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

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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

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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No solution to the housing crisis without council house building

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Media Release February 13th 2017

No solution to the housing crisis without council house building

The government’s Housing White Paper, “Fixing our broken housing market”, is an implicit recognition of the failure of 6 years of coalition and Tory government housing policy. Talk of a “home owning democracy” has been abandoned. However, the problem will not be resolved by attempting to make ‘the market work for everyone’. As the Financial Times recently recognised in an Editorial, it is against the interests of the big builders to build ‘affordable homes’ for rent.

The fact is that private developers, left to their own devices, will not build enough to meet demand, especially when the greatest need is for affordable rented housing in urban areas. It is not in their interest to do so, since the result would be lower house prices and land values, eroding their profitability”. More

‘High value’, ‘higher value’, what’s in a word?

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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

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