Category Archives: Legislation

Are you on standby for the next IDA?

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HQN Chief Executive Alistair McIntosh provides his top tips on how to be prepared for your next In-Depth Assessment

“When I first became a Member of Parliament, I was astonished and dismayed to find I was effectively the post-box for local housing associations’ complaints service. Were I the chief executive of such an organisation, I would be mortified if local Members of Parliament were receiving the level of correspondence that some of us do, and I would be taking action” – Kit Malthouse, Minister of State for Housing (Hansard, 14 March).

That’s the message from the top. What’s next? Well, the RSH says it’s going to check you out more often. How should you prepare for these IDAs? You’ve got to be on standby all the time. So what should you be doing? Here are our top tips:
Work out what you need to spend on homes and make sure you have the cash to do it

That’s your basic job in a nutshell, isn’t it? So no wonder the RSH is all over this.

Obviously you’ll need to convince them your homes are safe. And they are painfully aware of the lamentable standards in a lot of new homes. Do you have this problem? If so, what are you doing about it? Ensure you have an up-to-date stock condition survey.

This needs to be independently validated too. Then the numbers should be put into your business plan. The RSH will check to see that you have the money to pay for the works. And they know all the tricks in the trade about smoothing the numbers to get you through any tight spots. Don’t forget that Hackitt was scathing about socalled value engineering. And with good reason. We’ve put this right at number one on our list.

If you don’t know what you need to spend here the RSH can pull the rug from under your feet on the business plan. It won’t be on rock-solid ground and this can harm your Governance and Viability ratings.

Prove that your homes are safe

Are you sorting out legionella, electrics, gas, asbestos, fire and lifts too? How can you be sure? Are these being checked out by technical experts that know what they are doing? Do you act on their findings quickly?

The RSH will also want to see the internal audit reports for these. If they are based on tiny sample sizes or the level of assurance seems too high they will sniff this out and ask questions.

Embrace possimism!

“A way of thinking in which one is basically pessimistic, but manages to use it to his/her advantage.” Yes, you’ve got to sign up to the national obsession with Brexit. You need to stress test your business plans for any fall out here.

The usual things we see in stress testing are sales stalling and repair costs soaring while income tumbles. You need to come up with the right crises for you. And you need to pile them on top of each other. What does this do to your plans and how do you get back on track? The RSH has been asking you to run these tests for years now.

So they expect it to be done to a high standard. Really you should be testing and updating your business plan pretty much continuously. Saying that you run an annual stress test is a prime example of an oxymoron.

Sort out value for money – it never goes away for long

The honeymoon period for the new VfM metrics is over. Now you need to calculate each one accurately, know why you differ from peers, act to close any gaps, and collect extra metrics that show you are meeting your strategic objectives.

If your costs look high then get beneath them. Don’t offer up glib one liner justifications. That won’t wash. You need a proper analysis of the knock-on impact on costs of things like running care and investing in new IT.

By the same token you can spend too little. The RSH will not be at all happy if they think you are being penny wise and pound foolish on repairs.

Don’t kick the can down the road

No one likes to take tough decisions. Many try to put these off for as long as possible. But what will become of you if the RSH pops in at the wrong time? There is no time to lose on sorting out a badly-behaved board member, shabby service, tricky development or some other thorny problem.

And you need to think about the future. When the Green Paper finally grinds out it will raise the bar on service standards. Are you ready for that?

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HQN can help – we’ve carried out more than 50 mock IDAs and almost 100 stress tests – contact Anna Pattison for more information: anna.pattison@hqnetwork.co.uk

MPs demand: No more ‘No DSS’ ads

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‘No DSS’ clauses on rental properties could be on the way out, if MPs get their way.

Yesterday, the Commons work and pensions select committee quizzed, among others, the director of online lettings behemoth Your Move, which last month ran an ad that actually said ‘No DSS. Small dogs considered’.

Housing minister Heather Wheeler has claimed she wants to get rid of the ads, but so far no dice.

Anyway, the committee’s hearing also received input from the likes of Your Rent and Hunters, agents that claim to be opposed to ‘no DSS’ ads but which still run them.

According to housing charity Shelter, ‘no DSS’ ads are in breach of equality laws because they disproportionately affects women and people with disabilities.

Frank Field MP, the committee’s chairman, said: ‘If we are serious about this we have to get lenders and insurers to stop the discrimination.’

Curiously socially-conscious ex-Tory Heidi Allen MP added. ‘It is clearly dysfunctional and not working for huge swathes of those people on benefits.’

Meanwhile, Croydon renter Philippa Lalor went further, claiming that in ‘the 1950s it used to be no blacks, no Irish, no dogs. Now we have “no DSS”. It is in the shop window.’

And things are changing it seems. Property website Zoopla has already pledged to ban carry ‘no DSS’ ads, while NatWest, the Co-op Bank and Nationwide have also committed to abolishing such demands from their loan agreements.

 

 

Rogue landlord database has 4 (anonymous) entries 12 months on

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A year ago, the government brought in laws to punish terrible landlords – so, 12 months later, how many have been hit with one of the new banning orders?

