This week's National news (October 27 - October 31)

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NATIONAL:MPs urged to prepare for shift towards renter-dominated constituencies

Politicians have been urged to take the concerns of tenants more seriously after research indicated that more than 100 MPs will represent renter-dominated constituencies by 2021.
The analysis, carried out by the campaign group Generation Rent and published in today’s Independent, found that if current trends continue, the number of MPs representing areas in which more people live in social housing or privately rented accommodation than own their own homes will have risen to 107 by 2021 – from 65 in 2011 and 38 in 2001.
The trend will affect some safe Tory seats, with high numbers of rental properties have traditionally been inner-city Labour strongholds, as steep rise in house prices changes the profile of middle-class areas once full of owner-occupiers.
Constituencies in particular that will have to prepare for a sharp rise in the number of renters casting their vote include the Tory seats of Bournemouth East, in which the percentage of residents in rented accommodation is expected to jump from 29 per cent to 56 per cent between 2001 and 2021, and Bournemouth West, where the proportion is expected to rise from 32 per cent to 53 per cent.
Other Tory constituencies are similarly affected. Reading East – which the party took from Labour in 2005 and which includes the wealthy suburbs of Caversham and Peppard – is anticipating a growth in its renter population from 30 per cent to 50 per cent over the 20-year period. In Ealing Central and Acton the proportion will grow from 43 per cent to 60 per cent of the electorate.
Labour MPs are not immune to this societal shift. In Luton South the number of voters who rent is expected to rise from 33 per cent to 55 per cent between 2001 and 2021, and in York Central the proportion is expected to rise from 38 per cent to 53 per cent.
Alex Hilton (pictured), director of Generation Rent, said the figures indicated that a “fundamental conflict” was brewing in British politics.
“This is a radical shift and it’s going in one direction. The reason… is the inaccessibility of the housing market, and all these sticking plasters they’re applying aren’t going to achieve anything,” he said.
“We have got a Parliament that is dominated by homeowner interests and landowner interests. There isn’t a party that’s offering a platform for renters. The question is, which party is going to wake up to [this situation] first?”
Today all three main political parties promote home ownership as a social goal and tend to favour policies and rhetoric that appeal to homeowners. But Mr Hilton was optimistic that, once in government, parties might overhaul their policies to suit the needs of a changing electorate.
“The political parties today are thinking only in terms of who is going to vote in May of next year. But, from May of next year, they’re only going to be interested in who’s going to vote in 2020. The party in power will be more positive towards renters than their manifesto [suggests].”
Mr Hilton also warned politicians that until government invested in new development the problems that kept aspirational buyers priced out of the market would remain.
“Both parties are wedded to the concept of home ownership,” he said. “But they’re also wedded to the free market that’s preventing the achievement of home ownership.
“The free market cannot provide for demand because housebuilders make less money if everyone has got a home. They simply stop building homes when house prices stabilise,” he said.
Grainia Long, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the future of home ownership depended on politicians’ efforts elsewhere in the economy.
“Policymakers don’t get the relationship between the housing market and the labour market,” she said, warning that zero-hours contracts and the rise in part-time work stopped people from buying.
“We make housing decisions based on jobs, particularly for people aged 35 and under. It makes more sense for some households [to rent], not just because they can’t access home ownership but also because the labour market is so unstable.”
She added: “I think all parties are going to have to offer a set of very clear policies that set out how they’re going to meet the myriad needs of renters.”

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NATIONAL:Number of children in workless households hits record low

The number of children living in a household where no one has a job is the lowest level for a generation, new figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.
The figures show that the number is down by 387,000 compared to 2010, the lowest since records began 18 years ago.
The number of workless households has fallen by 671,000 since 2010, bringing it to a record low – there are now 271,000 fewer workless households than there were this time last year, the largest annual fall on record.
The number of households where no one has ever worked is down by 49,000 since 2010 while the employment rate for lone parents is also the highest on record and has seen the largest ever annual increase
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) said: “There is no better example of welfare reform in action than giving children the economic security of living in a household where people are bringing home a regular pay packet.
“My priority has always been to get people back to work who had been left behind – people for whom work was not part of their life. These record figures show that not only we are successfully helping people to escape worklessness and turn their lives around, but we are also giving hope to the next generation.”

NATIONAL:Brownfield sites to be prioritised for development of thousands of homes

Thousands of homes could be built on brownfield sites available for development according to figures published by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
Following reforms of the planning system, more than two thirds of all homes are built on brownfield land – with ambitions to go even further.
Earlier this month the Government issued new guidance to councils on using Local Plans to safeguard their area against urban sprawl and protect the green lungs around towns and cities.
Housing minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said: “This Government has been very clear that when planning for new buildings, protecting our precious green belt is paramount. Local people don’t want to lose their countryside to urban sprawl, or see towns and cities lost to unnecessary development.
“We have put Local Plans at the heart of the reformed planning system, so councils and local people can now decide where development should and shouldn’t go.
“Support for new housing is growing, because communities welcome development if it is built in the right place and does not ignore their needs. That’s why planning permission for 230,000 homes was granted by councils in the last year alone, while official statistics show that green belt development is at its lowest rate since modern records began in 1989.”
Councils will play a critical role in bringing forward brownfield land and government wants to see permissions in place for homes on over 90 per cent of suitable brownfield land by 2020. This could pave the way for up to 200,000 new homes while protecting our green belt.
In addition, 20 new housing zones on this brownfield land in London will benefit from £400 million funding from the government and the Greater London Authority. There will be £200m of additional government funding available for 10 zones outside London.
The Government has also stated that councils should consider how they will protect and preserve important sites in their area, especially green belt sites. Other considerations include: sites of special scientific interest; areas of outstanding natural beauty; heritage coastline; and national parks and the Broads.
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NATIONAL:Blog: The 2014 Care Act and the housing sector

