Confessions of a dodgy sub-tenant

December 16, 2010

Back in the 1990s I rented a council flat in Hackney from the legit tenant. He’d moved in with his girlfriend in south London but wanted to hang on to the flat. Somewhat ironic as I was working as a housing officer at the time.

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Uninspired by the Localism bill

December 14, 2010

Nearly Legal gives a good run down of the housing part of the localism bill here.

Personally the whole bill looks like a cheesy sleight-of-hand attempt to distract from the real issue: cuts all round for public services, particularly local councils.

It’s a real cheek to have the housing stuff published in a bill before the end of the current consultation period.

And I still don’t get the point of the whole flexible tenancy rubbish.


Leeds council enters shared ownership market

December 12, 2010

Here’s a wierd twist: Leeds council has bought ten houses to rent out in their own version of shared ownership.

Local people who can’t afford to buy at the moment rent the houses at a below market rent. They then either buy out in one go or buy shares similar to an RSL shared ownership scheme.

More info here: Council puts forward rent to mortgage plan.

RSLs have had their fingers burnt of late with shared ownership so it’s something of a surprise to see a council giving it a go. Are property prices in Leeds low enough to minimise the risk to the landlord? But if so why the need for a shared ownership model at all?

I must admit I’m a bit baffled. Still, if it doesn’t work out for the new residents they can always take advantage of the Government’s Mortgage to Rent scheme.


Legal aid – proposed cuts

December 11, 2010

I missed this when it came out last month, so sorry for the slightly old news. A friend who used to work in an advice centre has drawn it to my attention.

Back in November the Government launched a consultation document Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales.

They are proposing to abolish legal aid for welfare benefits appeals and housing advice amongst others. My initial reaction was “so what?” After all, how many people actually get to the point of formal legal action against their landlord or the social? Not many, so few people will be affected.

What I was missing is the Citizens Advice Bureau and pretty much every other friendly local advice centre are funded by legal aid contracts for just this work. The CAB will be reduced to a rump service staffed by volunteers and local advice services will probably close.

Now that sucks. Part of the role of housing support work is getting people to engage with advice services in the community, so they can resolve their problems independently of a support service. And I know of local advice agencies who’ve very much been apart of their community for decades.

Maybe local councils will replace the missing legal aid funding but somehow I doubt it, given their financial constraints. Whatever way you look at it the poorest are going to take a hammering.


How to regulate Housing Associations

December 10, 2010

Housing Associations (HAs) and other similar organisations are currently regulated by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the Audit Commission and the Tenant Services Agency (TSA).

The TSA regulates housing management. It’s a new organisation, hasn’t really worked and is being abolished. Essentially, it was toothless so HAs didn’t give two hoots what it said about them.

The Audit Commission regulates overall performance (finances, repairs, rent collection, etc). They were surprisingly rubbish at it – everyone reading the first edition of the Key Line Of Enquiry documents thought “flip me – they don’t have a clue!”. And like the TSA, they’re being abolished.

The HCA isn’t being abolished, but its role is being reduced to doling out development funding. From the look of it they won’t be doing much else.

So who is going to regulate Housing Associations? The obvious candidate is local authorities.

Generally local authorities have about 50-60 HAs on their patch. One experienced person could keep an eye on that number, particularly as many will be Supported Housing and can mostly be left to the Supporting People team or social services contract managers. A local authority will want to ensure HAs are providing a decent service, after all they’re going to be housing people in their stock and dealing with tenancy failures. And importantly, local authorities have some real teeth: they say who gets to be a development partner, pay out various grants and control allocations.

There’s even a bit of legislation requiring HAs to co-operate with a local authority, although I can never remember which act it’s in (1980, 1985 or 1988 I think, one of them).

And hey, it even fits with the Government’s localisation agenda – shift HA regulation from central to local government. Somehow I can’t see it happening but to me it’s a no-brainer.

Article written on 8 December but accidentally saved as a draft rather than posted.


Flexible Tenancies / Affordable Rents – more info

December 10, 2010

Yesterday Grant Shapps announced more details of how Flexible Tenancies and Affordable Rents will work.

The idea behind ‘Affordable Rents’ is to increase the social housing rent to 80% of the market rent to fund development. This raised the question how the Government will ensure the additional cash will be spent on development rather than, say, Duchy Orgininal biscuits (which are very tasty!).

Sensibly, Housing Associations will only be able to use the Affordable Rent after cutting a development deal with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) (press release).

Oddly enough, in the same press release we get:

“The Government has embarked on a radical programme to shift power from Westminster to councils and communities, including a fundamental reform of social housing. The proposals include giving greater flexibility to both council and housing association landlords over the types of tenure they can offer to new social housing tenants.”

While the entire subject of the press release is how the Government is going to centrally control the use of Affordable Rents. Ho hmmm.

They seem to have forgotten about councils. I wonder how they’ll centrally control their use of the new locally flexible arrangements?

Just for fun the Government seems to be leaving it entirely up to an HA to determine what the local market rent would be:

“The association’s calculation of the market rent would need to be based on a residential lettings estimate for a property of the appropriate size, condition and area.”

So we now have market rents being determined by the Housing Benefits team (for the Local Housing Allowance rates), Rent Assessment Committees (for legal purposes) and HAs. All using different rules. Fun fun fun!

Meanwhile Inside Housing reckons the HCA is going back to the old mass bidding approach for development (article). This cuts directly against the HCAs own report from a couple of days ago stressing the need for more vulnerable and older persons housing. If they give all the development cash to a few big organisations they won’t see much supported development out of it.


Government loses overpayment case

December 8, 2010

I’ll await better legal minds than mine but from the look of this Supreme Court Judgement today the Government can no longer recover any welfare benefit overpayments due to official error.

As long as the claimant has not misrepresented or not disclosed a material fact they are entitled to the benefits they have been awarded.

While this has long been the case in HB overpayments – although councils hated it when you flagged it up – I don’t think there’s been a case applied to wider welfare benefits. If I was in charge of the tax credit system I’d be sweating it.