This week's National news (July 28 - August 1)

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NATIONAL:UK lost 35,000 social homes in a year, finds research

Britain has lost nearly 35,000 homes for households on low incomes in one year as a result of the coalition government’s housing policies, according to an analysis of official data for the Financial Times.

The coalition’s overhaul of low-cost housing means that social landlords who receive government funding to build new homes must convert an individually negotiated proportion of their existing social rented homes into the government’s new “affordable rent” tenure.

Affordable rents are priced at up to 80 per cent of local average open market rents, putting them beyond the reach of many of the country’s poorest households. Nearly three-quarters of tenants who have moved into “affordable” rented homes receive housing benefit to help with the cost, UK Housing Review figures show.

Landlords have agreed to convert nearly 100,000 social homes to affordable rent since the policy was introduced in 2011, an analysis of official data for the FT by the Chartered Institute of Housing found.

Some of these conversions have been replaced by new social homes funded by the previous Labour administration but this will tail off sharply in the coming years as no new social rented homes have been funded under the coalition.

The government has also increased the discounts given to tenants who buy their home under the Right to Buy programme. Almost 27,000 homes have been sold under the Right to Buy since the coalition came to power.

As a result of all these measures, the number of social rented homes in Britain fell by almost 35,000 on a net basis in 2012-13 – the first time in a decade that the country had a net loss of social homes, according to John Perry, a policy adviser at the CIH.

At the same time, councils are putting people with the highest housing needs into affordable rented properties regardless of their ability to pay, with housing benefit being used to bridge the gap.

This is creating an unintended hit on the public finances. “The Department for Work and Pensions is trying to curb the social sector’s housing benefit costs, yet the Department for Communities and Local Government is pushing housing benefit costs up through the use of affordable rent,” Mr Perry said.

Andrew Cowan, a partner at Devonshires solicitors who advises social landlords, said: “We have suddenly shifted from a [social housing] system based on high capital grant rates and low rent to a system with low grant rates and high rents, and people have really struggled with this.”

NATIONAL:New £3m fund to speed up work on thousands of new homes

A new £3 million fund will be available to councils across the country to get work started on new housing sites.

Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) yesterday launched a £3 million fund to speed up getting work started on as many as 85 new housing sites where development has been agreed.

The funding will be available to councils across the country to tackle planning issues that can cause delay and prevent builders getting on site and starting work quickly - helping accelerate as many as 25,000 new homes.

Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: "In 2010 we inherited a housing industry in paralysis - where neighbours and developers were at loggerheads, aspiring homeowners couldn’t get on the property ladder and housebuilding levels were at their lowest since the 1920s.

"Since then we’ve got Britain building, not least through our planning reforms to put power in the hands of communities. Now, the challenge is to get work started on sites where development has been agreed as soon as possible.

"This £3 million fund will do just that, getting work started on as many as 85 sites, creating jobs as well as up to 25,000 new homes.

"Since 2010 the government has radically reformed the planning system, making it simpler and quicker, with locally led plans identifying and allocating land for much needed homes.

"As a result, planning permission was granted on 216,000 new homes in the last year alone, and housebuilding levels have reached their highest level since 2007."

The £3 million fund will tackle issues that can slow things down, even when the principle of development has been agreed - like completing financial agreements and signing-off conditions attached to planning permissions.

Councils with the greatest numbers of large housing developments recently agreed will be given priority for the funding, as well as those who can show how they will make each pound go further by enabling faster starts on site.

Each council that successfully bids is expected to receive around £50,000 from the fund.

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NATIONAL:Doncaster care workers begin fortnight strike over pay

Workers at Care UK in Doncaster have begun a two-week strike in a protest over pay.

The care provider, which took over services from Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council last year, has been accused of refusing to discuss the issue with staff, a number of whom transferred across from the council.

Unison members have asked Care UK to increase the minimum starting rate from £7 to £7.65 per hour – the national living wage outside London.

Jim Bell, Unison’s Yorkshire and Humberside regional organiser, said: "This company should hang its head in shame for profiting from public sector, taxpayer-funded contracts at the same time as paying its basic grade staff so badly that many of them have to claim taxpayer-funded in-work benefits to survive."

Care UK’s director of learning disability services Chris Hindle, said: "Care UK is deeply disappointed that Unison has called a strike over a completely new dispute within Doncaster’s learning disability service, despite the vast majority of colleagues accepting the revised terms and conditions opposed by the union.

"More than 90 per cent of colleagues transferring to Care UK have now accepted the revised terms and conditions necessary to put the service on a sustainable footing, including receipt of a transitional payment equivalent to up to 14 months difference in earnings. This is a substantial step forward, which we had hoped would allow everyone to focus on improving the service to better meet the needs of services users.

"The changes we have proposed and which have been largely accepted have protected jobs, protected generous final salary pension rights, protected basic pay and protected future pay increment increases."

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NATIONAL:Wages will not have fallen so sharply since Victorian era

Britons' wages will by next May never have shrunk so far over the course of a single term of parliament, in real terms since the Victorian era, damning new research has found.

According to analysis by the House of Commons Library, the last time average earnings, accounting for inflation, slid by a greater amount was from 1874-1880, when Benjamin Disraeli was prime minister.

At the time, the global financial panic of 1873 sent Britain into two decades of economic stagnation, known as the "Long Depression", and resulted in soaring unemployment, bankruptcies and a major trade slump.