By Andy Chaplin, director of Foundations, the national body for home improvement agencies.
The 2014 Care Act is a big opportunity for the housing sector. Statutory guidance published last week (setting out how the Act will work in practice) refers extensively to the role of housing and home-based support in preventing poor health and wellbeing.
A legal duty for councils to prevent the need for health and social care is set out in the statute for the first time. This marks a significant opportunity for housing support.
For years home improvement agencies and handyperson schemes have been reducing hip fractures by repairing loose carpets. They stop respiratory diseases getting worse by damp-proofing walls. People with dementia are helped to live at home for longer through the installation of transparent cupboard doors. Older people with depression can enjoy their gardens again thanks to low cost maintenance services.
New legislation will oblige councils to integrate these types of housing related services into health and social care provision.
The Care Act 2014 also recognises the importance of ‘wellbeing’, describing it as the ‘single unifying purpose around which adult social care is organised’. In its definition of wellbeing, the legislation talks about the ‘availability of safe and settled accommodation’ and ‘the suitability of living accommodation’.
It is crucial that housing organisations seize the opportunities presented by this new legislation and make their case to health and social care budget holders.
It won’t be enough to sit back and expect health to commission home-based services. Funding is not guaranteed purely because housing is mentioned in the guidance. In fact housing services may be at risk now, more than ever, because the Care Act replaces previous health and care laws. Councils could use this opportunity to redefine their statutory duties and potentially cut thousands of housing, care and support services.
One way the housing sector can safeguard its services is by improving its representation on those panels and committees that influence health commissioning such as health and wellbeing boards. This is about building firm personal networks and raising the profile (and influence) of housing support organisations.
When making their case to health commissioners, housing providers must focus less on the emotional rationale and more on the hard economic outcomes they can deliver for the NHS. That’s about developing clear, consistent numbers across the sector around the savings that housing can deliver.
Robust measurement processes must also be embedded into housing support delivery so data collection on health outcomes becomes second nature for the sector.
The first phase of Care Act reforms comes into effect next April (less than 6 months away). Service providers should act now and make their case to local decision makers who are influencing the allocation of funds for preventative services commissioned through their Better Care Fund.

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NATIONAL:Call for input into Government's review of Green Deal in use factors

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is asking the Green Deal supply chain to provide research findings which evidence the actual in-situ performance of energy efficiency measures available to UK housing under the Green Deal and Energy Companies Obligation (ECO).
Bristol-based resource efficiency consultancy, Sustain Ltd, will lead a review, with partners Eunomia Research and Consulting and The Centre for Sustainable Energy, that will assess the In Use Factors (IUFs) used in the calculation of energy savings under the two policies.
Those organisations at the coalface of procuring and delivering Green Deal and ECO measures are being asked to share their research findings and reports. Property stock holders, the wider housing industry, trade bodies, manufacturers, academic and research organisations are all being asked to contribute to the call for evidence.
IUFs are part of the calculation used by DECC to estimate the energy savings achieved through the installation of energy efficiency measures in domestic properties. They are used to address the problem that real-world performance of energy efficiency measures is often lower than as modelled in SAP or RdSAP.
Specifically, IUFs are intended to account for:
  • Differences between the actual physical characteristics of a home and those assumed in modelling
  • The installed performance of energy efficiency measures, including the difference between a product’s in-situ performance compared with laboratory test results; imperfect installations and poor maintenance.
This review will collect and use relevant research findings, that is data with analysis as opposed to raw data sets, which evidences and quantifies any or all of these factors.
“We are looking for good quality research and reports that have used robust methods and significant sample sizes to develop our catalogue of evidence. The data analysed in the research should prove the conclusions and it is helpful if it has been independently verified,” said Chris Jennings, Sustain’s project manager.
“This is a well timed opportunity following the recent uplift in Green Deal assessments for our industry to inform DECC on how the measures are performing in reality. Whether you are an installer, housing association, trade body or academic organisation, if you are involved with Green Deal and ECO and you have a body of qualified research, we want to hear from you.”
Once the industry’s evidence has been catalogued, it will be reviewed and assessed before Sustain’s recommendations are put in front of DECC’s expert panel. Results of the review are expected in Spring 2015.
“We have made a commitment to carry out periodic reviews of IUFs and we need industry’s help to do this,” said Kristy Revell, project manager at DECC.
“As a protection mechanism for the public, IUFs ensure that the energy savings used in the Golden Rule are tied to reasonable assumptions.”

