This week's National news (November 17 - November 21)

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NATIONAL:700,000 new homes delivered since 2009

A total of 700,000 more homes have been delivered in this Parliament with empty homes at a 10-year low, according to new figures released yesterday.
The statistics show that in the 12 months to September, there were 138,640 housing starts – an increase of 16 per cent compared to the same period last year, and 84 per cent higher than at the bottom of the housing crash in June 2009.
There was also a fall in the numbers of empty homes by 160,000 since the end of 2009 – meaning the number of empty homes in England is now at a 10-year low.
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said: “Whether it’s building new homes or bringing empty properties back into use, we have pulled out all the stops and are delivering the homes this country needs.”
The statistics comes as figures showing the number affordable housing starts and completions funded by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) were also published.
According to the figures, a total of 14,176 new homes were completed through programmes run by the HCA in the first 6 months of the financial year (April 1 – September 30), while a further 13,040 new homes were started on site. 
The statistics show that 3,229 market homes were started, an increase of 26 per cent compared to the same period last year.  9,811 starts (75 per cent of the total) were for affordable homes. This includes 653 new build homes purchased by the provider at build completion.
As these have not previously been reported, excluding them allows a like for like comparison with the same period last year (9,767), which shows that starts for affordable homes were broadly steady (-6 per cent). This is in line with our expectations and forecasts as the final year of the Spending Period focuses on completions.
The 2011-15 Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) accounted for 49 per cent of starts, while the Affordable Homes Guarantees Programme accounted for 36 per cent.
Affordable housing completions (10,631) also represented 75 per cent of the total reported, equating to an increase of 28 per cent on the same period last year; while the number of market homes completed (3,545) increased by 41 per cent. Taken together, market and affordable housing completions increased by 31 per cent relative to the same period last year. 
There were a further 14,515 homes completed with the assistance of the Help to Buy equity loan, demonstrating the impact of this programme in helping people, particularly first time buyers into home ownership.
HCA chief executive, Andy Rose, (pictured) said: “Delivery to date demonstrates that we are on track to meet our forecasts across the range of our programmes which are helping to support the housing ambitions of local places and communities, and delivering our contribution to Government’s aspiration of 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015.
”As well as making a significant contribution to overall housing supply, I am pleased to see the number of homes built through our land and recoverable investment programmes gathering pace. This will ensure we maintain the momentum in delivering new homes across all tenures, and ultimately, create strong places and communities.”
Commenting on both the figures Grainia Long (pictured), chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “It’s encouraging to see an eight per cent increase in the number of new homes built in the year to September. We not only need to keep that momentum up, we need to accelerate it – which makes the 10 per cent fall in new homes started in July to September compared to the previous quarter particularly worrying.
“The lack of a national house-building target is making this work more difficult. These figures are further confirmation that we still have a very long way to go to tackle our national housing crisis. They show that 116,930 homes were completed in the year to September – that’s less than half the number we need to keep up with our growing population and help the millions of people who are being priced out of a decent home.
“We want all political parties to commit to ending the housing crisis within a generation, and we think the Government should take a more active role in boosting housing supply.  Allowing councils to borrow more for example would allow them to build 75,000 new homes over five years, creating 23,500 jobs and £5.6bn of economic activity.”
Ms Long added: “It is also encouraging to see an increase in the number of affordable homes completed which have been funded by the Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London Authority. However, most of those homes were for affordable rent, while the number of new homes for social rent fell.
“We think the Government should return to funding new homes for social rent so that people struggling on low incomes can afford a decent home. Affordable rent has a role to play but it doesn’t work for everyone - as it can be up to 80 per cent of market rent it is simply not affordable for many people, especially in London and the south east.”

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NATIONAL:Home Group secures £41m loan for new housing stock

Home Group has secured a £41 million loan to fund hundreds of new affordable homes and fund improvements to current housing stock.
The loan, which was backed through the European Investment Bank and had a Government-backed guarantee, brings the amount borrowed by the group to more than £100m since last December.
A year ago, Home Group, which has 55,000 homes throughout the UK, raised a £44.5m loan from The Housing Finance Corporation – funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the European Investment Bank.
In May this year, it was enabled to access low interest funding from an ‘AAA’ rated £208m bond.
Home Group was one of just 13 housing providers selected by Affordable Housing Finance to access the funds, which saw Home Group and its Home Scotland subsidiary secure the biggest slice of the Government-backed funding with £30.7m. The English side of the deal equated to £20m.
Austin Woods, Home Group director of legal, said: “As a not-for-profit housing provider it’s important to us that we can access funds at the best rates to help us provide the affordable homes so desperately needed in the UK.
“Amanda Rickerby, our senior funding and general property lawyer worked tirelessly alongside our treasury manager Julie Hetherington to secure this funding. The low terms of the loans reflect the differing funding bodies’ financial confidence in Home Group which has an A+ credit rating and a healthy surplus which we re-invest in our social mission.”
Will McKay, partner in the Real Estate team at law firm Muckle, which advised on the deals, said: “The finance deals we have overseen in the last year have been significant both in terms of Home Group’s development programme and for us as a law firm as we have been able to work in some ground-breaking areas. The bond deal was the first time this mechanism has been used to fund social housing in the UK and we’re proud to have played such a pivotal role.”

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NATIONAL:Energy efficiency in rural homes increases thirty-fold

People in rural areas living in draughty homes will be a lot cosier this winter thanks to Government action to increase the number of homes eligible for insulation work from energy companies.
The number of energy efficiency measures installed through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme is up almost thirty-fold in just 6 months.
Energy companies have installed an estimated 23,400 insulation types – such as in lofts and cavity walls – in rural homes, as a result of changes to the ECO scheme announced in April this year, a dramatic increase from 834 measures at the end of March.
The achievement has been recognised by Ofgem in its latest progress report into energy companies delivering their ECO obligations. The energy regulator reported that suppliers have jumped from meeting just 2 per cent of their targets in March to 55 per cent in September.
Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Energy, Amber Rudd, (pictured) said: “We’ve seen a major increase in the number of rural homes that have been made warmer and cheaper to heat – 23,400 measures installed, up from 834 in April.
“These new estimates from energy companies are a sure sign that action from Government to help people living in rural areas is working.
“I want to see energy companies continue to deliver their obligations so more rural communities can reap the benefits and stay warm this winter.”
The new figures were revealed in a statistical report on the Government’s home energy efficiency programmes, covering the period up to the end of September.

