Today's Scottish news (December 10)
- Universal Credit will threaten rent setting freedom, says CIH Scotland
- New housing development unveiled in Stirling
- Dundee ‘being ruined by HMOs’, says Councillor
- Dunedin Canmore calls for finance pilot to continue
- Viewpoint sheltered housing properties set for insulation work
- Tax move to tackle empty Fife homes issue
- Our Island Home design competition shortlist announced
- Inverness care home given more time for improvement
- Scottish house price rise expected to continue, says RICS Scotland
- New play celebrates 45 years of ‘compassion and anger’ for Shelter Scotland
- Advertorial: New appointments for Martec and a new fleet of vans
Tuesday 10 December 2013
Universal Credit will threaten rent setting freedom, says CIH Scotland
A greater proportion of social housing tenants will be on benefits under Universal Credit than is currently the case under Housing Benefit, with significant implications for landlords’ ability to set their own rents, according to CIH Scotland.
CIH’s new briefing Perspectives on Rents and Affordability in Scotland highlights that income needs to be a lot higher before someone comes off tax credits, compared to coming off Housing Benefit.
CIH Scotland’s David Bookbinder (pictured) said: “Of course there’s a lot we don’t yet know about how Universal Credit will operate, but we do know there’s the strong possibility that the housing costs element could be capped. With most landlords likely to have more than four out of five of their tenants on Universal Credit, their freedom to decide what rent increase is most appropriate will be severely restricted.”
The briefing is based on contributions to a recent CIH Scotland event, and covers areas such as:
- The challenges of calculating affordability for different household sizes
- The importance the Scottish Government attaches to the £3,666 p.a. benchmark rent figure
- The likely cost of implementing the prospective Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing
- Why one landlord has abolished service charges
- A view on why affordability assessments across rental tenures should look at what consumers are actually prepared to pay.
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New housing development unveiled in Stirling
Minister for Housing and Welfare Margaret Burgess MSP in Killin on Friday.
The development, at John MacPherson Court, Main Street, has been completed to a high standard of energy efficiency with both solar and photovoltaic panels, high levels of insulation and a mechanical heat recovery system.
It is named after former Killin Community Council Chairman John MacPherson, who worked tirelessly for the local community and championed socially rented housing. Mr MacPherson died in December 2010.
Stirling Council Housing Portfolio Holder, Councillor Violet Weir, joined the Minister, members of Mr MacPherson’s family and other invited guests at the event.
Cllr Weir said: “I was delighted to attend the event, and that the Minister and members of the MacPherson family were able to join us. The completion of this development is a great achievement for everyone involved. It has faced many challenges, including the weather and the location, but the council, our project partners and the local community in Killin have supported it throughout.
“It will provide much-needed affordable housing for the area and I’m sure that John would be pleased to see the development named in his memory. We are very grateful to the MacPherson family for allowing us to remember John in this way.”
The development began in July last year and cost more than £1.57m to complete. The Scottish Government contributed project grant funding of £30,000 per flat.
Since 2010, the Scottish Government has approved a total of £4.05m to support the development of 147 homes across the Stirling area. A further £1m has been made available for 76 properties to be delivered by early 2015.
Minister for Housing and Welfare Margaret Burgess said: "Scottish Government funding is helping local authorities across the country reverse the decades of decline in council house building.
“Stirling Council is driving forward with an ambitious council house building programme, backed by over £5m from the Scottish Government. This development is good news for the people who move into these flats in Killin, Stirlingshire, giving them a much needed warm, high quality affordable home.”
Stirling Council’s house building programme has already delivered 52 properties across Raploch, Bannockburn, Torbrex and St Ninians. In addition, work is underway or about to start on a further 54 properties across the Stirling area. Other projects currently being investigated include Drymen, Thornhill, Plean and Fallin.
Dundee ‘being ruined by HMOs’, says Councillor
Dundee City Council is to review the number of houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) in Dundee after claims they are “destroying the city”.
The council’s licensing committee approved nine new applications but Lochee councillor Tom Ferguson hit out at an “overprovision” which he said was impacting on the local communities.
Largely owned by letting agents and landlords and rented out to three or more unrelated people, HMOs include hostels, student residences, bedsits and shared flats.
Considering an application for 8 Daniel Place, in an area with 16 HMOs already, Mr Ferguson told the Evening Telegraph: “More and more HMOs in an area are destroying the city.
“This area must be protected from people buying up areas where people want to live with their families and people want to own their own properties.”