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NATIONAL:Housing associations urge Government to reform Right to Buy

On the eve of the House of Lords debate on Right to Buy, housing associations are calling on the Government to radically reform the policy in England to safeguard the country’s social housing for future generations.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, has written a letter to Housing minister Brandon Lewis co-signed by 20 housing associations.

Within the letter the National Housing Federation urges the Government to reform Right to Buy to ensure that every home sold is replaced on a like-for-like basis.

Under current rules, some council and housing association residents can buy their homes with a 70 per cent discount of up to £77,000 (£102,700 in London). While the National Housing Federation supports the principle of home ownership which underlies Right to Buy, these huge discounts mean housing associations are simply not receiving enough money from the sale of Right to Buy properties to build new homes to replace them. It is even more difficult for housing associations to replace homes sold as the money from the sale is shared with the local authority as well as the Treasury.

In some instances the amount received by the housing association following the sale of a home under Right to Buy is less than £30,000. With the average cost of building a new home exceeding £140,000, the National Housing Federation is concerned that homes sold will not be replaced, leaving a lasting legacy on the availability of affordable homes in the future.

Following the reinvigoration of the scheme in 2012, which led to larger discounts, sales have shot up. Some 5,944 local authority homes were sold in the first year, and since then only 3,634 replacement homes are complete or underway. The National Housing Federation believes the Deregulation Bill proposal, debated this week in the House of Lords, to reduce the eligibility period of residents from five years to three will increase demand further and make the situation even worse.

Right to Buy was set up to enable council tenants to buy their own homes but some tenants whose properties were transferred from the council to a housing association are also eligible.

David Orr (pictured) said: “We support Right to Buy for helping people into home ownership but that should not be at the expense of the 1.7 million people currently waiting for desperately needed social housing across England.

“Selling off homes at a price that leaves very little to replace them does not make sense. Unless we can replace every sold home with a new affordable home, there will be drastic consequences for future generations.

“We want to see this policy reformed in order to safeguard social housing and help end the housing crisis within a generation.”

Phoenix Community Housing was set up in December 2007 to receive the transfer of 5,500 social rented homes from Lewisham Council in south London. The transfer was approved by the Government at a time when the maximum discount under the Right to Buy was £16,000.

Under the terms of their stock transfer from Lewisham Council, Phoenix only retains a small proportion of the proceeds from each Right to Buy sale. Recently one of their homes valued at £205,000 was sold through Right to Buy for £105,000, but Phoenix only received £27,332.

Jim Ripley, chief executive of Phoenix Community Housing, said: “We are keen to develop more of the affordable homes London desperately needs, but the current level of discount available through Right to Buy is seriously reducing our capacity to do this.

“The money we receive from a Right to Buy sale will barely cover the net rental income we have lost on the property. It certainly doesn’t provide us with any money to build a new affordable home to replace the one sold.”

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NATIONAL:Unicef blames austerity measures for rise in child poverty

The number of children living in poverty has increased to more than a quarter as a result of the UK Government’s harsh austerity measures, Unicef has said.

The latest Unicef Report Card, Children of the Recession, compares the impact of the economic crisis on child well-being across rich countries, including the UK.

The report reveals that while European neighbours including Germany and Poland have managed to reduce child poverty rates during the recession, more children across the UK have been pulled into poverty since 2008.

Unicef blamed low pay and benefits cuts for the UK's poor performance in global child poverty tables.

A global report in to the effect of the economic crisis on vulnerable children between 2008 and 2012 put the UK 25th out of 41 developed countries, after child poverty increased by 1.6 per cent to 25.6 per cent.

The report also found there was an “unprecedented increase” in severe material deprivation - which measures factors including whether families can pay the rent, heat their homes and afford reasonable diets for their children - in the UK along with Greece, Italy and Spain.

The charity called for an immediate review of the impact of economic policies on children to determine the continuing impact of the recession and ensure that imbalances are “re-addressed as a priority”.

David Bull, the executive director of Unicef UK, said the charity was calling for an immediate review of the impact austerity measures were having on children – suggesting that worse was to come.

He said: “It's disappointing to see that 18 countries have managed to reduce levels of child poverty during that difficult economic period and the UK has seen it get worse.

“If they can do it in Poland, Canada, Germany and Australia, why can't we?”

Mr Bull said the majority of the vulnerable children have working parents who are “not being paid enough” and not receiving enough contributions from the Government to escape poverty.

He said the report, which tracked poverty from 2008 to 2012, showed a “worrying trend” likely to get worse.

“What's important is that we haven't seen the worst of this austerity and its impact,” he added.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has hit back at the organisation, saying it is “drawing distorted comparisons” in its study.

The DWP suggested that the apparently huge spike in child poverty in the UK from 2011 to 2012 could be because in the final year of their study, Unicef switched from using ONS data to figures compiled by the DWP itself.

A spokesperson said: "Unicef is drawing distorted comparisons with this data.

“ONS figures show that under this Government, around 300,000 fewer children are in poverty or growing up in workless families.

“Our reforms are improving the lives of some of the poorest families by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

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NATIONAL:Energy Rights Bill launched as fuel poverty hits 2 million homes

Campaigners from more than 30 groups and organisations met in the House of Commons on Monday to launch Fuel Poverty Action’s Energy Bill of Rights.
Fuel Poverty Action said the bill aims to make energy “fairer, affordable” and “sustainable”.