NATIONAL:New home contracts at highest level since 2008

The number of contracts for new homes increased for the sixth consecutive month in October and are at the highest level since 2008, figures released yesterday revealed.
Barbour ABI, which is a chosen provider of construction data to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Government, has published its latest Economic & Construction Market Review revealing that the total number of contracts for new homes awarded in October increased by 9.2 per cent from the month before and were 34.2 per cent higher than October 2013.
While the number of residential units continues to increase, contract values fell slightly in October, with values 0.6 per cent down on September and 6.2 per cent lower than the same month last year. Experts believe this may be an indication that the recent boom in house building is beginning to spread to other parts of the UK, as opposed to a concentration in London where values tend to be higher.
Michael Dall, lead economist at Barbour ABI, said: “With rumours of a cooling housing market, it’s encouraging to see the residential sector still performing strongly in October, accounting for a third (30 per cent) of the total value of contracts awarded.
“The fact that the number of units is on the increase but values aren’t shouldn’t prove too concerning for the industry, as this is more than likely due to a wider geographic spread of house building contracts to areas such as the South West (13.9 per cent) and South East (13.2 per cent).
“After its recent sluggish performance, it’s also positive to see the infrastructure sector featuring prominently this month with 22 per cent of the total value of all projects. With the sector showing growth in the latest ONS Construction Output figures, perhaps this is evidence of projects in the pipeline beginning to translate into activity on the ground.”
The report also showed that the UK witnessed an overall increase in construction levels in October with the value of new contracts awarded worth £6 billion. This is a 5.9 per cent increase from September and 6.1 per cent higher than the value recorded in October 2013, an indication of further growth in the fourth quarter.

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NATIONAL:Alastair Campbell to deliver keynote speech at ARLA conference

Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) has announced Alastair Campbell (pictured) as the keynote speaker for its ARLA 2015 Conference, to be held on Tuesday 31 March 2015 at the Hilton Metropole Hotel, London.
With the General Election scheduled for 7th May 2015, just a few weeks after the ARLA 2015 Conference, the Conference will provide a platform for hot debate on the outlook for the lettings industry. 
Valerie Bannister, President of ARLA, said: “Alastair Campbell has been selected as keynote speaker for ARLA’s Conference; his experience as an influential Government adviser will undoubtedly provide delegates with some thought provoking views on the future landscape in preparation for potential challenges afoot.”
The annual Conference is an essential forum, designed for agents to get up to date on industry matters, including ever more regulation coming into force. 
Valerie Bannister added: “The 2015 event will be packed with essential information, through presentations from a number of authoritative speakers on a range of topical and practical business issues, including the highly anticipated legal update session.”

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NATIONAL:Use of UK foodbanks soars amid welfare delays

Use of emergency food aid in the UK has dramatically increased over the last decade largely due to delays and gaps in the welfare state, a new report has revealed.
The ‘Emergency Use Only’ research was jointly conducted by The Trussell Trust, alongside Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Church of England, examining why people are turning to foodbanks, how foodbank use fits with their wider coping strategies, and what might be done to reduce the need that leads to foodbank use.
40 in-depth interviews with Trussell Trust foodbank users were conducted, supported by data collected from more than 900 recipients to give a moving insight into the reality of poverty & why foodbanks are needed.
David McAuley, Trussell Trust CEO, said: “This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a ‘life shock’ or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase, and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness. The Trussell Trust has consistently said that too many people are falling through gaps in the social security system.
“The voices of food bank users heard in this report have informed the united call from four respected anti-poverty bodies to implement simple fixes to the welfare system. We welcome the opportunity to engage positively with politicians of all parties in order to work together to enable solutions for the poorest in the UK.”
Key findings from the research showed that food banks were predominantly a last-resort, short-term measure, prompted by an ‘acute income crisis’ – something which had happened to completely stop or dramatically reduce their income.
Income crisis could be caused by sudden loss of earnings, change in family circumstances or housing problems. However, for between half and two thirds of the users from whom additional data was collected, the immediate trigger for food bank use was linked to problems with benefits (including waiting for benefits to be paid, sanctions, problems with ESA) or missing tax credits.
Many food bank users were also not made aware of the various crisis payments available in different circumstances, and even fewer were receiving them.
It found that 19-28 per cent of users for whom additional data was collected had recently had household benefits stopped or reduced because of a sanction and 28-34 per cent were waiting for a benefit claim which had not been decided.
Many food bank users faced multiple challenges, including ill-health, relationship breakdown, mental health problems or substantial caring responsibilities. Many were unable to work or had recently lost their job. The frequency of bereavement among food bank users was also a striking feature of this research.

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NATIONAL:New research confronts social housing stereotypes

New research has debunked the myth that social housing residents are characterised by high levels of benefit dependency, lone parenthood, long-term unemployment, limited aspiration, or that peoples’ access to social housing has been easy.
The latest Real London Lives research report from the g15 group of London’s largest housing associations demonstrates that housing association residents in London live lives of remarkable diversity.
This first qualitative report from a three-year longitudinal study commissioned from the University of York found that there is a strong commitment to work and high levels of aspiration, often despite difficult family circumstances and personal vulnerability.
The research, which was presented at the House of Commons yesterday by Dr Julie Rugg of the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, shows that:

  • Two thirds of residents who could reasonably be expected to work do. Despite this, however, three quarters were faring no better than ‘holding steady’ financially, given the nature of their work, hours and levels of pay
  • Being in work does not always guarantee financial security – many of the jobs taken by residents do not necessarily lead to a steady state financially
  • Contrary to common perceptions, migrants and single parents have no advantage in the allocation of housing
  • Respondents generally wait a long time to secure a social housing tenancy and, consequently, place a high value on it
  • Social housing tenancy was seen as supporting people through many of the challenges of life, protecting and strengthening the family unit, insulating against shocks which might otherwise lead to homelessness, and offering the opportunity to aspire and to achieve independence from benefits
Mark Rogers, CEO of Circle Housing and deputy chair of the g15, said: “The lazy stereotypes about social housing residents are simply wrong. There are people in professional careers, people working part time, people on zero hours contracts, some holding down two jobs, others in training, and some with no real prospect of employment due to physical or mental health problems.
“This research shows there are no easy answers for policy makers. Social housing residents are not ‘shirkers’, but a diverse, complex mix of ordinary households trying to get by and thrive in the best way they can. Together, we must use this evidence to make informed policy decisions and have a collective responsibility to ensure that the voices of this diverse community of Londoners are heard.”
You can read the summary report here.

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NATIONAL:MPs and Peers call for more local powers to unlock development

The next Government should further extend devolutionary powers to the UK’s cities and regions to promote growth and close the UK’s north-south divide, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers has urged.
In a new report, the All Party Urban Development Group (APUDG) argues that making local authorities and strategic areas responsible for a range of priorities  – promoting local growth, rebalancing the economy, improving infrastructure, creating jobs and increasing the availability of housing – would allow Government to build on the success of the range of ‘growth initiatives’ launched in this Parliament.
The report, published with British Property Federation (BPF) and Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP), examines the extent to which Government policies, including new funding streams, financial measures, and structures such as Local Enterprise Partnerships have stimulated development activity.
It notes that while economic growth does not always require new development, there are many areas where economic growth cannot be delivered without a simultaneous increase in new business space.
It urges the next Government to continue to focus on growth, noting that devolving powers to, and working more closely with, local authorities would allow for greater understanding of local challenges, and greater use of local strengths.
The report points out how many initiatives are predicated to have a long-term impact and will need to stay high on the political agenda of all parties in order to ensure they can create new jobs and support economic development over time. It calls for improved coordination, evaluation and monitoring of the initiatives, and warns against scrapping these schemes and replacing them with new ones before they have a chance to bed-in.
Liz Peace (pictured), chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “In challenging circumstances Government has sought to kick start economic growth through a plethora of initiatives. It is right to appraise these to see what is working. Unsurprisingly, the picture is mixed as many of these policies are designed to show results over a number of years, but one consistent aspect of business feedback is that if Government really wants to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, improve infrastructure and build more houses, it has to allow local leaders to make more local decisions. Allowing for more flexibility and freedom within the current structures will allow local places to tailor them to their needs and unlock more development.”
Paul Uppal, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Urban Development and the MP for Wolverhampton South West, said: “This Government has aimed to secure the economic future of the UK through pro-growth policies, and by supporting businesses by offering competitive levels of taxation, unlocking investment and financing infrastructure spending. Governments can always learn, and as we look beyond 2015 this report gives a vital insight into what has succeeded and how we can build and improve upon the growth initiatives this Government has put in place.”
James Fennell, managing director of Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, added: “The overall findings of the report show that the financial measures and structures put in place by the Government have boosted growth and development. Funding streams such as the Regional Growth Fund and the Growing Places Fund have proved instrumental in getting schemes into delivery across the country. Likewise, the steps taken by Government to devolve more powers to cities have been a success and further work here can help re-weight London’s existing economic dominance. The challenge for future governments, as the report clearly demonstrates, is to build upon the encouraging steps that have been taken so far.”

NATIONAL:Small sites exemption will help build more homes, says FMB

An exemption for small sites from the off-site elements of the zero carbon standard will allow more new homes to be built by small local builders and help create diversity and choice in the housing market, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
Responding to the Government’s consultation on the small sites exemption, Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The FMB is supportive of the zero carbon objective but we are concerned about the disproportionate cost implications for smaller house builders.

"The Allowable Solutions element of zero carbon will be added in 2016 and could result in smaller building firms paying out an additional £2,000 for every single detached home. It is therefore absolutely right that adjustments are made to ensure small local builders can build as many new homes as possible at a time when we are building only half the number of new homes required to meet demand.”
Berry added: “Let’s be clear – an exemption from Allowable Solutions will have no impact on the quality or energy efficiency standards of the new homes being built. These homes will still be built to the same energy performance standards as all other new homes but will avoid impeding the delivery of new homes by SME house builders.”

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NATIONAL:LHC launches new homes framework for offsite solutions at Homes 2014

Public sector procurement specialist, LHC, will launch a new framework for England, Wales and Scotland during Homes 2014 at Olympia London on November 26 and 27.
The new framework is for the design, manufacture, supply and erection of offsite volumetric and panelised systems for new build social housing projects.
New Homes (NH1) offers both system types through two workstreams from a pre-selected experienced group of companies. A third workstream for construction works for new homes, which will complement the supply of offsite systems, will be launched in the New Year.
Social landlords looking to source offsite manufactured (OSM) housing structures can now turn to technical procurement specialist LHC for a solution.
John Skivington, director of LHC, said: “The availability of the LHC New Homes framework will save social landlords a lot of time and resource in evaluating the market. The specialist companies on the NH1 framework have been appointed after completing our rigorous tendering process.
“Social landlords can be confident that the framework is compliant, meeting the requirements of relevant EU and UK regulations.”
Social landlords visiting Homes 14 can discuss the framework with an LHC representative on stand H69.
LHC has been specialising in construction frameworks for social housing for nearly 50 years and now has over 130 users throughout the UK. Access to the framework is free of charge to all social landlords.

