October 9, 2016
Benefit Cuts, Discretionary Housing Payments
On November 7th the government is lowering the benefit cap – the amount of benefit that a household can have. It applies to people of working age who receive housing benefit or universal credit. For people outside of London the current cap of £500 per week for single parents or couples with will be reduced to £384.62. For single people it will be cut from £350 to £257.69 a week. There are lots of exemptions. Below is a link to the Shelter website where they explain all the detail. Have a look here to check whether you are affected.
If you are affected remember that you can claim a Discretionary Housing Payment from the Council. People in Swindon can download a DHP form here:
September 29, 2016
"Right to Buy", Labour Party, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
Swindon Tenants Campaign Group welcomes Labour’s commitment to suspend Right to Buy, announced by Shadow Housing Minister Teresa Pearce. STCG has long argued for scrapping RTB as Scotland and Wales have now done. Whilst Labour’s commitment falls short of that we welcome Teresa Pearce’s statement. She is certainly right that given the housing shortage there is no justification for selling Council homes. So adopting a policy of suspending it is a step in the right direction. She told the conference that RTB “could only make sense in a time of surplus, in a time of shortage it makes no sense at all”.
Since the ‘enhanced RTB’ was introduced in 2012, with increased discounts, over 45,000 Council homes in England have been sold off. During that time local authorities have managed only 5,731 starts on site and acquisitions (i.e. replacements by building or buying). Under the coalition government the number of council homes in England declined by 143,000. Demolition of 16,570 Council homes was more than double the number of new ones built under the coalition.
In Swindon, in the four years since the introduction of the ‘enhanced RTB’, 216 Council homes have been sold. Swindon Council is not replacing these. It has a programme of building 104 homes but when you take account of the demolition of Sussex Square the number falls to 70 additional homes. Hence the stock is declining year on year. More
June 23, 2016
Council House funding, Council housing debt, Swindon Council, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
Swindon Council’s June Cabinet meeting had before it a Medium Term Financial Plan for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the separate account for Council housing. Since there is no government subsidy for the HRA it is entirely dependent for its income on rent and service charges paid by its tenants. However, the rent it charges is determined by central government. So it has no direct control over its income. For instance, the current government decided that Councils would have to cut rent by 1% each year for the next four years. This has completely disrupted planning to maintain the standard of housing. Government rent setting regulations had previously set increases for ten years at the level of the Customer Price Index + 1%. However, this commitment was abandoned and the rent cut imposed. As a result the loss of rent was expected to be £22.8 million. Subsequently the government decided to allow Councils to exclude supported accommodation for elderly and disabled people from the rent cut (at least for this year) and allow them to increase rent under the old formula. Swindon increased rent for these people by 0.9%. However, the loss of rent overall during those four years is still estimated at around £22 million. (Read on below or dowmload a PDF here starvingchupdate )
April 15, 2016
Council House building, Council House funding, Council housing debt, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
In order to stop the rise in Housing Benefit payments the government has imposed on local authorities which still own their Council housing stock, a 1% cut in tenants’ rent, for four years, starting in April of this year. By this and other policies Council housing is being seriously under-funded. In order to understand the extent of the problem and what to do about it it’s necessary to appreciate how Council housing is financed under the system known as ‘self-financing’.
In April 2012 a new Council Housing finance system, ‘self-financing’, was introduced. The system had been designed by the New Labour government just before it lost the 2010 General Election and was implemented by the coalition government. Housing Minister Grant Shapps said that the new system would “give Councils the resources they need to manage their own housing stock for the longer term – correcting decades of under-funding”. In fact under-funding was not corrected but built into the new system (see Appendix). Most Councils did have more money than they had under the previous system because what was known as a ‘negative subsidy’ was ended. In 2005 the Audit Commission reported that 82% of local authorities were subject to ‘negative subsidy’, meaning they received no government subsidy and had to make a payment to central government from their rent income. According to the Audit Commission at the time this comprised some £630 million a year. Whilst some of this was redistributed to other Councils, in the four years from 2008 tenants’ rents subsidised the Treasury to the tune of almost £1.5 billion. It was predicted that if the old system, the ‘housing subsidy system’, continued, then eventually all local authorities would suffer from ‘negative subsidy’, largely as a result of year on year rent increases above the level of inflation.
(Read on below or download a PDF here chdebtwriteoff )
April 8, 2016
Conservative Government, Council housing debt, Housing & Planning Bill
A worrying amendment to the government’s Housing and Planning Bill may have an even bigger impact on the number of Council homes which could be sold off on the market. The Bill included the enforced sale of ‘high value’ homes when they become vacant. Prior to the General Election a conservative party document referred to “the most expensive third of all properties in their area”. The Conservative Manifesto itself referred to “the most expensive Council properties being sold off and replaced” when they became vacant.
Councils have been awaiting regulations from the minister determining how ‘high value’ would be measured. However, the government has now proposed an amendment which refers to “higher value stock”. The amendment, by implication could mean anything above the average value. Even worse another amendment tabled this week states that the government will be able to “use any category of housing that the secretary of state considers appropriate as a comparator”. This would in effect give the minister the absolute power to not only determine how much stock Councils had to sell, but to change the regulation at will if he thought that they weren’t selling enough. Clearly, the proposed amendments are in breach of their manifesto.
If implemented this could not only decimate Council housing numbers but lead to the deterioration of the remaining stock. Under the new financial system, ‘self-financing’, introduced in 2012, Councils were given a ‘debt’ level which was based on an assessment of how much rent Councils were expected to take in over 30 years. The more homes that are sold the more rent is lost. Councils are already losing a great deal of rent as a result of the 1% rent cut which central government is imposing over the next 4 years. Swindon will lose more than £22 million. More
April 7, 2016
Inside Housing reports that:
“Three of London’s largest housing associations are planning to form a mammoth 135,000-home social landlord capable of building 100,000 homes in 10 years.”
This is the latest in the growing trend towards amalgamations and commercialisation of the sector. The key thing to note is the breakdown of the 100,000 homes they intend to build over 10 years.
50,000 for market rent and sale
25,000 for”affordable rent” (up to 80% of market rent) and
25,000 for ‘low-cost ownership’ for first time buyers (presumably ‘Starter Homes’). More
March 17, 2016
Council housing debt, Swindon Advertiser, Swindon Council, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
Suspend ‘debt’ payment
The heading of the Advertiser article, “Fears rent cut may hit home repairs budget” was misleading. It is not just a fear. The loss of income from rent will hit the budget for replacing components such as kitchens, bathrooms, roofs etc. The article neglected to point out how much money would be cut despite the fact that our press release included a table showing the cuts in spending for these components. For instance in 2016/17 £2.150 million will be spent on installing new kitchens. However, in each of the following two years only £1 million will be spent. The cuts over 2 years, in comparison with spending in 2016/17 will be: aids & adaptions – minus £400,000, bathrooms – minus £720,000, central heating – minus £990,400, kitchens – minus £2,300,000, roofs – minus £852,000. This adds up to a cut of £5,262,400 over the two financial years 2017/18 and 2018/19. More