£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


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


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

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

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

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


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:


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”


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

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