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

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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

Council Housing “rebirth”: the child is dead on delivery

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This is an intial response to May’s announcement on housing, as we await more detail.

On the morning of Teresa May’s speech government Minister Damian Green announced that there would be a “rebirth of council housing”. Yet when she spluttered her way through the sppech it was clear that the child was sadly dead on delivery.

The money available for “affordable housing” was only £2 billion, compared to £10 billion for Help To Buy. According to a Tory Party press release the £2 billion “could” be used to produce 25,000 homes over 5 years. Even assuming these were all council homes 5,000 is a puny amount which would make little difference to the housing crisis. It would not replace those homes lost to RTB. Sales are running at more than 12,000 a year in England. Between 2010-2017 57,677 were sold off. In addition, from 2010-2016 there were 20,300 council homes demolished and only just over 10,000 built. Since 2010 there has been a decline in the number of council homes by 174,000. More

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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