Jack Reavley of applicants Easylets Ltd pointed out that the property was surrounded on all sides by existing HMOs and is essentially an HMO area and the application was approved.
Mr Ferguson added that while he did appreciate the contribution HMOs provide to Dundee’s accommodation needs, the council is currently breaching its own policy for how many can be granted in particular areas.
He said: “Now anyone who comes in asking for more HMOs in the West End will be asked forensically why they want to do so and why it is in the interests of the community.
“We have in the past been providing an overprovision in some areas that is breaching our own rules. People have just horsed them in and carried on.
“At some stage someone will have to take this on and I am happy to take it on.”
Committee convener Stewart Hunter said he shared some of Mr Ferguson’s concerns about overprovision in some areas.
He said: “Councillor Ferguson’s point is a good one and I share his concerns that some areas need protecting.”
The committee agreed to carry out a review of the council’s HMO policy which has been scheduled to take place at the committee’s February meeting.
Mr Hunter said: “We currently have a policy where different areas of the city are zoned and we can only have so many HMOs in some areas.
“We are getting a lot of overprovision so we need to have a review of the policy to protect people living in these areas.”
He said the review would look at whether the policy, which came into place in 2008, has been working effectively and if not what can be done to improve the situation.
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Dunedin Canmore calls for finance pilot to continue
The head of Dunedin Canmore Housing has called for a direct payment scheme to continue despite it being “resource-intensive” and “quite challenging” to facilitate.
Direct payments is a new scheme which will change the way housing benefit is distributed.
Currently it is given to landlords but the UK government wants the benefit paid to tenants who will then be expected to pay their rent with it.
A pilot scheme run by Dunedin Canmore in Edinburgh saw 75 per cent of people taking part pay their rent a month late and 13 per cent removed from the pilot because they are in arrears, Holyrood's Welfare Reform Committee heard.
Ewan Fraser, chief executive of Dunedin Canmore Housing, and his housing services director, Graeme Russell, spoke of the difficulties posed by housing benefit no longer being paid directly to social landlords and the administrative burden it placed on housing associations to take on advice functions.
Dunedin Canmore Housing Association has accumulated nearly £150,000 of rent arrears as a result of direct payments and has been forced to spend more time with tenants anticipating these problems.
But asked by Tory MSP Alex Johnstone whether the reform should be dropped, Mr Fraser said: “Absolutely not. I don’t think that would help anyone.”
Four-fifths of tenants in the pilot did not have a job, while a fifth had significant literacy or numeracy difficulties. 31 per cent manage their finances poorly, compared with 8 per cent who manage them very well.
Around three in five support housing benefit being paid to them directly but only a quarter are comfortable setting up a direct debit to pay it on to their landlord. 73 per cent prefer to pay all of their bills in cash.
Mr Fraser said: “We tried to be really positive about making the changes happen and put politics aside. It has been very resource-intensive and it has been quite challenging.
“This has not been an easy project. There have been a range of challenges and we have found some things almost impossible to manage properly.”
Mr Russell added: "The demonstration project has been operating for 18 months, having commenced in July 2012 in five other pilot areas south of the border and in August at Dunedin Canmore in Edinburgh.
"A six-month extension, which ends this month, was agreed to assess the impact of under-occupancy charges on direct payments and learn more from the pilot areas.
"Direct payments have been introduced to tenants who previously had their housing benefit paid direct to landlords. The exercise has been more resource-intensive than we or anyone else could have reasonably predicted.
"To meet the demands of the demonstration project, we have committed additional resources, employed additional staff and ultimately adjusted the priorities of the organisation to ensure that we were in the best position to give advice and assistance to tenants affected."
The demonstration project began in August at Dunedin Canmore in Edinburgh.
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Viewpoint sheltered housing properties set for insulation work
Mark Group has begun the installation of cavity wall and loft insulation in 27 developments across The City of Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians which includes around 950 sheltered and mainstream housing properties owned by Viewpoint.
The work is being undertaken as a result of Mark Group winning the tender and completing a pilot project to demonstrate its capabilities in 22 initial properties, and now undertaking phase two which is due for completion at the end of January 2014.
“Ultimately the aim is to keep our tenants warm this winter, but more widely Viewpoint is seeking to improve the energy efficiency of our properties, to reduce carbon emissions, and to achieve the requirements of the Scottish Housing Quality Standard,” said Graeme Swanson ICIOB maintenance officer, Viewpoint.
“Working with Mark Group we are confident the team can carry out installation to the remainder of identified developments in accordance with approved technical requirements and to the agreed timescales, making allowance for any permit requirements to allow adequate and safe access to cavity walls.”