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NATIONAL:Panic room challenge to ‘bedroom tax’ reaches High Court

The ‘bedroom tax’ should not apply to people whose spare room has been converted into a safe refuge to protect them from a violent ex-partner, lawyers will argue today.
A judicial review challenge at the High Court in London will argue that the tax is discriminatory and will have devastating impact on an abused woman, referred in the case as A, and her 11-year-old son.
The woman’s three-bedroom council home has been fitted with a secure panic room to protect her. She has been the victim of rape, assault, harassment, stalking and threats to kill at the hands of her former partner.
A women’s refuge charity spent thousands of pounds at A’s property reinforcing window frames and the front door and making the back garden more secure. A panic space has been installed, with alarms linked to the police station.
However the local council has told her she will lose £11.65 a week from her benefits on the grounds that she has a spare room, which is the panic room.
Work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has refused to withdraw the demand despite losing an earlier attempt to have the test case dismissed.
The high court in London will hear her lawyers argue in a judicial review challenge that the tax is discriminatory and will have a devastating impact on A and her son. They will claim that it has a disproportionate effect on victims of domestic violence, most of whom are women.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for A, said about 300 similar households are affected.
She said: “These changes to housing benefit are having a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country. Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified. She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger.
“She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The secretary of state cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”
The claim is being supported by domestic violence charity Women's Aid.
Polly Neate (pictured), chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Sanctuary schemes are created to keep extremely vulnerable women and children safe, at a time when they are trying to rebuild their lives after surviving domestic violence. An investment has been made in keeping these women safe and to move these families out of their homes is a false economy as it will cost further money to provide security as the new property, and this may provide a reduced level of safety, putting them at risk.
“It is important to remember that on average two women every week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. Protecting abused women and their children is a matter of life and death, and we should always remember this.”

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NATIONAL:Social housing sector ‘remains attractive to lenders’

The social housing sector remains attractive to lenders with 92 per cent of registered providers having debt facilities in place for the next 12 months or more, according to the latest quarterly survey (2014 to 2015 quarter 2) published by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
As the regulator of social housing providers, the HCA undertakes a quarterly survey of housing providers to establish the levels of exposure to a range of risks faced by the sector. This report is based on a survey of all private registered providers owning and/or managing more than 1,000 homes for the quarter ending 31 December 2013.
The report concludes that new finance continues to be raised with 51 per cent of the £1.7 billion new facilities in the quarter coming from the capital markets; while a significant amount of cash is available to the sector to cover operating and development costs. However, individual providers and their boards should balance the risks of ensuring the availability of funds against the risk and costs of holding surplus cash.
Jonathan Walters, deputy director of strategy and performance, said: “As in previous quarters, our survey shows that the sector remains financially strong and is an attractive investment opportunity.
“However, challenges remain. It is vital that boards continue to understand the risks associated with their business – including managing development and sales programmes – and have the skills necessary to manage those risks. Where they seek appropriate professional advice, they should be capable of understanding and critically appraising the advice they receive.”
The regulator will continue to monitor providers to help ensure they effectively mitigate any downside risks to their financial position.
For the third consecutive quarter, the latest quarterly survey includes data on income collection, arrears and voids and concludes that for most providers (94 per cent) these areas are within, or outperforming, their business plans.

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NATIONAL:Housing services among hardest hit in local authority spending cuts

Spending on a housing support and advice programme for vulnerable people has fallen by 45 per cent since the coalition Government came into power, the National Audit Office (NAO) said today.
A report into the financial sustainability of local authorities in 2014 found that funding for the Supporting People programme had fallen, on average, by 45 per cent between 2010-11 and 2013-14.
Other service areas such as housing services (-34 per cent) and culture and leisure services (-29 per cent) have seen larger reductions.
Overall, the NAO report said local authorities had coped well with reductions in government funding, but some were showing "clear signs of financial stress".
And it criticised the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for having "a limited understanding of authorities’ financial sustainability and the impacts of funding cuts on services".
The Government said every part of the public sector had to do its bit but the Local Government Association (LGA) warned services would "buckle under the strain" of more cuts.
The NAO report said: "The Government will reduce its funding to local authorities by an estimated 28 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15. Further planned cuts will bring the total reduction to 37 per cent by 2015-16, excluding the Better Care Fund and public health grant.
"Although there have been no financial failures in local authorities in this period, a survey of local auditors shows that authorities are showing signs of financial pressure. Over a quarter of single tier and county councils (those authorities responsible for social care and education) had to make unplanned reductions in service spend to deliver their 2013-14 budgets.
"Auditors are increasingly concerned about local authorities’ capacity to make further savings, with 52 per cent of single tier and county councils not being well-placed to deliver their medium-term financial plans."
The report added: "While local authorities have tried to make savings through efficiencies rather than by reducing services, there is some evidence of reduction in service levels. Since 2010-11, for example, fewer days of residential care and homecare for adults are being provided."
Commenting on the report, Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Local authorities have worked hard to manage reductions in government funding at a time of austerity. At the same time, there is evidence of some service reductions.
“The Department really needs to be better informed about the situation on the ground among local authorities across England, in a much more active way, in order to head off serious problems before they happen. It should look for evidence of financial stress in local authorities to assure itself that they are able to deliver the services for which they are responsible.
"It should be clear about the knock-on effect of the various funding decisions taken by departments in Whitehall.”
Local Government minister Kris Hopkins said local Government made up a quarter of all public spending.
The Government continued to deliver a "fair settlement" to every part of the country, he said.
"The reality is since 2010 budgets have been balanced, council tax has fallen by 11 per cent in real-terms and public satisfaction with local government has been maintained."
Mr Hopkins said councils still had to do more to "cut waste and make sensible savings".
The LGA said council services had faced deeper cuts than any other part of the public sector.
It said: "This report paints a stark picture of increasing financial risk and uncertainty for local authorities. It shows that central government has not taken a comprehensive approach to assessing the impact of its decisions."