The campaign group said that establishing ‘Energy Rights’- including the right to affordable energy and the right not to be disconnected from gas and electricity by a supplier or through lack of funds to feed prepayment meters – is needed to tackle fuel poverty and self-cut offs.
The Annual Fuel Poverty report by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) found over 2 million UK households are living in fuel poverty. This accounts for 10.4 percent of the population.
It also suggests the inability to afford energy bills killed 10,000 Britons in 2013 whilst in the same year the Big Six energy companies made £37 billion profit, equating to £370,000 profit per person who died. In 2013/2014 Big Six energy company profits stood at £2.8bn with the figures for the numbers of deaths from fuel poverty in this period not yet been announced.
More than 100 people attended the launch of Fuel Poverty Action’s ‘Energy bill of Rights’ at the Houses of Parliament. The guest list for the launch event included MPs John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas, housing activists from London and Carlisle who are collectively challenging landlords and both unjust renewable and fossil fuel energy suppliers, PCS Union assistant general secretary Chris Baugh, anti-fracking activists, and womens’, pensioners’ and disabled people’s groups.
The Energy Bill of Rights asserts the right to clean, affordable, publicly owned energy and a safe climate, as well as the right to not be disconnected or have to self-disconnect due to inability to top up prepayment meters.

Fuel Poverty Action spokesperson Clare Welton said: “Everyone should have a right to access enough energy to fulfil their basic needs and keep themselves warm and healthy over the winter, yet energy companies profits and bad and non-existent energy company policy currently dictates who lives and who dies every winter.
“An Energy Bill of Rights is essential to take back this power from energy companies- from the right they have to break into homes to install unwanted prepayment meters to the rights being given to frack under homes in communities that don’t want it- and give the rights and power to communities and individuals who desperately need an affordable, sustainable and publicly owned energy system.”
According to the Annual Fuel Poverty report, the overall number of people living in fuel poverty is forecast to rise in 2014, largely due to the expected increase in fuel prices.
The worst affected areas in the UK are the West Midlands and East Midlands 15 per cent and 13 per cent respectively live in fuel poverty. The South East and East have the lowest proportion, with 8 and 9 per cent.

Over thirty campaign groups- from locally based food banks to international campaign organizations including the World Development Movement have already signed up to endorse the Energy Bill of Rights.

NATIONAL:New research shows need for improved leaseholder engagement

Social landlord investment in leaseholder engagement significantly improves overall satisfaction with their service, a study by Wates Living Space and the Tenant Participatory Advisory Service (TPAS) has revealed.
It also shows a significant perception gap in the service social landlords are providing and that which resident leaseholders feel they receive.
The results revealed that 61 per cent of residents surveyed rated the way their housing provider consulted with them over recent works on their homes as poor or very poor. 57 per cent of residents were also unhappy or very unhappy with how their housing provider communicated with them about their annual service charges.
Just 21 per cent of those surveyed felt satisfied with the information provided to them by their landlords about the most recent works to their properties.
An overwhelming 95 per cent of landlord organisations surveyed would welcome the creation of an online best practice guide for leaseholder engagement.
Created from a national survey of 762 leaseholders, 32 landlord organisations and core and focus groups, the research has been validated by Professor of Urban and Regional Studies at University of Birmingham.
Wates Living Space and TPAS are using the findings of the research to create a best practice guide to identify ways in which social landlords can better engage with resident leaseholders, due to be launched in December.
Chris Graham, business development director at Wates Living Space, said: “This research clearly identifies the link between good leaseholder engagement and improved leaseholder satisfaction. Our next step is to develop an evidence-based leaseholder engagement best practice guide based on the results of this research. This guide will be free to use, be continually updated and provide case studies and downloadable resources to help Social Landlords and Wates Living Space to deliver excellent leaseholder engagement services.”
Jenny Osbourne, chief executive of TPAS, added: “We believe leaseholders deserve to have greater influence, accountability and transparency with their landlord. Conducting this research and devising the Leaseholder Guide is all part of our commitment to offering excellent support and advice to tenants and leaseholders in social housing.”

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NATIONAL:Intervention programme helps 117,000 ‘troubled’ families

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has welcomed the latest success of the Trouble Families programme which has now reached 117,000 families.
The Government said its innovative scheme has now succeeded in reaching almost all of the hardest to help homes in the country that the Prime Minister pledged to help.
Councils’ dedicated troubled families teams are now intensively working with 99 per cent of households in England identified as having multiple problems, including high levels of truancy, youth crime, anti-social behaviour and worklessness, and would otherwise cost taxpayers an estimated £75,000 per year.
The local government secretary said he was delighted that, with over 9 months still to go for the 3-year initiative, more than 69,000 families had met the payment-by-results criteria by turning their lives turned around.
This means that children are back in school where they had previously been persistently absent; that levels of youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been significantly reduced across the family; or that an adult in the home has moved off benefits and into work for 3 consecutive months or more.
Mr Pickles (pictured) said: “The Troubled Families programme demonstrates exactly what our long-term economic plan means for people. New opportunities for families to turn their lives around and make something of themselves; more economic security for local communities blighted by worklessness; and more economic stability for taxpayers, as we reduce the bills for social failure and get this country living within its means.
“It’s a triple-win; an amazing programme; and we’re going to extend its reach as far as possible.”
Head of the Troubled Families programme Louise Casey CB added: “This programme is working so effectively because it deals with the whole family and all of their problems, with 1 key worker going in through the front door and getting to grips with an average of 9 different problems, rather than a series of services failing to engage or get the family to change.
“It is a fantastic achievement to have built up troubled families teams so quickly so that 117,000 families are now being worked with and 69,000 have already been turned around.”

