Published on April 4th, 2012 | by Steph Jennings1
Housing and Benefits Reform
Monday night, as we’re both board members James and I attended theÂ Wednesfield and Fallings Park Local Neighbourhood PartnershipÂ board meeting.Â At theÂ beginningÂ of the meeting we were given a presentation by theÂ Wolverhampton Federation of TenantsÂ about the changes theÂ governmentÂ are making to housing andÂ benefits.
As these changes will effect residents of Wednesfield we thought itÂ importantÂ to Â try and cover it.
These are my notes from the session. They aren’t a comprehensive look at the changes but an overview Â 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
TheÂ right to buyÂ discount cap has been raised to Â£75,000 capped at a maximum of 60% of the value of the house. Tenants would be entitled to a 50%Â discountÂ 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.
Council/Social housing will be “self financed”Â this will been thatÂ socialÂ 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. TheÂ maximumÂ rate of rent increases will still be in line with the nationalÂ equationÂ 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’sÂ 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 Â up to 80% of the market rent – Â This used to be capped at 60%.
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 Â£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 aÂ ”Bedroom Tax”
It’s a average of Â£11 per week for one spare bedroom up to Â£20 per week if there was more than one empty bedroom. If you are in an underÂ occupiedÂ house you would need to pay the difference yourself – or downsize.Â This will not apply to pensioners.
The Localism Bill hasÂ introducedÂ the option ofÂ FlexibleÂ TenanciesÂ 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. Â This flexible tenancy is only anÂ option that councils can chose to offer and isn’t aÂ definitiveÂ changeÂ Â toÂ tenancies.
All councils must haveÂ tenancy strategyÂ 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.
Councils will be able to decide on their ownÂ waiting listÂ needs, based on theÂ demographicsÂ of their areas. Â Priority statutoryÂ needs like homelessness, illness etc will still be in place – Â 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 underÂ occupying.
Tenancy fraudÂ (ie subletting) could become aÂ criminalÂ offence and would carry a custodialÂ sentence.
The onus is going to move to consumer regulation with more tenant control on things like repairs management withÂ scrutinyÂ panels looking at services and the regulator only stepping in if an issue is seriously detrimental. Â Tenants panelsÂ could be set up to help manage and control complaints but it is up to individual councils to decide if they willÂ recogniseÂ such panels.
TheÂ Localisn BillÂ is putting more emphasis back on community and neighbourhoods and so is suggesting changes at a local level, Some of these are:
-Â The right to challengeÂ - 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.
-Â 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 Â list so the owners cant sell without offering the community anÂ opportunityÂ 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 shapeÂ neighbourhood planning
There arewere someÂ proposed changes to anti social behaviour legislation, this would essential be aÂ re-branding of Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) Â to Community Protection Orders, Criminal Behaviour Orders and Crime Prevention Injunctions – these would includeÂ new Â eviction processesÂ 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 shouldÂ 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….