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This week's National news (October 20 - October 24)

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NATIONAL:Bidding opens for £800m of Affordable Homes Programme funding

 
Housing providers across England are being invited to bid for a share of around £800 million of Affordable Homes Programme funding, through the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) Continuous Market Engagement (CME) approach. 
 
Yesterday marked the second phase of bidding under the HCA’s £1.7 billion Affordable Homes Programme, following confirmation in July of £886m of initial allocations for 2,697 firm schemes that will deliver 43,821 new affordable homes.
 
The £1.7bn total investment will make a significant contribution to the UK Government’s ambition for 165,000 new affordable homes by March 2018, while boosting overall housing supply and local economic growth.
 
As with the initial phase, schemes brought forward for consideration under Continuous Market Engagement will be subject to rigorous assessment, based on fit with local priorities, value for money and deliverability.
 
Opening up to bids under this approach will allow housing providers further opportunities to bring forward schemes for delivery during the 2015-18 period. These will include specialist, supported or rural housing, which can often require a longer lead time, and these, along with schemes making use of advance housing manufacture, are especially encouraged under CME. 
 
HCA chief executive Andy Rose (pictured) said: “We have already set in place a solid delivery programme that puts us on track to make a significant contribution towards the Government’s aspirations for up to 165,000 new affordable homes by March 2018, while supporting overall housing supply and local people and places. It will also help ensure a smooth transition from our current Affordable Homes Programme, delivering firm schemes that can start on site promptly.
 
“Opening for bidding for the remaining funding under CME will give new and existing partners the opportunity to bring forward bids to meet their future development aspirations. We will use our strong relationships with local authorities to ensure that allocations under the Affordable Homes Programme continue to support local priorities.”
 
Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “The Government is delivering on affordable housing for the communities and people of this country with more than 200,000 new affordable homes since 2010.
 
“Our latest investment is a clear sign of the Government’s continued commitment to increasing the overall housing supply and affordable housing in particular. As well as building homes this funding is also a key part of our long-term economic plan, creating construction jobs as we deliver a further 165,000 new affordable homes from 2015.”

Kevin Willetts, executive director of development with WM Housing, added: “The CME approach means we can develop further schemes in detail before asking for grant, so we can not only react to the changing economy but also present schemes with a higher chance of successful delivery at a cost which we can be more certain of achieving.”

For full details of how to bid, visit GOV.UK.

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NATIONAL:City West Housing Trust calls for better links between health and housing

 
A housing association is calling for radical changes to how homes are provided to elderly and vulnerable people living in the UK, following the release of a report by think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) North.
 
City West Housing Trust, which funded the research, says the current supply of housing for older people is insufficient and often out of touch with the needs of residents, preventing people from remaining in their homes and communities.
 
The North West–based landlord is urging the Government to lead a national debate on the issue of housing for older people – while developing a long-term strategy that bridges the gap between health and housing service.
 
“We are walking blindfolded off the edge of a cliff when it comes to the current system for housing older and vulnerable people in this country,” said Colette McKune, deputy chief executive at City West Housing Trust.
 
“We simply cannot meet the needs of an ageing population with the homes we have, yet there is a severe lack of leadership when it comes to addressing the problem.”
 
The report argues that older residents are being forced out of their homes and communities and into institutional care because the nation’s housing stock is unable to meet their needs – with 95 per cent of homes not fully accessible for older people. However, City West believes that more collaboration between health and housing services could go some way to tackling the problem.
 
Colette (pictured) added: “Poor housing costs the NHS around £1.3 billion each year, yet there remains a huge disconnect between health and housing services in large parts of the country.
 
“It means we have thousands of people sat in hospital beds or care facilities – at great expense to the tax payer and causing untold distress to patients and their families – when some collaborative working could allow them to be treated at home or, better still, prevent them from becoming ill in the first place.
 
“The housing sector wants to open a dialogue with health professionals, but at the moment there is a communications barrier. We need to be much clearer in demonstrating how improving homes benefits the health service.”
 
Recommendations from the report include improving building standards and introducing new incentives to ensure that future homes can better support independent living.
 
“We are now paying the price for a lack of long-term thinking in previous rounds of house building,” said Colette. “We’ve been left with homes that in many cases cannot support us into old age.
 
“Bigger and better properties supplemented with a high quality support offer from both health and housing professionals will mean that people can live longer in their own homes.   
 
“However, we are also facing a major housing shortage, and commitments to house building will no doubt feature prominently throughout the upcoming election campaign. We need to strike a balance between quality and quantity, to ensure that our children and grandchildren do not find themselves facing the same problem.”
 
While City West believes that a commitment to building higher quality homes can contribute to a long-term solution, the landlord is calling for a national debate on how we can deliver housing schemes that can prove an attractive proposition to older residents.
 
City West spent a number of years developing its own care home offer which is based on the principals of ‘intentional communities’ and is designed to ensure that facilities for older and vulnerable people remain at the heart of neighbourhoods.
 
“While there are examples of good practice across the market, at present nobody has all the answers about how to tackle this problem, which is why we decided to fund this report with IPPR,” added Colette.
 
“When you consider the current housing offer for older residents, you can understand why people want to remain in their own home, even if it might not be suitable or accessible.
 
“There is a stigma attached to many residential care facilities and lots of residents feel the homes available do not meet their needs. 
 
“There will always be a need for supported housing but the image surrounding the offer needs to change, and that will only come if we secure buy-in from the public and build desirable homes in places they want to live.
 
“We need to change the national attitude to older people’s housing in the same way we have changed our views on pensions. For previous generations the challenge was to encourage people to take control of their financial future as they entered old age, but for current generations we must encourage them to think about where they will want to live later in life.”
 






NATIONAL:MPs and Peers to consider evictions legislation

 
The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector has launched a short inquiry into Sarah Teather MP’s Bill to tackle the problem of retaliatory evictions in private rented housing.
 
Retaliatory evictions are commonly understood to have taken place where a tenant asked their landlord to carry out repairs to their properties and the landlord responds by serving notice on them to leave the home. Tenants and landlord organisations dispute the extent to which such evictions take place.
 
Sarah Teather MP’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill seeks to protect tenants against such evictions and to amend the law on notices seeking possession relating to assured short hold tenancies.
 
The Group has launched its inquiry to understand the impact that the legislation would have on the sector, the extent of the problem it seeks to address and what, if any, changes could be made to improve it.
 
All interested organisations are invited to submit evidence and a report will be produced with recommendations being made to Ministers before the Committee Stage of the Bill.
 
As well as written submissions, members will take oral evidence from experts on the 27th October and 3rd November.
 
