This week's National news (September 15 - September 19)
- NATIONAL:Regulator calls for Boards to do more on risk
- NATIONAL:Report reveals landlords’ strategies to address poverty
- NATIONAL:Blog: It’s time to stand up and be counted
- NATIONAL:Homeless International rebrands as social enterprise reall
- NATIONAL:Riverside reports ‘excellent’ financial results
- NATIONAL:Annual landlord revenue ‘tops £32bn’
- NATIONAL:Newly launched United Living Group positions itself for growth
- NATIONAL:MPs urge Government to revive failing Green Deal scheme
- NATIONAL:Blog: Banking on mum and dad?
- NATIONAL:Entries invited for National Home Improvement Council awards
- NATIONAL:CIH calls for spending shift from benefits to building homes
- NATIONAL:'Bank of Mum and Dad' give an average of £23k to first time buyers
- NATIONAL:Home Group launches major gas safety campaign
- NATIONAL:RICS report sets out bold new vision for property market
- NATIONAL:Blog: Tenants closer than ever to the end of ‘revenge evictions’
- NATIONAL:LHC members benefit from £20m efficiency saving
- NATIONAL:Homeownership becoming an ‘exclusive members club’, new report warns
- NATIONAL:Minister vows to outlaw ‘revenge evictions’
- NATIONAL:Plans to cut red tape on housebuilding ‘could save £114m a year’
- NATIONAL:New measures to protect countryside from ‘planning system abuse’
- NATIONAL:Best practice and developments celebrated at 2014 National Housing Awards
Thursday 18 September 2014
Wednesday 17 September 2014
Tuesday 16 September 2014
Monday 15 September 2014
NATIONAL:Regulator calls for Boards to do more on risk
Housing Association Boards should do more to keep pace with the growing risks their organisations face, according to regulator of social housing providers, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
The third annual Sector Risk Profile, published by the HCA today, sets out the key risks facing the sector and some of the steps providers should be taking to manage those risks. Included in the recommendations are that Boards should have a clear understanding of how the risks they face are interrelated, and prepare for the impact on their business of multiple risks crystallising at the same time.
Julian Ashby (pictured), Chair of the HCA Regulation Committee, said: “Boards need to understand and manage the risks their organisations are facing. Top of the list is to consider how each risk may impact on another, and the degree to which multiple risks at the same time have the potential to bring their organisation down.
“Risks may not be new, but they are increasing. We have seen enough recent examples of where poor governance – often caused by Boards lacking the skills to make key business decisions, or a failure to seek or challenge independent advice – has led to ineffective risk management.
“The Regulator is changing to keep pace with a rapidly evolving risk profile and providers must do the same. None will want to risk being the next Cosmopolitan. Where we do not have the assurance we require that providers are adequately managing risk, it will continue to be reflected in our public regulatory judgements.”
Now in its third year of publication, the Sector Risk Profile raises awareness of risk, promoting debate and challenge at Board level as a way of protecting social housing assets and the taxpayers’ investment in them. It identifies continuing risks around development, market sales, welfare reform and access to finance. It also sets out some of the ways in which the Regulator will seek assurance from providers that risks are being appropriately managed, as it finalises changes to the Regulatory Framework.
Boards should be assessing both the risks associated with individual schemes and the cumulative impact of their whole development programme, and the potential for a rise in interest rates and a downward turn in house price inflation, while including the potential impact of policy changes when ‘stress testing’ their ability to manage risk.
They should also be clear how diversification – entering into new markets and activities, where the scale of risk is evolving rapidly – fits into their overall strategy and helps to deliver their fundamental social objectives, ensuring that these do not get neglected in favour of new areas of business.
For the first time, the Profile includes a section on non-viability risks, such as reputational damage caused by poor governance of remuneration packages, the failure to give sufficient assurance on value for money, and breaches of the Consumer Standard that may cause harm to tenants.
It also highlights the new disclosures required in Providers’ annual accounts which are likely to have a significant impact on the way Provider’s accounts are presented, giving the appearance of increased volatility in income and expenditure year on year.
The Sector Risk Profile is available to download from the HCA website.
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NATIONAL:Report reveals landlords’ strategies to address poverty
Welfare reform, the rising cost of living and changes to the way housing is funded are presenting major challenges for landlords, a new report has revealed.
A study across 15 local authorities by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) looks at how they are responding. It examines landlords’ written strategies, business plans and other policies.
Almost all housing associations said they were building new homes at Affordable Rents (which are usually higher than social rents). However, the actual levels of these rents varied, given that most local authorities had policies to restrict rents charged and the circumstances in which social housing could be converted to Affordable Rent.
The development of Affordable Rents has increased focus on the issue of rent setting. Around half the social landlords in the study said they aimed to maximise rental income where practical, but similar numbers reported that they aimed to minimise rent or service charges when possible.
Developing housing associations were increasingly focusing on building housing for market sale or rent, either as a commercial activity to generate cross-subsidy for social homes. In terms of social housing allocations, some housing associations were moving away from focusing primarily on those in most severe need, in favour of a wider range of people, including those on middle incomes.
The paper summarises the findings of a poverty-focused review of housing organisations’ strategic and business plans.
The interim report, The role of housing organisations in reducing poverty: A review of strategic and business plans, is available here.
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NATIONAL:Blog: It’s time to stand up and be counted
The 2015 General Election is our chance to end the housing crisis within a generation, says David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation.
I’m a baby boomer. We are the generation who famously have had it all. We were part of the post-war feeling of optimism that the future had much to offer. Our parents had lived through the Second World War and believed that their job was to make the world a better place for their children.