The new analysis found that the current government will set a new record as they preside over the first Parliament since the 1920s when real wages have been lower at the start than at the beginning. Real earnings are expected to have declined by 2.3 per cent according to data and Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts, compared to a fall of approximately 2.6 per cent between 1874 and 1880. By contrast, wages fell in real terms by 1.8 per cent between 1922 and 1923.

The House of Commons Library reached its conclusion using official figures from the Office for National Statistics, the Bank of England and forecasts from the OBR.

Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (pictured) said whose party commissioned the analysis, seized on the findings to warn that "working people can't afford five more years of the same old Tory economics".

Speaking in Bedford yeterday, he said: "From a Conservative-led Government that promised to make working people better off back in 2010, this is a dismal record of failure."

NATIONAL:Blog: Losing social homes means we are storing up trouble 

CIH analysis has revealed that England lost almost 35,000 social homes in a year. Chartered Institute of Housing policy adviser John Perry examines the reasons behind the decline and looks ahead to the future. 

CIH’s assessment of the decline in numbers of social lettings has caught the attention of the Financial Times. Although we still only have figures up to March 2013, in that year there was a net loss of nearly 35,000 social-rented homes in England. As the FT says, this is almost certainly the first time in a decade that we’ve actually seen a downturn in numbers of social lettings.

How has this come about? Output of new homes was over 32,000 in that year, but of course even in 2012/13 many of these were built to be let at higher Affordable Rents. Right to buy and other losses of council-owned stock amounted to over 7,000 units, and a significant number of housing association properties that fell vacant were converted to Affordable Rents to boost associations’ incomes.

We won’t get the data for the year up to March 2014 until later this month (for associations) and December (for councils). But we already know that a bigger proportion of new build will have been at affordable rents last year, there will have been more conversions of existing stock and right to buy sales have increased to around 11,000 as higher discounts have had their effect.

None of this is surprising. The new Affordable Homes Programme that starts next April virtually rules out the building of new social rented homes. The programme that ends next year was based on the assumption that approaching 100,000 existing homes would be let at higher rents over the three years of its life. And of course right to buy continues to be promoted. Although many councils plan to continue building social rented homes, numbers are relatively small and most will have to be built without help from the Homes and Communities Agency.

All of these trends are closely followed in the UK Housing Review. The last edition showed that, on average, the affordable rents set for new or converted units are 55 per cent higher than social rents, with all that that implies for low-income families and for housing benefit costs.

The next edition of the review, due out early in 2015, will compile a new assessment of the loss of social rented stock based on the latest returns, as well as presenting the latest data on affordable rent levels. Unfortunately, things can only get worse. As CIH chief executive Grainia Long said at Housing 2014 last month, if the government wants to change this particular housing story, it must return to building new homes at social rents. 

She added: "Affordable rent has a role to play but it doesn't work for everyone in every location and we shouldn’t pretend it does. The disastrous reduction in numbers of new social housing start represents bad policy - we are storing up trouble for the future and we must reverse this trend."

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NATIONAL:Centrepoint's homeless app in the running for £500,000 Google grant

A new app to help the 80,000 young people who experience homelessness each year 'check out' of hostels and into independent living is competing for a £500,000 grant from technology giant Google.

The project, proposed by youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, was named a finalist in the Google UK Impact Challenge.

Centrepoint, which works with 6,000 homeless 16-25 year-olds each year, is already guaranteed to receive £200,000 towards creating the first national database on youth homelessness and its causes.

With the additional funding, Centrepoint would create an alumni community of former youth homelessness service users, accessed via an app. Analysing the information would allow Centrepoint to determine for the first time the most effective methods of support for young people in different regions of the UK, giving them the best chance of leaving homelessness behind for good.

Centrepoint's project is now competing with proposals from nine other UK charities on how they would change the world through innovative technology.

Four winners will see their grant increased to £500,000: one decided by public vote, three selected by a judging panel including BBC Dragon Peter Jones CBE and inventor of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales

Currently there is no effective UK-wide method of tracking the outcomes for those who have accessed youth homelessness services. Data collected by the app from formally homeless young people will ensure their peers facing the issue receive tailored support to turn their lives around.

Nicholas Connolly, Head of Corporate Development at Centrepoint, said: "There's fantastic work going on to tackle youth homelessness across the country but, we need to understand what's working and why, if we're to end youth homelessness.

"Through the app we aim to analyse the most in depth data on youth homelessness ever collated, discovering why they become homeless and the interventions most likely to lead them to a successful independent future.

"It's a massive undertaking, so please help by voting. This project will help us ensure we can target the generous donations we receive to where they will have the greatest impact on helping young people turn their lives around. 

NATIONAL:Almost two million young working adults still living with parents

Despite working, 48 per cent of 20 to 34 year olds who live with their parents do so because they cannot afford to rent or buy their own home.

New research from Shelter found that a lack of affordable housing was the single biggest reason that so many young adults are unable to fly the nest. Currently a quarter of all 20 to 34 year old working adults in England – 1.97 million people – are living with their parents.

Several areas of the country see a much higher proportion of young working adults living with their parents. Hotspots for the ‘clipped wing generation’ include Castle Point in Essex where 45 per cent of working 20-34 year olds live with their parents; Knowsley in Merseyside where it’s 42 per cent; and Solihull where the figure is 38 per cent.