Announcing the inquiry, the Group’s Chairman, Oliver Colvile, Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport (pictured) said: “The issue of evictions in rented homes is incredibly emotive and needs to be treated sensitively.
 
“Tenants rightly deserve protections from rogue landlords whilst landlords also need protections to be able to swiftly remove tenants who breach the terms of their contracts.
 
“With landlord and tenant groups in disagreement over the need for this Bill the Group will seek to reach a consensus on the best way forward that is fair to all sides.”
 
Those with an interest in these subjects are invited to provide written submissions of no more than 1,000 words with a one page executive summary to Ed Jacobs on admin@prs-group.org.uk.
 
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NATIONAL:Blog: The Association of Tenancy Relations Officers

 
By Dave Hickling, chair of the Association of Tenancies Relations Officers.
 
Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) were introduced in order to breathe life into the private rented housing market. These tenancies with no fixed period were designed to encourage short term letting at a time when the risks of letting and the difficulties of recovering possession were discouraging would-be landlords.
 
No one can deny that the sector is now pretty healthy and is continuing to go from strength to strength, often at the expense of owner occupation and more secure, public sector letting.

Regardless of whether it might be time to turn down some of the fuel to the private rented market’s expansion, one of the negative consequences of removing long term security of tenure for private tenants has been its impact on tenants’ willingness to report repairs.
 
Housing advisers and local authority officers dealing with private rented homes see examples of retaliatory (or revenge) evictions on a regular basis. These evictions are not only unfair and devastating to those affected, they also present a significant impediment to local authorities’ attempts to improve physical standards. The fear of eviction deters tenants from complaining.
 
Any responsible housing adviser is duty bound to make private tenants aware that a possible consequence of raising a complaint is that the landlord will issue a section 21 notice. Many private tenants are well aware that they can very easily be evicted – more easily than in most European countries and American states.
 
In a recent case I was involved in, after a telephone discussion with another council officer about the merits or reporting a repair to his local authority, a private tenant concluded that: our rights are very limited, and our landlord can basically do as he pleases –we can be evicted if we complain that our landlord isn’t carrying out repairs he should be. We never heard from the tenant again or received details of his complaint.
 
There is a ‘rationale’ behind retaliatory eviction for the irresponsible landlord, especially when alternative tenants are easy to come by. Tenants differ hugely both in the strength and resolve required to make a complaint, and in terms of their alternative housing options.
 
The legality of retaliatory eviction therefore encourages unscrupulous landlords to seek out the most vulnerable. When evicting a ‘troublesome’ tenant, these landlords may be confident of finding a more ‘compliant’ tenant, who is far less likely to raise issues about standards of management.
 
Also, where a hard-pressed Local Authority is dealing with a complaint it is less likely that any action will be followed through once the complainant leaves and the landlord’s future intentions for the property are unclear.
 
Sarah Teather’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill will make tenants feel more protected, and much more confident in reporting problems to us.
 
It will also encourage more responsible behaviour from landlords. They will know that their powers to evict will be severely curtailed if they don’t keep their properties in good repair- or they don’t make the necessary safety checks. If enacted, we are hopeful that this Bill will make less diligent landlords more careful about doing repairs and safety checks in the first place.
 
Case Study 1
In March 2014, Wendy complains to her Council’s Private Housing Team about various disrepair problems in her private tenancy. A Council Officer visits and finds amongst other things, damp and mould, leaking pipes and bath, dangerous wiring, no gas safety certificate, faulty fire detectors external doors in disrepair and the shower not working properly. The Officer writes to the landlord and 2 days later the landlord rings Wendy and angrily tells her she has to go, later following this up with a section 21 Notice. There were no issues with the rent account or other allegations of wrong doing by the tenant.
 
Case Study 2
In July 2014 Haley complains to her Council’s Private Housing Team because she has serious concern for her family about damp, mould and cold in her private rented tenancy. A Council Officer visits and contacts the landlord, raising concerns about serious damp and mould in the living and bedrooms, lack of insulation, leaking roof and gutters and a lack of mechanical fans in the bathroom and kitchen. The landlord is unresponsive and so over the next month, the Council Officer repeatedly tries to contact the landlord and writes again on 13 August. On 18 August, the tenant receives a section 21 notice with no explanation and having received no contact regarding any problems with the tenancy.

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NATIONAL:Call to release potential of social housing in employment support

 
The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) and Give Us a Chance Consortium (GUAC) have launched a joint manifesto which seeks to make the case for the greater involvement of social housing in employment support.
 
The manifesto, launched at the annual GUAC House of Commons reception on Tuesday, in front of employment minister, Esther McVey, and shadow employment minister, Stephen Timms, makes a series of recommendations for implementation following the 2015 General Election.
 
The manifesto calls for action to make it easier for social housing providers to take on publicly funded employment contracts and an increase in the co-ordination and integration of services to support social housing tenants.
 
It also call for support to increase the capacity of social housing providers to provide good quality employment related support to their residents.
 
In addition, the manifesto recognises the specific role social housing can play in employment support.  Social housing providers tend to have strong relationships with their residents; may have particular expertise in relation to working with certain social groups, such as homeless people; plus enjoy large scale purchasing power which can be used to influence their suppliers, ensuring they create opportunities for residents such as apprenticeships.
 
The release date of the manifesto is also timed to coincide with government thinking on future employment contracting post the current round of employment support contracts.
 
Kirsty McHugh (pictured), chief executive of ERSA, said: “Too many social housing tenants remain unemployed. It is therefore in all our interests to maximise the amount of support available to individuals and communities struggling to find work. We could see a step change in the collaboration between the social housing and employment support sectors, but we need government to play its part to make it happen.”
 
Kate Shone, chair of the Give Us a Chance Consortium, said: “Social housing has been at the forefront of much innovative practice in employment support, but we can as a sector do far more. The recommendations in this manifesto are aimed at helping release the potential of social housing providers, meaning more tenants find or create work.”

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NATIONAL:Duncan Smith warns against setting ‘arbitrary’ Universal Credit deadlines


A new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report has appeared to signal yet another delay to the Universal Credit welfare scheme.
 
Secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith said ‘Universal Credit at Work’, which was published yesterday, is a comprehensive report which outlines progress to date and details “some encouraging early results” from pilot projects.
 
But on the ambition to transfer all 7.7 million claimants by 2017, Mr Duncan Smith (pictured) said that was the DWP’s “belief at the moment under the system that we are running,” before warning that “arbitrary dates and deadlines are the enemy of secure delivery”.
 
