HQN Residents’ Network News
Each week Rob Gershon and Steve Cook, associates for The Residents’ Network, go over the biggest and most relevant news stories, reports and publications of the past few days for members, while providing their own analysis and comment.
For more expert analysis, briefings and best practice for those involved in resident involvement and tenant engagement, be sure to join The Residents’ Network. You can find out more here.
Week commencing 17 June 2019 – by Steve Cook
Government in no rush to review Local Housing Allowances
Despite losing a case in the courts last week where the judge ruled that it was not legal to evict somebody for rent arrears where the housing benefits received were less than the rent due, the government is no hurry to review the Local Housing Allowances (LHA) that have been frozen since April 2016. (In Nottingham the LHA is limited to around £43 but the cheapest properties available are on the market for £63 per week.) Undeterred by both the court ruling and the grilling he was getting from the opposition in parliament the DWP minister Will Quince claimed the government was ‘proud’ of the progress it was making on its welfare reforms.
Meanwhile in Berlin…
Faced with private sector tenants struggling to pay ever increasing rents Berlin city council has this week approved plans to introduce a five year rent freeze from January. If supported by the Berlin regional government the freeze will cover over 1.4m homes, but not social housing which is regulated separately from the private sector. The legislation also ensures that the rent freeze will be backdated to June 18 to stop landlords putting up the rents between now and January. Certainly a different approach than our government takes towards rent affordability!
And in Cardiff…
A feature in the Guardian follows rough sleepers in Cardiff as the city council move their tents from in and around the city centre in a game of cat and mouse. Last year local authorities in the UK cleared 254 homeless encampments, up from 182 in 2014. Cardiff City Council says it is trying to persuade rough sleepers to use the services available to them. Perhaps the council should listen to why people prefer to sleep in tents.
Inequality and deprivation linked to tenure
A new report published by the Human City Institute confirms what many already suspected: that inequality and deprivation are linked to tenure. However, the extent of the inequality will surprise many. People owning their own home outright have 40 times the wealth of the average social housing tenant. And the report goes on to show just how marginalised social housing is becoming with just one in every six homes now in the social sector, down from one in three in 1979. A clear clarion call for social landlords to do much more to support their tenants.
More money for social housing in Wales
Wales’ finance minister Rebecca Evans has made an extra £50m available to local authorities for social housing schemes in an attempt to provide some certainty for the country ahead of Brexit. Once again the Welsh Government is putting clear water between its housing policies and those of the government in Westminster.
Google pledges $1bn dollars for new housing
As the San Francisco Bay Area grapples with growing problems of homelessness Google has stepped in and said it will earmark $1bn to provide around 20,000 new homes, of which at least 5,000 will be affordable. The investment will be over a ten year period but it certainly throws the gauntlet down to other hi-tech companies.
Week commencing 10 June 2019 – by Rob Gershon
Shelter renews call for splitting Regulator of Social Housing
Launching new research that shows one in ten social housing residents have to contact their landlords ten times in order to resolve repairs issues, housing charity Shelter echoes recent calls from Grenfell United for a new regulator for consumer standards. The report also shows that 2.5m tenants – more than half of all tenants – have had a problem with their homes. Sky News reports “Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “Tenants were not listened to at Grenfell and they are still not being listened to in social housing up and down the country. “They are acutely aware of that and it’s leading them to fear for their safety, which is hardly surprising given what happened at Grenfell. “So what we really need is a new regulator that will hear tenants’ concerns, and follow them up, and be accountable to tenants themselves.”
Recommendations from Lakanal House fire not implemented in Kensington and Chelsea after safety recommendations flagged as not mandatory
A previously unreleased report shows recommendations on fire safety had been considered by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. These recommendations, now quite widely known to have included advice around installing sprinklers in high-rise blocks, were considered prior to the Grenfell refurbishment. However, after “indications” from the Department for Communities and Local Government that changes to fire safety would not be mandatory, no work was done at Grenfell Tower to improve fire safety for residents. Responding to this information, the Grenfell United group, currently calling for improved regulation of social housing, said “What is surprising is the government’s continued resistance to change. No one cared enough then and no one seems to care enough now. Enough with supportive platitudes, we need change now before another Grenfell.”
