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This week's National news (April 14 - April 18)

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NATIONAL:Get Britain Building plan produces only 715 homes

A £570 million Government drive to kick-start house building has so far delivered only 715 new homes, according to new figures.
 
The ‘Get Britain Building’ fund launched in November 2011 by then Housing Minister Grant Shapps aimed to unlock 16,000 homes on stalled sites over the following three years.
 
Prime Minister David Cameron later upped funding available to the programme by £150m and extended deadlines until March 2015.
 
However figures obtained by the Labour Party have raised questions about the success of the Government fund, suggesting the programme produced only 715 homes by September 2013 – only 47 of which were affordable.
 
Three months following the launch of the fund, Shapps said he remained “greatly encouraged” by the “clamour of developers” applying for a share of available money.
 
Current Housing Minister Kris Hopkins maintained Get Britain Building is “on track and on course to deliver on its targets”, claiming in the Commons earlier this year there had been 11,165 housing starts as of September 2013.
 
Shadow Housing Minister, Emma Reynolds (pictured), said Cameron had “broken his promise” to boost national house building.
 
She said: “It is astonishing that after announcing £400m to deliver 16,000 homes and then re-announcing the same scheme six months later with more money, no additional homes will be built as a result and only 7 per cent will be affordable.”
 
 
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NATIONAL:New scheme to provide protection for tenants and leaseholders

Millions of tenants and leaseholders will receive stronger protection from unscrupulous letting agents, under plans announced by Housing Minister Kris Hopkins.
 
The minister revealed three approved ‘redress schemes’ that all letting and property management agents will be required to join later this year, and will ensure tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward option to hold their agents to account.
 
The three compulsory redress schemes – The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Property and The Property Redress Scheme – will offer independent investigation of complaints about hidden fees or poor service. Where a complaint is upheld, tenants and leaseholders could receive compensation.
 
The majority of letting agents are already signed up with one of the three organisations. The remaining 3,000 agents, 40 per cent of the entire industry, will now be encouraged to join one of the schemes ahead of the legal requirement.
 
Mr Hopkins (pictured) said the new rules would strike the right balance between protecting tenants and not harming the industry with excessive red tape, and were just one part of the government’s efforts to secure a better deal for tenants in the private rented sector.
 
He said: “All tenants and leaseholders have a right to fair and transparent treatment from their letting agent. Most are happy with the service they receive, but a small minority of agents are ripping people off, and giving the whole industry a bad name.
 
“That’s why we will require all agents to belong to one of the official redress schemes. They will ensure tenants have a straightforward route to take action if they get a poor deal, while avoiding excessive red tape that would push up rents and reduce choice for tenants.”
 
The Government has also introduced a new voluntary code of practice that will set standards for the management of property in the private rented sector, with a view to making it statutory to provide greater confidence for tenants in what they can expect and a new help to rent guide, which will help tenants understand what they should expect from their rental deal, and how they can take action if they are the victim of hidden fees or poor standards of accommodation.
 
Other measures to protect tenants include the introduction of a model tenancy agreement, which landlords and tenants can use for longer tenancies (three years, for example) which will provide extra security and stability for families and extra guidance for local councils on how to tackle rogue landlords, protect tenants from illegal eviction and how best to push for harsher penalties before magistrates for housing offences where these have a real impact on peoples’ lives.
 
An on-going review is considering how else property conditions in the private rented sector can be improved, and tackle bad landlords without any negative impact on the majority of landlords who provide a good service to their tenants. A discussion document inviting views on these issues was published earlier this year. The deadline for responses was 28 March and these are now being considered.
 
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NATIONAL:Head of Government’s PRS taskforce appointed to Orbit board

Orbit Group has appointed Andrew Stanford, currently head of the Government’s Private Rented Sector Taskforce, to its board.
 
Orbit said his appointment will “add significant value” the organisation through his understanding and insight of the commercial housing sector.
 
In his role on the taskforce, Mr Stanford (pictured) is charged with kick-starting the build for market rent housing sector within the UK. This role is a secondment from running his own bespoke property consultancy.
 
A well-respected chartered surveyor and property consultant by trade and a former head of a top 20 UK property consultancy in London, Mr Stanford has a deep understanding of UK residential and mixed-use property investment at both a practical and strategic level.
 
Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Orbit Group chair, said: “Strong governance is more important than ever before in this dynamic and challenging operating environment and so we are delighted to have attracted someone of Andrew’s experience and calibre to what is already a highly experienced board team.”
 