The admission increases the likelihood that from 2016 to well into 2018, Britain will have a two-tier welfare system with some people on Universal Credit and millions not.
 
The DWP originally promised to have one million people on Universal Credit by April 2014, but the project has been delayed a number of times since its creation. Currently 14,170 are claiming the credit, which is expected to rise to 100,000 by May 2015 and 500,000 by May 2016.
 
The report said Universal Credit would boost the economy by £7 billion a year once it is up and running and an estimated 300,000 households have found work.
 
It also said a survey of 900 claimants suggested people worked more and spent more time looking for work.
 
According to the report, the scheme is on track to help people move out of unemployment more quickly.
 
Those who are on Universal Credit report that they are working more over a 6-month period – 69 per cent under Universal Credit, compared with 65 per cent under Jobseeker’s Allowance, while 65 per cent of people finding Universal Credit a better financial incentive to work.
 
It said that people find Universal Credit easier to understand and consider Universal Credit a better reward for additional work and that households on Universal Credit do more to find work – nearly double the number of hours of job search compared to Jobseeker’s Allowance.
 
Iain Duncan Smith said: “Universal Credit will help people into work more quickly and help them to earn more, giving people the confidence that work always pays, along with the economic security of a regular pay packet. As a key part of our long term economic plan, not only does Universal Credit ensure that work always pays, but it will also make a significant contribution to our economy.”

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NATIONAL:UK house building hits highest level for seven years


New house building figures released by National House Building Council (NHBC) today show that new home registrations have hit their highest level since 2007.
 
The figures for Q3 2014 reveal that overall new home registrations have increased 8 per cent on the same period last year with the private sector continuing to be the main driver of growth. These figures represent the highest year to date figures and the highest Q3 figures since 2007.
 
In total, 36,343 new homes were registered with NHBC between July and September this year (28,468 private sector; 7,875 public sector), compared to 33,573 (24,984 private sector; 8,589 public sector) for the same period in 2013. This represents a 14 per cent increase for the private sector, with the public sector still under-performing when compared to last year's figures.
 
NHBC anticipates that public sector registrations will begin to grow again as the next phase of the Government's Affordable Housing Programme has recently been allocated.
 
However the figures also warned that small builders are still struggling to raise finance from “risk averse” lenders.
 
The NHBC also carried out research among around 500 small builders and developers to find out what obstacles they are facing, as many smaller companies are not showing growth as the recovery gains momentum.
 
Around a quarter of smaller companies (22 per cent) cited obtaining finance as a challenge. For many, the unwillingness of banks to lend, together with the conditions imposed appeared to be “serious barriers to their business”, the NHBC found.
 
It quoted one small builder as saying: “The large banks impose impossible conditions on small builders. They continually change their staff and don’t understand the business.”
 
The NHBC said that in general, skills shortages being seen by firms across the country, with bricklayers, carpenters and decorators all in strong demand. More needs to be done to improve the availability of skilled tradesmen, it said.
 
NHBC's chief executive Mike Quinton (pictured) said: "We are very encouraged to see that house building is again beginning to show signs of accelerated growth across the UK. Following the dramatic growth in 2013, we saw a period of consolidation in the first half of this year, but our latest data would suggest that the pace of growth is picking up again.
 
"Our figures show that the sharp housing upturn we have seen over the last couple of years is a genuine broad-based recovery across the whole of the country, with pockets of strong growth in the North East, Yorkshire & Humberside and West Midlands. It is now increasingly apparent that housing growth is no longer London and South-East centric, with these regions beginning to show signs of cooling.
 
"However we must not lose sight of the fact that the UK still has a chronic shortage of new homes. We have seen over recent weeks that all the main political parties regard housing as an ongoing key issue, reinforcing the fact that the country urgently needs more high quality and affordable new homes."

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NATIONAL:Herefordshire Housing given A2 rating by Moody’s


Herefordshire Housing Limited (HHL) has been assigned an A2 issuer rating with a ‘stable’ outlook by Moody’s.
 
Moody’s said the rating “reflects HHL's focus on social housing activities, balanced growth ambitions with clear tenure and geographic focus, simple organisational structure and historically strong coverage ratios”.
 
The rating also reflects the downward trend in operating margin and coverages in the medium term following the debt restructure, increase in levels of sales activities, and scaling up of the development programme.
 
Moody's believes that the West Midlands-based housing association’s business plan will "deliver in line with historical performance".






NATIONAL:Danny Alexander MP to give 2014 Shelter Scotland lecture


Chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander MP is to give the 2014 Shelter Scotland lecture – ‘Housing and the health of the UK economy’.
 
The lecture will consider the critical role housing plays in the UK and Scottish economies and what the priorities are for the Coalition Government ahead of the 2015 General Election.
 
Mr Alexander (pictured), who represents the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency at Westminster, will give his lecture tomorrow in Edinburgh in front of an invited audience of housing professionals, public and private organisations and opinion formers from across Scotland. The lecture will be chaired by Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh.
 
Danny Alexander MP said: “Tackling the housing crisis and building new homes is a major priority for this Government, so I’m delighted to be speaking at the Shelter Scotland lecture about how we can build the 300,000 new homes we need for families across Scotland and the UK.”
 
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, added: “We are pleased that chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander has agreed to deliver our 2014 lecture and thank him for doing so.
 
“This lecture takes place against a backdrop of recognition across the political spectrum that Scotland and the UK are facing the most serious housing crisis in generations. At this time of ongoing constitutional discussion and change in Scotland, this lecture will provide food for thought on ways to tackle this crisis and the broader economic and social impact of investing in housing.”

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NATIONAL:Jephson Raglan merger gets HCA go ahead


The merger of Jephson and Raglan has been given the go ahead by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
 
The new organisation will be called Stonewater and will be one of the UK’s most significant social housing providers, both in terms of assets and geographic spread with around £160 million in turnover and £1.6 billion in assets.
 
The HCA gave their green light to the merger in September; HCA and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) approval to Jephson, Marches and Raglan Rule changes should be finalised in time for the merger to take effect from 1 January 2015.
 
George Blunden, chair of Stonewater’s Board Designate Committee (BDC) and current Raglan chair said: “This is excellent news and a significant step forward in the merger process. It means we can press on with the necessary steps to complete the merger and to create a dynamic new organisation, delivering meaningful benefits for residents, employees, the business and our working partners.
 
“We are all looking forward to working towards our goal - which is for everyone to have the opportunity to have a place they can call home, particularly those who may be disadvantaged or vulnerable and whose needs are not met by the open market.”
 