They succeeded. Our generation was better off than our parents’. We benefitted from free university education and we knew that, when we grew up, there would be good quality homes available for us. Our parents, and the politicians of the post war era, knew they had to invest in housing, partly to repair the damage caused by bombing, partly to ensure that our generation, the baby boomers, could be assured of a secure future. And invest they did. From the mid-1950s we built over 300,000 homes a year.
What a legacy that was. A legacy that we have, between us, destroyed. After all these years of preparing for the future and having a clear understanding that housing policy was central to our economic and social well-being, we forgot how important that was. We built fewer and fewer new homes even as the population grew. We replaced housing policies with tenure policies. We thought of housing as being something separate rather than an integral part of economic planning. We regarded housing as a private good, not a public service. Can you imagine one of the parties writing this in their manifesto today?
“Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by overcrowded homes. Therefore, a Conservative Government will give housing a priority second only to national defence. Our target remains 300,000 houses a year.”
This was the Conservative manifesto of 1951. The other parties of the time made similar commitments to the Conservatives. The consequence? When the baby boomers grew up we could afford to buy our own homes. At today’s prices, people on an income of £20,000 a year could buy with a deposit, also at today’s prices, of only £3,000.
With that legacy it is pretty abject that we now have a housing market where owner occupation is the preserve of wealthy people with wealthy parents. The income of a first time buyer now is £36,000, which is above the national average. The deposit needed now is £30,000, which is why two in every three new buyers are only able to buy because of the wealth of their parents. And for those who can’t afford to buy, the private rented sector charges rents that are 40% or more of people’s incomes.
So it is bad now – but not nearly as bad as it is about to become. There has been another baby boom, the biggest since the famous baby boomers. Over 8 million babies were born between 2001 and 2012. Remember the last baby boom generation was born when we were building 300,000 homes a year? This time round we are building around 130,000. We have a housing crisis now. Unless we take concerted, strategic, planned action now, when the new baby boomers grow up they will have nowhere to live.
Do we really want that to be our gift to those babies? Of course not. This is why the 2015 General Election is so critical. It is imperative that those who want our vote commit to end the housing crisis within a generation and produce a detailed, long term plan setting out how they would do this. It is imperative they understand that we limit our future economic potential and personal well-being if they fail, once again, to engage with the reality of the housing crisis. And it is imperative that we, who really understand the scale and nature of the challenge, this time are prepared to stand up and be counted.
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NATIONAL:Homeless International rebrands as social enterprise reall
Homeless International has changed its name to reall as part of a rebrand it hopes will reflect its change in strategy from operating as an international development charity to working as a social enterprise.
The charity unveiled its name, which stands for Real Equity for All, at an event to mark the rebrand in London yesterday. The charity said the rebrand, which also involves a new logo and a revamped website, cost it less than £25,000.
Reall, which was established in 1989 as Homeless International, said it was changing its model from that of a traditional development charity and had started offering loans to its African and Asian partner organisations to enable them to build homes in poor communities.
The charity said that it had provided more than £20 million of funds to partner organisations – all of which were active in the housing sector or development in general – in the first eight months of this year. The partners build houses, then sell or rent them, with micro-mortgages offered to poor people who want to buy.
Reall’s partners receive a small amount of the interest from the sale, with the invested capital eventually returning to the charity to be reinvested with partner organisations.
The charity will also start to raise some of its funding by issuing bonds. It will launch a programme of crowdfunding for some of its projects and seek investors among its partner NGOs.
It previously relied on grants from the Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Comic Relief to fund its projects, which it passed on to its partners.
A spokeswoman said that the charity would continue to be funded by DfID, the SIDA and Comic Relief for the foreseeable future.
Since 2010, reall’s annual funding has increased tenfold to more than £20m. In 2013/14, the charity had an income of £11.7m.
Through the changes, which will take place over the next two years, reall plans to expand the number of countries and partners with which it works. It is creating a cloud-based banking and software system for use by all of its partners, making it easier to assist them when financial or technical difficulties arise.
New data from the charity revealed that one in five of world’s population will be living in slums by 2020. It is hoped the new strategy will enable reall to have a bigger impact on the growing global slum housing crisis.
Larry English, CEO of reall, said: “Slums are one of the biggest challenges facing the developing world today. By 2020, more than one in five people across the globe will be forced to live in accommodation that denies them the most basic rights of access to capital, adequate sanitation facilities and formal property rights.
“reall can make a meaningful and positive difference to slum housing conditions through sustainable development and long-term financing strategies. We are determined to build a network of community organisations that can tackle this problem effectively. Our goal is to be at the forefront of urban slum house enterprise.
“Today we are calling on governments and investors around the world to create sustainable, long-term solutions to the slum problems of so many people across Africa and Asia. We believe that private commercial finance has an important role to play in building the communities, and the markets, of the future.”
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NATIONAL:Riverside reports ‘excellent’ financial results
After interest costs of £34m, the Group achieved surplus before property sales of £34m, with a further £15m realised from sales through the asset management programme.
The Group has achieved the improvement over last year through a continued focus on operating costs and a strong performance from its commercial activities. Riverside’s development companies, Prospect and Compendium Living, have taken advantage of the market upturn and the expansion of the in-house repairs company, Evolve, has reduced the VAT cost on repairs.
Joy Baggaley, chief financial officer, said the surpluses would enable Riverside to continue to realise its vision of transforming lives and revitalising neighbourhoods.