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NATIONAL:Anti-social behaviour a consequence, rather than cause of homelessness

Anti-social behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse are often the consequence, rather than the cause of homelessness, according to a series of studies from Northumbria University.
Presented at the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2014 Festival of Social Science, the studies suggest that contrary to common belief, unexpected life events could lead to anyone becoming homeless.
Researchers Adele Irving and Dr Jamie Harding looked at the life histories and causes of homelessness of over 80 people in Newcastle. They spoke to homeless people about their experiences, and staff from local authorities and hostels and support services in the area about the management of homelessness.
They found evidence of anti-social behaviour on the part of homeless people, with high incidences of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, violent behaviour, familial breakdown, negative social networks, unemployment and dependency on benefits, begging, sex work and crime.
However, the research indicated that these problems were often caused by homelessness itself. Roughly half of the homeless people interviewed had previously lived 'normal' lives, with high levels of educational achievement, positive family relationships, long periods of stable employment and no pattern of substance misuse or criminality.
“For these people, the pattern of their lives had been radically changed by a significant life event – such as bereavement, relationship breakdown or redundancy – which triggered addiction, followed by eviction or the repossession of a home,” said Adele Irving.
In these cases in particular, anti-social behaviour was often a consequence of being homeless, and not the cause. For example, some people reported turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to numb the cold and get them through living on the streets or to cope with hostel environments. Others stole food and drink for survival. In other cases, homeless people reported committing crimes in order to avoid sleeping rough, with prison often seen as a short term housing solution.
“Crime and substance misuse were frequently responses to, rather than causes of, homelessness,” added Adele.
However, for other homeless people interviewed, existing anti-social tendencies had led directly to them being on the streets, as they had been evicted from the parental or marital home, rented accommodation and hostels.
“It was clear that some homeless people had anti-social tendencies,” said Adele.
“Almost half of those interviewed reported that they had rarely attended school and gained few, if any, qualifications. Many had experimented with drugs and alcohol in their early teens, and some exhibited violent behaviours.”
Sadly, for this group of homeless people, problems of anti-social behaviour could be traced back through a lifetime of exclusion, characterised by traumatic childhood experiences, including parental addiction, bereavement, going into local authority care, neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
According to Adele Irving, research indicates that punishing the homeless for their antisocial behaviour often only serves to further exclude them from society, and push them into committing more anti-social acts.
“Instead of punishing homeless people, which only reinforces these behaviours, policymakers need to give greater attention to the structural and systemic barriers - in the areas of housing, welfare and employment - facing the homeless,” she concluded.
Adele Irving and fellow researcher Oliver Moss are conducting further research on the experiences of homeless people in the North East and will showcase this research at an exhibition as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2014 Festival of Social Science.

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NATIONAL:Blog: Planning reforms to release more land for housing

By Matthew Warburton, policy adviser at the Association of Retained Council Housing 
Fully half the text of the Lyons Review report and 18 of its 39 recommendations relate to the first of the two major challenges it identifies - releasing more land for housing, primarily through reform of the planning system.
The primary thrust of the recommendations is to reduce local resistance to new development by ensuring local access to new developments and coupling investment in new housing with prior or parallel investment in infrastructure that is needed to make additional homes part of thriving communities.
Local housing markets do not respect local authority boundaries but operate across larger areas driven by the geography of commuting, migration and transport flows. Councils need to work together to develop local plans which support coherent strategies for these wider areas.
The current duty to cooperate, argues Lyons, is insufficient to make this happen, and should be strengthened with a duty for councils to work together to produce Strategic Housing Market Plans which, in appropriate circumstances, provide land-locked towns or cities with a "Right to Grow".
There are also proposals to simplify and speed up the plan-making process. Councils, it is argued, should also have the power to ensure that new development includes a mix of types and tenures that meets local housing need and to require that local first time buyers get first refusal on a proportion of new homes.
The report recognizes that local authority planning departments currently lack resources and skills. They would be encouraged to pool resources to work together on strategic plans, but also freed to raise planning fees to meet the full cost of improved services.
There is a widespread perception that landowners and developers hoard land with planning permission, speculating on an increase in land values which may be greater if fewer homes are built. This view, as one might expect, is contested by developers. Lyons does not take sides in this argument, but argues for steps to ensure greater transparency about the land market, with the Land Registry making land ownership information available to the public, including where land is subject to option arrangements.
This would provide clarity, he argues, about the extent to which speculation is actually taking place and provide the evidence to justify any action necessary to address it. Councils should also get greater powers to ensure planning permissions are implemented within a reasonable time. On his proposals, the life of a planning permission would be reduced to two years, and councils would get the power to charge council tax on development land after five years as if homes had been built.
Under current government proposals, the old section 106 arrangements for ensuring that local communities benefit from a proportion of planning gain are being phased out in favour of the Community Infrastructure Levy.
Lyons is critical of the likely impact of CIL and calls for a review, together with definitive guidance to ensure a single and robust methodology for assessing scheme viability, and hence how large a community contribution it is appropriate to ask for.
Without asking developers to make the maximum reasonable contribution, he argues, the costs of necessary infrastructure will create too large a burden on the public purse. However, a commitment to a sustained increase in public investment in infrastructure will also be essential if the aspiration of 200,000 new homes annually is to be achieved by 2020.
While the Lyons Review was commissioned by the Labour Party to advise on policy for the next government, should Labour form it, its analysis and recommendations repay careful consideration by any government looking to increase housing supply. It would be a pity if the ideas on planning in this report were ignored simply because of who paid for it.