Bob Strachan, Stonewater CEO once the merger takes effect, added: “I am delighted the merger is approved by the HCA. We have a tremendous opportunity in combining the already strong, successful Jephson and Raglan organisations. Coming together as Stonewater means we can deliver substantial benefits for residents and increase the range of affordable homes to meet an ever growing need.
 
“While ongoing merger talks and planning have been taking place, the Associations’ staff have continued to deliver excellent customer service and maintain business as usual, which is greatly appreciated. Their hard work, dedication and focus on customers are a sound foundation for what we are sure will be a very successful future for Stonewater.”
 
Planning for the merger is ongoing with staff involved and consulted as the process gathers momentum.

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NATIONAL:UK will miss 2020 child poverty target due to broken housing market and welfare cuts


The next Government will need to adopt radical new approaches if poverty is to be beaten, mobility improved and if Britain is to avoid becoming a permanently divided society, a new report has concluded.
 
The second annual State of the Nation Report which was published and laid before Parliament this week from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCP), concluded that there is no way the Government can meet the statutory target to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
 
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reported that 17 per cent of children in England were living in relative poverty in 2014. That compared with 19 per cent of children in Scotland. It also found that the number of children in absolute poverty in England was 19 per cent. The corresponding proportion in Scotland was 20 per cent.
 
The report says that while a strong economic recovery and a record number of people in work are welcome, the social recovery needed to get Britain back on track to abolish child poverty has not happened. Instead it predicts 2020 is set to mark the end of the first decade since records began without a fall in absolute poverty.
 
It stated: “2020 could mark a watershed between an era in which for decades there have been rising living standards shared by all and a future era where rising living standards by-pass the poorest in society.”
 
The report warns that the link between effort and reward on which social mobility relies has been broken by changes in the housing market - with home ownership rates halving among young people in 20 years - and the labour market - with 5 million workers trapped in low pay.
 
When combined with cuts in welfare and public spending, these changes put Britain on track to become a permanently divided nation unless radical new approaches are taken by the next Government to meet this 2020 challenge. It finds no political party is being honest about the impact of planned spending cuts or has sufficiently ambitious plans to tackle entrenched levels of low pay.
 
It comes to the reluctant conclusion that there is no way the Government can meet the statutory target to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and calls on the next government to supplement the existing targets with new measures to give a more rounded picture of poverty and to publish a new timescale for achieving them.
 
The State of the Nation 2014 document states: “What is currently happening in the housing market epitomises our concerns about Britain becoming a permanently divided nation.
 
“Changes in the housing market are already damaging living standards and are threatening to become a major impediment to young peoples’ prospects for social mobility.”
 
It added: “High housing costs are dragging more children into poverty. 1.4 million more children are in relative poverty after the effect of rents and mortgages are taken into account.”
 
The report recommends that housing policy does more to ensure it contributes to more social mobility and less child poverty.
 
It said: “This generation of young people is far less likely to progress onto the housing ladder than their parents’ generation. The key recommendation is to create new forms of housing tenure through expanded shared ownership schemes and reform of the private rented sector.”
 
Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of the Commission said: “The circumstances are so different, the challenges are so great that the old ways of thinking and acting that have dominated public-policy making for decades will simply not pass muster. What worked in the past will not serve as an adequate guide for the future. A new agenda is needed.”
 
Responding to the recommendation that the legally binding target to end child poverty by 2020 needs to be revised given the failure to make progress, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said: “We have failed a generation of children who are growing up poor but we will fail them a second time if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the 2020 targets will now be met.
 
“Child poverty is set to rise, not fall, largely as a result of real term cuts to tax credits and benefits. Independent projections show that there will be nearly a million more poor children in the UK by 2020 as a result of policies introduced in recent years.
 
“We must not accept that failing to meet the targets by 2020 means they can never be achieved. With the right policies, the right time-frame, and the right level of political will we can eradicate child poverty in the UK just as other countries have.
 
“If the clock is reset on the targets, there must be no let up. A new timeframe would give politicians of all parties a chance to take real action on poverty. This means protecting children’s benefits, ensuring work always pays, and supporting families with costs such as childcare and housing. But there can be no excuse for getting it wrong again.”

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NATIONAL:New chair for HCA’s Equality and Diversity Board Advisory Group


The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has appointed Rona Nicholson, deputy chief executive of Hanover Housing Association, as the new chair of its Equality and Diversity Board Advisory Group (EDBAG).
 
Rona (pictured), who has been a member of EDBAG since April 2013, replaces outgoing chair Dorian Leatham.
 
Rona said: “I am delighted to be taking on such an important role for the HCA. A focus on meeting the needs of all sections of our communities continues to underpin the agency’s work and in relation to that equality and diversity remains of upmost importance.
 
“By working in partnership with the HCA Board I am confident that the collective talents and skills of EDBAG members will help to ensure that meeting the needs of our diverse communities remains a priority. I believe that housing is and will continue to be the foundation of our communities and we will champion this at all levels.”
 
As an independent group, the EDBAG plays a vital role in helping the agency to deliver its nine equality and diversity objectives and strategy. It also works with the HCA Board to enhance transparency.
 
Commenting on the appointment, HCA chairman Robert Napier said: “Rona brings with her a wealth of housing and equality experience that will prove invaluable to both the advisory group and the HCA. I’ve no doubt her leadership will help the group reach its full potential in both supporting and challenging the agency, helping to keep equality and diversity firmly on the agenda.
 
“I have been impressed at the value the EDBAG has added to our work and I would like to thank the outgoing Chair, Dorian Leatham, for all of his work with HCA Board. I look forward to working with Rona and the rest of the advisory group in the future.”






NATIONAL:Blog: Understanding the new ASB Act – essential reading for landlords


CIH’s ASB consultant Gez Kinsella shares his thoughts on preparations for the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act which came into force this week and what the delay to Part 1 might mean for social landlords.
 
There has been much anticipation around the arrival of the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, but we have hit a bit of a stumbling block; the Home Office has announced a delay to Part 1 of the Act - the introduction of the new civil injunction. So while the substantive part of the Act came into force on Monday (October 20), Part 1 has been delayed because of changes to the legal aid legislation – allowing respondents to be assessed for suitability in injunctions proceedings. It is anticipated that Part 1 will be introduced after the end of January 2015.

So, what does this mean for landlords?

For the time being, the anti-social behaviour injunction (ASBI) and anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) should continue to be used as normal. Landlords are reminded that a breach of the existing ASBI will not satisfy the absolute grounds for possession. 

What is Part 1 of the Act all about?