NATIONAL:Struggling tenants ‘in the dark’ about charitable grants

New research from the charity Turn2us has revealed a stark lack of awareness of the support available through charitable grants amongst social housing tenants in financial hardship, and the sever measures they are taking before seeking help.
Over two-thirds (69 per cent) of Turn2us users living in social housing said they were completely unaware of charitable grants. Worryingly, nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) had been struggling financially for over a year before checking what support could be available to them.
As a result of their situation, over two-thirds (71 per cent) have been forced to cut back on food and heating, and over two-thirds (68 per cent) had to rely on the financial support of family and friends.
In addition, nearly a third (30 per cent) have taken out short-term or payday loans, and almost one in six (16 per cent) have turned to food banks.
Turn2us has released these new research findings to coincide with the launch of its grants awareness campaign ‘Go for a Grant’. The campaign is encouraging anyone in financial hardship to use the free online Turn2us Grants Search tool to check their eligibility for grants and other support depending on their particular needs and circumstances.
There are over 3,000 grant-giving charities available in the UK, distributing £288 million in grants and services to individuals in need every year. Each charitable fund is set up to assist people on low incomes according to their current or previous occupation, the area they live or for a specific health condition or disability.
Individuals who have used our Grants Search tool have seen an average annual income increase of over £2,400 in regular charitable grants and over £550 in one-off grants.
Alison Taylor (pictured), director of Turn2us, said: “Our research shows that more needs to be done to help raise awareness of the vital support provided by grant-giving charities. We know that people in financial difficulty can be reluctant to turn to charities for help and as a result are forced to go without everyday essentials or are taking on increasingly large amounts of debt. Yet feedback from individuals using our services shows that once they have sought help, receiving a grant has an overwhelmingly positive financial and emotional impact on their lives.
“With new reports showing that there are an extra 300,000 households living in poverty in the UK than previously thought, the need for support has never been greater. Through our campaign we hope to reach out to more people in need and encourage them to check their eligibility for help today.”
The ‘Go for a Grant’ campaign is supported by a number of charities across the UK to increase awareness of the help available to those in need. As part of the campaign, Turn2us is also releasing a new research report providing insights in to how the grant-giving charity sector operates and plans for future developments.

NATIONAL:Persimmon to create 500 new jobs a year with ex-military scheme

Persimmon Homes has announced a recruitment drive to bring up to 500 ex-military personnel into the business.
The housebuilder, which has 24 regional businesses in England, Wales and Scotland, is working with Nordic Focus Training, to retrain people from the Army, Royal Navy and RAF in bricklaying and joinery.

Jeff Fairburn, Brigadier Bibby and the ex-soldiers
Speaking at the launch, held at one of its developments in Durham, group CEO Jeff Fairburn, said: “We have worked hard over the course of 2014 to develop this programme to help us meet a shortage of much needed skilled tradesmen across the UK.
“Earlier this year we appointed a dedicated ex-military resettlement specialist, Tommy Watson, to spearhead the programme and we began welcoming the first of our new employees at the start of October. We are already on course to bring 500 new people into the business in 2015 and if our growth continues, we will repeat this in 2016.
“The new recruits are all starting on an 18 month training programme with time spent in the classroom and out on site. Our courses welcome new people every four weeks and based on the recruits we’ve already seen we are very excited with the quality of the candidates and some of them I’m sure will go on to take management positions within the business in the future.”
Persimmon currently employs 3500 people across 24 businesses as well as its head office in York. Alongside trainee bricklayers and joiners, the company is also directly employing other staff with a military background into sales and management roles.
In 2013, Persimmon signed the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant and all new trainees will be encouraged to be reservists.
Persimmon will build over 13,000 new homes in 2014 and plans to open many more developments in 2015.
“As a business, we appreciate how hard our team works to support our growth and deliver new homes to communities across the UK. Each year hundreds of young new apprentices and trainees join us and I know that the latest ex-service people to join us will be welcomed by everyone.”

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NATIONAL:Third of people planning to use short-term credit for Christmas

New research by housing association Riverside and City West Housing Trust has revealed that one third of people are planning to take out some kind of short-term credit to pay for Christmas.
The findings, released yesterday with national social lending organisation My Home Finance, added that 15 per cent of these people had no idea of the actual costs involved.
Tess Pendle, chief executive of My Home Finance said: “What is worrying about these statistics is that people are not asking questions or realising what the cost of their Christmas dinner or their children’s’ new toys will be.
“If somebody borrows £300 from a doorstep lender to pay for Christmas presents, it is likely that they would end up paying back over £550. Worse still, some payday lenders are charging excessive interest and expecting the loan and interest to be paid back in full the following month.”
As well as making loans to individuals, My Home Finance campaigns throughout England with partner organisations like Riverside and City West to raise awareness of the need for affordable lending and financial education.
Riverside community engagement manager Frank Burke said: “It’s an expensive time of year for families across the country, so any savings we can put back into the pockets of our tenants will make a difference.”

David Cummins, director of communities and neighbourhoods at City West, said: “Money advice is something we take very seriously at City West, particularly in the run up to Christmas which can really put pressure on household finances. Our specialist team offer confidential and practical support on everything from benefit advice to budgeting and we’re also committed to ensuring our customers can access affordable credit, protecting them from high interest rates or illegal loans. That’s why we’re very pleased to support My Home Finance, along with a range of other affordable credit options.”
Tess Pendle added: “My Home Finance and other social lenders offer people a safe and affordable borrowing option. We believe that if affordable loans and financial education are not available, many thousands of people will run the risk of falling into a cycle of debt and poverty.”