Policy Exchange ventures back into housing recommendations
Policy Exchange, a think-tank rated “E” for its complete lack of transparency in how it is funded, and famous for coming up with all the ideas in the 2016 Housing and Planning Act that have been abandoned because they are completely unworkable, has decided to have another go at housing policy ideas. Deciding to focus on making houses look nice so that local people do not object to them being built nearby, and repeating many of their previous asks about downsizing, brownfield land and worrying about where housebuilders will get their enormous government subsidies from when the Help-To-Buy scheme ends. The report has already been endorsed by a number of MPs found to have broken electoral spending rules.
Supreme Court rules in favour of single mother wrongfully found intentionally homeless by Birmingham City Council
This case reflects on the duty of local councils to provide homelessness provision and looks very closely at issues around how the benefits system is no longer providing sufficient money to cover rental costs. Birmingham City Council found Ms Samuels to be “intentionally homeless” after she lost a private rented tenancy because she was unable to meet the shortfall between her rent and the benefits provided to cover it. The City Council decided that Ms Samuels should use other benefits – designed to support other things like feeding her children – to pay rent. The Supreme Court has said that this wrong in law, and that as a result the decision not to provide homelessness support was also wrong.
Private landlords still not keen on having to follow rules
Despite calls in this year’s Shelter Commission report to bring the regulation of private landlords nearer to that of social landlords – a theme that many tenants mentioned during ministerial meetings related to the Social Housing Green Paper – and a successful landlord registration system in Wales, private landlords in Newcastle have managed to avoid serious scrutiny in a proposed scheme for the city. Pressure from private landlords has meant the City Council must now seek approval for its wider licencing scheme, although a smaller-scale scheme for “problem areas” will be going ahead.
Regulator publishes technical update on Value for Money metrics
Slightly more interesting than it sounds, the Regulator of Social Housing has published its expectations when it comes to which measurements of Value for Money should be included in registered providers’ Annual Reports. Changes include:
- Minor clarification of the metrics calculations set out in section 3
- Annex A: has been updated to reflect the line numbers used in the 2019 FVA template
- Annex B: has been added to assist small providers calculate the metrics.
Week commencing 3 June 2019 – by Steve Cook
Regulator publishes latest Financial Health data
The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has this week published its latest quarterly report into the financial health of social landlords. Covering the period January – March 2019, and completing the full financial year’s figures, it paints a very healthy picture. During the year landlords raised a record £13.6bn in new finance. With access to over £20bn of available loans plans are in place to spend £14.5bn on new homes. Associations are also holding a total of £6bn in cash with plans to spend at least £2bn of this on improvement works.
Council buying houses to prevent homelessness
Milton Keynes Council is planning to purchase homes where tenants are at risk of homelessness through no fault of their own. Private landlords can serve a Section 21 notice to seek possession of a property even if the tenant has not breached any tenancy conditions. The main reason for doing this is to sell the property. With nearly 800 families already in temporary accommodation the council is planning to buy around 50 properties before the end of July. At £160,000 a property it seems an investment worth making, but they will need to be careful that their entry into the market doesn’t have the unintended consequence of quickly pushing house prices up in the area.
More private landlords are selling up
More unintended consequences linked to the story above. When the government announced that the Tenant Fees Act (banning unfair letting fees) would come into force on 1 June, and that Section 21 evictions would be outlawed, a better deal for private tenants was predicted. It seems however, that many landlords have rushed to sell their tenanted homes before Section 21 is repealed, and those staying in the market are simply putting up rents to make up for the fees they now can’t charge. Which all goes to show just how difficult it is to intervene in a complex market where for private landlords it is all about investment profit and rental yield, and for tenants it’s about affordability and security.
Land reform would lead to a more equal society
A report published this week and commissioned by the Labour Party recommends wide-ranging changes to property ownership in the UK. Landownership (in the hands of so very few individuals) the report argues, contributes to the shortage of homes and their unaffordability where they are built. The report calls for publicly owned development bodies, stricter rent and eviction controls and a massive social house-building programme; along with higher taxes on land ownership and inheritance. Call me cynical, but I can’t see the establishment giving up the land they own any time soon.
Homelessness rising sharply for people with physical disabilities
The number of disabled people who are homeless has increased by over 75% in the last ten years. Many are now living rough on the streets due to a shortage of specialist accommodation. This short film from the BBC features three disabled homeless men in Birmingham.
Finland’s radical solution to homelessness
Finland is the only country in the EU where homelessness is falling. And, it is as a result of a very cunning plan that applies a very simple solution to a very difficult problem. If someone is homeless – then give them a home. Simples.