This is a Swindon TUC Press Release December 16th 2008

Keep our Council Homes – reject Stock Transfer

Swindon Council has written to its tenants telling them that a report produced for its ‘Options Appraisal’ says that “large scale stock transfer is the only option that can deliver the investment needed to keep our homes at the required standard”.

Although the Council has yet to take a decision it is clear that the ruling group wants to dump their Council homes, transferring them to a Housing Association. We are opposed to such a move in principle. With our current landlords we can at least vote them out of office if we are not happy with them. In contrast a Housing Association is a commercial business with Directors who are not accountable to tenants.

In the letter sent from SBC to their tenants they say that “you will keep your security of tenure and all major rights”. They know this is not true. Council tenants are “secure” tenants whilst Housing Association tenants are “assured” tenants. The latter in practice means that tenants can be booted out of their homes more easily than Council tenants even if, to take one example, the reason for arrears of rent is not the fault of the tenant (e.g. waiting for changes in their housing benefit to be dealt with).

The Council ruling group may consider that they will be getting rid of a “problem” by transferring their housing stock. However, such a move would be short-sighted. The Council will still maintain its legal duty to house the homeless. Yet with no housing stock it is likely to see an increase in such costs, especially in a recession, with increased numbers of homeless having to be housed in temporary accommodation. A Housing Association has no such legal duty.

One of the main arguments that the Council will push is the fact that if stock transfer takes place then a Housing Association will be able to keep all its rent income. Given the fact that Swindon suffers a ‘negative subsidy’ of £9 million a year (we receive government grant which is £9 million less than the money we raise in rent) this carries weight in the debate. However, what the Council should be pressing for is the right to keep all our rent money for use in maintaining our Council housing stock.

Swindon TUC is calling on our local MP’s to support such a demand. Already the Treasury holds a surplus of £200 million in the national Housing Revenue pot, and this is predicted to rise to £894 million in 2023. Why are Councils and tenants being denied this money which has come out of their pockets?

Swindon TUC Secretary Martin Wicks said:

“At the time of the last ‘Options Appraisal’ Swindon TUC, together with tenants, organised a Defend Council Housing campaign which helped to ensure that the overwhelming response of tenants in the consultation meetings was to oppose stock transfer (around 82%). This time the Council will be attempting to stack the cards against the tenants by presenting transfer as the only realistic option. It is not. We should campaign for an end to the discrimination against Council housing begun by Thatcher and continued by New Labour. The housing crisis in Swindon is reflected by the rise in the numbers on the Council house waiting list from 3,000 to over 9,000 in the last ten years. This reflects the fact that the private housing market is incapable of producing ‘affordable housing’. We need more Council housing, not less.

Maintaining our Council homes is the best option. Indeed if the government would only abandon its ‘free market’ prejudices an emergency Council house building programme would be a practical means of tackling the recession by putting building workers back to work as well creating work in the building supplies industry.”

Swindon TUC’s February meeting will be devoted to opposing stock transfer and will discuss organising a campaign for a ‘No’ vote should a ballot of tenants take place.

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786 394593

Anybody interested in campaigning against stock transfer please ring that number or email us on swindontuc@btinternet.com

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