She said: “We have a very clear focus on re-investing our surpluses in a way that brings maximum benefits to our customers and communities, whilst retaining enough in the bottom line to maintain the financial resilience and security we need to make choices about how we run and grow our business in the future.
“This year we have funded £8m of community regeneration initiatives, providing the increasingly vital additional services that can make all the difference to low income households in harsh economic times - services such as money advice, affordable warmth and help with finding employment. At a time of unprecedented cuts to local authority budgets, these services are helping thousands of our customers around the country to maintain their tenancies and lead more resilient lives.
“The Group also runs a thriving care and support business that accounts for around a third of our turnover and employs 1,452 staff. We’re more than holding our own in this highly competitive market, whilst still being one of the few major providers in the sector to pay our staff at least the Living Wage.
“At the same time as supporting our communities today, we aim to protect the strength of our balance sheet so that we can continue to fund development for the future in a low grant environment. Of our reserves of £311m, generated over our 86 year history, £252m, or 81 per cent, has been invested into building new homes and maintaining existing ones. And of course, a strong balance sheet offers protection against future risks.”
The Group has also performed well against the demanding targets it set in its first Value for Money self assessment last year, achieving or exceeding 75 per cent of its measures. Operational performance has also been strong. Particularly important is the result of Riverside’s response to changes in welfare benefits, with increased focus on cash collection and void management controlling cash leakage measures.
Ms Baggaley is clear that the risk attaching to new welfare benefits rules is one example of the need for prudence in running a charitable business.
She added: “Our financial results this year bring improvement in gearing and interest cover as we achieve an appropriate trade-off between the immediate rewards of in-year investment with the longer term benefits of retaining surplus to build up our balance sheet.”
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NATIONAL:Annual landlord revenue ‘tops £32bn’
Direct Line for Business (DL4B) said that London landlords collect the largest proportion of private rental income in England at £14bn per year, more than the North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and East Anglia combined.
In total, 44 per cent of the entire country’s rent is paid in London. Outside the capital, Leeds pays the greatest amount of any city, with annual private rent totalling £565 million, followed by Birmingham (£521m) and Manchester (£401m).
The research reveals that London and the Home Counties dominate rental incomes, with the highest average rents sitting in Inner London (£19,596 per year or £1,633 per month). Elmbridge, Surrey, has the highest rents outside London, worth (£18,948 per year or £1,579 per month), followed by South Bucks, where monthly rental costs are £1,530 in the private sector.
Despite this dominance, landlords outside of these regions can also make a healthy rental income. Many areas outside the London commuter belt can command high rental costs, for example Bath and North Somerset, and the Cotswolds both command annual rental incomes of more than £11,000 per year.
Outside of London, Bournemouth leads the line in terms of private rentals with 30 per cent of households there privately rented. The isles of Scilly (29.7 per cent) and Brighton and Hove (29.6 per cent) follow in second and third place respectively. Across the country, Inner London has the highest proportion of private renters, at 30.7 per cent.
Jazz Gakhal head of Direct Line for Business, said: “Buy to let is becoming an increasingly attractive option for people as property prices continue to soar.
“Landlords and potential landlords looking to take advantage of this should also appreciate the risks involved. Bad payers and potential damage to property are but just a few of the costs that can lead to landlords paying out 25 per cent of the revenues they receive in rental payments annually. Taking the necessary precautions such as letting through an agency and taking out landlord insurance can help to alleviate concerns and ease the rental process.”
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NATIONAL:Newly launched United Living Group positions itself for growth
Together the organisations have a joint turnover of around £300 million and both have a great track record for delivering sustainable social housing schemes across the country. Bullock’s geographical reach covers the North West, Midlands, Wales and the East of England while United House Limited focuses mainly on London.
Ian Burnett, the current chief executive of Bullock Construction, becomes CEO of the new United Living Group. Jeffrey Adams continues his role as chairman of United House Developments and also as chairman of the London region of the new United Living Group. Rick de Blaby continues as CEO of United House Developments.
Ian Burnett said: “This merger brings together two great companies with a strong pedigree for delivering sustainable social housing solutions across the North, Midlands, Wales and London and the South East. The joining of both organisations creates real opportunity for us to continue delivering the high quality products and excellent customer service we are known for across a much wider market.
“Also the focussed geographical presence of each business ensures a neat overlap and which allows us to become a truly national business, integrating a strong management team from both companies to offer best practice, improved operating processes and delivering greater value for money.
“Both organisations share similar values with corporate responsibility at the heart of their business dealings.”
Jeffrey Adams said: “United Living Group is in an unrivalled position to provide a nationwide solution to the housing crisis. The need for new, affordable housing has never been greater. Our clients are looking to work with contractors like United Living Group to help unlock assets, deliver more affordable homes and undertake widescale refurbishment of existing rented stock. Between us, we have 110 years experience in the social housing field, working with communities to revitalise areas for the long-term.”
United Living Group will operate from Bullock Construction offices in Aldridge, Walsall, West Midlands, and United House offices in Swanley, Kent. United House Developments, currently based in Covent Garden, will be shortly moving to larger premises in London.
Bullock and United House will continue to trade under current arrangements until full integration is completed in April 2015.
The remaining part of the United House Group, United House Developments, which undertakes large scale mixed-use regeneration and niche speculative residential development, will become independent and is gearing up for a major expansion in the London market where it currently has 10 sites under development with a gross development value of £775m. United Living will continue to work collaboratively with United House Developments on regeneration projects.
