This week's National news (January 26 - January 30)

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NATIONAL:CIH ‘concerned’ by Cameron benefit-slashing vow

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has voiced “concerns” about Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge that the benefit cap would be reduced and housing benefit for unemployed under-21s axed in the first few days after a Conservative election victory.

David Cameron made the pledge this week as he announced plans to fund three million apprenticeships by 2020 if his party wins the general election in May.

Cameron told The Telegraph: “This tells you everything you need to know about our values. Conservatives believe we should be giving people the chance of a better future while encouraging people on benefits back into work.”

However, CIH chief executive Grainia Long (pictured) criticised both cost-cutting proposals and called on the Prime Minister to commit to building more affordable homes.

Long said: “Our research on the impact of the benefit cap in Haringey showed that people affected by the cap face significant barriers to finding work, including a lack of job seeking skills and affordable childcare.

“So we think that lowering the benefit cap would be very dangerous unless ministers commit to increasing support for people looking to get back into work and funding for childcare.

“Cutting housing benefit for under 21s fails to take into account the reality of many young people's lives, and it could also mean that young people would be unwilling to take risks such as moving for work because there would be no safety net for them.

“Ultimately, if Mr Cameron really wants to tackle the housing benefit bill, he needs to commit to building more genuinely affordable homes. In the long term, shifting spending from housing benefit to house building and tackling low pay and unemployment is the best way of lifting people out of poverty and cutting the housing benefit bill, as we set out in our research in September.”

The CIH published a report called Ticking the box... for a welfare system that works in September 2014, which attributed the 48 per cent real terms rise in housing benefit spending between 1996/97 and 2013/14 to “housing and labour marketing restructuring”.

The report went on to suggest that “the policy solutions that will most effectively bring [housing benefit spending] under control lie in policy areas outside welfare itself (for example, housing and employment)”.

Long added: “We need to sort out the problems in our housing and labour markets rather than rely on stop gap measures which at their worst can increase poverty and misery for already poor and vulnerable people.”

NATIONAL:Annual ‘£1bn’ cost for HAs as Britons age

Housing associations could face an extra £1 billion of costs by 2034 because of the UK’s ageing population, according to a report by the Smith Institute.

The report, Are housing associations ready for an ageing population?, was sponsored by Genesis Housing Association and published today. It suggests that many housing associations are unprepared to meet the needs of an additional half a million over-65 residents.

Paul Hackett, director at the Smith Institute, said the report is “a wake-up call”.

The social housing sector is exposed to the impact of an ageing population because of residents’ lower financial security, higher prevalence of disability and health conditions, greater social isolation and higher digital exclusion.

Hackett said: “It is clear from the reports’ finding that housing associations and the healthcare sector need to do more and be better prepared, and that without extra funding we will not be able to house our ageing population adequately.”

Ninety per cent of housing associations surveyed for the report agreed that they needed to be better prepared, but eighty per cent feared that they would not be able to afford necessary improvements.

The report also calls for strengthening the integration of health, social care, and housing services.

Neil Hadden, chief executive at Genesis Housing Association (pictured) said: “While Genesis is delighted to support this timely and relevant report, which will help to shape the thinking of providers, stakeholders and Government on this critical issue, it does demonstrate that the sector has much to do to prepare for the reality of an ageing population.

“It’s positive that the vast majority of housing associations recognise the scale of the challenge, but this awareness isn’t currently matched by preparedness across the board. The sector must keep pace with the changing needs and growing proportion of its older residents, who in many cases face greater health, economic and social challenges than the general population.”
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NATIONAL:Home Group call on politicians to address ‘care crisis’

Social care has “suffered for years from chronic under-funding”, according to Rachael Byrne, executive director of care and support for UK housing provider Home Group (pictured).

Byrne made her remarks after shadow health minister Andy Burnham unveiled the Labour Party’s ’10-year plan’ for health and social care, which includes a commitment to recruiting 5,000 homecare workers – reversing the overall 3 per cent fall of social care expenditure over the five years to 2013-14.

