Housing and Benefits Reform

I originally wrote this for the #FairBrum blog, and then I edited and reposted it to the WV11 site, now I’m reposting this here as  I think these are changes that will effect so many people in our communities it’s important for as many people as possible to be informed.

This is just cut and paste directly from the WV11 site….

Monday night, as we’re both board members James and I attended the Wednesfield and Fallings Park Local Neighbourhood Partnership board meeting. At the beginning of the meeting we were given a presentation by the Wolverhampton Federation of Tenants  about the changes the government are making to housing and benefits.

As these changes will effect residents of Wednesfield we thought it important to  try and cover it.

These are my notes from the session. They aren’t a comprehensive look at the changes but an overview  of my understanding of the information we were being given – I’ve tried to link where possible to sources with more information on these issues;

Right to Buy

The right to buy discount cap has been raised to £75,000 capped at a maximum of 60% of the value of the house. Tenants would be entitled to a 50% discount after 5 year tenancy with an extra 1% rise for each year after up to the maximum 60%. – this increase is from 2nd April 2012.

Rents

Council/Social housing will be “self financed” this will been that social landlords can keep all the rent that is paid to them without some of it going to central government, BUT this will mean that landlords will have to set their own business plan, paying for all repairs etc. without a government subsidy. The maximum rate of rent increases will still be in line with the national equation of “inflation plus a little bit” – but individual landlords can choose to set rents lower than this maximum rate.

Housing Associations and Affordable Rents, HA’s can now charge higher than social rent, but this is linked into building new homes. Existing tenants shouldn’t be effected but if housing associations build new homes they can charge  up to 80% of the market rent –  This used to be capped at 60%.

Housing Benefits

In 2013 Council and Housing Association tenants at working age will lose benefits for “spare rooms” so if you are under occupying a house you will lose some of your Housing Benefits. This is looking like an average lose of £13 per week and would affect 32% of working age tenants. This is in line with the benefits cap to private renting. This has been dubbed a ”Bedroom Tax”

It’s a average of £11 per week for one spare bedroom up to £20 per week if there was more than one empty bedroom. If you are in an under occupied house you would need to pay the difference yourself – or downsize. This will not apply to pensioners.

Tenancies

The Localism Bill has introduced the option of Flexible Tenancies to social Landlords. This would mean tenants could be offered a fixed term tenancy of least 2 years (but with a recommendation for 5 years) in a council house, with an option of a 6 month notice period to move. This is to encourage people to move out of social housing once their social need has been dealt with.  This flexible tenancy is only an option that councils can chose to offer and isn’t a definitive change  to tenancies.

All councils must have tenancy strategy by 2013, Even councils that don’t currently offer council/social housing need to do this. This will set out if they will offer flexible tenancies.

Lettings

Councils will be able to decide on their own waiting list needs, based on the demographics of their areas.  Priority statutory needs like homelessness, illness etc will still be in place –  Homeless people can now be offered private rental properties as well as social housing.

Transfers / mutual exchanges can now be made with having to prove the “need” – but changes to housing benefits will come in if you move into a property you’ll end up under occupying.

Tenancy fraud (ie subletting) could become a criminal offence and would carry a custodial sentence.

Housing Regulation

The Tenants Services Authority (TSA) no longer exists and the regulator is the Homes and Community Agency (HSA).

The onus is going to move to consumer regulation with more tenant control on things like repairs management with scrutiny panels looking at services and the regulator only stepping in if an issue is seriously detrimental.  Tenants panels could be set up to help manage and control complaints but it is up to individual councils to decide if they will recognise such panels.

Community Power

The Localisn Bill is putting more emphasis back on community and neighbourhoods and so is suggesting changes at a local level, Some of these are:

– The right to challenge – groups can put in an expression of interest to provide services for any council service, litter collection instance. If the council accept it this will trigger a tender process for the service where community groups can bid along side other providers.

– The right to buy. Communities can request for any building or piece of land to be listed as a community asset. If accepted this would mean that the “asset” would be added to a  list so the owners cant sell without offering the community an opportunity to buy it – This could delay sales by up to 6 months.

– Neighbourhood forums could become neighbourhood councils, operating similar to parish councils, charging neighbourhood taxes to spend in communities. These forums could also help shape neighbourhood planning

ASB

There arewere some proposed changes to anti social behaviour legislation, this would essential be a re-branding of Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)  to Community Protection Orders, Criminal Behaviour Orders and Crime Prevention Injunctions – these would include new  eviction processes for tenants and residents convicted of ASB and would include a proposal for a “Community Trigger” this means if a few people effected by ASB in a single area make a complaint, or an individual makes repeated complaints and nothing seems to be resolved it should automatically trigger a response by community partners where they will be compelled look into the issue.

No one at the meeting could say if the ASB changes were going to go ahead but I’d still be interested in your thoughts….

Image used under creative commons courtesy of Neil Mallett

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