In the past 12 months, Orbit has also appointed Steve Brown, Richard Berrett and David Young to the board.
 
www.orbit.org.uk

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NATIONAL:CIH welcomes Home Group as new corporate partner

Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).
 
The two-year deal will see CIH providing membership, qualifications, training and development and business advisory services for Home Group, which is the fourth biggest housing provider in the UK.
 
Home Group is one of the first organisations to sign up to CIH’s new corporate partnerships programme, which was launched in January. Corporate partnerships aim to provide a tailored package of services while also delivering a range of additional benefits to customers.

As well as the services chosen by Home Group, organisations can choose to take advantage of CIH business toolkits and products, conferences and events and exhibition and sponsorship.
 
Janet Talman, director of commercial services at CIH, said: “We’re delighted that Home Group has become our newest corporate partner and we’re really looking forward to working with the team there over the next two years.  It’s clear that Home Group is very committed to investing in the professionalism of its staff, and we’ve worked hard to come up with a programme that supports that commitment while providing value for money.”
 
Mark Henderson, Home Group chief executive, said the organisation is committed to developing its workforce so colleagues can provide the highest levels of excellence for its customers and clients.
 
Mr Henderson (pictured) added: “We have worked for some time now with CIH and recently we had 95 colleagues complete their CIH Level 3 in Housing Practice. A third of these have gone onto study for their diploma which they are due to complete between May and July. This new corporate partnership has grown from our experience of working with CIH and we look forward to seeing more of our colleagues continue to develop their skills.”
 
www.cih.org
www.homegroup.org.uk


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NATIONAL:UK house prices up by 9 per cent

 
House prices across the UK are rising at an increasingly accelerated rate, according to official figures.
 
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that UK prices increased by 9.1 per cent in the year to February 2014, up considerably from 6.8 per cent in the year to January 2014.
 
The ONS said house prices in February were 3.6 per cent higher than the pre-recession peak in 2008.
 
Prices in London rose by their fastest rate for nearly seven years. Over the last 12 months, the cost of houses in the capital increased by 17.7 per cent, the highest inflation rate since July 2007. Excluding London and the South East, prices rose by 5.8 per cent.
 
Every nation in the UK saw a rise in prices over the last year, from 9.7 per cent in England to 2.4 per cent in Scotland. Prices rose by 5.3 per cent in Wales and 2.8 per cent in Northern Ireland.
 
The ONS figures also show that first-time buyers have been amongst those hardest hit by house price rises.
 
While the price of houses sold to first-timers rose by 10.5 per cent in the year to February, those sold to everyone else rose by 8.6 per cent.
 
Housing charity Shelter said the only solution was to build more houses.
 
Campbell Robb, Shelter's chief executive, told the BBC: “We need to see the Government commit to concrete plans that will close the ever-expanding gap between the homes we have, and the homes we need.
 
“This is the only way to put the brakes on our rollercoaster housing market, and give a generation of priced-out young people and families the chance of a stable home.”


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NATIONAL:Rise in food bank users a ‘national crisis’


 
The call comes as latest figures from the Trussell Trust suggest more than a million Britons have been helped by food banks in the past year.
 
More than 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders have signed a letter, calling on David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to tackle the causes of food poverty, including low wages, rising food prices and an inadequate welfare benefit safety net.
 
The clergy from all major dominations, who include Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan (pictured) and several senior Church of England bishops, describe the increase in the use of Trussell Trust food banks as "terrible".
 
They insist it does not give a full picture of hunger in the UK because it does not include people who are too ashamed to use food banks and others who are cutting the size of meals.
 
A public vigil will be held tonight in Westminster to highlight the issue.
 
The document, signed by 45 of the UK's Anglican 59 bishops, including those from Durham, Southwark, Bath and Wells, St Albans, Coventry and Edinburgh, although not by the Archbishops of Canterbury or York – calls on the main parties to engage with and support the findings of a newly created all-party parliamentary inquiry into the causes of food poverty and hunger, led by the Bishop of Truro Tim Thornton.

The letter reads: “Hope is not an idle force. Hope drives us to act. It drives us to tackle the growing hunger in our midst. It calls on each of us, and government too, to act to make sure that work pays, that food markets support sustainable and healthy diets, and that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”
 
Data released by the Trussell Trust, the UK's biggest food bank network, which reveals that more than 900,000 people received food parcels in 2013-14, a 163 per cent increase.
 
Chris Mould, chairman of the trust, said: "It's been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions."
 
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said the Trussell figures were potentially misleading because it was unclear whether they had double-counted people who had made repeat visits to food banks.
 