Labour argues that recruiting more homecare workers would increase the availability of hospital beds by reducing the number of people whose discharge is delayed because of inadequate care at home.

It is part of the party's long-term strategy to integrate health and social care.

Byrne said: “We welcome proposals to better integrate care physical, mental and social care. Providing the right support can help people return home from hospital more quickly or even prevent them from needing medical care in the first place.”

However, she warned that under-funding meant the UK has “reached the point today where many professionals fear they will no longer be able to help all those who desperately need their support”.

She advised: “Many older and disabled people who need help to do everyday things like getting up in the morning, getting dressed, having a meal and getting out of the house have already been cut out of the care system altogether.

“This kind of support is vital and without it already vulnerable people are at risk of isolation, loneliness and further health problems, with no choice but to seek help from their GP or local A&E department.

“We need a care system that ensures everyone who needs support gets it. Otherwise the pressures on an already stretched NHS will only get worse.”

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NATIONAL:Councils can play key role in enabling more homes to be built

An independent review has found that local authorities can play a greater role in housing supply.
In their report to the government, Natalie Elphicke (pictured) and Councillor Keith House argue for councils to be put at the heart of providing more homes across all tenures in their local area.
Under their proposals, councils would become “housing delivery enablers” – assessing the housing need of their area, working with businesses, housing associations and others to provide the homes their residents want and need to build strong and sustainable communities.
In particular, the report urges councils to consider how they can actively support smaller and start-up housing businesses locally – whether with land, finance or training.
Ms Elphicke and Councillor House also urge the government to take steps to support councils as they take on this new role.
Natalie Elphicke said: “All hands are needed on deck. Unlocking councils will help to deliver the homes we need and get more young people onto the housing ladder.
“We have talked for a decade. There have been many great reforms. Now it’s time for councils to foster a homebuilding revolution. Councils hold the key to shake up the status quo and to get Britain building.”
Councillor Keith House added: “We have seen some inspiring examples of councils driving housing for their areas, particularly where they have set up housing companies to drive forward housebuilding. With skills and confidence, more councils can help to deliver that step-change in housing supply.
“Councils will be central to a successful step-change in housebuilding. It’s now time for action not words. Our report sets out how that can happen.”
The government said it is immediately accepting a number of Natalie Elphicke and Councillor House’s key recommendations.
Additional advice will be offered on supporting communities that want to bring forward a neighbourhood plan.
And the government will monitor schemes to support smaller builders – on top of the £525 million Builders Finance Fund already available to get work started on stalled smaller sites.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Local authorities already play a key role in meeting housing needs in their areas across England. However, as this review demonstrates, there is clearly scope for them to go further to help solve the country’s current housing crisis. I warmly welcome this review and look forward to its core recommendations being taken forward.
“Housing providers have full government support: I have prioritised the investment of almost £2 billion to ensure we can deliver on average 55,000 new affordable homes a year until 2020. We are also taking the lead in exploring ways to boost housing supply: as I announced last month, we will be directly commissioning, building and selling homes to speed up the process at Northstowe in Cambridge.”
Housing minister Brandon Lewis added: “Council housing starts are at a 23-year high and planning permission was granted on 240,000 new homes in the year to September – but today’s report makes clear how councils could do more to deliver homes for their communities.
“I would like to thank Natalie Elphicke and Keith House for their report, which encourages councils to ensure that their local housing needs can be met long into the future.
“I now want to see local authorities seizing this new opportunity to support local residents and businesses to build more in their area.”

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NATIONAL:£250,000 funding announced for more than 1,500 new training opportunities

New investment to help more social housing tenants play a greater role in the way their homes and wider community are managed.

Communities Minister Stephen Williams has announced new investment to help more social housing tenants play a greater role in the way their homes and wider community are managed.

Over 90,000 social housing tenants across England are benefiting from the government’s Tenant Empowerment Programme, which supports social housing tenants to engage in, manage or control local services by working together.