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NATIONAL:Fundamental change needed to end ‘permanent sense of crisis’ in UK care homes

A unique inquiry into the state of the care home sector for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has called for sweeping change to ‘inject humanity’ back into care homes, with personal relationships put at the heart of how they are run and regulated.
With more of us living longer and our care needs changing, care homes should be declared ‘a sector of national strategic importance’ by the country, which cares for 400,000 people and employs over 1 million.
The call comes following a year-long personal inquiry by John Kennedy, director of care services at JRF (pictured) and care provider the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT), who has 30 years’ experience working in care homes.
The current blame culture, bureaucracy and business model have contributed to the ‘permanent sense of crisis’ the sector finds itself in today and needs to be urgently changed. The inquiry argues human relationships and caring needs to be central to the system and the sector - replacing the impersonal and insecure culture that currently shrouds the whole care environment.
John Kennedy’s care home inquiry took a fresh approach to find out what people really thought of the sector, using social media to broaden the range of views and seek an honest and immediate response from those closest to care homes.
He spoke to people being cared for and people shaping the delivery of services - including relatives, care staff, managers, cleaners and volunteers - as well as regulators, commissioners and the public.
The report recommends:

  • Better pay, conditions and support for the million care workers
Care workers need to be rewarded sufficiently for their physically and emotionally demanding work. The care sector is one of the worst paid sectors in in the country: three quarters of care workers earn around £6.45 per hour, 14p higher than the 2013 National Minimum Wage.
Opportunities for training and development are limited for this highly-skilled, high-commitment occupation: empathy, kindness and compassion need to be nurtured, rather than just demanded or trained.
  • Cutting paperwork
Workers need to have more time to spend on caring for residents and developing relationships. The inquiry identified more than 100 separate items of paperwork that must be completed regularly in care homes. Some care managers reported spending 20 per cent of their time on paperwork, rather than leadership activities that could improve care. Paperwork has its place but it should be coordinated and streamlined to be effective in supporting the mission of care, not get in the way.
  • Better funding for the sector
The way care is funded has led to minimum staffing levels and appalling pay. The sector accounts for 1.8 per cent of national expenditure (£12 billion), yet is inadequately funded for the vital service it provides. This is contrast to NHS services, which accounted to 15.3 per cent of national expenditure, or £102 billion. The care sectors needs to be properly joined up with the NHS, not act as a poor relation, but requires the resource to do so. In an ageing society, care homes should be an essential partner of the NHS.
  • Extend the remit of regulation
Regulation should be more than inspection. Regulation should look at pay and working conditions, staffing levels, mission, commissioning practices and transparency of tariffs, in order to improve the quality of care. To be good, care homes need to work in a functional system.
  • Creating a professional body to represent care managers
Managers were identified as focal points in running good care homes and need to be supported in the leadership and development they can offer staff. Managers should be registered and have a licence to practise. The body should set professional standards, have disciplinary powers and provide a voice at a national policy level.
John Kennedy, who led the personal inquiry, said: “Real change is needed to end the neglect of our care home sector. Currently the system is set up to fail, with the minimum resource, effort and value placed on care homes. Funding and appetite for wholesale reform is lacking and without fundamental change in the way we approach and deal with the care home sector, we risk condemning ourselves to a miserable future.
“We need a clear vision for our future care, based on the reality of our human condition. Kindness and compassion need to be nurtured, it can’t be just legislated. The care home sector needs to be brought in from the cold: valued, supported and fully part of a co-ordinated system. Care home providers also need to step up and accept their wider social responsibility - if you are in it just for the money, you’re in the wrong business.
“How many more reports of failing care do we need to hear about before we decide to act? We need to make our care homes better now. We need to have a system that maximises the potential of all care homes to be good. The Government, regulators and care home providers need to come together to improve funding and pay, cut bureaucracy and inject humanity back into the system we rely upon to look after our loved ones and ourselves.”

