportions would the rent and sale be? 50,000 of each? Neither the Manifesto nor the Mini-Housing Manifesto which supplemented it indicated how the 100,000 would be broken down. In order to clarify what Labour’s position is we emailed John Healey and asked him “How many council homes are you committed to build. The 100,000 by the end of the Parliament is for ‘rent and sale’. In what proportions?” More

Grenfell Tower: the deadly consequences of under-funding of council housing

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Kensington & Chelsea Council documents confirm reports in the media that Leadbitter was “the proposed contractor” for the work on Grenfell Tower. It gave a price of £11.278 million1. However this was £1.6 million above the council’s proposed budget. So they put it out to tender again. A council update on the Grenfell Tower work read:

The refurbishment of Grenfell Tower is a large and complex project and time and careful planning has been required to ensure that the proposals and design of the scheme meet the requirements of residents, RBKC and Planners. Particular focus has been required to ensure that the project representing value for money and can be successfully delivered to the satisfaction of residents.”

Value for money”, of course, in the context of cash strapped councils often means short-cuts, cheap and shoddy work. In this case the question is posed, did this “value for money” decision lead to the deaths of Grenfell Tower residents? The contract went to Rydon for £8.77 million, 22% less than Leadbitter’s tender. (Read on below or download a PDF here underfundingandgrenfell) More

Grenfell Tower fire

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Words cannot express the sheer horror of the disaster which befell the Grenfell Tower and its inhabitants. People needlessly burned to death. The fire poses a host of questions about how it could happen. Fire experts have already raised issues in relation to the type of cladding that was used and whether that helped the fire to spread. Clearly instead of containing the fire something acted as an accelerant. The fire spread very quickly throughout the whole building. Fire-fighters with decades of experience on the job said that they have never seen anything like it.

There are some other questions which are not so obvious which also need addressing. Firstly, there should be complete transparency in relation to the tendering process for the refurbishment work on the block. Was the cheapest tender the one that was chosen. Did this mean that cheaper materials were used? More

Why didn’t SBC demand the government honour its commitment on homelessness funding?

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This is a media release from Swindon Housing Action Campaign

Swindon Council has given the impression that its proposal to buy 100 homes on the market into which they will put homeless people is motivated by a concern to deal with the homelessness crisis. Look carefully at the Cabinet documents and you can see this isn’t the case. The reason they have proposed this is because the government is cutting Swindon’s funding for homelessness prevention and relief. The new grant system which is being introduced is £400,000 less than the council received in 2016-17. This is despite the fact that the government promised:

No local authority will receive less annual funding under the (new) grant than we estimate they would have received under the Department of Works & Pension fee.”

It’s therefore strange that Swindon Council failed to press the government to honour this commitment. The government statement on the new “flexible homelessness grant” was published on March 15th, together with the allocations each council would receive. Yet the council did nothing to respond to the loss £400,000 for more than five weeks. When they did eventually (on April 24th) write a very meek email to the department asking how they made their calculation, it was only after tenants pointed out the discrepancy, and pressed the council to demand that the government honour it’s commitment. More

SBC should withdraw the proposal to introduce compulsory “affordability assessment”

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Swindon council currently offers advice and support to tenants in relation to finances, benefits and employment for anyone who wishes to receive their help. However, the council is now proposing to introduce a compulsory “affordability assessment” for all households registered on the Council’s housing waiting list, and all current council tenants applying to move to an SBC home which would have a rent higher than their existing property.

When people apply to go on the council’s housing waiting list they are subject to an assessment to see if they have an household income sufficient to be able “to afford a suitable property on the market”, whether that be private rent, a mortgage or part-ownership. If it’s judged that they can afford this then they are blocked from joining the list. The council introduced this against tenant opposition (See Throwing people off the waiting list 1). We believed it was a convenient means of cutting the numbers on the waiting list. It fell from over 16,000 households to less than 4,000.(Read on below or download a PDF here allocationschanges )
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