Mr Williams (pictured) announced a further £250,000 to the Tenant Participation Advisory Service and Trafford Hall, extending the successful training provided under the Tenant Empowerment Programme - providing more than 1,500 new training opportunities for social housing tenants, looking to get involved in the running of their neighbourhoods into 2015 to 2016.

Announcing the additional funding at a meeting of Tenant Participation Advisory Service members’ in London, Communities Minister Stephen Williams said: "People care about their neighbourhoods and want a say in how they evolve. As we have seen from inspiring examples across the country, where tenants play an active role in their housing services we have seen services delivering better value for money, more responsive services, and higher satisfaction than before.

"That’s why we are providing a further £250,000 in funding, so more tenants will be able to gain a range of skills, supporting them in the world of work and beyond.

"It is vital that tenants take up the opportunities available to them to take power back from their landlords, and take control over their own homes and to make the changes they want to see."

Across the country there are examples where successful tenant engagement has resulted in increased tenant satisfaction, better delivery of services, financial savings for landlords and see increased confidence and skills of those involved. Previous examples include:

  • Russell Chambers residents in Camden setting up a communal cleaning services, improving the service provision to residents - over 90 per cent of residents voted to continue to have tenants carrying out this new service
  • in Somerset, residents of Writhlington Court have taken on a gardening service that’s making savings of £50 per household each year - going straight back to the community
The government has also funded 4 national tenant organisations with the University of Birmingham to carry out a national review, to help make the business case for effective tenant engagement.

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NATIONAL:New source of advice for migrants on rights in the private rented sector

Migrants living or looking for a home in the private rented sector will be able to get advice on their housing rights from an expanded website.

The website is run by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and BMENational, the body that represents BME housing associations.

It was set up to provide information for migrants and people who advise them about their entitlement to social housing, homelessness help and housing benefit. It has now been extended to cover the private rented sector after winning a £6,300 grant from the TDS Charitable Foundation.

The Government’s Labour Force Survey shows that 80 per cent of recent migrants (those who have been in the country less than five years) live in private rented housing. A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2012 showed that they are often forced into poorer parts of the sector, are unaware of or scared to use their rights, and find it difficult to access advice or get poor advice from conventional housing advice services. The expanded website aims to help address the gap in the advice available.

CIH policy adviser John Perry, who helps run, said: “We’re extremely grateful to the TDS Charitable Foundation for this generous grant.  More than a fifth of tenants in the private rented sector are foreign nationals so it’s vital that they get good advice on their rights. And it’s particularly relevant right now given the Immigration Act 2014, which came into force in parts of the West Midlands in December.

"The Act requires private landlords to check the immigration status of new tenants, which can be very complicated even for migrants who have a legal right to be here.  So the new sections of the website will cover the new rules, the documents needed by people applying for tenancies and what to do if things go wrong either before the offer of tenancy or later – including advice on how respond to the risk of discrimination by landlords.

“Unfortunately migrants can find themselves at the mercy of rogue landlords, living in extremely poor conditions – we hope the extended website can help prevent this from happening and make them and people who advise them more aware of their rights.”

TDS Charitable Foundation trustee Steve Harriott added: “Standards in the private rented sector are more important than ever before, as the only form of housing which continues to grow. While most tenants in the UK have good landlords, it is the most vulnerable and those with least knowledge of the law at greatest risk of falling into the hands of bad ones. We are delighted to be able to help CIH and BMENational with this funding to develop an invaluable resource for tenants.”

The website, which is mainly funded by sponsorship, was originally developed in partnership with HACT with start-up funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is run by John Perry and Sam Lister of CIH and consultants Sue Lukes and Liz Davies.

It averaged almost 12,500 visitors a month in 2014 and is used as a resource by bodies including Shelter, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Migrant Rights Network as well as many small advice agencies.