According to Shelter's polling, over half of working young adults worry that living in the family home is holding them back from leading an independent life.

Sarah has a good job, but has lived with her parents in the family home in Croydon on and off for the past ten years as she tries to save for a deposit. She said: "If I move out now the reality is I'll be stuck paying expensive rents for the rest of my life. I know I'm lucky to have a job and somewhere to live, but the thought that I'm going to be living like a teenager into my late 30s or even 40s is really disheartening."

The latest government figures show average house prices for first-time buyers in the UK have risen by 11.3 per cent in a year.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter (pictured) said: "The ‘clipped wing generation’ are finding themselves with no choice but to remain living with mum and dad well into adulthood.  And those who aren’t lucky enough to have this option instead face a lifetime of unstable, expensive private renting.

"The government knows that the only way to turn the tide of the housing shortage is to fill the gap between the homes we have and the homes we need. Bolder action is needed to meet the demand for affordable homes and not inflate prices further. Politicians of all parties must now put stable homes for the next generation at the top of the agenda."

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NATIONAL:Almost 2 million young working adults still living with mum and dad

Despite working, 48 per cent of 20 to 34 year olds who live with their parents do so because they cannot afford to rent or buy their own home.

New research from Shelter found that a lack of affordable housing was the single biggest reason that so many young adults are unable to fly the nest. Currently a quarter of all 20 to 34 year old working adults in England – 1.97 million people – are living with their parents.

Several areas of the country see a much higher proportion of young working adults living with their parents. Hotspots for the ‘clipped wing generation’ include Castle Point in Essex where 45 per cent of working 20-34 year olds live with their parents; Knowsley in Merseyside where it’s 42 per cent; and Solihull where the figure is 38 per cent.

According to Shelter's polling, over half of working young adults worry that living in the family home is holding them back from leading an independent life.

Sarah has a good job, but has lived with her parents in the family home in Croydon on and off for the past ten years as she tries to save for a deposit. She said: "If I move out now the reality is I'll be stuck paying expensive rents for the rest of my life. I know I'm lucky to have a job and somewhere to live, but the thought that I'm going to be living like a teenager into my late 30s or even 40s is really disheartening."

The latest government figures show average house prices for first-time buyers in the UK have risen by 11.3 per cent in a year.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter (pictured) said: "The ‘clipped wing generation’ are finding themselves with no choice but to remain living with mum and dad well into adulthood.  And those who aren’t lucky enough to have this option instead face a lifetime of unstable, expensive private renting.

"The government knows that the only way to turn the tide of the housing shortage is to fill the gap between the homes we have and the homes we need. Bolder action is needed to meet the demand for affordable homes and not inflate prices further. Politicians of all parties must now put stable homes for the next generation at the top of the agenda."

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NATIONAL:Social lets to BME applicants down while need is up

Research by BMENational, the representative body for BME housing organisations, and the Human City Institute (HCI) think-tank has revealed that social lets to BME applicants have been in relative decline over the last ten years at a time when the housing needs of BME communities have escalated.

The study reveals that while social lettings by all social landlord types grew from 14 to 16 per cent between the two Censuses of 2001 and 2011, the BME population in England expanded from 7 to 14 per cent. This represents a relative drop in social lettings, especially when taking into account the far greater housing needs of BME communities.
The research, part of a wider ‘shape of the sector’ study this year between BMENational and HCI, shows that BME people are more likely to be homeless than Whites.

BMENational found while accounting for 1 in 7 of the total population in 2011, BME households represented 1 in 3 of those accepted as statutorily homeless by local authorities and homelessness is also growing among BME communities. In 2001, 28 per cent of statutorily homeless households were from a BME background. Yet by 2011, this had grown to 33 per cent and has since increased further to 37 per cent in 2013.
BME households in England are also more likely to be living in overcrowded or poor housing than their White neighbours, according to the research. While only 6 per cent of the White population is classified as overcrowded, between 15 and 35 per cent of BME households are overcrowded depending on ethnic group. The study found:
  • Black Africans and Bangladeshis are most likely to be living in overcrowded housing.
  • One quarter of BME households live in the oldest pre-1919 built homes, which are more prone to poor housing conditions.
  • Fifteen per cent of BME households live in a home with a category 1 hazard under the HHSRS (Housing, Health and Safety Rating System). This rises to 18 per cent for BME households living in the private rented sector.
  • And 16 per cent of BME households live in fuel poor households compared with 10 per cent of Whites. 
HCI Director Kevin Gulliver said: "It’s clear from our initial exploration of the available research and literature about the BME population and their housing needs that BME applicants should figure more prominently in social lettings statistics. There is significant variation between regions and cities, with social lettings to BME applicants highest in London, the West Midlands and the northern conurbations, and between social landlords operating in urban and rural locations.

"However, given the relatively greater housing need experienced by BME communities – particularly higher rates of homelessness, overcrowding and living in poorer and older housing in higher inner city areas with greater social and economic deprivation – it would be expected that larger numbers of BME applicants should be housed by the social housing sector.”
Cym D’ Souza, Chair of BMENational said: "Our initial research with HCI suggests there is a prima facie case for not only the continuance but the expansion of the BME housing sector. While BMENational collectively is one of the largest social landlords in the UK representing more than 60 BME housing organisations, and we are one of the major success stories in the European Union for BME communities controlling their own assets, we are campaigning for a greater role.