NATIONAL:Welfare reform ‘misses savings target’, says IFS

The UK Government's benefit cuts have failed to deliver the expected savings in the welfare bill, a leading economic think tank has warned.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said welfare spending this year will be just £2.5 billion lower in real terms than it was at the start of the parliament in 2010-11 - compared to forecast savings of £19bn.
The findings come as Chancellor George Osborne prepares to deliver next month's Autumn Statement amid fears the worsening international economic outlook will add to the strain on Britain's beleaguered public finances.
In its report the IFS pointed to a series of factors behind the failure to achieve the expected reduction in welfare spending.
They include a £5bn increase in the cost of pensioner benefits - in part the result of the ageing population but also a reflection of the more generous allowances, with pensioners receiving on average £500-a-year more.
Despite cuts to housing benefit, which were expected to produce annual savings of £2bn, spending is now set to be £1bn higher - a rise which the IFS said was "unanticipated".
It said the increase was the result of a faster than expected growth in the private rented sector - and faster than expected growth in private rents - combined with slower than expected earnings, which had served to push up the cost to the taxpayer.
Slower-than-expected earnings growth also meant that spending on tax credits has not come down as quickly as ministers expected - reducing costs by less than £3bn compared to a forecast saving of £4.6bn.
Delays to the replacement of disability living allowance with the less generous personal independence payment meant that instead of anticipated savings of £1.2bn a year, the cost has actually risen by £1.6bn.
The switchover from the RPI measure of inflation to CPI for the annual uprating of benefits had also failed to produce the expected £4 billion in savings, the IFS said.
"All this has important fiscal consequences," said the report's author, Andrew Hood.
"Mr Osborne wants further cuts to social security spending to help reduce the deficit. He may end up having to make cuts just to stay on track."

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NATIONAL:Church attacks ‘ineffective and unjust’ bedroom tax

Church leaders will be asked to support calls to investigate the effects of the ‘bedroom tax’ which they say is “ineffective and unjust”.
A motion calling on General Synod to evaluate research into the bedroom tax will be proposed today in London by Ian Fletcher, a member of the General Synod House of Laity and of the former Bradford Diocesan Synod which originally put forward the motion.
He said: “The motion reflects a real concern from those working among the poor and marginalised in Bradford but has national significance. We want the evidence for and against the Bedroom Tax to be on the table in discussions with policy makers, so the debate can move from the emotional to the factual level, challenging HMG with the findings that their policy is not working even on their own terms and is causing significant hardship without concomitant benefits to anyone.”
A background paper from the diocese explains why General Synod members are being asked to support the Bradford motion.
It reads: “As well as being ineffective, we perceive both the principle behind the policy and the consequences of its implementation to be unjust….  Our position is that, in the principle of the tax we see a deep unfairness and almost a cultural disregard for the lives of the poor and a devaluing of commitment to place and community which are so important to the Common Good and have always been a core consideration of the Church of England.
“In its implementation it is ineffective and unjust and the impact is leading to increased debt with significant negative effects on mental health. Sitting alongside the uncoupling of identified need from level of support, as executed by the Benefit Cap, the chaos of target driven Work Capability Assessments and seemingly target driven punitive sanctions on unemployed claimants (4 weeks of no benefits as a minimum), it also appears to completely undermine the concept of a ‘Big Society’.”
The motion is due to be debated this afternoon.

NATIONAL:Blog: Rolling out the welcome mat

The private rented sector often gets a bad reputation for throwing young people’s money down the drain, but is it really that bad? Robert Flint, solicitor at Winckworth Sherwood, gives a personal view of what it’s like to be a part of the so-called ‘Generation Rent’.
As another flatmate of mine moves out to live with his girlfriend, I have been thrust once again into the market as a proto-supplier of private rented accommodation. The demand is extraordinary.
This need to live in rented accommodation is often seen as a bad thing.  Alex Hilton, director of Generation Rent, said recently that, “…the private rented sector is systematically sucking money from the young and it will take much more than tinkering on the edges to give young people a secure and affordable home”. Is the private rented sector really that bad?
In some senses, Mr Hilton is right that money spent on rent is money down the drain. Like any money spent on Spotify or Netflix, renting does not give you anything tangible at the end of the day. But people do it anyway because it is cheaper than buying, and also because it’s more flexible – we don’t need an asset at the end of the process. Now the comparison only goes so far – a house has secure appreciable value unlike most DVDs or CDs.  But I don’t want to buy a house at the moment because I don’t know where life will take me (and, sotto voce, because I can’t afford to).  And life for many people leads to all sorts of places.
In filling my outgoing flatmate’s spot in our flat share, not one of the applicants was from the island of Great Britain. The international demand for UK private rented accommodation was clear; lots of Irish, Italian, French and Portuguese men and women. A couple of Aussies and Americans too, but not one from Blighty itself.
Even though we don’t know each other from Adam (or Alejandro), there is an inherent trust between us. We know the deal. We are the renting and sharing generation; we stay in apartments rather than hotels; we use eBay and maybe even share our pets on People who have had no experience of this are suspicious. My older sister (whose builder husband is literally building her a house) is horrified by the prospect that I will soon be living with a complete stranger.
A large number of people we ‘interviewed’ for our spare room (for such is how this business-like process appeared) had studied and rented in other parts of the UK before moving to London. Most were educated and spoke very good English. None were rich. All were (apparently) fairly normal and expecting to work long hours to make ends meet. This community of renters does not want to buy just yet and is not looking for handouts. We want to live a little and find our place in the world.
What draws renters to these shores (a solid economy, education and employment prospects) also encourages an increasing amount of investment in the sector from abroad.

Britain is historically fairly open to foreign investment; it has some of the world’s best universities and arguably its best city. While the stock market wobbles, the Eurozone economy heads south again and even China’s housing boom starts to look a bit ‘2007’. The growing British economy and the British property market seem like a safer investment. The Greenland Group, Lodha and Hutchison Whampoa are a few of the big players throwing their cash into the mix.
According to Jones Lang Lasalle, 12,000 new flats were put on the market in 2013, up from 7,300 in 2012.  New construction starts were 13,500 compared to 6,800 the previous year.

Even the prospect of Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on foreign investments in residential property, and talk of a mansion tax, isn’t enough to dent these investors’ appetites.
We have a private rented sector that people from around the world find appealing. As a country we should be proud that other people want to make our wet little island their home, and be glad for their investment, their culture, and, in my case, their share of the rent.
Rob is a solicitor at Winckworth Sherwood. He lives in a rented flat in Hammersmith.