None! That’s right – according to this Guardian article from which I’m lifting this entire story, not a single slum landlord has been banned from renting homes in England: which may mean all the rubbish landlords have bucked their ideas up, but I doubt it.

Under the rules, dodgy landlords must have their details put into the government’s rogue landlord database.

Anyhow, local authorities are also able to make discretionary entries onto the database – and according to the results of the Guardian’s FOI request, a mere four suspect landlords have been entered into the system since it went online; and their names can’t even be accessed, so it’s hard to imagine what the point of all this is.

Despite the suspicious lack of entries on the would-be flash but currently fruitless database, the government reckons there are a massive 10,500 rogue landlords plying their trade across England.

Heather Wheeler, minister for housing and homelessness, is clearly a fan of the database and very keen to defend it. ‘The rogue landlord database is targeted at the most prolific and serious offenders. It is a lengthy process to build cases and secure convictions and it is therefore not surprising that there are only a limited number at this stage,’ she said.

She continued: ‘We expect the number of entries to the database to increase during the year as only offences committed from April last year can be included and it can take time to secure convictions.’

But none of that’s flying with Clive Betts, chair of the parliament’s housing, communities and local government select committee,  who said: ‘Given what we know about the bad behaviour of a small number of landlords, it is very, very disappointing there aren’t more being prosecuted and banned.’

So, who’s right: Wheeler or Betts? Let us know in the comments section.

 

‘This is wrong’ – Theresa May pledges to abolish section 21 evictions

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The government has decided it’s going to get rid of ‘no-fault evictions’ in a move that has understandably delighted housing campaigners.

Prime minster Theresa May’s crumbling regime says it will now consult on freeing England of section 21 evictions, which will mean the four million tenants living in the private rented sector (PRS) can no longer be evicted at short notice and for no good reason.

PRS landlords can evict tenants with eight weeks’ notice after the completion of a fixed-term contract, which even our current government has admitted has become one of the main reasons families become homeless.

Taking some time out from Brexit, PM May said: ‘Millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification.

‘This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. This important step will not only protect tenants from unethical behaviour, but also give them the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.’

Homelessness charity Shelter has hailed the announcement as ‘an outstanding victory’ that will basically lead to open-ended tenancies, with tenants less terrified of immediate eviction if they complain about the quality of their homes.

Shockingly, recent research by Citizens Advice found tenants that make a formal complaint about their landlord or home had a 46% chance of being issued with a section 21 eviction notice within the following six months.

Should the government’s plans become a reality, landlords will have to employ a section 8 process if they seek an eviction, which can only be used in relation to proper things like criminal or antisocial behaviour, rent arrears and so on – not when someone has merely complained that their flat has rats/mold/falling masonry in it.

James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, has spoken at quite some length: ‘By abolishing these kinds of evictions, every single person living in the private rented sector will be empowered to make the right housing choice for themselves – not have it made for them. And this will be balanced by ensuring responsible landlords can get their property back where they have proper reason to do so.

‘We are making the biggest change to the private rental sector in a generation. We are creating homes, opportunities and thriving communities, where people can come together and put down roots, bound by a strong sense of belonging.

‘Everyone has a right to the opportunities they need to build a better life. For many, this means having the security and stability to make a place truly feel like home without the fear of being evicted at a moments’ notice. We are building a fairer housing market that truly works for everyone.’

As you can imagine, not every is happy, and none less so than David Smith, policy director of the Residential Landlords Association, who said: ‘For all the talk of greater security for tenants, that will be nothing if the homes to rent are not there in the first place.’

Unsurprisingly, Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, isn’t over the moon either. He said: ‘[Landlords] have no confidence in the ability or the capacity of the courts to deal with possession claims quickly and surely, regardless of the strength of the landlord’s case.’

New today: Online package to tackle rogue landlords

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The private rented sector (PRS) is going to be reformed ‘for the better’ the government reckons, and has announced a new package of online support to help councils tackle dodgy landlords.

This very day, the government has published two new guidance documents – one for local authority enforcement practitioners, one for tenants and landlords – that it says ‘signals the latest step’ in its crack down on the ‘small minority of criminal landlords who exploit tenants for their own gains’.

And what does this new support consist of? Well, it includes ‘an easy to navigate digital enforcement package with online learning modules for those officers who were unable to attend the national programme’.

Meanwhile, ‘the guide for tenants and landlords brings together the rights and responsibilities of each, provides links to in depth guidance on legislation and complements previous steps by the government to support those in the private rented sector, including through the How to let and How to rent guides’.

Housing Minister Heather Wheeler MP said: ‘This package of support for those working on the frontline of the private rented sector will ensure they are fully equipped to make use of any new powers which can improve the lives of tenants trapped in poor quality accommodation.

‘This, along with our further guidance for tenants and landlords on their rights and responsibilities, builds on the ongoing work which sets out to make renting fairer and more accessible for all whilst also ensuring that everyone has a home which is safe and secure.’

Why not have a look at these publications for yourself – they’re right here.

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