Part 1 relates to the use of the new injunction that allows courts to issue an injunction against anyone over 10 years old who is ‘engaged or threatens to engage in anti-social behaviour’. Currently, courts are only able to issue injunctions against anyone who is 18 years old or over.  The new injunctions will prohibit someone from doing anything which leads to anti-social behaviour. It includes powers which will require a person to take ‘positive’ action to reform themselves, such as undertaking training or joining a rehabilitation programme.

The new injunction can be applied for by a number of agencies. There is therefore a real necessity to work closely with these partner agencies so all parties know who has been issued with an injunction and by whom, with a shared understanding on reporting and acting on breaches. 

The fact that this and other powers (e.g. Criminal Behaviour Orders) applies to those under 18 years of age, places a responsibility on landlords and others to consult with Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) and to keep other relevant agencies, such as schools informed. If you do not already have a working relationship with your local YOT, start talking now. A good working relationship with this agency will be critical if landlords are going to be effective in preventing ASB and nuisance where appropriate and taking enforcement action where necessary. 

Some YOTs may see landlords as wanting to pursue enforcement action at all costs. It is important therefore, at an early stage, to reassure YOTs that the interest of landlords and the YOT are aligned. Where a landlord’s relationship with a YOT is either new or in its infancy, I would suggest identifying shared objectives as well as addressing the more operational issues of responsibilities, actions and timescales. 

What else do landlords need to know?

Take time to review your policy and procedures, especially in relation to absolute possession powers and the associated review process. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 placed a requirement on landlords to prepare and publish a statement of policy and procedure on anti-social behaviour. A Code of Guidance was then published in August 2004 on the contents of policy and procedure. It may be worth revisiting this in order to refresh your documents.

Here are some other action points:

•    Review your sign up procedure – the statutory guidance makes explicit reference to this. Does your process include informing the tenant of the new absolute grounds for possession?

•    Check you tenancy agreement and warning letters. There are some examples where the wording of tenancy agreements precludes landlords from using absolute grounds. Do your agreements fall in to this category?

•    Positive requirements – have you considered using tenancy support teams or working with other landlords/agencies to provide this service for them? There are also opportunities to work locally through the Troubled Families programme. If the assessment criteria for referrals to this programme dovetail with the terms of the positive requirement, funding may be available through the programme. 

The other substantive change is a delay in the Order enabling local authorities to delegate the issuing of Community Protection Notices (CPNs). We’ve yet to see how these notices will be used. Some local authorities may restrict the use of these powers for environmental purposes (e.g. untidy gardens). However, if they are used in cases of domestic noise, CPNs could be a powerful tool in the landlord’s armoury. 

A note of caution – we are yet to see how this will work in practice, so given the cash strapped nature of many local authorities, under what circumstances will a local authority delegate powers and/or issue fixed penalty notices/fines?

Two other areas for consideration are the new absolute grounds for possession which will commence in England from this week and amendments to the court civil procedure rules which came in to force on 1 October. Anecdotally, we are hearing that there is a lack of awareness within the court system, which means making the use of your court user groups is more important than ever. 
 
What are you doing about the Act?

It would be good to know how you are facing up to the challenges and whether you agree with the issues of concern highlighted in this blog.  Perhaps you’ve got some of the answers, or perhaps your organisation has identified other areas. Either way, we’d like to know.

If you want to find out more about how we can help and advise you on ASB, please call CIH ASB consultant Gez Kinsella on 07962698499 or email gez.kinsella@cih.org

Find out more about our ASB consultancy services.

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NATIONAL:Move out of your big homes and help society, minister tells over-55s


Middle-aged couples in large homes should be encouraged to sell up and downsize to smaller properties to “benefit” society, a minister has said.
 
The Telegraph reports that Lord Newby, a Liberal Democrat minister, said that more than half of people aged over 55 years old had spare rooms and suggested the Government should take action to help them move.
 
He pointed to Government trials in which taxpayers’ money had been used to help cover the costs of moving and to help arrange mortgage financing for so-called empty nesters.
 
Lord Newby (pictured), the deputy Government chief whip in the House of Lords, also criticised banks for refusing to lend to elderly people by imposing age limits on mortgage applications, which he said was against the spirit of the rules.
 
In a debate, Lord Newby was asked how the Government could help people in large homes downsize to a small property.
 
He told peers: “One of the key challenges for us is that research shows that almost half of all over-55 households have spare space in the house. If we can facilitate downsizing where people genuinely want to do it, society as the whole will benefit.”
 
The peer added: “For older people, the major constraint to downsizing is often the lack of appropriate alternative accommodation. We are committed to increasing the flow of such housing on to the market, for example through the care and support specialised housing fund.”
 
Lord Newby pointed to Government trials in Redbridge, north London and other councils “to provide a service to people who wish to downsize, to help them with all those mechanical arrangements which, for some people, prove to be the last straw in stopping them from downsizing”.
 
Government analysis of the Redbridge project suggested that 200 people in the borough were considering moving, but felt that they could not afford to do so.
 
Under the scheme, the council helps elderly people move into a new property such as sheltered accommodation. The local authority foots the bill for moving costs, renovations and financial advice.
 
The peers also heard concerns that some banks and building societies were refusing to lend to people if there were aged over 65.
 
Labour peers used the debate to say that it was a “myth” to suggest some people were “asset-rich but cash-poor”.
 
Lord Desai said: “If they are asset-rich, they should not need a mortgage, as they have enough equity in their present house to relocate.”
 
The comments were criticised by Ros Altmann, the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, who said ministers were unfairly targeting the over-55s when there were not enough suitable homes to move to.
 
She said: “There may well be many older people who could benefit from moving to smaller homes or moving elsewhere but it should be up to them to decide what to do.
 
“We have not been building new homes that older people might want to downsize to – the new houses are typically small flats that might suit ‘first time buyers’, not ‘last time buyers’.
 
“There should be a real effort to have a construction push for the last time buyer. The kind of home for someone who might think ‘this house is too big for me but I certainly don’t want to move to a flat’.
 
“It should not be the role of Government or anyone else to dictate to people what kind of house or living accommodation is best for them – it should be up to them to choose.”
 
She added that “it seems rather wrong to me to complain of older people hogging homes which after all they have built up, they bought long ago.
 
“It is more than just bricks and mortar – it is part of your family heritage sometimes.”

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NATIONAL:Political parties join cross-sector call for national housing consensus


Politicians from the three main political parties have signed a letter alongside council leaders, heads of homelessness and planning charities, leading architects and planners, and chief executives of development companies and housing associations.
 
The letter calls for a national consensus about solutions to the housing crisis that “aim to ensure people's happiness and secure national prosperity".
 