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NATIONAL:Plans clear the way people who want to build their own homes

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis has announced new plans to support aspiring custom and self builders who want to build their own homes.
The minister published details of plans for a new Right to Build across England, so that anyone who wants to build their own home will be able to turn to their council for help in finding a suitable plot of land.
The move comes at the same time as a Government-supported Private Member’s Bill on plans for a Right to Build register is being taken forward through Parliament by the MP for South Norfolk Richard Bacon.
Eleven areas are already pioneering the Right to Build scheme, developing a register of prospective custom builders in the area and matching them up to shovel ready sites.
Mr Lewis (pictured) said making custom build a more realistic option for more people was part of the Government’s drive to support aspiring home owners, including a new generation of custom builders who see it as an alternative to buying an existing home.
The consultation seeks views from local planning authorities, the custom build sector and prospective custom builders about what they would like to see from the Right to Build. It looks at:
  • the local demand for custom build
  • meeting demand on the register with available land
  • how the Right to Build will work within the existing planning framework
Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: “Custom build should not be the preserve of a select few but a realistic opportunity for anyone who wants to build their own home and that’s why we’re supporting this Bill.
“Eleven areas are already leading the way on the Right to Build. And our plans for this Right across England will help more people turn their ambitions into reality and clear the way for a new generation of custom builders.
“This is just one of a range of measures we’re taking to help aspiring homeowners, and to get Britain building – and thanks to our efforts, house building levels are at their highest since 2007 and rising.”
The 11 areas that have been selected as Right to Build vanguards are:
  • Cherwell District Council
  • South Cambridgeshire District Council
  • Teignbridge District Council
  • Shropshire Council
  • Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council
  • West Lindsey District Council
  • Exmoor and Dartmoor National Park Authorities
  • Pendle Borough Council
  • Sheffield City Council
  • South Norfolk District Council
  • Stoke-on-Trent City Council
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NATIONAL:National minimum care threshold will see 300,000 people miss out on support

Government plans for a national minimum threshold that adults will be required to meet to be entitled to social care support risk leaving more than 300,000 older and disabled people without the care they need, Home Group has warned.
The reforms, to be introduced from April next year as part of the Care Act, will establish a national minimum threshold for social care for the first time rather than eligibility being set locally by councils. Most local authorities currently restrict care to people with at least ‘substantial’ needs, although application of the threshold varies locally.
Final regulations for the proposed national threshold published last week mark a tightening of the criteria outlined in previous draft versions.
Rachael Byrne (pictured), executive director of care and support for Home Group, said: “With the number of people aged over 75 set to increase by 1.6 million in the next eight years, and the national debt interest currently costing £1 billion a week, it is more vital than ever that the money spent on our healthcare system is used wisely. This means a preventative system that helps people to carry out everyday tasks like personal care and domestic routines, and tackles issues such as isolation, loneliness and further health problems.
 “It is therefore extremely disappointing to see that the Government is pushing ahead with plans that risk leaving more than 300,000 older and disabled people without the care they need. The use of the term moderate to describe people’s care needs does not do justice to the importance of the support they require – or the potential for their care needs to quickly escalate if they are not met.
“Home Group, along with other members of the Care and Support Alliance, has repeatedly warned that restricting the availability of care to those with substantial needs could lead to a future crisis in the social care system as people with moderate needs have no choice but to turn to their GP’s surgery or A&E for help. This will place an intolerable strain on these services, pushing them to breaking point.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Helping people to live independently and prevent them from becoming ill is what people want and is a better use of our resources. The Care Act and our £3.8 billion Better Care Fund will focus on keeping people well, which can save money and prevent people needing more support.
“We are clear that people, whatever their level of need, will receive help from their council to get support and information.”
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NATIONAL:BMENational holds third Annual Conference

BMENational (BMEN), the representative body for around 70 Black and minority ethnic housing organisations managing over 65,000 social homes, held its third Annual Conference last week at Resource for London, attended by around 70 members and guests.
This year the conference theme was ‘What needs should BME Housing Associations be addressing now and in the future?’.
The conference opened with a keynote speech from John Morris, chair of the Human City Institute (HCI) think-tank, who presented the initial findings of a major research project, carried out by HCI running throughout 2014 and into 2015. The summary of the research findings to date marks the half-way point for the project while celebrating Black History Month.
Delegates were able to debate the findings with social housing champions David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, and Grainia Long, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing.
The Welcoming Address was given by Cym D’Souza, Chair of BMENational, who asked delegates to consider the key issues for BMEN in the future.
The day’s programme featured sessions and activities related to BMEN’s work in housing and cross-sector engagement. This included presentations from Obenewa Amponsah, director, Steve Biko Foundation, who spoke about using Steve Biko’s legacy to empower communities; and Helen Barnard, policy and research programme manager at Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who spoke about tackling poverty across all ethnicities.
Cym D’Souza, chair, BMEN said: “On behalf of BMEN, I am absolutely delighted at the level of support for our ‘collective endeavour’ from members and guests attending the conference. The speakers were engaging, enlightening and inspiring. The interim summary was informative and helpful and we are looking forward to completion of the report, which will inform BMEN’s strategic direction.
“We appreciate that the operating environment is very challenging, but it has always been a difficult and challenging operating environment for our sector.  We play a pivotal role in many inner city neighbourhoods, and have a proud record of supporting local economies, creating employment and generating social value and we are here for the long term.”
John Morris, chair, HCI said: “BMENational has joined forces with the Human City Institute, to undertake research on their behalf. This research is extensive and covers a review of the BME housing sector’s legacy, a ‘shape of the sector’ study, a major survey of BME tenants, consultation with key stakeholders and case studies of BME housing organisations.
“We are confident that on completion of the research, BMEN will be working from a position of strength to make informed decisions about the future direction of the sector.”

