Category Archives: Local Government

Council scraps £100 fines for begging

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A local authority has given up trying to fine people £100 for begging after realising that the tactic doesn’t work very well, rather unsurprisingly.

Southampton City Council brought in the Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) three years ago – and in that time 32 fixed penalties have been issued of which only one has actually been paid.

Conceding defeat, the council said: ‘Few of these fixed penalties were paid and they did little to change the behaviour of these individuals.’

However, an outfit that represents business types called Go! Southampton is demanding the PSPOs remain, as the problem is apparently getting worse and ‘professional beggars’ are operating ‘on a rota basis’.

In a letter to the council, GO! Southampton said: ‘PSPO is one of the few tools we have to combat the proliferation of beggars. Over the last 12 months, 60% of our businesses have reported that antisocial behaviour issues associated with begging have impacted their business.’

But according to the council, the likes of police action and community protection notices have been more effective.

Community wellbeing councillor Dave Shields said: ‘It’s not working and we would rather focus on the things that will work.’

Social housing ‘attracts drugs and other illegal activities’ leaflet claims

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An interesting leaflet has appeared in a corner of Kent in relation to a proposed social housing development.

The missive’s alarmed authors challenge residents to take a stance against the 60-flat scheme in Gravesend, and claim that ‘social housing traditionally attracts drugs and other illegal activities’.

Signed ‘Your local parish council’, the leaflet urges readers to ‘please act now!’ and asks if they want ‘unsavoury characters walking past your homes and into your neighbourhood and schools’.

The leaflet – which is entirely in uppercase, perhaps demonstrating the fury/fear/urgency the writers feel – also claims that the development risks a ‘devaluation of your property’ and a ‘rise in crime as residents will be rehoused from London and surrounding suburbs bringing with them gangs and knife crime’.

Additionally, the flyer warns that the 60 new builds will bring 200+ cars with them, which is about 3.33 cars per home – a ‘stat’ I didn’t know about social housing tenants, or perhaps the authors based the figure on projected drug dealing proceeds?

According to Gravesham Borough Council’s planning portal, the development Lodge Valley Drive comprises the ‘Demolition of existing house and outbuildings and erection of a part four storey and part three storey building for the residential development of 20no. one bedroom, 41no. two bedroom and 3no. three bedroom apartments with associated car parking’.

Though credited to the parish council, the word on Twitter is that it’s not, thankfully, their work – and I couldn’t get through when I tried to ring them so that’ll have to do for the time being.

 

Government floats ‘fairer, more compassionate’ council tax recovery system

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The government that nominally runs the UK has pledged to create a ‘fairer, more efficient and compassionate debt recovery system’ for council tax.

Apparently moved by concerns from charities, debt advice groups and local authorities, ministers are now busying themselves with improvements.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is set to engage with said bodies on changes to the current collection system before ‘considering further reforms later this year’.

According to local government minister Rishi Sunak, the successful collection of council tax is ‘essential to running public services, like caring for those most at risk, collecting bins and keeping our transport networks running’.

Which is why he’s ‘pushing forward work to make the council tax collection system fairer and more efficient – so people are treated with compassion while services get the funds they need’.

And we wish him all the best with that.

But what might these touted ‘reforms’ consist of? Handily, the government has provided some ideas:

  • Ensuring affordability assessments are central to collection processes so individual circumstances are taken into account and people are given appropriate time to pay off arrears
  • Improving links between councils and the debt advice sector
  • Developing and supporting fairer debt intervention methods

According to the press release, local authorities issue nearly 24 million council tax bills a year to ‘help fund key local services, from adult social care and children’s services, to refuse collections and leisure facilities. Uncollected tax means less money for services and higher bills for residents who do pay on time.’

Caroline Siarkiewicz, director and debt advice expert at the Money and Pensions Service, said: ‘One third of people seeking debt advice have council tax arrears, so it’s really important that people receive the right guidance and support to manage their finances.

‘We are delighted that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to reviewing how local authorities recover unpaid council tax.’

 

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.

Whether it’s balmy winters or extreme summers, is your organisation prepared for climate change?

Sandbags.jpgAs the country basked in unseasonably warm temperatures for February, the sector could perhaps be forgiven for being a bit thankful for the relief it brought rough sleepers and tenants struggling to pay their heating bills.

Yet a nagging sense that something is amiss is difficult to shake, and this balmy weather could act as a precursor for greater challenges to come. A new report from the Committee on Climate Change has found that many UK homes are currently unfit for the issue of rising temperatures and subsequent extreme weather, stating that emissions generated by energy use from UK households has in fact increased between 2016-2017.

The report also states that efforts to adapt UK housing to the consequences of a changing climate – such as higher average temperatures and an increased risk of flooding, water scarcity and violent storms – are also lagging behind schedule, and cost-effective measures to get ahead of such scenarios are not being rolled-out quickly enough.

There is a strong sentiment that climate change and energy efficiency are becoming far too big for the UK and international community to ignore. There is also a recognition of the role housing has to play to ensure emission levels are lowered, while also ensuring homes old and new are resistant to the increasing risk of extreme weather events.

How prepared is your organisation, and what are you doing to tackle these urgent issues?

HQN has produced a survey in which we ask housing providers how ready they are for the challenges ahead. If you can spare five minutes, we would greatly appreciate you taking the time to complete it. All responses will be used for upcoming briefings and research into this critical issue, which will be shared among our members and discussed later this year at the HQN annual conference.

You can take the survey here.

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