The letter recognises that good planning is part of the solution to meeting the nation's housing need, stating that: "Good planning goes beyond the cycle of elections, and cross-party support...is vital for high-quality developments to be delivered. For too long planning has been marked by division. It is time the nation came together."
 
The letter suggests that a national consensus on building homes should be founded on three interlocking objectives:

  1. Comprehensively planned redevelopment of Brownfield Sites within an urban context (e.g. the docks in London, Salford and Bristol);
  2. The expansion of existing towns and settlements where the addition improves the overall level of amenity for the existing population rather than detracts from it. This will not be achieved by merely adding numerous housing estates on the edge of a town. It will require a proper provision of additional services and support to the existing transport networks to prevent them becoming even more crowded;
  3. In new planned settlements based on Garden City principles where new social and physical infrastructure ensures that they provide a good quality of life and are sustainable.
Providing most new homes in one of these three ways will make it possible to protect smaller towns and villages in the countryside from a rash of new housing estates. It would preserve and enhance our natural and historic environment.
 
The delivery of new places for people should be founded on a robust, locally led and democratic planning system.  It is time the nation came together and set itself on a truly sustainable pathway to create the future communities our children deserve.
 
Signatories of the letter are:
 
Lord Andrew Adonis
Bob Allies, partner, Allies and Morrison
Roger Bootle, managing director, Capital Economics Ltd
Cllr Paul Carter, leader, Kent County Council
Sir David Higgins, chairman, HS2 Ltd
Lord Deben 
Keith Exford, Group chief executive, Affinity Sutton
Sir Terry Farrell
Peter Freeman, Argent and Mayfields Market Towns
Euan Hall, chief executive, The Land Trust
Kate Henderson, chief executive, Town and Country Planning Association
Peter Jones CBE, chairman, South East LEP
Sir Michael Lyons (pictured)
Roger Madelin, joint chief executive, Argent
David Orr, chief executive, National Housing Federation
Nick Raynsford MP
Campbell Robb, chief executive, Shelter
Francis Salway, Group chairman, Town & Country Housing Group
Lee Shostak, chairman, Shared Intelligence
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor
Pat Willoughby, partner, Wei Yang + Partners
Lord Simon Wolfson

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NATIONAL:Quarter of PRS tenants expect to never own a home


Renting is no longer a short term option for tenants in the private rented sector as almost a quarter believe they will never own their own home, a survey has found.
 
A total of 24 per cent of the 3,500 private tenants surveyed by Knight Frank and YouGov said that they expected to always rent a property, with a further 15 per cent saying they would continue to rent for a further five or more years. Some 24 per cent of tenants expect to leave the sector within two years.
 
The survey, that Knight Frank says was the largest survey of its kind ever conducted, also found that while the difficulties in getting on to the housing ladder are an issue for many renters, nearly a third (32 per cent) of tenants state that they are living in the private rented sector because it suits their lifestyle and/or they don’t want a mortgage.
 
On average, the maximum tenants will pay on rent is 40 per cent of their gross income, although one in ten Londoners will pay more than 50 per cent.
 
More than a third of tenants want to live within a six minute walk of their nearest train station or bus stop, with 78 per cent saying they want to be within 1km of transport links.
 
The survey found that finding accommodation in a central location is especially important to younger age-groups, with 53 per cent of 18-24 year olds saying they would live in a smaller studio flat in a central location if it made the rent more affordable. Some 39 per cent of under-35s agreed with this.
 
Grainne Gilmore (pictured), head of UK residential research at Knight Frank, said: “Our survey shows that the majority of renters do not view the PRS as just a ‘short-term’ move. Less than a quarter of tenants expect to leave the sector within two years.
 
“The dynamics of the housing market, where supply has failed to keep up with demand which in turn has played a role in pushing up house prices, has also put home ownership beyond the reach of many young workers, especially in key employment hubs. This, coupled with an increasing mobile and flexible workforce, has led to rising demand for privately rented property.”
 
Off-street parking is the amenity most private tenants are prepared to pay extra for, although fully furnished flats will attract a premium among younger renters, especially the 18-24 age group, the survey shows.

Tim Hyatt, head of lettings at Knight Frank, said: “The rising significance of the private rented sector is creating many opportunities for investors, especially as we are starting to see the advent of large-scale professional landlords.”

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NATIONAL:Government must provide more support for young people seeking PRS housing


The Government has been urged to make sure young people looking for private rented sector accommodation get the support they need.
 
According to an All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Private Rented Sector, planning restrictions, housing benefit rules and tax regulations need to be reviewed in order to help improve young adults' access to the market.
 
The report, published last week, highlighted as one issue the Shared Accommodation Rate rules, meaning single people aged under 35 are only able to claim housing benefit for a room in a shared property.
 
The report has been welcomed by Winckworth Sherwood, with solicitor, renter and PRS blogger Robert Flint (pictured) saying: “We need to recognise that renting a flat for under 35s is the new normal, so increasing supply by loosening up planning and tax regulations can only be a good thing.
 
“We need to move further in this direction if we are to encourage investment in good quality private rented accommodation.”
 
Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Oliver Colvile MP said in the report that a growing number of young people are turning to the PRS for homes.
 
This, he said, means the benefits, tax and planning framework must enable them to “find the homes they need at a price they can afford”.






NATIONAL:Notting Hill Housing issued AA credit rating


Credit agency Standard and Poor’s has issued Notting Hill Housing Trust with an AA rating in its first assessment of the organisation.
 
The strong rating was based on a number of factors including the extremely high demand for affordable housing in London, its solid track record of managing large development programmes as well as its strong financial performance over the last five years.
 
Standard and Poor’s said Notting Hill Housing Trust, the parent body of Notting Hill Housing Group, has a very strong enterprise profile and a very strong financial profile, and benefits from a moderately high likelihood of receiving extraordinary support from the UK Government.
 
It added that the stable 'AA' long-term issuer credit rating reflects the agency’s view of both the likely continuity of Government support, and the stability of Notting Hill's underlying credit quality.
 
The credit agency anticipates that Notting Hill will improve on its financial performance, reporting adjusted EBITDA margins averaging 36 per cent of revenues in financial 2015-2017, assuming a stable London housing market.
 
Notting Hill Housing Group finance director, Paul Phillips (pictured), said: "This is great news and confirms that we have strong capacity to meet our financial commitments. We believe that this will give assurance of our credit strength to our investors, present and future. This should help us when we want to secure new funding to support our business of providing more homes for Londoners at a time when housing is in the Capital is in short supply.”
 