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NATIONAL:Poor households worst hit by Coalition cuts, says new report

Youngest children and poorer households worst hit by Coalition's selective cuts, according to major new report.
Poorer groups have been worst affected by changes to direct taxes, benefits and tax credits despite the Coalition’s promise that the rich would carry the burden of austerity, according to a major new report from LSE and the Universities of Manchester and York. As a result, poverty has been increasing and will get worse in the next five years.
The report also reveals that families with young children have been hit harder than any other household type under the Coalition’s cuts despite early rhetoric highlighting the importance of the “foundation years”. Real spending per child on early education, childcare and Sure Start services fell by a quarter between 2009-10 and 2012-13 and tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type. 
The authors acknowledge that the Coalition faced a high level of debt and current budget deficit following the global financial crisis.  In response it made some strategic choices: not to cut the NHS (in cash, though not in need terms) nor schools; to increase spending on pensions; to raise the income tax threshold and to cut the top rate of tax.  
Its tax and benefit decisions meant that cuts to benefits and tax credits that hit low income families hardest were offset by tax reductions for better-off households and made no impact on the deficit. Meanwhile its choices to protect very large areas of public spending meant that its austerity programme was more limited in practice than its rhetoric suggested, and that austerity measures were concentrated on particular policy areas.

Year-on-year public spending has dropped less than 3 per cent, but cuts of around a third have been made to ‘unprotected’ services, including those for pre-school children under five, vulnerable and older adults needing local authority social care.  In practice, people with health and care needs and children moving from pre-school to university frequently cross the boundary between protected and unprotected services.  Even ‘protected’ areas such as the NHS have faced rising demands on fixed or falling budgets. 
These overall conclusions are based on a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of policy, spending, outcomes, and trends across nine different areas of social policy.  Separate reports are available for each, covering reforms as well as spending and highlighting challenges for an incoming government.  They provide detailed facts and analysis to underpin the debates running up to the general election in May.   
The main findings show: 

Although the Coalition stressed the importance of the “foundation years”, in fact families with children under five saw significant cuts to services - real spending per child on early education, childcare and Sure Start services fell by a quarter between 2009-10 and 2012-13. In addition, tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type.

Despite a 10 per cent rise in the population aged 65 plus during the Coalition period, the number of adult social care users fell 7 per cent per year. Care at home and other community-based services were hit especially hard.

Although one Coalition stated aim was that the better-off would carry the greatest burden from deficit reduction, changes to direct taxes, benefits and tax credits were mainly regressive, as cuts to tax credits and cash benefits took more away from those in the bottom half than they gained through higher tax allowances.The savings from these cuts were not sufficient to contribute to deficit reduction, however, as they were offset by the costs of lower direct taxes for better-off groups.Estimates suggest that poverty increased after 2012/13 and will get worse in future years.

There was a 17 per cent fall in the number of adult learners between 2009/10 and 2013/14 as funding for adult skills was heavily cut.Despite the controversial hike in tuition fees, increasing numbers of disadvantaged young people are going to university, but the numbers of part-time and mature students dropped by 40 per cent.

While health was protected relative to other expenditure areas, real growth rates were extremely low by historical standards and a number of key indicators suggest increasing pressure on the system. Health inequalities remain deeply embedded.

Steps were taken to stimulate home ownership through Help to Buy, but government spending on housing in the UK was cut by 35 per cent and spending on new homes by 44 per cent in real terms 2009/10-2013/14. In contrast, and despite welfare reforms, housing benefit expenditure continued to rise.

Growth in self-employment drove the recovery in the labour market but dramatic falls in average real earnings for all types of workers has affected households’ living standards, consumption and government tax receipts. The outcome is that household budgets have been squeezed and the government’s deficit reduction plans have been affected.

