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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Universal Credit update

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The figures which were given me by the Council in response to a Freedom of Information Request were not accurate, owing to “IT systems updates that the reports had not calculated correctly that weekend”. The situation is worse than reported.

A council officer has given me corrected and updated figures for December 3rd.

  • There are 1,080 tenants on UC. Of these 829 are in arrears – 76%.

  • The arrears owed by UC claimants are £700,587. Overall arrears for council tenants are £1,308,547. So UC arrears comprise 53.5% of all arrears for current tenants.

  • The average owed by UC claimants is £845.09.

You can see the impact of Universal Credit when you compare the arrears for November 2016 when it went fully live. These were £894,903 as compared to £1,308,547 today.

Martin Wicks

December 8th 2017

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.

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

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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“Statutory homelessness” in Swindon

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The statistics for 2015/16 relating to people who approach Swindon Council as homeless or being threatened with homelessness show a worsening situation.

  • In 2015/16 the number of households approaching the council as homeless was 559. Two years previously it was only 225.

  • The number of households accepted as homeless and “in priority need” (see Addendum for explanation) has risen by 50% over the last two years; from 110 to 165.

  • The number of households living in temporary accommodation has increased by 78% over the last two and a half years, from 201 to 359.

From the figures it’s clear that Swindon Council is finding it increasingly difficult to deal with what is a growing problem. In 2009/10 they managed to assist 956 households in preventing or relieving homelessness. Yet by last year they were able to achieve this in only 287 cases.

The number of households they were able to help obtain alternative accommodation (where they were faced with the loss of their existing accommodation) fell from 757 in 2009/10 to just 242 in 2015/16. (Read on below or download a PDF here homelessnessstatsswindon ) More

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