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NATIONAL:MPs urge Government to revive failing Green Deal scheme
A report published by the Energy and Climate Change Committee said the Government should now consider new incentives to encourage energy efficiency.
Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee said: “Stamp duty discounts and variable council tax rates could be used to broaden the appeal of energy efficiency improvements and make them even more of a money saver for households. Extra incentives certainly need to be considered, as the Government’s flagship pay-as-you-save finance scheme, the Green Deal, has only delivered a fraction of the expected benefits so far.”
A combination of financial, communication and behavioural barriers has meant that the Green Deal has been slow to attract customers. Green Deal finance is, in principle, an attractive proposition, but the high interest rates attached to the loan, were putting off potential customers as many households are able to find cheaper finance mechanisms elsewhere. DECC’s communication strategy has been confusing and has often conflated different energy efficiency schemes. As a result, the Government has struggled to drum up support even amongst those households that could benefit most from a Green Deal loan.
Tim Yeo added: “The interest rates attached to the Green Deal are simply not financially attractive enough for many households to go to the hassle of setting one up. By its nature this kind of scheme also only appeals to a certain section of the population who are in a position to take out loans on home improvements. Broader incentives could encourage lots more households to take simpler and cheaper steps to improve the energy efficiency of their properties and save money on their energy bills. Insulating our homes to make them warmer will bring benefits both for homeowners and for society, as we enhance our energy security and lower our carbon emissions.”
The MPs are supportive of the principle of the Green Deal but believe the Government needs to set out a clear strategy to revive the scheme and make it both clearer and more appealing to UK households. Alternative financial incentives, and other measures and regulations, should now be considered in tandem with the Green Deal to encourage energy efficiency across wider sections of society.
Richard Lambert, chief executive officer at the National Landlord Association (NLA), has welcomed the report and said: “This report neatly encapsulates all the difficulties and issues we have encountered in trying to support landlords in improving the energy efficiency of their properties using the Green Deal.
“With the General Election in sight, we have to accept that the Green Deal is no longer as high on the list of priorities as it was. Nevertheless, Ministers should use the Committee’s recommendations as the blueprint to reinvigorating a flagship policy that has frankly so far failed landlords, the industry and the millions of tenants across the UK who rely on its implementation to improve their quality of life.”
NATIONAL:Entries invited for National Home Improvement Council awards
Entries are invited for categories across a spectrum of housing modernisation projects and associated activities including, Home Improvement Journalist of the Year, Energy Efficiency in Local Communities, Gas Safety in Social Housing, Best Home Improvement Glazing Project, Excellence in Roofing and Glazing Services with Community Benefit.
Key sponsors of this year’s NHIC Awards, highly regarded as the premier event in this sector, include Bathroom Manufacturers Association, British Gas, Gas Safety Trust, Glass & Glazing Federation, National Federation of Roofing Contractors and Quality Assured National Warranties.
Companies and organisations working in disciplines covered by the award categories can enter a project completed within the past year. In this way they can take advantage of an opportunity to raise the profile of the many inspirational initiatives that are characteristic of our nation’s outstanding ingenuity in the field of housing.
Entry is free by visiting www.nhic.org.uk and clicking on NHIC Annual Awards to register and select an appropriate category. The entry form can be downloaded and must be submitted with any supporting documents by the closing date, Friday 3rd October 2014.
The winners will be announced at a special luncheon at the Gladstone Library, One Whitehall Place, London SW1 on Thursday 13h November 2014.
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NATIONAL:CIH calls for spending shift from benefits to building homes
The report, from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), concludes that short-term measures that cut the amount of benefits people can receive (such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and the benefit cap) do nothing to tackle the causes of welfare dependency and are unlikely to have any significant impact in reversing it.
Using 2013/14 prices, spending on housing benefit has risen from £16.5 billion in 1996/97 to £24.4bn in 2012/13 – a 48 per cent real terms increase. CIH said the main drivers are increasing rents (for both private and social rented homes), the growth in insecure employment (such as zero hours contracts) and the falling value of wages (in real terms).
The report recommends a fundamental shift in housing, labour market and regional policy, including:
- Substantially increasing investment in low-cost rented homes that are genuinely affordable, partly through increased grant rates for new social homes and partly by allowing local authorities to borrow more so they can build more homes
- Making sure that housing and welfare policies are more strongly linked to meet the common aim of helping workers escape welfare
- Allowing councils to use more of the cash from right to buy sales to make sure that every home sold is replaced by a new one for social rent
- Scrapping the bedroom tax
- Creating regional grant rates and rent-setting mechanisms to reflect the country’s widely differing housing markets
- Making consideration of current and future rent affordability for local workers a key element in the assessment criteria for the social housing grant bidding regime.
The biggest factor is the increase in rents that claimants have to pay – not only in the growing private rented sector but in the social rented sector because of a combination of rent restructuring, successive above inflation rent increases and more recently the shift towards market-based housing such as new tenancies under the ‘affordable housing programme’ which are let at up to 80 per cent of the market rent.
And the growth in insecure employment and the falling value of wages means that benefits are increasingly subsidising low pay - the number of people in work who still have to claim housing benefit has more than doubled from around 445,000 to just over a million in the last five years.
CIH chief executive Grainia Long (pictured) said: “The housing benefit bill has increased so significantly because of the problems in our housing and labour markets – we need to tackle those issues rather than relying on stop gap measures which at their worst can increase poverty and misery for already poor and vulnerable people.
"If the Government really wants to cut welfare spending, it should be subsidising the construction of genuinely affordable homes not housing benefit. Combine that with action on low pay and unemployment and we have a chance to create a welfare system that works for the long term.”