"These lettings and housing needs statistics underscore why our local connectivity is vital as retrenchment of local council services gathers pace. And our deep roots and longstanding support for diverse communities are valuable assets we offer both the social housing sector and BME communities in this country."

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NATIONAL:Councils accused of breaking rules on care home top-up fees

Older people’s charity Independent Age has called for families to be given better advice and information on care home top-up fees.

The charity said many families paid hundreds of pounds a week to top-up the cost of their loved one’s care home place "without ever realising that it’s unnecessary and that it’s the responsibility of the council to fully fund the place".

Last week in Parliament former care minister Paul Burstow said there was "mounting evidence of confusion and rule breaking over the application of top-up fees by local authorities".

Chief executive of Independent Age, Janet Morrison, said: "We strongly welcome a debate on the worrying issue of top-up fees from care homes.

"These are meant to allow families to pay extra for care above a basic standard but many families are, in fact, paying for basic care that it is really the responsibility of the council to meet.

"Though councils are supposed to check that families really want to pay extra, most councils don’t even know the true number of top-up fee agreements in their area."

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NATIONAL:Hanover Housing Association appoints new chair

Hanover Housing Association has announced that Dr Stuart Burgess CBE is to be Chair of the organisation as from September 2014.

Dr Burgess takes over the role from Lord Richard Best OBE.

Dr Burgess has a strong background in public service, and particularly in championing rural communities.  For the past six years he has served as the Prime Minister’s Rural Advocate, helping shape and influence the policy agenda and ensuring a national platform in support of England’s rural areas.  He was also Chair of the Commission for Rural Communities, and produced the ‘Burgess Report’ on the future of the rural economy alongside further important reports.

Prior to this, as a Church Leader for the Methodist Church, he held a number of regional, national and international roles for the Church, and his work here included helping bring about a rapprochement between the Methodist Church and the Church of England, as well as helping to secure debt cancellation for Malawi.

Among his further activities he founded the Nottinghamshire Hospice in 1972; the Abbeyfield House, Beeston in 1979; and St Andrew’s House for the Mentally Vulnerable, Birmingham in 1985.  Dr Burgess holds numerous degrees and honorary degrees, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.  He was awarded CBE in 2009 for services to the voluntary and public sectors.

Dr Burgess said: "Hanover is doing some important work in providing specialist housing for older people, and is pushing the boundaries in terms of developing fresh thinking that will influence the whole market in this critical area of our demographic.  I am very much looking forward to working alongside its dynamic Chief Executive, Dame Clare Tickell, and supporting the whole organisation in its strategic ambitions."

Hanover Housing Association is a leading national provider of housing and services for older people wishing to live independent, active and fulfilling lives.

The organisation manages around 19,000 properties for rent, sale and shared ownership in approximately 600 locations. This includes nearly 2,500 Extra Care properties where residents can access 24-hour care on-site.

NATIONAL:Blog: Giving a voice to the social housing community

So much change has taken place across the social housing industry recently that tenants as well as housing organisations have been left feeling rather bewildered. Cym D’Souza, new chair of BMENational and chief executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association, discusses which way the industry should turn in addressing the needs of residents and communities.

The social housing sector as a whole has reached a pivotal moment in its life with the impact of welfare reform, reductions in social housing grant and criticism of our residents by the media. That’s why, since being elected chair of BMENational in May, our membership agreed to form a partnership with the Human City institute (HCi) to undertake a range of research and to run a media campaign in the run up to next year’s general election.

The research will be extensive and will cover a review of BME housing’s legacy - a “shape of the sector” study. This is a major survey of BME residents and includes consultation with key stakeholders and a collection of human success stories arising from the work of BME housing organisations.

We aim to establish an evidence base around the value of the BME housing industry from a number of perspectives, including residents, communities and stakeholders. The stakeholder survey will provide others who work with us, or who would like to work with us, an opportunity to voice their views about our work. We intend to publish our first report in the autumn.

The research will help us to validate our core areas of work in a changing world and will no doubt help to identify new markets for BME housing organisations, as well as fresh work areas. We hope that more effective partnering might be developed with local authorities and other housing associations as a result. We are also keen to explore which emerging BME communities have unmet needs and those which might need further support. The recent Inside Housing article showed a dip in lettings to BME applicants and this made worrying reading.

We intend to run a full campaign off the back of this work to cement the role of BME housing organisations as big players in social housing and the social enterprise industry. We also want to show that we have a role in creating a more equal society and tackling some negative stereotypes of BME communities often presented in the media, enabling the rise of the Far Right.

BMENational intends to have a bigger say about the future of social housing. After all, collectively, we are one of the largest social landlords in the UK. BMENational is the representative body for more than 60 black and minority ethnic housing organisations managing around 60,000 homes and overseeing billions of pounds of assets across the country.

BME housing organisations are one of the major success stories in the European Union for BME communities controlling their own assets. As chief executive of Arawak Walton, a Manchester-based housing association, I see the beneficial effects for BME communities in having an influential, neighbourhood housing partner.

This local connectivity is becoming increasingly important as reduction of local council services gathers pace and some larger social landlords retreat to call centre management, exiting inner-city deprived areas where many BME communities live.

Our deep roots, long-standing support for diverse communities, deployment of our collective assets within the local community and our dedicated service delivery, are what we have to offer community-based housing.

