£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

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

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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

Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill

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Here is MP Karen Bucks speech in moving support for her Private Members Bill. Having opposed her previous efforts the government finally relented and agreed to  support it.

Karen Buck MP in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 2018.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Everyone deserves to live in a safe, warm and comfortable home, yet despite the undeniable progress made over many decades, millions of people—often the most vulnerable—still do not. Currently and extraordinarily, landlords have no obligation to their tenants to put or to keep the property in a condition fit for habitation. There is an obligation on the landlord to repair the structure of the property and to keep in repair features such as heating, gas, water and electricity, but that applies only when something is broken or damaged; it does not cover issues such as fire safety, inadequate heating or poor ventilation causing condensation and mould growth. There is a whole range of fitness issues that seriously affect the wellbeing and safety of tenants and about which tenants can do nothing. More

“Borrowing to build” is no solution to the council housing shortage

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Is lifting the “borrowing cap” for council Housing Revenue Accounts the solution for large scale new council house building?

Councils in England are building very few council homes. In the seven years from 2010-17 only 10,840 homes were built. This compares with 18,220 demolitions and 60,567 sold through Right to Buy (RTB). In the six years to 2016 council housing stock in England declined by 174,000. One suggested remedy for the shortage of council housing has been the proposal that councils should be allowed to “borrow to build”. The Local Government Association, Shadow Housing Minister John Healey, and others have recently repeated the call for the borrowing cap, set for each council in 2012, to either be eliminated or at least raised. John Healey suggested that this would enable councils to build “tens of thousands” of new council homes. What his evidence is for this we don’t know.

It’s our contention that only central government grant towards the cost of house building can provide the resources necessary to build new council housing on a scale sufficient to begin to tackle the housing shortage. Proposing that councils increase their debt takes no account of the financial crisis being faced by local authority Housing Revenue Accounts (HRAs). Read on below or download a PDF here  borrowing
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Universal Credit and rent arrears – an exchange with MPs and Council Leader

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In December last year we wrote to our two MPs and the council Leader highlighting a spike in rent arrears as a result of Universal Credit. We called on them to press the government to change the Universal Credit rules so that claimants should continue to receive their existing benefits during the period when the UC claim is being processed. This would stop them being thrown into rent arrears. We also asked that claimants who received free prescriptions should be able to keep them during the waiting period when the UC claim is being processed.

We received a collective response from them which failed to address the issues we raised. You can judge for yourself be viewing their letter here 18.01.02 DR_JT_RB.dcc.MW 4825-1 .

What follows is a further letter we have sent them clarifying the situation faced by claimants, and asking them to actually answer the issues we have raised. More

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