Ticking the box...for a welfare system that works – report (pdf)
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NATIONAL:'Bank of Mum and Dad' give an average of £23k to first time buyers
Highlighting the increasing strain on the 'Bank of Mum and Dad', the same poll also found that a fifth of parents helping their children onto the housing ladder had done so using savings set aside for retirement or elderly care.
However, for the majority of parents – already feeling financially squeezed themselves – being able to help their children buy a home just isn’t possible. Shelter's research shows that 60 per cent of UK parents are unable to save any money for their children’s future.
Unless politicians commit to building more affordable homes, young people and families who can’t rely on help from their parents will find that a home of their own becomes an ever more distant dream, the charity argues.
Norman Bainbridge from Southampton helped both his daughter and son with the deposits for their first homes.
“Without financial help our children would never have been able to afford their own places. With house prices rising all the time and rent eating up most of their income it would have taken them decades to save,” he said.
“It’s horrendous for any young person trying to get their own home today. Renting can be very unstable; my daughter didn’t want to start a family without the security of a home of her own, so without our help with the deposit I wouldn’t now have my beautiful granddaughter.
“We’ve had to dig deep into our savings, but at least we had savings to dip into – many don’t have this option.”
Chief executive of Shelter, Campbell Robb (pictured), said: “When parents are having to hand over such vast sums of money to help their children afford a stable home, it is yet another sign that the housing market is spinning out of control.
“A whole generation of young people are working hard and saving hard, but our desperate shortage of affordable homes still leaves them priced out.
“A pay-out from the Bank of Mum and Dad can’t be the next generation’s only chance of affording a home of their own. Politicians need to give back hope to all those left priced out by building the affordable homes they are crying out for.
“From a new generation of part rent part buy homes, to encouraging smaller builders back into the market, it is possible to turn the tide on the housing shortage, but only with the right innovation, investment and political will. It’s time for politicians from all parties to turn their talk into action.”
Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, said: “Shelter’s report fails to take account of the wide range of measures we have taken which have helped thousands of aspiring homeowners on to the property ladder and got Britain building.”
He added that developers were building more “as a direct result of our Help to Buy schemes” which, he said, had helped more than 50,000 people buy with a fraction of the deposit they would normally require.
“Since 2010 we’ve delivered nearly half a million new homes, including nearly 200,000 affordable homes, with plans to invest billions of pounds more in an affordable homes programme which will deliver the fastest rate of affordable housebuilding for two decades.”
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NATIONAL:Home Group launches major gas safety campaign
Campaigners are calling on the Government to beef up legal powers to allow regulated social landlords to access their properties to carry out mandatory gas safety checks.
Home Group, one of the UK’s largest social housing providers, is working with the Association of Gas Safety Managers (AGSM) to launch its Gas Access campaign to stop tenants playing ‘Russian roulette’ with their and their neighbours’ lives by refusing access to gas safety engineers.
The Law rightly requires all landlords to carry out annual safety checks on any properties they own which have gas supplies.
But, while Local Authorities can get same-day court orders to force entry to properties where tenants refuse access to gas engineers, it can take up to four months for social housing providers to gain access.
Home Group, which manages 55,000 homes across 200 local authorities in the UK, is working with CORGI Technical Services, the UK’s most trusted gas safety provider, and the AGSM, whose members service 2m social homes, to call for a change in the law to give regulated landlords the same timely access as their local authority counterparts.
New data shows that the delays caused by 14,500 tenants who refuse access to properties costs housing providers £493,690,890 over a 10-year period.
Mark Henderson, chief executive at Home Group (pictured), has issued a stark warning: "Current legislation is dangerous and expensive. This has to change now. It is far too difficult for registered and responsible social landlords to gain access to their properties to allow qualified inspectors the time to make appropriate health checks and the requisite servicing of boilers.
"Without being allowed to make those checks, lives are being put at risk - not just the lives of the people in these properties, but the lives of their neighbours too. All we ask is that social landlords be given the same timely access as our colleagues at Local Authorities."
The Gas Access campaign has set up a petition and a dedicated campaign website to generate UK-wide support to encourage the Government to adapt existing legislation to allow quicker access to properties.
Specifically, it calls for an amendment to the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 to insert specific rights of entry that would be granted by the Courts if all reasonable access attempts had been made.
Claire Heyes, chief executive of the AGSM, said: "Now is the time for action. Working collaboratively across the industry, we are demanding change for all the right reasons – safety, strong governance and responsibility in the spending of public money. Home Group has taken a firm stance on this and together we are putting ‘rights of access’ under the political spotlight and calling for change. Over two million housing association homes are impacted by the current burdensome system – the cost of this is staggering.
"The existing framework does not deliver value for money and safety is being compromised. We will be putting forward a range of measures to bring gas safety management issues up to date so that they are fit for purpose."
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NATIONAL:RICS report sets out bold new vision for property market
Among a raft of recommendations, the RICS Property in Politics report recommends the introduction of a new land classification, Amberfield - which would create a pipeline of ‘ready to go’ land, increasing housing supply and promoting development opportunities.
Under RICS proposals, local authorities and communities will have to work together to label sites favourable for development as Amberfield and each Local Plan will have to include a set quota of Amberfield, ready to be developed for housing. The quota is expected to be set between 30 and 50 percent but the framework and guidelines for each quota would be open to consultation in order to match the specific needs of each Local Authority and community.