Up to 35 per cent of all home heat loss is through the walls. Insulating the wall cavity is one of the best ways to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a home and can reduce energy bills by up to £140 per year.
“Viewpoint’s housing is typically one or two bedroom flats and often occupied by older tenants, so it’s important that the work is completed before the end of January 2014, to bring them the best benefits in terms of energy savings,” said Lorraine Dunsire, business development manager, Mark Group.
Mark Group will provide Viewpoint with appropriate guarantees and certification following final completion of the project.
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Tax move to tackle empty Fife homes issue
Fife Council is to follow other local authorities by increasing council tax on properties which have been empty for 12 months or more from April.
The Scottish Government made changes to legislation which gives councils discretionary powers to encourage owners to bring their properties back into use.
Finance spokeswoman Linda Erskine said: “We are not doing this to bring in more money. We are doing this because we want to see as many empty properties as possible brought back into use. They can be an eyesore in local communities and if we can support and encourage owners to bring them back to life then that is something very positive, particularly for those needing affordable homes.”
Revenue services manager Les Robertson added: “With the decrease in housing stock in Fife, it’s important that we do what we can to bring long-term empty properties back into use.”
The changes will mean that owners of a property that has been empty for 12 months or more will see their council tax rise by 100 per cent. An exemption will still apply to an empty and unfurnished property for up to six months from the date it was last occupied.
After this point a 50 per cent discount will be awarded for a further six months, then the discount will end and the charge will increase to 100 per cent. Owners will be receiving a letter from the council tax team detailing how these changes will affect them.
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Our Island Home design competition shortlist announced
Rural Housing Scotland’s Our Island Home competition.
The competition sponsored by the Prince's Countryside Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) Scottish Sea Farms, UPM Tilhill and BSW Timber Group aims to design a house which is easy and affordable to build and heat to help young islanders make new homes in island communities.
Judging of the competition took place on the Isle of Mull last week and six successful projects were shortlisted from 50 entries to progress to the second stage of the competition. Judging was anonymous with entries only identifiable by a serial number unknown to the judges.
The submission from Dualchas Architects
The submissions were of such a high standard that the judges decided to shortlist six projects, one more than originally intended.
The shortlisted practices (in alphabetical order) are as follows:
- Arc Architects
- Anta Architecture
- Dualchas Architects
- Rural Design
- Thorne Wyness Architects
- Simon Winstanley Architects
It is intended to exhibit the shortlisted projects at Architecture and Design Scotland, The Lighthouse, in early 2014.
Rural Design's entry
Lesley Riddoch, Chair of the Judging Panel, said: "After a feisty and thorough judging session we were unable to separate six projects and decided to extend the shortlist by one. Thanks to all the practices who entered the competition, the quality of their submissions made our job very difficult."
The shortlisted teams will now have until 31st January 2014 to work on their design submissions with the announcement of the winning design to be made by Richard Lochhead MSP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment at the Rural Housing Scotland Conference on 28th February 2014.
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Inverness care home given more time for improvement
A closure-threatened Inverness care home has been given further time to continue making improvements.
The Care Inspectorate issued an improvement notice on High view House Care Home in Scorguie Drive after it failed to meet the required standards during an inspection in October.
But it said inspectors had seen signs of improvement at the 77-bedroom home, which is run by Barchester Healthcare and currently has 73 residents.
A spokesman for the care watchdog said: “This service was served with a formal improvement notice on October 8. We visited the service again on November 21 and 22 to check on the progress being made.
“We were satisfied that the care provider had made progress in evidencing some of the improvements required.
“We have therefore, on this occasion, decided to extend the timescale for further improvements to be made.”
He added that the inspectorate would be working closely with the home to make sure all the improvements were carried out by January 31.
The earlier improvement notice warned the operator: “If there is no significant improvement within the revised timescale, we intend to make a proposal to cancel your registration.”
This would mean that the home would have to close.
Barchester Healthcare was originally ordered to carry out nine improvements. The latest notice states that three of these have been fully met and the others partially met.
The remaining improvements include ensuring sufficient staff to provide cover for annual leave, sickness and vacancies, improving staff training on continence care, regular monitoring of residents’ weight and implementing care plans for residents at risk of pressure ulcers.
A spokeswoman for the home said: “Since the inspection of Highview House, we have made numerous improvements, which have been monitored by the management support team.
“We took immediate action and submitted an action plan to the Care Inspectorate, which clearly outlined the steps being taken to ensure improvements in our services continue to be achieved and, more importantly, sustained and embedded into the culture of the home.”