Neighbourhood renewal activity has been dramatically cut from around £500m a year to around £32m a year. It is now seen as a local responsibility, drawing on a strategy of supporting local economic growth and community and voluntary activity.But so far these new strategies are performing well below expectations
The research follows a similar review of the Labour social policy record, published by LSE's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) in 2013, Labour’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 1997-2010, Both were funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trust for London as part of the Social Policy in a Cold Climate programme.
There are eight individual papers covering employment, taxes and benefits, health, adult social care, housing, children under five, further and higher education and skills, and area regeneration. There is also an overview The Coalition's Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015. A further paper on schools will be released on February 10th to take in the detailed 2014 GCSE results published at the end of January. 
Programme leader, Professor Ruth Lupton of the University of Manchester said: “There is more to the Coalition than cuts.  Its major legacy may turn out to be its rapid reforms of the schools system, the NHS, and welfare benefits.  But its decisions on where to cut and where to spend have limited its scope either to reduce the debt or protect the poor."
Professor John Hills, director of LSE's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) which published the reports, said: “Protection of some of the core parts of the welfare state from the greatest cuts, and initial protection of the value of benefits, meant that those at the bottom and important services were initially shielded from the worst effects of the recession.  But in the second part of the Coalition’s period, selective cuts to benefits and to unprotected services have begun to take their toll, leaving the next government, of whatever kind, with much greater social policy challenges than the Coalition inherited.”
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NATIONAL:Boris: fight social housing digital exclusion

Mayor of London Boris Johnson (pictured) has called for a multilateral effort to tackle digital exclusion, which disproportionately affects social housing tenants across the UK.

In his Digital Inclusion Strategy for London, ‘connectivity, affordability, and sustainability’ are identified as three goals for improving Internet access in social housing.

The Mayor is to ask the UK government to “review Ofcom’s powers in ensuring affordable broadband availability across London and the UK, and ask them to review line rental costs and arrangements”.

Highlighting the economic benefits of improved access, the report remarks: “Helping Social Housing tenants get online would benefit many businesses as well as the Government and we would like to work in partnerships with those who can offer solutions for affordable connectivity and kit.”

Official statistics show that 20 per cent of social housing tenants in London have never used the Internet, compared with 5 per cent who rent privately and just 3 per cent who own their house with a mortgage or loan.

18 per cent of those who own their house outright have also never used the Internet – “likely to be older people who have paid off their mortgage but may still be struggling financially, living on a pension [and ...] may not see the benefits of being online”.

The strategy documents notes that there is “often an overlap amongst these excluded people so those digitally excluded are often over 75, disabled and in social housing”.

The strategy document also says Greater London Assembly will “continue to encourage dialogue between housing associations and internet providers” through the Connected Housing Initiative so that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can “can develop affordable, flexible and sustainable options for kit and connectivity for social housing residents”.

The Connected Housing Initiative (CHI) was set up in September 2014 to bring together 26 housing associations, 12 IT companies and 18 influential organisations in response to the launch of the UK government’s Digital by Default Strategy.

The Mayor's strategy has been welcomed by The Hyde Group, who say it reflects their own commitment to get 1,500 residents online in the next three years.

Sarah Thurman, Hyde Plus director, said: "Access to the internet, and the skills to use it, can make the difference between getting a job or not, making your money last, keeping in touch with family or friends and learning new things. This is why Hyde is doing everything we can to help people with very little to spare to get online.

"Without cheap and reliable access our efforts won’t get very far. This is why Hyde has joined forces with other providers in the Connected Housing Initiative (CHI) who work to secure cheap, reliable internet for some of the poorest people in our communities. The recognition of CHI, and the important work of organisations like Hyde, in the Mayor’s Strategy, is a welcome step towards this goal."

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NATIONAL:Blog: Homes for Britain aims to make housing a political priority with 100 days to go

By Kat Sellers, Project Manager for Homes for Britain

It’s 100 days to the General Election and leading organisations from every corner of the housing world are backing Homes for Britain. Our aim is to get all political parties to commit to ending the housing crisis within a generation and the next government to publish a long term plan within 12 months of taking office setting out exactly how they will achieve this.