NATIONAL:Wates Group acquires social housing maintenance firm

Family-owned construction services company, the Wates Group, has acquired 100 per cent of Walsall-based Purchase Group for an undisclosed consideration. The change of ownership is effective immediately.
With an annual turnover of £30m and 120 direct employees, the Purchase Group is a family-owned construction business that focuses on the provision of responsive and planned maintenance services, and green technologies, to housing association and local authority clients in the affordable housing sector in the Midlands and Wales.
The deal forms part of Wates’ long-term growth strategy to develop its maintenance proposition nationwide and builds on the success of the company’s acquisition of Linbrook in 2011.
Andrew Davies, chief executive of the Wates Group, said: “Today’s acquisition brings us even closer to achieving our aspirations of becoming the UK’s leading maintenance business. Our organisations’ combined capabilities and expertise will provide new and existing customers with a quality asset management and maintenance service, with all the added benefits brought by a family-operated company.
“We have strong shared values of integrity, performance and respect, which are built on a long standing family heritage.
“This collective reputation now gives us an extremely strong foundation upon which to seize emerging business opportunities in the affordable housing sector and grow our presence in the marketplace.”
David Purchase, managing director of the Purchase Group, added: “This is an exciting and positive step forward for our business and our people, providing us with the investment and support of a highly respected industry player, which will facilitate future growth within the market.
“Wates’ commitment to people and communities is rivaled only by that of our own and it is these shared ethics that will place us as the partner of choice in the affordable housing sector.
“Together we can offer a compelling proposition to clients and customers in the Midlands, Wales and the North, for their full range of maintenance needs.”
Operating under the Wates Living Space business, the Purchase Group will continue to trade under its own name in the short-term.
Deloitte LLP acted as advisor to Wates.

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NATIONAL:6 million private renters could be living in poverty by 2040

Soaring rents will force nearly 6 million private renters into poverty by 2040, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
A new report out today predicts that the current generation of primary school children face paying private rents that are 90 per cent higher than the cost of renting at the start of the recession.  
Forecasts for the JRF show how rents will rise twice as fast as incomes and without action now, more people will be at risk of poverty due to rising housing costs.
A continuing decline in home ownership and social renting, together with a lack of new homes, will result in more people living in private rented homes.
What will the housing market look like in 2040? – by experts at Heriot-Watt University – analysed trends affecting the housing market, looking at factors such as economic and income growth, changes in house prices, housing supply and rent levels.
Taken from the start of the recession in 2008, the report found that by 2040:

  • People who rent will be more than twice as likely to be living in poverty than homeowners.
  • Private rents are forecast to rise by 90 per cent, twice as fast as incomes. The average private rent today is £132 per week – it will be £250 per week in 2040 in real terms.
  • One in five (10.6 million people) will be living in private rented homes, up from 7.2 million today. Half of these, 5.7 million, will be in poverty (a rise of 2.6 million).
  • One in 10 will be living in social housing, down from the current figure of 8.2 million to 5.7 million in 2040. Social rents will increase 39 per cent to reach £92.10 per week in real terms.
  • If social rents continue to rise towards market rates, the cost of Housing Benefit could rise by 125 per cent - adding £20 billion to the current bill.
  • Real median house prices for owners will increase to £263,000, a rise of 57 per cent. 35.3 million people will be home owners by 2040 (a reduction of 820,000 people from 2008). Real household incomes will grow from £32,300 to £45,500.
In light of today’s figures, JRF has called on the Government and housing providers to work together on an action plan to solve the housing crisis and keep poverty in check. Poverty levels are likely to reach one in four by 2040 and can be contained if:
  • Housing supply doubles to more than 200,000 units a year;
  • Social rents continue to go up by inflation plus 1 per cent, rather than move towards market rents;
  • Housing benefit continues to support housing costs at similar levels;
  • The fall in the proportion of affordable social housing in the overall market is halted.
Julia Unwin, chief executive at JRF (pictured), said: “These stark findings are a wake-up call for political leaders. After decades of failing to build enough, those in power have a responsibility to act now to build more genuinely affordable homes. Without that we are storing up trouble for the future – a price that will be paid by children starting school life this year. These high costs are bad for families, the economy and Government.
“We need a clear strategy that builds the homes we need in the right places and avoids locking low income households out of affordable homes. This is about more than frustrated aspirations of home ownership from Generation Rent: the reality facing many people is a life below the poverty line because of the extortionate cost of keeping a roof over your head. Addressing the rising cost of housing is crucial to tackling the high levels of poverty in the UK.” 

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Our country is in the depths of a housing crisis so severe that unless we do something about it we won’t be able to house the next generation. This isn’t just about house prices. The cost of renting is getting out of control, leaving many people in poverty. If this continues we will see people priced out of both buying and renting and struggling to put a roof over their head.

“With 8 million babies born between 2001 and 2012, we really need to ask ourselves where will our children live when they reach adulthood? For decades we have failed to build enough new homes and are currently only building half of the new homes we need every year. We must build the right homes in the right places at a price people can afford.

“We can’t let the stark predictions in this report to become reality. We are calling on the next Government to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation and to publishing a long term plan within a year of taking office detailing how they will do this.”

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NATIONAL:Benefit cuts blamed as tenant evictions reach record high

The number of tenants evicted by their landlords has reached a record high, new figures from the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have revealed.
Benefit cuts and the growing trend of “revenge evictions” have been blamed for the surge as campaigners warned the figures provide further proof that the UK is in the middle of a housing crisis.
Figures show that 11,100 rented properties were repossessed by bailiffs between July and September, the highest quarterly figure since the records began in 2000. In contrast, just 2,805 mortgage borrowers lost their homes.
By the end of September, more than 30,000 tenant households had lost their homes, and the figure is on track to be higher than the 37,792 recorded in 2013.
The figures for possession claims in the third quarter show that of the 40,859 issued between July and September, 25,955 were by social landlords such as local councils and housing associations, while 5,694 were by private landlords, and the rest could not be broken down. The MoJ said it expected a fifth of the claims to lead to eviction.
Campbell Robb, the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “It’s heartbreaking to hear that so many people have lost the battle to keep a roof over their heads.
“Already, 90,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, and with housing costs sky high, many more families are living on a knife-edge knowing that just one thing, like a job loss or illness, could leave them facing the same fate.”
Seb Klier, policy manager at lobby group Generation Rent, said the figures were a “chilling” sign of a growing housing crisis.
“To reverse this trend we need rents that people can afford and stronger rights for those tenants who meet their obligations but don’t feel their home is theirs,” he added.

