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Rough sleeping figures ‘should not be trusted’

homeless is sleeping outdoor in Milan, Italy

The manner in which data on the numbers of those sleeping rough on the streets has been subject to much debate in the sector of late, particularly following recent government claims that the number of rough sleepers has actually fallen. This has caused – to put things mildly – some slight consternation.

Enter stage left Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority. He has said that these recently released figures, showing an apparent 2% fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018, “should not be trusted” until the government explains how data from an emergency funding scheme might have been interpreted.

The reason for the controversy surrounding these figures? Many councils have changed their data collecting methodologies over the past few months and years, moving away from estimates to a count. Doing so sees a reduction in the official numbers of rough sleepers across the board. Critics claim that this methodology does not portray an accurate representation of the reality of rough sleeping.

Norgorve seems to be among these critics, saying that the official 2018 figures should not be used to make claims about rough sleeping until concerns that some councils deliberately under-reported the “scale of crisis” in their area are addressed.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics, and all that. In related news, perhaps the Big Issue can shine some further light on this…er, big issue (well, you would think they know what they’re talking about). They’ve published a report of their own using FOI requests to detail the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act, with some intriguing results.

No deal Brexit risks wiping 3.5% off GDP, IMF warns

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Should the UK leave the European Union this Friday without a deal it can expect a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Only joking.

Actually, according to the jolly old International Monetary Fund (IMF) the country is looking at losing least 2-3 years of normal growth between now and the end of 2021, losing about 3.5% of its GDP in the process.

And that’s in a kind of best case no deal scenario, one without border delays and with minimal financial market turmoil – so things can potentially be far worse than the IMF’s grim forecast.

The IMF said: ‘The increase in trade barriers has an immediate negative impact on UK foreign and domestic demand.

‘The downward revisions…reflect the negative effect of prolonged uncertainty about the Brexit outcome, only partially offset by the positive impact from fiscal stimulus announced in the 2019 budget.’

And the hated EU would also take a blow from no deal: the IMF reckons the trading bloc is facing an estimated 0.5% hit to its GDP if Theresa May can’t pull some kind of miracle out of the ether by Friday.

So, plenty to look forward to.

Bird brains: Government warns developers about netting hedges

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In a weird bit of prescience, a story I did earlier has been picked up by the communities secretary!

Probably not literally but coincidental nonetheless, James Brokenshire MP has said that developers must take more care to protect wildlife habitats, mere hours after this story about netting being used to stop birds nesting.

Of course, I got the story from somewhere else anyway, and it’s no doubt more mainstream sources that the government is referring to when it talks of ‘increasing concern over netting being placed in trees and hedgerows ahead of building work near housing developments’.

The communities secretary has now written to ‘leading developers’ to remind them that ‘birds are protected under the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981, and that mitigation plans will need to show how developers will avoid or manage any negative effects on protected species during their work’.

If developers don’t follow their obligations, MP Brokenshire hasn’t ruled out ‘further action’, though what that may entail I couldn’t tell you.

Apparently, ‘the revised planning rulebook is also already clear that planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by minimising the impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity’.

And according to the government, ‘this government is going further’ by ‘announcing plans to require developers to deliver biodiversity net gain [sic] through the forthcoming Environment Bill’.

MP Brokenshire said: ‘Whilst building new homes is vital, we must take every care to avoid unnecessary loss of habitats that provide much-needed space for nature, including birds.

‘Developments should enhance natural environments, not destroy them. Netting trees and hedgerows is only likely to be appropriate where it is genuinely needed to protect birds from harm during development.

‘I hope developers will take these words on board and play their full role to make sure we can deliver new communities in an environmentally sustainable way.’

As you can imagine, the RSPB’s director for conservation, Martin Harper, is also quite concerned about birds nesting sites being netted in preparation for destruction. He said: ‘We cannot keep trying to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces or demand that wildlife fits in with our plans. Across the UK wildlife is vanishing at an alarming rate, and our planning system must play a vital role in not just reversing this decline but helping nature to recover.

‘Tree and hedge removal should be completed outside of nesting season. However, if there is absolutely no alternative, then netting must be used sparingly in line with the legal duties and responsibilities on developers, including regular checks to ensure wildlife isn’t getting trapped, injured or worse.

‘We are pleased to see the Secretary of State is acknowledging the concerns many people have about the use of netting, and how strongly we all feel about sharing our future neighbourhoods with nature rather than pushing it away.’

 

Tenants get right to sue landlords over property repairs

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Landlords who don’t sort out repairs can now be sued by their tenants.

Under the new rules, which cover both private and social landlords, tenants can take action if problems like damp, leaks and so on aren’t dealt with – and they’re also entitled to compensation.

A landlord is now in breach if there are serious defects in areas such as repairs, stability, damp, ventilation, water supply and disposal, drainage, and cooking facilities.

Additionally, even internal arrangement and natural lighting are covered.

Tweeting today, homelessness charity Shelter said ‘Good news today for tenants affected by disrepair, as the Fitness for Human Habitation Act is now law’.

 

£20m to secure homes for homeless as discriminatory letting ads face chop

Renting House

The government has released nearly £20 million in funding to help people facing homelessness secure their own home.

Announced by housing minister Heather Wheeler, councils will be able to use the funds to help ‘vulnerable people secure their own tenancy through support such as paying deposits’.

The money, which has actually come from the £100m already announced and earmarked for the Rough Sleeping Strategy, is to be shared among 54 projects across England.

Additionally, MP Wheeler has outlined the government’s intentions to put an end to letting adverts which potentially discriminate people claiming housing benefit.

Currently, 889,000 of the 4.5 million households living in England’s private rental sector receive housing benefit. However, the latest figures reveal that around half of landlords are not be willing to let to tenants on housing benefit – which the government says rules out ‘thousands of vulnerable people and families’.

To tackle the issue, ministers intend to meet industry representatives such as ‘mortgage providers, landlord associations, tenant groups, and property websites to clamp down on blanket exclusions in adverts – with a view to stopping them altogether’.

Minister Wheeler MP said: ‘I want everyone to have the security, dignity and opportunities they need to build a better life – at the heart of which is ensuring everyone can find a safe and secure home to call their own.

‘This funding will make a huge difference in opening up the private rented sector to people who need it and give them the chance to rebuild their lives.

‘I will also be meeting key stakeholders to tackle the practice of “No DSS”, to underline the need for immediate change.’

And there’s more: henceforth, local authorities can also bid for a share of up to £26m of Rapid Rehousing Pathway funding, which can be used to ‘fund innovative local schemes which help those sleeping rough and struggling with mental health problems or substance misuse issues. It will give them the wrap-around help they need to get back on their feet’.

And here’s the government’s press release should you want to read all this again with slightly more words.

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