Why didn’t SBC demand the government honour its commitment on homelessness funding?

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This is a media release from Swindon Housing Action Campaign

Swindon Council has given the impression that its proposal to buy 100 homes on the market into which they will put homeless people is motivated by a concern to deal with the homelessness crisis. Look carefully at the Cabinet documents and you can see this isn’t the case. The reason they have proposed this is because the government is cutting Swindon’s funding for homelessness prevention and relief. The new grant system which is being introduced is £400,000 less than the council received in 2016-17. This is despite the fact that the government promised:

No local authority will receive less annual funding under the (new) grant than we estimate they would have received under the Department of Works & Pension fee.”

It’s therefore strange that Swindon Council failed to press the government to honour this commitment. The government statement on the new “flexible homelessness grant” was published on March 15th, together with the allocations each council would receive. Yet the council did nothing to respond to the loss £400,000 for more than five weeks. When they did eventually (on April 24th) write a very meek email to the department asking how they made their calculation, it was only after tenants pointed out the discrepancy, and pressed the council to demand that the government honour it’s commitment. More

SBC should withdraw the proposal to introduce compulsory “affordability assessment”

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Swindon council currently offers advice and support to tenants in relation to finances, benefits and employment for anyone who wishes to receive their help. However, the council is now proposing to introduce a compulsory “affordability assessment” for all households registered on the Council’s housing waiting list, and all current council tenants applying to move to an SBC home which would have a rent higher than their existing property.

When people apply to go on the council’s housing waiting list they are subject to an assessment to see if they have an household income sufficient to be able “to afford a suitable property on the market”, whether that be private rent, a mortgage or part-ownership. If it’s judged that they can afford this then they are blocked from joining the list. The council introduced this against tenant opposition (See Throwing people off the waiting list 1). We believed it was a convenient means of cutting the numbers on the waiting list. It fell from over 16,000 households to less than 4,000.(Read on below or download a PDF here allocationschanges )
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House price to earnings ratios continue to rise

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The latest statistical release from the Office of National Statistics shows that house prices in Swindon continue to race ahead of earnings. Prior to the credit crunch and the housing crash the price of lower quartile homes reached a peak of 7.28 times lower quartile earnings. As a result of the crash, prices dropped considerably. In 2010 the price of a lower quartile property was on average £120,000. By 2014 it was only slightly higher, but the two years after that saw a steep rise to £150,500 in 2016. The price was 7.20 times earnings, higher than the previous peak of 7.14 times earnings in 2008. At these levels low earners have no chance of getting a mortgage for even the cheapest properties. More

Labour should demand the suspension of Right to Buy Sales

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This is a letter to John Healey, Shadow Housing Minister

Dear John

Labour should demand the suspension of Right to Buy Sales

As you know Teresa Pearce, when she was in your current post, made a commitment that Labour would suspend RTB. She said that the policy “could only make sense in a time of surplus, in a time of shortage it makes no sense at all”.

Housing Minister Gavin Barwell has recently said that RTB is only “politically justifiable” if homes sold are replaced by new homes built. Since those homes sold are not being replaced then should not sales be suspended? Over the last 4 years the number of council homes in England have declined by 82,000. Only 5,520 replacement homes have been built, less than the 13,000 council homes demolished (see table below). There are only 1.61 million council homes left in England.

We would suggest that in the light of Barwell’s statement Labour should demand that the government suspends RTB sales and makes this a campaigning issue. Even the Tory majority LGA has called for councils to be allowed to suspend RTB sales where they cannot replace them. More

Suspend Right to Buy Sales

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Media Release

March 6th 2017

Suspend Right to Buy Sales

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling on Swindon’s MP to press the Housing Minister to suspend Right To Buy sales of council properties. Housing Minister Gavin Barwell recently stated that RTB sales are only “politically justified” if homes sold are replaced. Since they are not being replaced then STCG believes that sales should at least be suspended. In the last four years 40,755 council homes in England have been sold under RTB and only 5,520 have been replaced. In the case of Swindon since 2011/12 to December 2016 285 homes have been lost to RTB, and council stock overall has fallen by 250: from 10,515 to 10,265 in December 2016.

A fall in stock numbers impacts on the homelessness situation because Swindon council has insufficient homes available. Over the last two and a half years the number of households in temporary accommodation has risen from 201 to 359. The number of households placed in private rented accommodation by SBC and local housing associations has risen from 110 to 230 in the last two years. Spending on homelessness in this financial year is expected to be more than £300,000 over budget, virtually double the original budget. This deteriorating situation will only be halted if we stop the decline of available council housing stock and start increasing it. More

Housing Minister retreats on RTB sales?

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The magazine Inside Housing reports that Housing Minister Gavin Barwell has said that the Right to Buy policy ‘is only politically justifiable’ if the government is delivering replacement homes. At the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Barwell said he would reassess the rules on receipts because future government projections suggest that they will not be able to replace the homes sold.

I do want to look at the rules in relation to RTB receipts…because my own view is that RTB is a good thing but it’s only politically justifiable if I deliver a replacement.”

Barwell’s statement begs the question if housing stock sold is not being replaced then shouldn’t RTB sales be halted? This writer is in favour of RTB being ended. However, supporters of council housing should pick up on Barwell’s words and press their councils and their MPs to demand that if the Minister thinks RTB is unjustified unless sold homes are replaced, then councils should have the right to suspend sales if they cannot replace them. More

Underfunding of council housing – the impact on Bristol

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Underfunding of council housing – the impact on Bristol

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has shown how the coalition and Tory governments have under-funded council housing. We have explained the impact on Swindon’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA). All local authorities that own council housing are being starved of funds as a result of ‘self-financing’, the new council housing finance system introduced in 2012 and policies implemented since then. More than £13 billion of extra ‘debt’ was loaded onto 136 councils in what was described as a ‘debt settlement’. What was said to be the national council housing debt, though largely fictitious, was redistributed amongst stock owning councils. The amount of debt each authority was given was based on an assessment of how much rent income they would collect over 30 years, the cost of managing the stock, and the number of homes expected to be sold under RTB (each one being rent income lost). To enable them to pay off this ‘debt’ each one was given a loan from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB). To service this debt they are obliged to pay an annual interest charge to the PWLB. They have discretion on how they deal with the ‘loan’ itself, how much they pay each year towards paying it off. They were told that the settlement would ensure that all councils would have sufficient money to maintain their housing stock over 30 years. However, the 30 year business plans which councils had to draw up have been blown out of the water by changes which the coalition and Tory governments introduced. Here we look at the situation facing Bristol council’s HRA. (Read on below or download a PDF here bristolhra )
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