Amberfield sites would have to be developed within 5 years and therefore Local Authorities will be required to approve planning consent for Amberfield within a set time frame, otherwise the Authority would risk being classed as ‘failing’ under the RICS proposed assessment. The new classification will enable local housing needs to be met and would create a 5 year land supply that works for communities and builders. The community will have better understanding of the planning process, more control over what is built where, and be able to see the long term development plan.
While both brownfield and greenfield play an important role in the current planning system, both classifications block or slow development and local growth is being impeded by extensive battles to bring forward land. Amberfield will speed up the process and take out cost for both developers and local authorities - enabling homes to be built faster on the agreed sites. It will provide certainty to investors, unlocking development opportunities, and will also encourage local infrastructure investment.
The review of land classification, coupled with the other RICS recommendations - including Development Delivery Units (DDUs) and a nationwide housing zones programme - will cut through the bureaucracy barriers, speeding up housing delivery and encouraging cooperation across local authority boundaries, stitching together the regions.
The RICS Property in Politics report is the result of the largest consultation ever undertaken by RICS, with property professionals from across England sharing insight into the biggest challenges currently facing housing, planning & development, construction and infrastructure and what actions a future Government should take to remedy them.
Jeremy Blackburn, RICS head of policy (pictured), said: “A new classification labelled Amberfield would speed up the delivery of appropriate housing stock. The housing market plays a fundamental part in the UK economy and adequate, affordable housing supply is vital to the UK’s economic growth. The planning system needs to be responsive to the needs of customers and increased confidence is needed in which sites can be taken forward.
“We would suggest a quota of 50 per cent Amberfield for most Local Authorities as it would enable them to deliver the appropriate housing stock required, but it is important to match the quota to the needs of the local community.
“Housing must be a common theme across a range of policy areas, and the actions we are calling for would add real impetus to housing delivery. Successive Governments have failed to achieve delivery of the appropriate housing stock we require and we need reform now to give certainty for long-term investment.”
Property in Politics Recommendations in full
The report puts forward 12 recommendations that RICS believe should be implemented by a future Government to build a vibrant, sustainable property marketplace in the UK. RICS calls on a future Government to:
• implement Development Delivery Units and Housing Zones
• issue Property Tax Forward Guidance within its first 100 days
• deliver a Professional Private Rented Sector (PRS)
Planning & Development
• introduce Amberfield: a new planning class
• embed Local Plan Enforcement
• lead a Resource Revolution in Planning
• create a National Procurement Framework
• introduce a Construction Skills Investment Charter
• implement a Construction Finance Hub
• produce a National Infrastructure Delivery Plan
• promote ‘Olympic–style’ Infrastructure Delivery Partners
• setup an Infrastructure Commission
RICS Property in Politics (pdf)
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NATIONAL:Blog: Tenants closer than ever to the end of ‘revenge evictions’
The bill seeks to prevent a ‘revenge eviction’ by clarifying when a Section 21 notice cannot be served. This notice allows landlords to regain possession of a property by giving tenants just two months’ notice and no explanation why.
Citizens Advice has a plethora of evidence to demonstrate that the Section 21 notice has been used to evict tenants, not for falling behind on rent, not for mistreating a property but for quite the opposite: requesting essential property repairs.
By far the biggest cause of homelessness for private renters is the landlord ending their contract and not because tenants have fallen behind on their bills.
The Tenancies (Reform) Bill 2014 cannot come soon enough, as the problem is only getting worse. In the past year, Citizens Advice helped with 38 per cent more eviction problems (compared to the previous year), in cases where people were up to date on their rent.
In February, Zara* came to her local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in London for help after reporting several repair issues repeatedly to her landlord to no avail. She has four children and was worried that severe mould in the bathroom and children’s bedrooms could be damaging their health. It had already caused the window frames to rot and damaged several of their belongings. That wasn’t the only issue. Zara couldn’t cook for the children because the oven door was missing and the cooker was broken.
The bureau helped her to send a complaint with accompanying pictures to the local environmental health officer, who inspected the property and issued an informal notice for improvements to the landlord. Shortly afterwards the landlord issued the tenant with a Section 21 eviction notice and she was forced to move out of the property.
Shockingly, because of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, Zara’s landlord was well within his legal rights to evict her.
Preventing landlords from evicting people from their homes, simply for asking for essential property repairs, is a matter of basic fairness and is long overdue.
Our Tenant’s Dilemma report exposed the scandal of retaliatory evictions in 2007. Since then Citizens Advice, Shelter and others have been calling on past and present governments to legislate to provide better protection for tenants.
Government backing and cross party support for the Tenancies (Reform) Bill 2014 is a fantastic step towards securing these vital protections. It will have its second reading on 28 November. We urge all MPs to get behind it to ensure it gets on to the statute book.
*Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of our clients.
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NATIONAL:LHC members benefit from £20m efficiency saving
Figures released in the LHC annual review for 2013/14 reveal that from April 2013 to March 2014, LHC frameworks were used 229 times by 132 customers on 512 different projects across the UK.
This usage has helped customers save 326,325 hours of work, producing a saving of over £20.3m.
Members have also each benefitted from share of a £2.1m surplus generated in 2013/14 with £135k of the overall £2.3m surplus retained for investment.
As a not-for-profit organisation, LHC distributes any annual surplus of income proportionally amongst its members. Distribution is based on project spend throughout the year, providing a bonus saving on project costs.
In the period April 2013 to March 2014, the value of works undertaken on LHC projects reached more than £131m.
Works carried out across the local authority sector totalled over £73m, and whole house refurbishment generated most value, reaching over £57m.