NATIONAL:Private sector tenants sceptical of housing manifestos

Tenants in the UK have still to be convinced by the housing policies of the UK’s political parties, according to the latest research from the National Landlords Association (NLA).
With just six months to go before next year’s General Election, six in ten (62 per cent) tenants say they are unsure whether any of the political parties will be able to tackle the UK’s housing crisis.
The findings will provide particularly bleak reading for Labour and Liberal Democrats, which are the only parties so far to clearly outline their housing manifestos. Labour plans to reform private renting with a raft of proposals, including default three-year tenancies and a ban on letting agent fees. The Liberal Democrats have vowed to end the so called practice of retaliatory evictions, introducing the Tenancies (Reform) Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament.
However, Labour will take some small consolation from the fact that more tenants (13 per cent) believe they have the right approach to housing than any other of the main political parties. Eight per cent of tenants think UKIP are best placed to improve housing, seven per cent say Conservative, three per cent think the Green Party have the right approach, and just two per cent say Liberal Democrat.
Carolyn Uphill (pictured), chairman at the NLA, said: “These findings suggest that as a vote-winning strategy, pitching to renters is falling flat on its face. Tenants are at best undecided, or worse, have no faith in the ability of any of the parties to improve private housing across the UK.
“Labour and the Liberal Democrats thought they had established a housing manifesto to win favour with Britain’s 9 million renters but it seems that their view of private housing simply doesn’t chime with the experience of the majority of tenants.
“It’s easier to attack an unpopular stereotype than deal with the complex reality of how housing is changing in the UK today. We don’t need one-sided electioneering, we need the commitment towards a fair balance between landlords, tenants and agents, and a genuine partnership between the market, regulators and Government.”
Richard Price, executive director of the UK Association of Letting Agents, (UKALA) said: “These findings should serve as a wake up call for all the political parties and specifically Labour. The collective concerns voiced by the industry over their plans to reform private housing have been swatted away by the party, and this now indicates that their approach hasn’t really won any support from tenants either.
“There are legitimate business costs that letting agents will look to recover from tenants, but these clearly vary from agent to agent and some examples are far too high. What’s important is that fees are fair and transparent from the outset and that the tenant is aware of what they will have to pay, when and why.
“You can ban a fee but you can’t ban a cost, so while outlawing agent fees sounds like a simple solution, the difference will inevitably have to be recovered elsewhere – most likely as higher rents – and it won’t solve the issue.” 

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NATIONAL:Young people increasingly dependent on food handouts, finds YMCA

The vast majority of YMCAs in England now have to send young people to food banks in order for them to be able to eat, last year referring in the region of 5,000 vulnerable young people.
New research conducted by YMCA England, titled 'Food for Thought', shows this need to refer increasing numbers of young people to food banks is being driven by failings within the welfare system. Just under four in five (79 per cent) of those YMCAs referring young people to foodbanks reported having to do so as a direct result of delays in receiving benefit payments and punitive sanctions.
The new report builds on YMCA England research from earlier this year, which found that 86per cent of young people who had been sanctioned, reported being forced to go without essential items as a result, with the highest proportion (84per cent) cutting back on or going without food.
Denise Hatton, chief executive YMCA England, said: "The Government cannot continue to put its head in the sand with regard to the problems which are driving more and more young people each year to depend on food parcels.
“The welfare system was set up to protect and provide a safety net for those individuals in their time of need and so that no-one would be left without money to be able to afford food. However our evidence shows it is currently failing in this role.
“Urgent action needs to be taken in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society and ensure that young people are given the support they need to provide for themselves. It is unacceptable in this day and age, that anyone should have to rely on the kindness of strangers in order to eat."

NATIONAL:Women in housing celebrated at awards

Over 450 talented, committed and empowering women and men gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester last week for an inspiring evening of celebration as the housing sector came together to recognise women in housing.
The host for the evening was Olympian Diane Modahl and the guests and nominees were treated to a passionate speech from Lulu OBE. The guests and nominees then danced to the early hours with household name DJ Marie Claire.

Cath Green receving her award
The prestigious evening focused on highlighting inspirational women who pushed their personal and organisations’ boundaries to achieve and implement excellence. As a national event nominees came from the whole of the UK to hear who the independent panel of industry expert judges had selected as winners throughout the evening.
The Women In Housing Awards co-creator, Penni Pennington, said: “Well that's Women in Housing Awards done for another year. Before I go to lie down in a dark room I wanted to offer my congratulations to all the eleven award winners. Your stories are fantastically motivating and your achievements will be inspiration to us all, especially other women working across the housing sector.
“ConnectIn is immensely proud to have designed and delivered the Awards. We have been overwhelmed by the level of interest and excitement particularly as it's only the second year of these Awards. Next year's Awards will, we hope, be even bigger and better with a day conference preceding the awards. We’ll have more details in the New Year.”
Winners on the night included:
Best community / training project to rebuild women’s lives
Refugee Housing Project – Places for People Individual Support
Excellence in career development model
Glass Forward – The Connectives
Best project / innovation
Sally Bonnie, Oldham Women’s Refuge Project – Inspire Women
Best marketer / communications
Sarah Parmenter – Plumlife (Great Places Housing Group)
Young achiever – housing & community development
Kyra Laird – City South Manchester/Mosscare/Manchester Active Voices
Most effective woman board member
Kathy Cowell OBE – Your Housing Group
Leading female mentor
Christine Amyes – New Charter Housing Trust Group
Best housing professional
Ann Rivera – trident social investment group
Landmark achievement
Cath Green – First Choice Homes Oldham
Best female apprentice/ trainee
Jessica Living – Sovereign Housing Association
Male mentor
Tim Doyle – City West Housing Trust

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