We’re only building about half of the 245,000 new homes needed every year in England and at this rate London alone will face a shortfall of over 700,000 homes by 2031. The income of the average first-time buyer (£36,500) has nearly doubled in real terms since the 1980s. The proportion of those claiming housing benefit and in employment has also doubled (to 22.5 per cent) since November 2008.

7/10 people think Government should play a role in improving accessibility to housing but 8/10 don’t believe any of the mainstream political parties will effectively deal with the issue. 

These are some of the symptoms of the very real housing crisis that the Homes for Britain campaign aims to end.

What Homes for Britain has achieved so far

During party conference season 80 events were run by more than 50 organisations under the Homes for Britain banner, bringing the message to every minister, shadow minister and spokesperson for housing from the three main parties.

November was a month of activities reaching politicians on their home turf, with face-to-face meetings and online activities. 

December saw our festive campaign activity designed to let politicians hear about the true impact of the housing crisis on people across the country. We launched our new website and with it the opportunity for campaign supporters to send an e-card to our Prospective Parliamentary Candidates telling them what the housing crisis means to us. It was a real success with more than 1,000 messages sent to 550 candidates by our supporters and #homesforbritain was used nearly 1,500 times on Twitter.

What next?

So, now it’s January and only 100 days until the General Election. The only way politicians are going to support this campaign is if the voter demands it, and so public support is now essential to the success of Homes for Britain.

We’ll be launching an advertising campaign in March to show everyone how the housing crisis affects them and that politicians have the power to fix it!  We’ll be spreading the Homes for Britain message wider through billboards, posters and attention-grabbing activities. 

On 17 March Homes for Britain will be holding the biggest housing rally in a generation. It will bring together 2,500 people from every part of the housing world – from private developers to homelessness campaigners, from social housing providers to private landlords. We have invited speakers from Britain’s main political parties, as well as those from across the worlds of housing, finance and even the entertainment industry. 

From the day after the Rally until the General Election is the Home Straight. This will be our last chance to really take the campaign message back to local politicians before the election. We really want to hear people’s ideas on how to do this – so if you have great suggestions to bring this to life, please let me know.

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NATIONAL:Magenta Living wins Project of the Year 2015

The National House Maintenance Forum (NHMF) aims to set the standard for maintaining assets for social housing.

Each year the NHMF invites maintenance managers who are particularly proud of what their organisation has done to submit projects for awards, which are presented at the NHMF Conference Awards Dinner.

The award this year for the Project of the Year went to Magenta Living for development and implementation of its post-decency investment strategy, from which emerged the need for neighbourhood regeneration as well as addressing challenges of tenant fuel poverty. In response, Magenta Living launched Project Save to regenerate three of Magenta Living’s under-performing neighbourhoods through low carbon retrofit investment and tenant education.

Utilising a wide range of investment and neighbourhood initiatives, Magenta Living has successfully blended low carbon retrofit investment with neighbourhood partnership to create sustainable customer impact for over 1,000 of its tenants.

The Best Client award went to Four Housing; Best Contract went to Sovini Property Services; the award for Most Improved Asset Management Service went to Oakleaf Commercial Services / The Community HG and the award for Best Customer Impact went to Bournville Village Trust.

Liz Circuit, secretary to the NHMF and director, M3 said: “Each year the standard of entries surpass the previous year. Before the NHMF existed there was a lack of focus on housing maintenance issues, but by bringing together maintenance managers and building a resource of best practice solutions we have firmly shone the spotlight on this aspect of the industry and helped to deliver improved rental housing maintenance and repair services.

"We can certainly see that a lot of organisations are working very hard to go beyond social and corporate responsibility and really provide a good service for their tenants.”

This year the Forum redefined its award categories. “This year we added Best Customer Impact,” Liz added.

“We also changed them to take into account the fact maintenance services are now focusing on the impact of what they do on the residents, their customers.

"We decided that this year the Project of the Year should be awarded to the best overall project from the four categories.”

Looking forward to next year’s Forum awards Liz said: “there will be a change to the award ceremony, as the popularity of the event is making it difficult to accommodate everyone who would like to attend. We look forward to entries demonstrating innovation and cost saving efficiencies.”