Helen Barnard, programme manager (poverty), Joseph Rowntree Foundation added: We are moving into new territory - Local Authorities are commissioning more services rather than providing them and are on the look-out for ideas that can improve outcomes without costing a lot.  The Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) has an opportunity to use its incredibly rich history, experience and good practice.  The BME housing sector needs to get its voice heard at local and regional levels and show how services can be provided more effectively and to benefit all communities.”

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NATIONAL:Blog: 2013/14: the worst year for social rented house building since WW2

By John Bibby at Shelter
A number of notable things happen around the end of October: Diwali, Halloween, the clocks go back and the government publishes its annual update on affordable housing supply.
The first couple of those may provide a good excuse for a party, but this year’s affordable housing statistical release is nothing to celebrate. It is, without overstatement, a disaster.
There are two main stories that the statistics tell.
The first is that the overall level of affordable completions has fallen for the third year in a row, down by over a third since 2010. At a time when we need output of all types of housing to roughly double, this is itself very bad news.

See image in full here

Probably even more alarming, however, is what’s revealed when we look at the detail of the types of ‘affordable homes’ that were built.
This is because not all ‘affordable homes’ are created equal. Under the broad umbrella comes a wide variety of different intermediate and social homes, including:
  • Shared ownership homes (part-rent, part-buy homes)
  • Intermediate rent homes (short-term homes charged at up to 80 per cent of market rents)
  • ‘Affordable Rent’ homes (long-term homes charged at up to 80 per cent of market rents)
  • Social rented homes (long-term homes charged at social rents – typically about 50 per cent of market rents)
While the number of ‘affordable homes’ built every year has fallen by a third since the most recent peak in 2010, the number of social rented homes has fallen by over two thirds – down from over 35,000 to just 10,000.
This makes 2013/14 the single worst year for new social rented house building since the end of the Second World War.
In 1946, during demobilisation in the immediate wake of the war, we built twice as many social homes as last year.

See image in full here

The level of output is so low that through Right to Buy sales alone 5,000 more units were lost from the social rented stock last year than were added through new building.
Driving this shift in the type of affordable home that is being built is the growth of Affordable Rent. Only created as a type of housing in 2011, Affordable Rent is now the default form of new government-supported rented home. That default status is now feeding through in terms of units being built. Last year Affordable Rent homes accounted for 43 per cent (15,840) of total affordable completions.
By being charged at up to 80 per cent of the market, Affordable Rent homes are typically substantially more expensive than social rented homes. In London, this has meant monthly rents on new Affordable Rent family homes purportedly as high as £2,800 a month.
Shelter has argued strongly for an expansion in the number of intermediate homes that are being built – homes to rent or buy that cost less than private sector rents, but above social rents – for people on low to middle incomes. This expansion could include growth in the number of homes that are charged at intermediate rents, like Affordable Rent. But it must be in addition to, not in place of, new social rented homes.
Failing to build the social homes will not only deprive the millions of people on council waiting lists of a truly affordable place to call home: it threatens to undermine the new Affordable Rent programme itself. If social rented house building continues at historically low 2013/14 levels, families on low incomes on the waiting list will be placed in Affordable Rent homes that they will likely never be able to afford. Housing benefit will pick up the difference and the welfare bill will grow. Welfare dependency will increase.
Although successive governments have failed to substantially increase levels of social rented house building, this isn’t a problem without a solution. In Building the homes we needthe report we published earlier in the year with KPMG, we set out the policy changes needed to increase house building of all types, including social rented homes. We need to make sure that politicians on all sides commit to those policies so that next October we have more cause for optimism.

NATIONAL:LHC set to launch new Aluminium Windows and Doors framework

Public sector procurement consortium LHC is calling on companies involved in the refurbishment or new build of social housing, schools, community centres and other public sector facilities, to register their interest in its new framework.
The Aluminium Window and Door installation procurement framework (A6) will succeed LHC’s existing Aluminium Window and Door framework that comes to the end of its four year period next year. To encourage the involvement of SMEs and community benefit to local areas the framework will be structured on a regional basis across the UK.
Companies will be able to tender for the EU compliant framework when the Contract Notice and Pre-Qualifying Questionnaire (PQQ) are published early in 2015. The new framework will be launched in summer 2015.
John Skivington, director of LHC, said: “Our current Aluminium Windows and Doors framework is coming to the end of its four year cycle and we are calling on companies to register their interest in our up-to-date version.
“This is a great opportunity for national and local suppliers to be exposed to a huge range of public sector authorities who can purchase from them, safe in the knowledge that they are fully compliant with OJEU regulations.
“Successful companies will achieve LHC appointed company status and have great prospects for generating new business. LHC framework arrangements can open doors to new opportunities, particularly where the client is looking for a quick procurement process within legislative requirements.”
Interested companies can express their interest immediately by registering on the LHC e-tendering portal via which will ensure they receive details as soon as the PQQ is available to complete.
Registering companies are also asked to complete, on the e-tendering portal, a short questionnaire to help LHC review the framework parameters.

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