This latest boost comes in the same year as the Group announced a record surplus of £65.7m and was selected deliver one of Europe’s largest regeneration projects at the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark. In July, it secured the largest grant (£77.4m) from the Greater London Authority to build 2,250 new affordable homes in London by 2018.

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NATIONAL:Gas Access Campaign offers to share research with housing minister


Gas safety campaigners are calling for a meeting with the housing minister to help him fully understand the unnecessarily wasted millions spent on gaining access to homes.
 
The call comes after housing minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) revealed the Department of Communities and Local Government hasn’t carried out any research into the costs to housing associations, forced to secure court orders as a last resort, in gaining access to a properties to carry out annual gas safety checks.
 
Figures from the Gas Access Campaign, being spearheaded by Home Group, the Association of Gas Safety Managers and CORGI Technical Services, suggest the issue is one which costs the social housing sector £50m each year.
 
Mark Henderson, Home Group chief executive, said: “Mr Lewis has acknowledged his department isn’t aware of the wasted millions spent each year in the sector because of this issue. We have done the research and we’d like to have a meeting with the Minister where we’d be happy to share our findings.
 
“The costs involved in lengthy court action combined with the significant numbers of tenants who refuse social landlords access may not be immediately obvious. However the level of response to the campaign speaks volumes, housing associations representing more than 1 million homes have signed up.
 
“Gas access costs the sector £50m each year. In a time of austerity this money could be used to build more homes or to finance some of the valuable work associations carry out in communities throughout the country.
 
“This is an issue which risks lives, the lives of tenants who refuse access and the lives of their neighbours. It could be resolved very simply with an amendment to a couple of paragraphs of legislation.”
 
Mr Lewis provided a written Parliamentary response to Hyndburn MP Graham Jones which acknowledged DCLG officials have conducted no research into the issue.
 
At present it can take as long as four months for social landlords to gain legal access. The campaign is lobbying for a change in the law which would allow legal access within 24 hours – the time taken for local authorities to gain access.
 
Claire Heyes, chief executive of the AGSM, said: “We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Minister to explain the statistics about the large amount of money being wasted in the social housing sector.
 
“Carrying out the landlord's safety checks is crucial to raising standards in gas safety, but there is an easier and cheaper way to do this than the current system. The support that this campaign is receiving reflects the concern of management in social housing. We urge the Minister to meet with us to discuss the way forward.”

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NATIONAL:New survey finds growing North-South divide over impact of welfare reforms


Residents in the North of England are continuing to be hit the hardest by welfare reforms, a new survey by three national council housing organisations has found.
 
One year since the introduction of the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’, the survey discovered a growing north-south divide as tenants in the North of England are more likely to be affected by the under-occupation penalty (13 per cent compared to 5 per cent in London) and also to be in rent arrears (7 per cent compared to 2 per cent in the capital).
 
Although nationally the percentage of households in rent arrears and the percentage of tenants affected by the under-occupation penalty and in arrears are falling, the North of England is experiencing worse outcomes compared to other regions. 
 
The findings are the result of a joint research project from the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA), the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) and the Councils with ALMOs Group (CWAG), into the impact of welfare reforms on council tenants.
 
Together the three housing bodies represent over 1.3m council properties.
 
The survey also found that over the course of 2013/2014 the proportion of households affected by the under occupation penalty and receiving discretionary housing payments has more than tripled in some areas.
 
However just under half of respondents (45 per cent), said that even this additional funding was insufficient and that the payments are being supplemented by other forms of local hardship funding. In most cases this came from the Council’s Housing Revenue Account.
 
Commenting on the report, NFA policy director, Chloe Fletcher (pictured top), said: “The results of our latest survey suggest that although overall levels of rent arrears attributed to welfare reforms are falling nationally, there are considerable regional differences with the North of England being hit harder than other areas. There are a number of reasons for this including a lack of suitable one and two bed properties to move to and far fewer employment opportunities for tenants to apply for.”
 
ARCH Policy Adviser, Matthew Warburton (right), added: “Despite the worrying regional variations, the overall picture of falling arrears does suggest that landlords have put in a lot of resources and support to minimise the impact of welfare reforms on their residents and their organisations’ finances. However, the large increase in the number of households receiving discretionary housing payments could also explain some of the reduction in arrears which does pose significant questions over how sustainable this position is in the long term.”
 
The survey also found that voids times have not been significantly affected by the introduction of the under occupation penalty and that most organisations have increased staff and resources to collect rent and to support tenants through financial and digital inclusion initiatives.

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NATIONAL:Over a million pensioners still living in poverty, says Age UK


Around 1.6 million pensioners are living in poverty, partly due to their failure to claim benefits, the charity Age UK has claimed.
 
In its new report ‘How we can end pensioner poverty’,  Age UK warns that many pensioners are floundering on low, fixed incomes and have been walking a tightrope in recent years as food and utility bills have risen dramatically.
 
Yet despite high numbers of pensioners in the UK struggling to survive below the poverty line, with nearly a million of those living in severe poverty, each year huge numbers of older people are missing out on as much as £5.5 billion of crucial financial support. Some simply do not know that they could be entitled to extra income.
 
Others are acutely aware of the benefits available but feel too proud or embarrassed to put in a claim. Some have unsuccessfully tried before, or have been put off by the claiming process which they feel is too complicated or intrusive. 
 
With so many older people struggling to make ends meet yet missing out on vital benefits such as Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and council tax support, Age UK is calling on politicians and decision-makers to urgently prioritise tackling pensioner poverty and help those who desperately need it.
 
If those eligible for Pension Credit made a claim, on average it could boost their budget by over £1700 a year – that’s an extra £33 a week to spend on essentials such as decent food, clothing, transport or heating.
 
Older people are not just missing out on income related benefits; many are also entitled to benefits linked to illness and disability. The increased spending pressures that disability brings, such as needing to take taxis and using more heating, can leave even those on decent incomes at risk of poverty and financial hardship.
 
Age UK is calling on the Government to provide a national training programme for health professionals and local authority staff to help older people who might be eligible to claim benefits such as Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance to help maximise their income.
 
In a recent survey of those helped to claim their benefits by the Charity, two thirds (65 per cent) said they are now better able to pay their bills as a result of claiming, well over half (53 per cent) felt they now have enough money to live on, a third felt more prepared for the upcoming winter (30 per cent), and almost one-fifth (16 per cent) said they use the health service less than they did before.
 
The impact of the extra support on general wellbeing is also considerable with 70 per cent reporting they feel less stressed and anxious, two-fifths (39 per cent) feeling more independent and self-confident, and more than a quarter (28 per cent) feeling less lonely and isolated and generally treated with more respect and dignity). 
 