The spokesperson said: “We're spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.

“The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it's been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

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NATIONAL:Government offers support for locally-led garden cities

Up to three new garden cities holding at least 15,000 homes will be built to tackle Britain’s ‘chronic’ housing shortage, Nick Clegg has announced.
 
The Deputy Prime Minister (pictured) yesterday launched a "call to arms for visionaries", urging communities to bring forward ideas for garden developments to receive Government support.
 
While emphasising garden cities would play "a crucial role" in delivering new housing, ministers said it was also "vital" such developments were not "imposed from above".
 
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said it now wanted to "work closely" with areas on proposals that have the backing of residents and all regional town halls.
 
Bids are now being invited for the £1 billion of investment announced in the 2013 Autumn Statement to unlock local housing schemes of more than 1,500 residences.
 
Nick Clegg said: “Today I’m publishing a new garden cities prospectus, which calls for local areas to submit their plans for garden cities that will provide affordable homes, good schools, and jobs for the next generation, whilst at the same time preserving the countryside.
 
“This is a call to arms for visionaries in local areas in need of housing to put forward radical and ambitious proposals to develop their own garden cities.”
 
The Government will provide planning, brokerage and financial support for communities that put forward ideas for garden settlements.
 
The Cabinet Office added that proposals on previously developed brown field sites would also be welcomed, provided spaces were not of “high environmental value”.
 
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, said: “Our £1bn Large Housing Sites Infrastructure Fund and package of support will help deliver locally-led developments in communities that want more growth and jobs in their area. It will also assist those areas with ideas for a new generation of garden cities, so they can turn their ambitions into reality.”
 
Housing and planning charity the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) said the garden city prospectus is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design new places and low carbon communities that are inclusive with genuinely affordable beautifully designed homes.
 
TCPA head of policy, Hugh Ellis, said: “We welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement setting out the core requirements of proposed Garden Cities, as well as the support package that the Government can offer to facilitate their delivery. Going forward, we believe it is vital that the key principles of Garden Cities are embedded into any proposals to deliver these well designed and inclusive new communities, and not just in the South East.
 
“Garden Cities remain a viable and essential part of the solution to the country’s escalating housing crisis, and these standards will offer a guiding light for local authorities to create beautiful new places where people want to live and work. The Garden City Principles are designed as an indivisible and interlocking framework for the delivery of socially just and high quality places. We hope that local authorities across the country will seize the opportunity to plan for a better future by ensuring the all principles are upheld in perpetuity.”
 
Jeremy Blackburn, RICS head of policy, also welcomed the prospectus but warned that a “more ambitious approach” is needed across the UK as a whole.
 
He said: “RICS has long called for an investors’ prospectus for garden cities, which we welcome today, however, sustainable community growth needs to happen across the whole of the UK and we need a more ambitious approach than 15,000 new homes at a time, if supply is going to meet demand.
 
“Investors, communities and developers need greater confidence that government has a longer-term political vision for garden cities and wider economic growth, although we recognise that today’s announcement to invite bids for the £1bn local housing scheme announced in the Autumn Statement provides further clarity.
 
“The role of property professionals will now be key to all parts of the process, not least in making these new development corporations function efficiently and effectively. Locally-led plans for garden cities will also lend legitimacy to development and help de-risk the roll-out of the initiative.
 
“However, further details will need to be clarified, particularly how strategic housing need, infrastructure and localism will be balanced. New settlements will need both a sense of place and economic functionality that is of a different order to the large sites programme.
 
“Not every location that applies to become a garden city will necessarily be appropriate and in this respect, Ebbsfleet was in a sense the ‘low hanging fruit’, with major infrastructure and land already in place, and ready to go. Additional applications for garden cities following today’s announcement will need to be closely scrutinised for viability on all levels, if this political consensus around a new generation of settlements is to work.”
 
 
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NATIONAL:New homes to be built with ‘bedroom tax’ savings

Money saved through the ‘bedroom tax’ will be used to build new homes for people on housing waiting lists, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps has said.
 
The former housing minister (pictured) was defending the under-occupancy policy in his constituency of Welwyn Hatfield, where rent arrears have soared by 60 per cent since its introduction last April.
 
It is thought to be the first time that a senior member of the coalition has outlined how the money the bedroom tax has netted for the Government will be spent.
 
Speaking to the Welwyn Hatfield Times, the MP said that the removal of the spare room subsidy was brought in because of the “financial mess this country was left in following Labour’s great recession”.
 