She said: “We would like to reassure everyone of our commitment to provide the highest quality of care to those residing at Highview House and to emphasise their health and wellbeing is at the forefront of everything we do and are doing.”
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Scottish house price rise expected to continue, says RICS Scotland
Chartered surveyors expect house prices in Scotland to continue to rise into the New Year as rapidly rising buyer demand outstrips the amount of homes coming onto the nation’s market.
A survey by RICS Scotland found that 52 per cent more chartered surveyors across Scotland predict prices to continue their upward trend rather than fall back over the coming three months – the highest reading since July 2007.
Meanwhile, last month saw prices remain steady, with a net balance of 42 percent more respondents reporting price growth in Scotland. Significantly, each region of the United Kingdom saw prices rise for the second successive month.
While there are still some areas of the UK that are struggling, it appears that, on the whole, the UK markets are now responding to the incentives provided by governments and better economic news.
Sarah Speirs (pictured), Director RICS Scotland, said: “It’s no secret that the housing market is on the way up and prices are rising in many parts of Scotland. We are still very concerned about the lack of both new and existing homes coming on to the market. This issue is one of many which the Scottish Housing Commission, launched by RICS Scotland earlier this year, will seek to address and we will publish our report findings in early 2014.”
Looking ahead, with the economic recovery gaining traction across Scotland, predictions for the rate of increase in future transaction levels hit a record level. A net balance of 78 per cent of surveyors expect sales levels to increase as we head into the New Year, assisted, in part, by the Scottish Government’s Help to Buy.
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New play celebrates 45 years of ‘compassion and anger’ for Shelter Scotland
A specially-commissioned play celebrating the 45th anniversary of housing charity Shelter Scotland has a one-off showing in Edinburgh yesterday.
‘Stramash for Shelter Scotland’ has been written by award-wining Scottish playwright Raymond Ross and stars actress and Altered Images singer Clare Grogan and ‘Taggart’ actor Alex Norton. It was directed by Tony Cownie.
The play included a mix of music, drama and comedy and focuses on some landmark themes of the charity’s 45-year history of campaigning for better housing and helping people in housing need.
The one-off performance took place in front of an invited audience of the charity’s friends, supporters and clients. The Stramash for Scotland event was sponsored by Scottish Gas, as part of a five-year partnership with Shelter Scotland aimed at helping improve safety standards and the quality of living in Scotland’s households.
Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, who commissioned the play, said: “Stramash for Shelter Scotland touches on the compassion and anger generated by our experiences over the last 45 years. From the tough campaigning and the stark reality of bad housing to the provision of expert advice and community fundraising events.
“This play is for everyone who has worked with and supported us over these last 45 years and for all the many thousands of people we have helped. It is a legacy to be proud of and to celebrate.
“We thank Clare and Alex for sharing their talents with us and thank Raymond Ross for his sharp and witty take on our history. We also thank the rest of the cast, musicians and singers.
“We now look forward to reaching our next landmark of 50 years. We don’t doubt that times are going to be tough – but rest assured, we will be there for everyone who needs help to keep a roof over their heads and to stop their lives spiralling out of control towards homelessness.
“We will be there so that no-one has to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own. We won’t stop until there’s a home for everyone and we have put an end to Scotland’s housing crisis for good.”
Kevin Roxburgh, Managing Director of Scottish Gas, added: “We are delighted to be marking this important milestone for our charity partner, Shelter Scotland.
“Through our ongoing five year partnership, we look forward to working together to improve the quality of housing in the private rented sector in Scotland.”
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Advertorial: New appointments for Martec and a new fleet of vans
Martec are delighted to announce the appointment of Gary Miller (pictured top) as Operations Director.
MD, Martin McHugh said: “After 14 years of service with Martec, Gary has proven that this appointment is fully deserved and the Board of Directors are delighted he has accepted the role.”
Another addition to the Martec Organisation is Jim Miller (pictured) as Production Manager. Jim has over 18 years of service within the security door industry and is relishing his new role.
Martec are delighted to launch our newest van fleet, supplied by T.O.M of Airdrie.
Carole Birnie, Finance Director said: “James Rafferty and the team at T.O.M provided a great service in helping us upgrade our fleet. They arranged livery, fitted out the internals to our own specification, and fitted trackers with the most up to date technology to help us monitor our fleet more effectively.”
MARTEC WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO WISH ALL OF OUR CUSTOMERS AND SUPPLIERS A HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A PROSPEROUS 2014!!
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