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NATIONAL:Fortis Living takes £20m of AHGP debt at record low 2.2%

Fortis Living became the latest housing association to take advantage of historically low gilt yields when it secured £20 million of long-term government-guaranteed debt at 2.204 per cent.

The housing provider also agreed a forward fix on the transaction with Affordable Housing Finance (AHF), the government’s delivery partner for the Affordable Homes Guarantees Programme (AHGP).

The funding arrangement breaks Devon and Cornwall Housing’s (DCH) record of 2.35 per cent set just last week.

It will fund the construction of 342 affordable homes in Worcestershire and Hereford where the 15,000-home landlord is based. It includes a forward fix to 10 April 2015, when the money can be drawn.

Andy Howarth, executive director of finance at Fortis Living, said: "We thought this week was an appropriate time to forward fix it to draw in April. It’s hard to predict whether rates are going to go any lower."

The loans have been arranged through AHF, a subsidiary of not-for profit bond aggregator The Housing Finance Corporation (THFC), and provided by the European Investment Bank (EIB), which sources the funding from the international debt capital markets.

They have been structured over 30 years, amortising from year 10, which delivers an average life of 20 years. Security is set at 115 per cent existing use value social housing (EUV-SH) under AHGP, rising to 150 per cent at release. EIB will lend to 50 per cent of the construction value.

The £3.5bn scheme aims to reduce the costs of building 30,000 new homes.

Piers Williamson, chief executive of THFC, said: "The flexibility of the facility is providing a fantastic opportunity for a number of borrowers to get ultra-low rates which fundamentally means more houses at the end of the day."

Fortis had already secured £50m through the AHF £208.4m bond, which priced in May 2014 at a spread of 37 bps over the gilt and an all-in cost of 3.76 per cent.

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NATIONAL:Government fails to meet ‘right to buy’ pledge

Official figures show the UK government has spectacularly failed to meet a 2011 pledge to build a new affordable home for every one sold under the ‘right to buy’ scheme.

The government made the pledge at the same time as they announced plans to revitalise the ‘right to buy’ scheme, which was originally introduced in the 1980s.

Between 2012-14, 16,596 affordable homes were sold while just 3,141 new affordable home developments began, according to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) which have come under fire from housing charity Shelter.

The Telegraph reported last week that key Conservative Party figures are also considering including a 2015 manifesto commitment to extend ‘right to buy’ to housing association tenants.

That idea has already been criticised by the National Housing Federation in England, which says the existing scheme “has already shown that selling off homes with huge discounts makes them very difficult to replace”.

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb told The Guardian the “fact that right to buy has failed to deliver the like-for-like replacement that was promised is yet another massive blow for those on ordinary incomes who need somewhere affordable to live”.

He added: “With millions of families struggling to meet sky-high rents in the private rented sector, the next government’s priority has to be building more affordable homes, not selling off the few we have left.”

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NATIONAL:Universal Credit rollout continues across UK

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published a list of local authority areas where jobcentres will introduce Universal Credit between May and July 2015.

Bournemouth and Cornwall are among local authority areas included in the ‘second tranche’ of the controversial new scheme’s planned national roll-out. Last month, the DWP announced 150 sites that would roll out Universal Credit as part of the ‘first tranche’ between February and April 2015.

Universal Benefit, which merges housing benefit and five other existent benefits into a single monthly welfare payment, is already available in parts of England and was rolled out in parts of Greater Manchester and Cheshire in 2013.

One of the major changes that will follow the introduction of Universal Credit will be the end of housing benefit payments direct to landlords. Claimants will instead be expected to pay their rent out of their monthly UC payment, a move which drawn criticism from housing bodies.

The National Housing Federation has called on the UK government to make exceptions for people who lack confidence in their budgetary discipline. The Federation also says more than 15 per cent of local authority tenants and 13 per cent of housing association tenants do not have a bank account, and so would be unable to pay their rent by direct debit if direct payment ended.