LHC director John Skivington said: “We are very pleased with LHC’s performance in 2013/14, especially in terms of facilitating value for money projects for our members.
“Frameworks are proving to be an efficient route to building refurbishment procurement, and as a specialist and experienced provider, LHC has been well placed to serve public sector customers.
“Our success comes through our commitment to quality and delivering fast and efficient frameworks.
“Providing technically excellent frameworks to public sector users is our goal, and we will continue to strive to develop and enhance them to meet the needs of our customers.”
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NATIONAL:Homeownership becoming an ‘exclusive members club’, new report warns
Broken Market, Broken Dreams reveals that first-time buyers today have to earn more, borrow more, stump up a larger deposit and rely more on family wealth than even a generation ago.
The report found that:
• The average first-time buyer today needs a £30,000 deposit, almost ten times* the deposit required in the early 1980s.
• First-time buyers have an average income of £36,500, compared to the average salary for first-time buyers in the 1980s of £20,000*.
• A first-time buyer has to borrow 3.4 times their annual income on average, compared to first time buyers in 1979 who needed to borrow just 1.7 times their income.
• Two thirds of first-time buyers receive financial help from parents – a figure that has doubled in five years.
As a result homeownership is being pushed out of reach of average earners including nurses, firefighters and plumbers. And with the number of homeowners falling and first-time buyers not getting considerably older, it indicates that the pool of those buying homes is shrinking to those with the greatest wealth.
The struggle younger generations face is being felt across the country. In separate polling by YouGov on behalf of the National Housing Federation almost 80 per cent of people in England think it’s harder to own a home now than it was for their parents’ generation. Eight out of 10 people polled also didn’t believe any of the main political parties would effectively deal with housing.
The research also found that getting the keys to your first home now depends more on family money. Two thirds of first-time buyers now receive financial help from parents or other family members - a figure that has doubled in five years.
Younger people whose parents can’t help financially, can find themselves stuck living in their childhood bedrooms or paying high private rents that make it almost impossible to save.
The National Housing Federation also highlights that fewer first-time buyers in the future could slow down the wider housing market and make it harder for ‘second steppers’ to move up the ladder.
David Orr (pictured), chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “With the high salary, and huge deposit younger generations now need to buy even a modest home, home ownership is quickly becoming an exclusive members club. Sadly, it will depend on the wealth of the family you were born into as much as your own hard work.
“We’ve found that eight out of 10 people don’t believe any of the main political parties will effectively deal with housing, but they still have the chance to put that right. With a bold long term government plan for house building our housing crisis is solvable. We desperately need politicians from all sides to commit to ending the housing crisis within a generation.”
The full report, Broken Market, Broken Dreams, is available to download here.
(*Adjusted to account for inflation)
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NATIONAL:Minister vows to outlaw ‘revenge evictions’
The Bill, which aims to stop the small minority of rogue landlords who, rather than meet their legal duty to keep their properties at a reasonable standard and remove health and safety hazards, instead evict tenants simply for asking for essential repairs to be made, was given backing on the condition that it only targets bad landlords and cannot be used by tenants to frustrate legitimate evictions.
Communities Minister Stephen Williams (pictured) said Sarah Teather MP’s Bill would help root out a minority of spiteful landlords and ensure that tenants are not afraid to ask for better standards in their homes.
The Bill will extend the existing restrictions on a landlord’s power to evict, where they don’t protect a deposit or have a licence they are required to hold, to situations where a health and safety hazard has been identified by environmental health officers.
Whilst the vast majority of landlords offer a good quality professional service a few rogues shirk their legal responsibilities and use the threat of eviction to silence tenants from rightly speaking out against sub-standard and dangerous accommodation.
Accepting a petition from Shelter on revenge evictions, Stephen Williams said: “Our private rental sector is a vital asset, providing a home to 9 million people across the country. So I’m determined to root out the minority of rogue landlords that give it a bad name.
“That’s why we’re backing Sarah Teather’s Bill to outlaw revenge evictions once and for all - ensuring tenants do not face the prospect of losing their home simply because they’ve asked for essential repairs to be made.”
Landlords have opposed the legislation which they think will make it easier for nightmare tenants to cause problems for their communities and landlords alike.
Explaining its opposition, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said the unintended consequences of limiting landlords’ right to re-possess a property could lose market confidence and further buy-to-let investment at a time when the private rented sector is the only area of growth in rented homes.
The RLA claims that by supporting this proposal, Ministers are handing nightmare tenants who bring misery to the lives of their neighbours and landlords alike, another weapon to prevent their removal.
RLA chairman, Alan Ward, said: “Revenge evictions should not have any place in a today’s rental market and we would condemn strongly any landlord caught doing it.
“However, by backing a measure to tackle the minority of criminal landlords, Ministers will be penalising the vast majority of good landlords by making it ever easier for nightmare tenants to hold up eviction proceedings and continue causing misery for communities.
“We need a rational debate. Sadly today’s announcement is once again polarising the sector and giving a false impression that you can be on the side of the landlord or the tenant, but not both.”
The Residential Landlords Association said it is concerned that Stephen Williams MP, in supporting the Bill, has failed to mention the Government’s own statistics that just 9 per cent of tenancies are ended by a landlord largely on the basis of rent not being paid or tenants committing anti-social behaviour.
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NATIONAL:Plans to cut red tape on housebuilding ‘could save £114m a year’
Plans to reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved in housebuilding will save housebuilders and councils £114 million per year while ensuring homes are built to demanding standards, according to the Government.
A package of measures published last week aims to consolidate a range of standards available while building new homes into a core range of five standards.