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NATIONAL:NHBC Foundation tackles growing problem of 'bin blight'

The NHBC Foundation has launched new research into Britain’s growing problem of ‘bin blight’ which affects thousands of homeowners across UK.
As the UK increases its recycling of domestic waste, there has been a growth in the numbers of bins and recycling containers.  These are often highly visible and scattered across neighbourhoods – cluttering up otherwise attractive areas.
Acknowledging that ‘bin blight’ is a growing cause of concern in many local communities, the NHBC Foundation has launched a research project which will look at practical solutions for combatting the problem.
The research, which is being carried out for the NHBC Foundation by Wakefield company John R Paley Associates, is due to be published later this autumn.  It aims to identify examples of good waste bin and recycling container storage areas on housing developments built in the last few years.
The research will be used to provide best practice guidance for the UK house-building industry – particularly architects and designers.  The NHBC Foundation hopes that the research will lead to model designs for bin/recycling container stores which could be adopted widely by the industry.
Neil Smith, Head of Research and Innovation, NHBC said: “Bin blight’ is an issue with many homes, new and old, particularly as the UK increases its recycling of domestic waste and a larger number of containers needs to be accommodated.
“For new housing, too often, it appears that household waste and recycling storage is an afterthought, with bins and containers highly visible and scattered in large numbers, cluttering up otherwise attractive developments.
“Our research will identify examples of good practice where waste and recycling storage is inconspicuous and has been integrated into developments well.  We hope the findings of this research will be beneficial to the UK housing industry and the communities they serve.”

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NATIONAL:Northern councils losing out under New Homes Bonus

Councils in the north are worse off thanks to flagship Government policy the New Homes Bonus, research suggests.

While local authorities in London, the Southeast and East Anglia have benefited from £177 million more than they would have done without the house building scheme, analysis by The Financial Times suggests those in the north and Midlands have comparatively lost out.

Some £2.2 billion has already been spent under the programme, which redistributes money to English councils that have granted permission for new housing and bought vacant residences back into use.

Calculations based on how much town halls would have received if the Bonus was allocated in the same way as the general formula grant suggest the 50 most deprived councils have lost out on £111 million, while the 50 least deprived have gained £96 million.

The National Audit Office is also reported to have found ‘little evidence’ that the Bonus has made a significant change to council behaviour towards planning approvals since its launch in 2011.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said the New Homes Bonus was "simple and easy to understand" as "areas building the most homes receive the most money".

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NATIONAL:We need 300,000 new homes a year, says Danny Alexander

Britain needs to build up to 300,000 new houses every year so that young families can afford their own homes, a senior Treasury minister has said.

Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury (pictured) said a radical building programme was necessary over the “longer term” because the country had failed to construct enough properties to house a growing population in recent decades.

It comes after figures showed the numbers of younger people being forced to rent because they cannot afford to buy a home rose sharply since the financial crisis of 2008.

Last week, government figures showed the proportion of under-35s owning their own home fell from 21 per cent in 2008-09 to 18 per cent by 2012-13.

Mr Alexander, a Liberal Democrat, accepted that the financial crash six years ago had a “deep” impact on families, meaning many people could not afford to buy a home.

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NATIONAL:FMB: Labour's 'Help to Build' could assist small house builders

The Labour Party’s proposed ‘Help to Build’ scheme, which would provide government guarantees for loans to SME house builders, has been welcomed by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) as a means to help more small house builders enter the housing market. 

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie MP, and Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP, visited FMB member firm Building Associates Ltd at a site in Gillingham yesterday to highlight what the scheme might achieve for small house building firms.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB said: “Small house builders have suffered very badly over recent years. They used to build two thirds of all new homes but they are now building just over a quarter and much of this reduction has happened in the past six years. This has inevitably had an impact on the overall capacity of the industry to build the number of new homes we need.

"The main barrier to SME house builders building more homes is the difficulty they face accessing finance on viable terms. Until this problem is addressed the large number of small building firms that have diversified away from building homes won’t re-enter the market.

“While it is encouraging that there is cross party support for more small house builders to enter the housing market, the ‘Help to Build’ idea being put forward by Labour is the most far-reaching solution to have emerged so far. This is an idea which could re-invigorate the SME house building sector and we hope the policy is implemented by whichever party forms the next government after the General Election.”

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NATIONAL:LGA calls for community volunteers to pay less council tax

Community volunteers who help out in their local library or do charitable work should get discounts on their council tax bills, a new plan proposes.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has said volunteers saved the public purse millions through their efforts and deserved some financial recognition.

It is urging the next government to give about 500,000 people in England and Wales a 10 per cent annual rebate.

Community groups would help councils to identify who should qualify.

The LGA is calling on the main parties at Westminster to each make a commitment in their 2015 general election manifestos to introduce a new scheme that would give councils money to fund a "community contribution discount".

Local authorities are asking whoever forms the next government to set up a £50m central fund to get the idea of a tax discount off the ground.

Under its plans, councils would have the power decide what level of reduction to offer locally.

But the LGA estimates that a £50m injection of funding would allow 500,000 volunteers an annual discount of 10% for the lifetime of the next Parliament.

"We cannot undervalue the contribution made by those who give up their spare time to help a local charity, support the library or provide a meal and a friendly face to an elderly neighbour," said David Sparks, LGA chairman.

"The efforts of these community heroes do not just improve the lives of those they directly support.

"In these times of austerity, they have taken the strain off stretched services and lightened the load on local taxpayers."

