Universal Credit update

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The figures which were given me by the Council in response to a Freedom of Information Request were not accurate, owing to “IT systems updates that the reports had not calculated correctly that weekend”. The situation is worse than reported.

A council officer has given me corrected and updated figures for December 3rd.

  • There are 1,080 tenants on UC. Of these 829 are in arrears – 76%.

  • The arrears owed by UC claimants are £700,587. Overall arrears for council tenants are £1,308,547. So UC arrears comprise 53.5% of all arrears for current tenants.

  • The average owed by UC claimants is £845.09.

You can see the impact of Universal Credit when you compare the arrears for November 2016 when it went fully live. These were £894,903 as compared to £1,308,547 today.

Martin Wicks

December 8th 2017

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Stop penalising Universal Credit claimants

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group put in a Freedom of Information request to Swindon Council in relation to the impact of Universal Credit on rents arrears. We discovered that there were 1,080 council tenants on UC on December 3rd . Of these, 829 were in arrears, with a staggering average of £845.09 arrears. This is largely the result of the 6 week minimum wait for a UC claim to be processed. Because people who are transferring over from one of the old benefits to UC, are treated as new claimants, their housing benefit is stopped.

It is a complete injustice for people to be thrown into a financial crisis simply because of the introduction of a new system. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling for a change of policy which will end the penalisation of UC claimants. We are suggesting that existing benefits are paid whilst the UC claim is being processed. This will prevent people building up rent arrears.

We have written to the ruling group on the Council, the other political groups on it, and our two MPs, calling on them to press for a change to the system along these lines. Below is a PDF of an STCG leaflet which you can download. Please add your voice to this call for existing benefits to be continued until the UC claim is processed.

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A meeting with the Housing Minister

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Myself and Brian Shakespeare attended an event in Oxford with the Housing Minister, Alok Sharma. This was one of a dozen events around the country where the Minister is attending meetings involving council and housing association tenants. In his introductory remarks he explained that Teresa May had told him when she gave him the job, that she wanted him to go round the country listening to social housing tenants and the issues they raised. So here he was.

The format of the meeting was somewhat limiting. After his initial comments the tenants had round-table discussions, where people raised the issues they considered of importance, broken down into three themes, which were handed back to the organisers. The “summation” of the discussion was not done by the tenants but by an official of the Department of Communities and Local Government from a cursory reading of the slips handed in by the group facilitators! (Read on below or download a PDF here sharma ) More

Housing Satisfaction Surveys: Repairs & Maintenance

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Swindon Council is changing the way that it measures tenant satisfaction in relation to maintenance and renewal of its housing stock. They will soon be introducing a system whereby tenants can comment on a job by typing directly onto a hand-held device that council staff have. If you don’t want to use this method – you might be reluctant to put down comments which are critical of the staff member – you can ask for a paper form, or you can send in your comments online.

The online forms can be found at https://www.voiceyourviews.co.uk/satisfaction-surveys

You will see a button for repairs and for various other works. You can go to the repairs form here:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/HsgRepairs

Tenants are sometimes skeptical about the usefulness of sending in comments. However, it’s important that tenants do comment on how good or bad the service was for a particular job. It’s our rent which pays for the service and we should be treated with respect by the people doing the work and expect a good quality of work.

Tenants reps are involved in regular meetings with council officers and discuss the feedback. The more that is received then the easier it is for us to see trends and patterns and to try to improve the service provided. Where we have evidence of problems we raise these with the council officers.

We would be interested to hear about your experience, good or bad, to help us in our efforts to improve the service we receive.

Above inflation increases for council tenants should be opposed

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The government has announced that from 2020 they will introduce a rent increase of CPI + 1% for council and housing association homes. This formula will last for five years. Currently they are operating a 4 year annual rent cut of 1% which began in April 2016. It was a means of saving money on housing benefit payments. Before the rent cut the Tories had committed to CPI + 1% for ten years. They announced this policy in May 2014 to apply from April 2015. Yet in the summer budget in July 2015, only 3 months after the introduction of the supposed 10 year new rent formula, the government decided to abandon it and introduce the rent cut from April 2016!

The current proposal to reinstate CPI + 1% has been welcomed by housing associations and some councils since it will boost the finances of their Housing Revenue Accounts (HRAs). However, for tenants it would mean five years of above inflation rent increases. This is under circumstances whereby rents, despite the recent rent cut, have increased to such an extent that they are too high even for some poor tenants. Read on below or download a PDF here cpiplus1% More

Under-funding of council housing – Time to “reopen the (council housing debt) settlement”

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At a recent meeting of Swindon Council’s Housing Management Cabinet Member Advisory Group1 an Asset Management Strategy was discussed. This document brings together planning of the work that needs to be carried out to maintain the housing stock in good condition over the long term. One of the factors which it has to take account of is that 42% of the stock is “non-traditional”, i.e. pre-fabricated. It’s upkeep is more expensive than traditional building. A Stock Condition Survey carried out by the company Penningtons proposed that in order to prolong the life of the “non-traditional” properties, certain structural work would be necessary. They said this would require spending £7 million a year for 10 years. However, the council is currently spending only £2.5 million a year on this work. If spending remains at that level then it would take 28 years to do the work rather than 10!  Read on below or download a PDF here octobercmag More

Council housing sham

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This is a letter published in the Swindon Advertiser today.

In the lead up to the Great Leader’s conference speech we were told to expect, in the words of government Minister Damian Green, nothing less than “the rebirth of council housing”. An excited media was predicting “under the PM’s housing plan, ministers will join forces with housing associations to build hundreds of thousands of new homes” (The Sun).

However, instead of the hundreds of thousands we discovered that May’s “plan” might add up to 25,000 “affordable homes” over 5 years. That is, 5,000 a year. At that rate it would only take 240 years to produce enough homes for the 1.2 million households on the waiting lists, always assuming nobody else was added to the list in the meantime. More

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