Communities Minister Stephen Williams said the current selection of standards encourages a ‘pick and mix’ approach that gives an unlimited number of permutations in local rules which creates cost, uncertainty, bureaucracy and duplication for housebuilders.
He said: “We need to build more homes and better quality homes and this Government is delivering on both. It’s now time to go further by freeing up housebuilders from unnecessary red tape and let them get on with the real job building the right homes, in the right places, to help families and first time buyers onto the property ladder.
“The current system of housing standards creates a labyrinth of bureaucratic rules for housebuilders to try and navigate, often of little benefit and significant cost. We are now slashing this mass of unnecessary rules down to just 5 core standards saving housebuilders and councils £114m a year whilst making new homes safer, more accessible to older and disabled people and more sustainable.”
Current housing standards required of new development can be unworkable, including demands for solar and wind energy sources that can’t physically fit onto the roofs of apartment buildings, or unnecessary including compliance regimes which add thousands to the cost of building a new home without any benefit.
The remaining core of five standards will cover:
- security: introducing a national regulation on security standards in all new homes to protect families from burglary
- space: for the first time ever, a national, cross tenure space standard that local authorities and communities can choose to use to influence the size of new homes in their local area
- age friendly housing: new optional building regulations for accessible and adaptable mainstream housing to meet the needs of older and disabled people
- wheelchair user housing: the introduction for the first time of an optional building regulation setting standards for wheelchair housing.
- water efficiency: the ability to set higher water efficiency standards in areas of water shortage
The consultation seeks views on the detailed technical requirements supporting this new approach to housing quality.
The Government proposal is for the security standards to become a new mandatory regulation, and for councils to be able to decide whether to apply the other remaining standards to developments built in their areas.
However Age UK said plans to make housing meet the needs of older and disabled people optional are “incredibly short-sighted”.
Caroline Abrahams (pictured), charity director at Age UK, said: “We are dismayed that the Government is consulting on only optional improvements to new homes to make them age-friendly, not on universal standards. This is a recipe for the current sorry state of affairs to continue, whereby as a country we are continuing to build housing that is totally unsuitable for an ageing population.
“This is incredibly short-sighted and means we are simply storing up problems for future generations. Building all new homes to higher accessibility standards would cost a little more today but would pay off hugely tomorrow.”
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NATIONAL:New measures to protect countryside from ‘planning system abuse’
The minister said the plans will ensure fairness for all in the planning system and provide greater protection for our countryside and the green belt.
Between 2000 and 2009 there was a 4-fold increase in the numbers of unauthorised caravans - which, the minister argued, created tensions between travellers and the settled population.
Measures proposed will ensure those who cause misery to their neighbours by setting up unauthorised sites do not benefit from the very planning rules they choose to ignore.
Brandon Lewis (pictured) said: “We will not sit back and allow people who bypass the law to then benefit from the protection it can offer.
“We have already strengthened the powers that councils have to enforce planning rules and take action against breaches which fuel community tensions. This will not only tackle the abuse of the system but prevent long drawn-out cases like Dale Farm.
“Today’s proposed measures go even further, and would end the perverse incentive for councils not to act when travellers ignore planning rules and set up unauthorised sites.”
Where travellers set up large-scale unauthorised sites, they can cause misery for neighbours as well as significant costs to the council.
Local authorities are then faced with the difficult choice of taking early enforcement action - meaning they are required to meet the needs of travellers being moved on - or simply leave them to continue living on sites without planning permission.
Under the proposals, there would be no assumption that councils facing this problem in their area would have to plan to meet that need, which has only arisen because of large-scale unauthorised sites.
Instead, councils in this situation would simply be required to plan to provide sites for the numbers of travellers they could reasonably expect.
On top of this, it proposes that the definition of travellers in planning law will be changed so that local authorities would only be asked to plan ahead to meet the needs of those who lead a genuine travelling lifestyle.
This would mean any application for a permanent site by someone who has stopped physically travelling would be considered in the same way as an application from the settled population - rather than be considered under policies relating to travellers.
The majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens who abide by planning rules: the proposed measures would ensure travellers who play by the rules are put on an equal footing, giving them the same chance of having a safe place to live and bring up their children as anyone else.
Ministers also want to strengthen the level of protection given to sensitive areas and the green belt against inappropriate traveller site development.
Proposals published would include reducing the circumstances in which temporary permission may be granted, ensuring green belt policy applies to traveller sites in the same way it does for most bricks-and-mortar housing, and that councils should very strictly limit new traveller sites in open countryside.
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NATIONAL:Best practice and developments celebrated at 2014 National Housing Awards
The best and most innovative projects in social housing were celebrated as the National Housing Awards took place at the London Lancaster Hotel last week.
Presented by comedian Patrick Kielty, the awards went to:
Best Design – Panter Hudspith Architects & Affinity Sutton Homes
Best Small Development – Family Mosaic
Best Large Development – Sovereign Living
Best Sustainable Scheme - Octavia Living
Excellence in Customer Service – AmicusHorizon
Best Marketing Campaign – Notting Hill Housing
Best Regeneration Project – L&Q
Best Partnership – Saffron Trust, Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Building Society & PDS
Best Digital Marketing – Paragon Community Housing Trust
Best Scheme in Planning – John Thompson & Partners with Linden Homes, Galliford Try, East London Community Land Trust and Peabody
Most Innovative or Specialist Solution – JOINT WINNERS:
- Viridian Housing
- Housing People, Building Communities & Sanctuary Group
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