The LGA believes the scheme will ultimately pay for itself and save money in the long-run by recognising the contribution of existing volunteers and encouraging others to get involved.

NATIONAL:Blog: The next 'generation rent' - has the baby boom generation really had it all?

Robert Flint, solicitor at Winckworth Sherwood and member of the CIH's private rented sector team examines why the over 65s are privately renting in increasingly large numbers.

My parents tend to talk about my respective grandmothers (I have three, curiously) as living alone under the menacing shadow of ageing. It is not uncommon at Sunday lunch to hear cries of “It’s just not safe for her there anymore” or “We have to get her out of there”. We don’t get them out, of course, we just talk about it.

And while mine is a generation of renters habitually looking to buy, could theirs be the next generation looking to rent? Since David Willetts’s The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give it Back, it has been a fairly standard argument (if an electoral no-go) that those aged over 50 should gradually downsize and share some of the national wealth (they currently own over half of it).

I’m sure most people agree there is at least some truth to that. But that should not distract us from the fact that over 65s are already renting in large numbers and increasingly so. Indeed, according to the Housing Learning and Improvement Network, of households who rent privately, 23 per cent are headed by someone over 50. This is probably not evidence of enthusiasm for renting, but rather the lack of an alternative. People can get trapped in housing which is not right for them or be forced to move because of family breakdown.

There are also plenty of reasons why people who own their own homes might not want to move to rental accommodation:
  • They do not know how long they will live, so there is always the risk of running out of cash to pay the rent
  • They may be more inclined to pass on wealth directly to their children rather than, well, everybody else’s children
  • Asking an Englishman (or woman) to sell her home is somewhat like asking an eighteenth-century French aristocrat to sell her castle (though I’m not actually sure women could own castles back then). You would need a revolution to make it happen.
What sends policymakers into paroxysms of delight is talk of a virtuous circle where the older generation liquidate their assets and use the remaining cash to pay rent to institutional landlords (i.e. pension funds). On a large enough scale, the private rented sector is attractive to those investors because the rents are predictable, regular and should rise only with inflation. It is attractive to policymakers because it means older rent payers are helping to fund the pensions of their children.

It is going to take a lot of work to get it right. One of the big problems with the utopian vision is that at the moment most renters’ landlords are not pension funds, but individual buy-to-let landlords. This is problematic because it means that the rent goes to private landlords and not into the pensions of the next generation.

The dominance of buy-to-let landlords also means that the private rented sector mainly consists of small scale properties with few amenities that people of a certain age want. Some on-site care would be good, together with 24-hour concierge.  Mixed tenures would be preferable so we’re not just shunting people into grey-haired ghettos.

But it would be misleading to focus on the differences between the needs of the different generations. Ultimately, my grandmothers and I are looking for the same thing: a decent landlord, longer term tenancies, good amenities and a nice community. We can all take advantage of the flexibility of renting and the lack of hassle compared to buying a house.

They need what we need: a professional rented sector.

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NATIONAL:NFA award winners revealed  

Employees and tenants from social housing management organisations across the country were celebrating earlier this month, as the winners of the Annual National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) Awards were announced at the Midland Hotel in Manchester.

Journalist Stuart Pollitt with Steve Parker from Utilita and staff from Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing, winners of the managing energy efficiency and fuel poverty award
Now in their eighth year, the NFA Awards showcase the most innovative projects and outstanding people within the ALMO sector. This year’s Awards featured new categories designed to represent the breadth and diversity of ALMOs’ influence in local communities, including awards for integrating housing care and support, work with the private rented sector, and social enterprise.
The NFA was delighted special guest James Caspell, named CIH Rising Star 2014 in Manchester last month - the first from an ALMO - was on hand to present the NFA Apprentice of the Year Awards. The evening was attended by more than 250 ALMO members, industry professionals and press. The winners in full are: 
  • Best New Build Scheme - The Gateshead Housing Company
  • Managing Energy Efficiency and Fuel Poverty - Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing
  • Improving the Private Rented Sector Offer – Ascham Homes
  • Integrating Housing Care and Support - Homes for Northumberland
  • Tackling Worklessness – Northwards Housing
  • Helping Tenants Prepare for Universal Credit Through Digital Inclusion - Salix Homes
  • Managing the Impact of Welfare Reform Through Financial Inclusion - South Tyneside Homes
  • Most Innovative Social Enterprise Partnership – Your Homes Newcastle
  • Most Effective Communications Campaign - Wolverhampton Homes
Apprentice of the Year
  • Under 25 Winner - Jamie Norman – Welwyn Hatfield Community Housing Trust
  • Over 25 Winner - Shadrack Mbatha – Wolverhampton Homes   
Homes for Northumberland was also recognised for its outstanding entry in the Integrating Housing Care and Support category and received an additional ‘Winner of Winners Award’.
Sue Roberts MBE, NFA Chair, said: “This year has set a new standard of excellence for the ALMO movement, and it’s wonderful to see people rising to tackle some of the challenges we face. ALMOs have again proven to be a shining light of innovation and best practice; offering answers to some of the countries long standing housing issues –solutions which are clearly demonstrated by our award winners and finalists.
“This year’s awards categories reflect the change in direction for the NFA, and provide opportunity to evidence to the wider housing sector, politicians and influencers that ALMOs continue to build on firm foundations, and we’re here to stay.”

