Housing crisis – planning is not the key problem

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The Conservative government is now threatening supposedly ‘nimby’ local authorities with central government action if they don’t “build enough homes in their area”. Failure to meet the targets will, apparently, mean that councils will lose control of the right to decide where new houses are placed in their area. This is patently absurd since councils cannot control the number of homes built in their area, especially when they are not building any themselves. The whip hand in relation to development lies with the developers and builders who control the pace of building when they have planning permission. There has been ample experience in Swindon of central government overturning rejection of planning applications on the grounds that the council is not achieving their house building target. Yet it is the developers/builders who are controlling the pace of construction essentially to maximise their profits. Read on below or download a PDF here plannignetc More


End Right to Buy

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Harry Stannard reports on a debate on RTB in a Leicester Labour Party

At its February meeting the Westcotes Branch  of Leicester West Constituency Labour Party (CLP) passed a resolution calling on the National Executive Committee (NEC) / National Policy Forum to include the following statement in the next manifesto: “The right to buy Council Houses as currently practised will be removed”.

The discussion was lengthy and animated, as you would expect about a move that would ask the Labour Party to abandon a policy that led to the sale of almost half a million council homes during the Blair/Brown years alone. If adopted by the NPF this would overturn the current Labour shadow cabinet’s policy, which is to ‘suspend’ RTB for an unstated period. Perhaps this is why an amendment at the Westcotes meeting to add the word ‘temporarily’ attracted little support. In practice, that is what the shadow cabinet’s stance amounts to. It is clear, however, that a suspension of sales, temporary or otherwise, serves merely to put off creating a clear policy stance designed to meet the growing unmet need for housing in the UK. Members of our branch felt that the offer in our 2017 general election Manifesto – to build more houses ‘for sale or rent’ – is far from sufficient. More

“Affordable rent” in England

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So-called “affordable rent” (AR) was introduced by the coalition government as a means of funding house building by councils and housing associations when it cut grant for ‘social housing’ by 60%. AR could be up to 80% of market rents. In applying for government grant from the Homes & Communities Agency councils had to agree that homes they built would charge AR rather than ‘social rent’ (SR). In addition they would have to convert some existing homes from SR to AR, when they became vacant. The extra rent would contribute to funding the building as the government cut its contribution.

To take the example of Swindon a building programme of 100 units involved the loss of 33 properties which charged SR (which were he cost of the loss of 175 SR homes. Read on below or download a PDF here arinengland . The tables are shown on the PDF More

£113,000 increase in UC rent arrears in less than two months

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At the recent council meeting the ruling Conservative Group Swindon Council rejected a Labour resolution in support of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group’s proposal that Universal Credit claimants should continue receiving their current benefits whilst their UC claim is being processed. This would prevent them being driven into rent arrears as a result of the ‘waiting period’ when their existing benefits are stopped.

Instead the Conservative Group’s amendment committed them to “carefully monitor” the situation and do whatever was necessary to support people in financial difficulties. In other words they defended the status quo and support stopping tenants’ existing benefits. More

“Affordable rent” on average of 31.9% higher than “social rent”


Every year Swindon Borough Council’s housing department has to send in data to the government giving a picture of its council housing at the end of the financial year. The statistics for 2016/17 have been recently published. Included in the data is the average rent for different property types. Since the government introduced “affordable rent” (AR) which can be up to 80% of market rents1 they have had to list rents for ‘social rent’ (SR), i.e. normal council rent, and AR. Swindon council decided to make their rents 80% of the Local Housing Allowance rate (housing benefit for private tenants)2.

AR was introduced by the government to enable it to cut housing grant by 60%. It decided that any councils applying for ‘social housing grant’ would have to agree that new properties built with grant from the Homes & Communities Agency would charge AR. In addition they would have to agree to convert a certain number of existing council homes from ‘social rent’ to AR in order to fund new building. Homes charging AR did not begin to appear in Swindon until 2014-15 when there were only 12. There were 50 the following year and 190 last year. With each ‘regeneration’ the numbers are likely to increase. For instance at Sussex Square 33 council flats with ‘social rent’ were demolished and the new ones charged AR. The council’s programme of building 100 new homes (minus the 33 demolished) required part funding by way of converting 142 existing SR homes to AR when they became vacant.3

The latest figures for Swindon’s stock are 10,019 SR, 283 AR. Some of the AR properties have been bought with money from the Housing Revenue Account; usually ex-council properties. Read on below or download a PDF here arinswindon More

“Council debt settlements risk hurting existing tenants and should be recalculated”

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Here is an article I have had published in Inside Housing. You can read it here if you have access to the magazine http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/comment/council-debt-settlements-risk-hurting-existing-tenants-and-should-be-recalculated-54504  For those who don’t the text is shown below. The Headline was written by IH.

Self-financing for councils was introduced as part of the 2011 Localism Act. The act gave government the power to ‘reopen the settlement’; that is the amount of debt redistributed to each local authority in 2012.

It allows the government to make ‘payments’ to councils “if there has been a change on one of the factors taken into account in calculating the previous payment”. In practice this would mean cutting the debt they were given because the ‘previous payment’ is now out of sync with their actual income.

Government guidance said this was necessary to “protect both the government and local authorities from being locked into a deal that, because of changes to policy affecting either a landlord’s income or costs, no longer reflects a fair valuation and could have a material impact on viability”.

Today councils are locked into such a deal as a result of government policies such as the enhanced Right to Buy and the four-year rent cut. More

Swindon Conservative Group supports stopping Universal Credit claimants’ housing benefit

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Press Release on Universal Credit.

The issue of Universal Credit and rent arrears was debated at the recent Council meeting. The Labour Group had put down a resolution supporting our proposal for a change of policy whereby Universal Credit claimants should continue to receive their existing benefits whilst their claim for UC is being processed. That would prevent them needlessly being driven into rent arrears.

Unfortunately the Conservative Group amended the resolution in such a way as to completely negate it. They will apparently monitor the situation and “take such steps as are necessary in order to assist people in financial difficulty”. They are going to “keep our MPs informed on the matter”. More

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