He added that it was "important to understand" that the bedroom tax "is meant to ensure that rather than the taxpayer paying for bedrooms to be empty, people who are homeless get a roof over their heads".
 
Shapps said: “What the removal of this subsidy does is to stop paying for rooms which are not in use. However, it does not mean that someone necessarily needs to therefore move.
 
“So there is no surprise that most people will stay in their homes. This is a good thing. What it does mean is that people will be asked to pay for that spare room each week."
 
Shapps then explained that the money the Government accrues through the bedroom tax "can then be used to help fund more housing for those people on the waiting lists".
 
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NATIONAL:People with mental health problems seriously impacted by welfare reform, report finds

Welfare reform is a “recurring area of major concern” for people with mental health problems, a major survey has found.
 
An extensive survey of service managers and service users by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) found that these reforms were impacting on both finances and health of its services users.
 
An overwhelming 98 per cent of respondents said that their mental health had suffered as a result of the welfare reforms, and 79 per cent were facing a reduced income
 
Just over 90 per cent of SAMH service users who responded were receiving out of work sickness benefits such as Employment Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support on grounds of incapacity, and Severe Disablement Allowance. Housing benefit was the next highest claim rate, with 65 per cent of service users in receipt of this benefit.
 
The charity said decisive and urgent action must be taken to reduce poverty and deprivation in Scotland, including actions to mitigate the impact of welfare reforms.
 
As a result of the welfare reforms:

  • 98 per cent of respondents stated that their mental health has suffered, including increased stress and anxiety
  • 79 per cent of service users have a reduced income
  • 48 per cent of service users are less able to pursue leisure activities
  • 57 per cent were affected by the ‘bedroom tax’
  • 56 per cent did not receive any help from a healthcare professional in providing supporting information about their mental health condition as part of the WCA process

In six cases, staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to welfare reforms.
 
A majority of staff (85 per cent) said they were having to provide additional support to service users, including additional mental health and emotional support, as a direct result of the welfare reforms.
 
Broader repercussions felt by those impacted by welfare reforms included:

  • financial eg reduced income 79.6 per cent
  • Social eg less able to pursue leisure activities 48.1 per cent
  • Mental health eg increased stress and anxiety 98.1 per cent
  • access to services eg no longer receiving free travel 16.7 per cent
  • other 11.1 per cent

SAMH said the aim of the report was to give people the chance to voice their concerns, and share their experiences of poverty, deprivation and mental health.
 
The charity said equally, improved understanding and awareness of mental health, sources of support available and better resourced mental health services will have an impact on the cycle of poor mental health and poverty that too often sees the two go hand in hand.
 
Its recommendations included:

  • The Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee, in their enquiry into the impact of welfare reforms on people with long term conditions, must include investigation of the impacts of welfare reform on mental, as well as physical, wellbeing and the relationship between welfare reform, health and socio-economic deprivation.
  • SAMH recommends that DWP and Atos should implement a new procedure for securing supporting statements from healthcare professionals on behalf of the ESA applicant. Applicants should be contacted in advance of their assessment and if appropriate, asked to inform Atos of their nominated healthcare professional(s) who can then be contacted to provide supporting information.
  • SAMH calls upon DWP to provide clear, accessible information to each applicant, via letter, at the beginning of the Employment and Support Allowance application process on: organisations which can support them through the process, including welfare rights advice, mental health and wellbeing support and financial advice; the process for securing supporting medical statements; the applicant’s rights and entitlements throughout the process. This must be proactively communicated to each individual applicant. For each applicant placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), further information must be communicated regarding organisations and sources of accurate information on: the conditions to be fulfilled and consequences of not fulfilling these; organisations which can support the individual during WRAG activity, including support for their mental health and wellbeing.

www.samh.org.uk

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NATIONAL:Councils ‘being hustled’ to meet housing targets

National Trust has said.
 
Speaking to the BBC, Dame Helen Ghosh said "pressure" meant some English local authorities felt they had to allow greenfield building.
 
The trust was monitoring the situation and "making appropriate representations to government about it", she said.
 
But the Government said it valued and protected the countryside and councils had had a decade to come up with plans.
 
Greenfield sites are defined as places which have not previously been built on, including greenbelt land around cities. Brownfield sites are those which have previously been developed.
 
In 2004, the Labour Government introduced local plans, requiring councils to set housing targets and identify a rolling five-year supply of developable land.
 
And, in April 2012, planning law in England was further changed to speed up decisions, with a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" unless negative considerations "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh positives.
 
Director-general Dame Helen (pictured) said the National Trust - a charity which works to protect historical sites in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - was "very concerned" about the level of pressure on councils.
 