Caroline Abrahams (pictured), charity director at Age UK, said: “Every day we hear heart-warming stories which demonstrate the transformative impact of claiming benefits. People [like John] tell us constantly what a huge difference the extra money makes and how much less they now worry about the cost of everyday life.
 
“Yet it is nothing short of a scandal that there are still so many vulnerable older people in the UK living in poverty – unable to afford decent food, heat their home or live an independent life – when billions of pounds in benefits are unclaimed.
 
“Now is the time for a concerted effort to help the very poorest pensioners – strong social support, affordable essential services and access to good quality information and advice are essential. We urgently need a comprehensive national strategy which sets firm targets and workable solutions to end the scourge of pensioner poverty once and for all.”
 
To mark the launch of its new campaign, Age UK is calling on MPs to support the campaign and urge the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith MP, to urgently develop a national pensioner poverty strategy. People can visit www.ageuk.org.uk\endpensionerpoverty for further details.
 






NATIONAL:Consultation on plans to count past earning in Universal Credit reclaims

 
The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has launched a public consultation on the Government’s intention to take account of surplus earnings from the prior 6-month period when a person reclaims Universal Credit.
 
The proposal means that, in certain circumstances, entitlement could be delayed for up to a maximum of 6 months.
 
The Government said this is designed to ensure greater fairness between workers who have regular earnings patterns, and those whose earnings fluctuate. It will also protect against potential manipulation of the system by workers and employers who arrange their payment patterns specifically in order to maximise Universal Credit entitlement.
 
Announcing the consultation, Paul Gray, the Committee’s Chair, said: “It is perfectly reasonable for the government to put measures in place that will prevent manipulation of the system in order to maximise entitlement to Universal Credit. However it would be unfortunate if those in genuine need were penalised by a measure intended to address potential abuse. This could have a considerable impact on those whose circumstances have changed unexpectedly requiring them to make a repeat claim for Universal Credit.
 
“I understand that the department will advise claimants moving off Universal Credit that surplus earnings will be taken into account if they return within 6 months, and it can therefore be argued that individuals could prepare financially for such an eventuality. But very few of us in that situation would be able to resist using the opportunity of having work – or better paid work – to improve the living conditions of our family.”
 
Initial Department for Work and Pensions estimates suggest that this measure, due to be introduced in April 2016, will generate savings of £200 million to £300m a year. The evidence received by SSAC will help inform its report which will be submitted to Iain Duncan Smith MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, later this year.
 
Responses should be submitted to the committee’s Secretary by 7 November 2014.
 
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NATIONAL:Scottish housing groups take major step towards partnership



Two of Scotland’s leading affordable housing groups, Dunedin Canmore and Wheatley, now look set to form a new partnership following a members’ vote.
 
Dunedin Canmore’s shareholding members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a rule change at a Special General Meeting in a change which will enable Dunedin Canmore to join Wheatley early next year. The move would still be subject to satisfactory completion of the remaining milestones including final consent from the Scottish Housing Regulator.
 
The partnership plan had been approved previously by the boards of both Dunedin Canmore Housing and Wheatley, who carefully considered all feedback received during extensive engagement with customers and stakeholders.
 
Dunedin Canmore will retain its name and identity and continue to have full responsibility for its homes and operations, including how best to meet the needs of its customers and staff. Wheatley will be the parent organisation, sharing costs and services.
 
Both organisations believe that by working together and sharing services, costs and expertise, they will be able to deliver more improvements to communities and services and increase the supply of affordable housing in their communities.
 
Dunedin Canmore provides housing, regeneration, property management and related services to customers in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife. Wheatley, headquartered in Glasgow, comprises four Registered Social Landlords Glasgow Housing AssociationCube Housing AssociationWest Lothian Housing Partnership and Loretto Housing Association, as well as a care organisation and two commercial subsidiaries, delivering housing, care, community regeneration and property management services across Central Scotland.
 
Both are large developers of affordable housing in Scotland and have established reputations for innovative, high-performance service delivery.
 
Dunedin Canmore chairman Tom Mitchell said they had listened carefully to all the views expressed by customers and staff.
 
“We strongly believe, having looked at all the evidence over the past year, we can deliver more for our tenants by sharing expertise and our joint commitment to service excellence,” he said. “Together we can continue to build homes and to leverage our impact in the communities we support.”
 
Wheatley Group chair Alastair Dempster added: “All parts of Wheatley work together to deliver value-for-money, excellent services and a better future for our customers and communities.
 
“Dunedin Canmore is one of Scotland’s most-respected social landlords and we look forward to welcoming them into the Group.”
 
Meanwhile, according to a statement by the Scottish Housing Regulator, West Highland Housing Association, which owns and manages 743 homes across Argyll and Bute, is set to merge with 6,156-home Link Group after members voted for the move at the beginning of October.

The Scottish Housing Regulator also announced that Gardeen and Kingsridge Cleddans housing associations have been moved from ‘medium engagement’ to ‘low engagement’ – meaning they will receive lower regulatory scrutiny.

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NATIONAL:House building propels SME construction sector, says FMB

 
House building is leading the growth in the SME construction sector but the industry has a long way to go to recover to pre-recession levels, according to the latest research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
 
Results from the FMB’s State of Trade Survey for Q3 2014 show SME workloads growing across most sectors, with the strongest growth coming from private house building.
 
Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “We are at last seeing strong, consistent growth in workloads for SME house builders but the building industry is still a long way from being ‘home and dry’. The private housing market is recovering from a very low base after a recession which saw house building fall to record lows. Half of all SME house builders went to the wall or were forced to diversify into another area of construction.
 
“In the late 1980s, two-thirds of all new homes were built by small local builders but by 2010, this had dropped to just one third. Current statistics reveal that SME house builders now deliver only a quarter of all new homes. Since the recession hit, a major factor in this has been the serious difficulties SME house builders experience in accessing bank finance, which show little sign of improving in the short term.”
 
Berry (pictured) added: “The threat of serious skills shortages is also becoming increasingly apparent. Our latest research shows 41 per cent of SME construction firms are now reporting difficulties in recruiting bricklayers – an increase of 7 per cent when compared to three months ago. Carpenters and joiners are also proving difficult to come by with 41 per cent of firms reporting difficulties finding these tradesmen, an increase of 15 per cent when compared to the second quarter of this year.
 
“The construction industry has lost 350,000 people since its peak before the recession and this will have a knock-on effect for many years to come. Although the SME sector has entered a period of sustained growth, the legacy of the most deep and protracted recession we have ever experienced has left us with a rocky road to genuine recovery.”

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