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NATIONAL:Councils more successful at preventing homelessness

The number of households councils prevented from becoming homeless have increased by 15 per cent last year compared to the previous year, official statistics have revealed.
The Department for Communities and Local Government have released figures which show preventions in England have risen from 181,900 to 209,300 between 2012/13 and 201/14.
Homelessness prevention gives people ways to address their housing needs to avoid homelessness by helping them obtain alternative accommodation or by enabling them to remain in their current property.

A 12 per cent fall occurred in the number of relief cases over the same period from 21,000 to 18,500. Homelessness relief occurs when a council has been unable to prevent homelessness but helps someone to secure accommodation, even though they're under no statutory obligation to do so.

The DCLG's homelessness prevention and relief statistics also reveal that the total number of homelessness prevention or relief cases increased by 12 per cent to 227,800 in 2013/14. Of these, 209,300 (92 per cent) were preventions and 18,500 (8 per cent) were cases of relief.

The two most common prevention actions were: help to resolve problems with housing benefit (24,400 cases, or 22 per cent) and steps such as resolving anti-social behaviour or tackling disrepair through action against landlords (19,800 cases, or 18 per cent).

Communities Minister Kris Hopkins, who has responsibility for homelessness, said: "These figures at demonstrate the hard work of local authorities who have intervened early to help people who might otherwise have become homeless."

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NATIONAL:Opposition to house building falls, says Social Attitudes survey

New data from the British Social Attitudes survey published last week by the Government has revealed a big fall in opposition to house building since 2010.
NatCen’s survey asks the public whether they would support new homes being built in their local area, revealing that between 2010 and 2013 opposition fell by 15 percentage points.
  • In 2010, 46 per cent said they would oppose new homes being built in their local area, compared to 31 per cent in 2013
  • Support for new house building increased from 28 per cent in 2010 to 47 per cent in 2013. 
The fall in opposition to new house building was biggest among those aged over 65. In 2010 over half of over 65s (51 per cent) were opposed to new homes being built in their local area and this fell to less than a third (30 per cent) by 2013.
The 35-54’s need the most convincing, 36 per cent of them say they oppose or strongly oppose new homes being built in their local area.
Penny Young, Chief Executive, NatCen Social Research: “These findings suggest that the difficulties faced by young people seeking to get on the housing ladder have cut through with the public as a whole.  In particular, the parents of ‘Generation Rent’ have recognised that if their children are going to see the benefits of homeownership then new houses are needed.”
Full report.

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NATIONAL:Council tax rises will hit Britain's poor hardest 

More than two million of the poorest people in England are facing rising council tax demands this year because of fresh Government cuts to the benefit system, new figures reveal today.

War widows, carers and the disabled are among 2.31 million people who used to be entitled to council tax benefit but have now had their support substantially reduced or taken away altogether, reports the Independent.

As a result, significant numbers of families have been pushed into debt, with a survey revealing that nearly 16,000 people in London alone have been referred to the bailiffs for non-payment.

Under changes to the benefits system that came into full effect this year, councils have lost nearly half a billion pounds that was previously provided by central government to cut or eliminate the council tax bills for local residents on low incomes. As a result millions of families on low incomes have received council tax demands for the first time and hundreds of thousands of people face being summoned to court if they are unable to pay.

Freedom of Information requests sent by Labour to all local authorities in England reveal that 409,000 disabled people have seen their council tax increase, while 112,000 carers have also been hit.

Some 3,600 recipients of pensions relating to being a war widow or a disabled veteran as a result of service in the Armed Forces have seen their council tax increase. Council Tax Benefit used to provide nearly £5 billion of support to 5.9 million people.

But in 2013 the Government cut the grant by £300 million – and told councils they would have to find the difference from saving or by reducing the benefit to poor residents.

In April this year the cut was increased to around £400 million – which equates to around 10 per cent of the total fund.

At the same time, councils have been banned from reducing council tax benefit to pensioners, who make up 2.2 million of the 5.9 million who used to get the support.

This means many councils are forced to make up for the cost of ensuring pensioners are protected by increasing council taxes even further on young people, the unemployed, the disabled, carers and people on low incomes.

The Citizens Advice Bureau said that one in five people reporting debt problems are now facing council tax arrears. “The number struggling with council tax payments has rocketed since council tax benefit was replaced by localised council tax support schemes.

“Between January and March 2014, 42 per cent of those approaching Citizens Advice for help with arrears were employed, compared to 28 per cent unemployed.”

Recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the shake-up reduced entitlement for 2.5 million working households by an average of £160 in the last financial year. Some 70 per cent of authorities asked for a minimum payment and only 20 per cent found the money to maintain the previous level of support.

Labour’s shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hilary Benn (pictured) said the changes had “already caused misery for hundreds of thousands of the poorest people, driving them into courts and into debt”.

“This is the Government effectively raising taxes for the very poorest. The bedroom tax has already hit thousands of disabled people. This additional burden is simply adding to the problems faced by disabled people. ”

Cllr Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s Finance Panel, which represents local authorities in England, suggested that by passing responsibility to councils, ministers were attempting to avoid blame.

“When government handed the responsibility for administering council tax support to local authorities, it cut hundreds of millions in funding for it,” she said. “The shortfall between the money councils receive and the money we would need to protect those on low incomes is likely to reach £1 billion by 2016.

At the same time, councils are tackling the biggest reductions to funding in living memory. “This has put many local authorities in an impossible position. We have been urging government to give local authorities the full amount of funding needed to protect council tax support for those on low incomes.”