In a speech to the Local Government Association earlier this month, welfare reform minister Lord Freud said the government’s “planning assumption is that Universal Credit will be fully available in every part of Great Britain during 2016”.

He finished his speech: “I hope that as Universal Credit expands across Great Britain so will our networks of integrated delivery partnerships and co-located sites so that we can restore work incentives, renew fairness, provide whole person support to those in most need and ultimately transform lives.”

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NATIONAL:Blog: Back the mighty million to make a difference

By Mark Henderson, chief executive of Home Group

Earlier this month I appealed for you to tackle politicians about the housing crisis when they come knocking at the door asking for votes come general election time.

Well with just 100 days to go until polling day on 7 May, colleagues at Home Group have been doing some number crunching. They’ve been looking specifically at the 100 most marginal seats in England – the ones where the outcome of the election really will be decided.

They’ve found that throughout those constituencies – from Brighton to Carlisle – there are one million people on the local authority housing waiting list who are eligible to vote.

Because the majorities are so small (as low as 92 in the most marginal constituency Thurrock) it would only take a relatively tiny swing – just over 72,000 votes – for control of all those seats to change.

I’m delighted to see that the Independent  newspaper has followed our research.

Now what a difference those mighty million people could make! And I hope all the candidates contesting these marginal constituencies realise – or can be persuaded to realise – this.

At the moment, though, housing is only 11th on the list of priorities of a snap shot of all voters.  That’s according to the latest Ipsos/Mori poll.  But if the pollsters asked those million people in the 100 crunch constituencies I suspect they would get a very different result.

All the while housing languishes in slightly worse than mid-table mediocrity (to use a football metaphor) the politicians will concentrate their efforts on what they consider to be more voter friendly targets.

They’re probably only half listening, therefore, when they’re told there are 1.7m people on the waiting list for social housing in England.  They might have heard somewhere about the growing numbers of couples who can’t start a family because they can’t afford to move to a home big enough for children.  They might be aware of the conditions some people have to live in because they have no choice.  This week they might even have seen media coverage of Shelter’s survey which revealed that many first-time buyers have to save for more than a decade for a deposit.

That’s a heck of a lot of people for a take it or leave it mid-table political priority.

It seems to me that politicians of all parties need a proverbial shake to help them see the obvious.  I suspect the news about the mighty million might help focus minds on those 100 marginal seats and it’s not long now (17 March) until the Homes for Britain campaign rally comes to Westminster.

To adapt a famous quote: “Doing nothing is not an option.” So make sure you tackle those politicians.

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NATIONAL:Entries welcomed for NFA Awards 2015

Member organisations of the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) have been invited to submit entries to the annual NFA Awards programme ahead of the awards ceremony this July.

The event, now in its ninth year, is the only awards programme celebrating the success of ALMOs, their staff and their tenants.

NFA chair Sue Roberts MBE (pictured) said that “the last twelve months have been a positive time for the social housing sector”, adding: “The mainstream media still portray negative stereotypes of social housing which is why we need initiatives like these wards to celebrate success and help redress the balance, something that is especially important in the run up to the general election in May.”

ALMOs will compete in ten categories, including new awards in integrated care services, most innovative resident engagement initiative, and most effective communications campaign categories, which will be handed out by an independent four-person panel.

Sustainable Homes managing director Andrew Eagles, Chartered Institute of Housing director of Health and Wellbeing Domini Gunn, Tenants and Residents Organisation of England chair Michael Gelling OBE, and 24Housing editor Jon Land are on the expert panel.

The awards ceremony takes place in Manchester on 15 July as part of the NFA annual conference, with entries due by Friday 8 May at the latest.

Roberts said: “For the last nine years, the NFA Awards have recognised and celebrated the innovative and outstanding work being done by ALMOs and their residents.

"We look forward to seeing this year’s entries especially in the new categories which have been developed to raise awareness of the positive work being done by our residents across the country.”

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