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NATIONAL:Landlords demand Green Deal action as flagship policy sinks

The National Landlords Association (NLA) have called for action after the unexpected closure of the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, just days after Ministers trumpeted its success.

Last week the Government announced that the scheme was closing due to popular demand

NLA Chief Executive Officer Richard Lambert said: “The Government has demonstrated outright incompetence in its handling of the Green Deal. The Coalition’s flagship policy is now holed below the line and sinking fast.  It’s gone from an ambitious, visionary programme to improve the stock of private housing in the UK to a shambolic joke seemingly unlikely to benefit anyone.

“Having finally hit upon a policy which appeared both popular and effective at driving demand for the Green Deal, it is incomprehensible that they think anyone will welcome the news that the money for the year has run out after seven weeks.  

“It is about time that DECC and the Treasury stopped playing around with short-term stop gaps and matched the commitment many landlords and tenants have shown to their energy efficiency policies.  Whatever happened to the £30m of support the Chancellor promised to the private rented sector?

“The constant problems and apparent u-turns which have dogged the Green Deal have made a laughing stock of the Government and those of us in the industry who wanted to support a policy of positive change. This most recent blunder has left thousands of landlords and tenants with no clue as what to do next, whether the home improvements they need will be delivered, and by how much they will be left out of pocket.

“If ministers expect householders and the industry to take them seriously – when they have been repeatedly let down – we need a clear commitment to putting this right without delay.”

NATIONAL:Blog: The complaints process - are we getting it right?

Word on the grapevine is that the new complaints procedure relating to social landlords isn’t working as well as anticipated. Has the introduction of the “designated person” actually seen more complaints resolved at local level? CIH explores the issues one year on.
Complaints handling can be complicated at the best of times, but when the Localism Act gave councillors, MPs and recognised tenant panels (otherwise known as designated persons) a new role in helping to resolve complaints about social landlords, the door was opened to a different way of working.

The idea was that the complaints procedure would be tightened up and become more efficient due to the fact that local problems would now be resolved by local people and dealt with as quickly as possible. The government wanted to see fewer complaints handled by the Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS), but the introduction of the designated person is causing confusion and leading to many tenants having to wait longer to get their complaint resolved. So, is the model broken?

Designated persons have the power of persuasion, negotiation and conciliation. They do not have formal “powers” other than the right to refer complaints to the Ombudsman once the landlord’s complaints procedure has been exhausted. There are currently 75 tenant panels registered to act as designated persons, although some of these span more than one landlord. Anecdotal feedback also suggests that some councillors and MPs still do not entirely understand their new obligations and we understand that the role of tenants panels have not been rolled out as widely as anticipated. 

Prior to the introduction of these changes, we worked with our members and other stakeholders to understand the impact these changes may have and how they might work in practice. Our response was to work with the HOS and the National Tenants Organisations (NTOs) to raise awareness of the changes and to provide a range of practical tools to support housing providers, tenants and the designated person, including frequently asked questions. In addition, we produced a complaints “charter” setting out a framework to support housing organisations to understand what an excellent complaints service looks like.

Ultimately, CIH believes tenants should have their complaints addressed fairly and quickly, but despite the issues, there are some designated persons that are operating well. Needless to say, in our response to the original consultation, we highlighted our concerns about the system, fearing that tenants would bypass the designated person and either wait the eight weeks required before contacting the HOS direct, or contact the regulator as they were able to do prior to the introduction of the new process.

We have a duty of care to tenants - they know their housing better than anyone. This is why it’s so important to make it easier for them to have their voice heard in their local community, allowing issues relating to the performance of their landlords to be raised, listened to and acted upon. Good landlords will take on board their tenants’ views and will work speedily to reach a solution. By working more closely together, it is hoped that the number of complaints will reduce, and that tenants will feel empowered as they take up a more active position at the forefront of change.

Need advice on setting up a tenant panel for your area? Follow our top tips for success.

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NATIONAL:Slow recovery reflects need for long-term thinking in construction, says NFB

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) has welcomed news that the UK economy returned to pre-crisis levels in Q2 2014, with overall GDP rising 0.8 per cent quarter on quarter.

However, construction fell by 0.5 per cent over the same period and in terms of economic output remains around 12 per cent lower than before the crisis.
An NFB statement said that the industry can take some comfort in the fact that output has increased 4.2 per cent year-on-year.

In the latest state of trade survey, NFB members have reported an increase in output compared with a year ago. Despite this, there is a cautious awareness that a longer term approach must be taken in order to mitigate the risk of such a damaging crisis happening again.
The NFB called for the next government to prioritise long-term investment and finance for the industry as a key priority for stable industry growth. By encouraging institutional investment into construction and development we can help to avoid the damage of short-term economic cycles and better forecast for materials and labour.
Commenting on the figures, NFB chief executive Richard Beresford said: “The Q2 GDP figures reflect the fragility of the economic recovery and the need to look to longer term solutions to avoid a repeat of the recent crisis. The NFB will continue to work with government on creating a vision for the industry in 2025 through the industrial strategy for construction as well as through regular engagement with central and local government.
“The NFB’s vision for construction is for locally driven growth, supported by long-term investment. To make this happen, the industry and policy makers must continue to work together to develop a coherent vision for the future of construction, supported by policies that enable long-term growth and investment to take place.”

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