"We are very concerned that the haste with which local authorities - some of them ill-prepared to do so - have been hustled into producing their local plans, and the pressure they're under to produce the number of houses has forced them, in some cases, to designate greenfield sites," she told BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend.
 
"We are very worried about that and we are monitoring it - and making appropriate representations to government about it."
 
Dame Helen said the trust had previously argued that giving councils a year to produce a local plan was "just too short" and events since had proved councils "need to take longer to do these things properly".
 
But she said there had been "some positive signs recently" when the Government had said incentives for developing on brownfield sites would be increased.
 
"We were encouraged by that but we are still very worried about the number of potential planning permissions that are out there on greenfield sites," she added.
 
In response, Planning Minister Nick Boles said: "This Government values and protects the countryside."
 
Greenbelt development had fallen "to its lowest rate since modern records began" under the coalition, he claimed.
 
Mr Boles added: "Councils have had a decade to shape where development should and shouldn't go through their local plans. So far, three quarters of local authorities have published a draft plan, and local residents should hold slow-coach councils to account."
 
The Local Government Association, which represents 350 English councils, said councils were "making good progress with getting complex and detailed local plans in place".
 
"The most important thing will always be getting them right and ensuring people have a real say in developments that can support growth in their areas," a spokesman said.


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NATIONAL:Communities to take control of neighbourhood schemes

Communities Minister Stephen Williams MP has announced that 123 more communities will be taking control of neighbourhood schemes to boost employment, combat crime and improve the health of residents.
 
The announcement signals a major expansion in the Government’s Our Place programme, which is a neighbourhood level way of working that brings together the right people – councillors, public servants, voluntary and community organisations and the community themselves – to tackle local issues and revolutionise the way an area works.
 
Following the success of 12 pilot areas in 2012 to 2013, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) made £4.3 million of funding available to support at least 100 new areas to adopt this approach, through grants, direct support and shared learning opportunities.
 
The new areas cover between them a total population of 1.8 million and are looking at a wide range of issues including crime, health inequalities, energy efficiency, social isolation and employment and skills.
 
Mr Williams (pictured) made the announcement during a visit to Staple Hill, South Gloucestershire yesterday where he learnt more about South Gloucester’s plans for their Our Place project and joined a meeting of local partners looking at solutions to local unemployment.
 
Staple Hill successfully applied to join the Our Place support programme as one of the 123 new areas – this project is led by South Gloucester Council for Voluntary Service and aims to empower local people in Staple Hill to become the solution to some of the issues the area faces. These include employment and skills, health, crime and issues facing young people.
 
During the visit, the minister learnt more about South Gloucester’s plans for their Our Place project and join a meeting of local partners looking at solutions to unemployment in the town.
 
Mr Williams said: “I am delighted to be able to announce that 123 new areas are now being supported to work in an Our Place way. Strong examples from the pilot areas show that when a community is engaged and active in determining how their neighbourhood works, real change is possible. I am pleased that through Our Place, communities all over the country are hearing this message and taking up the challenge to build a stronger economy and fairer society and to tackle local issues through new ways of working.
 
“It’s been great to visit Staple Hill and see for myself an Our Place project that is beginning to engage the whole community and form innovative solutions to local problems.”
 
Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society said: “Using local knowledge to help solve local issues is often the most effective way of making communities stronger and safer. Our Place is about putting real power into people’s hands to improve where they live and I hope it will act as an inspiration to other communities.”
 
Steve Wyler, chief executive officer of Locality, added: “We’re looking forward to working with 123 areas from across England implementing using the Our Place approach to transform local public services. Community groups, local authorities, parish and town councils, and local businesses will work in partnership with local citizens to bring change to public service delivery.
 
“We relish the challenge of supporting these areas to produce development strategies and operational plans, to see local services where local people have taken charge in addressing the issues that matter the most to them, and to recruit champions who will help us share this model more widely.”

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NATIONAL:Millions of private renters ‘putting up with substandard homes’

A third of private rented homes in England are failing decency standards, according to a new report.

Thirty-three per cent of the country's private rented homes would have failed the Government's Decent Homes Standard in 2012, according to analysis in the Chartered Institute of Housing's (CIH) UK Housing Review 2014, which is being launched today.

In contrast, just 15 per cent of social rented homes failed to meet the standard in 2012, down from 29 per cent in 2006.

According to latest figures from the English Housing Survey, in 2012-13 the private rented sector overtook the social rented sector to become the second biggest tenure in England (after home ownership.) There are four million private rented households in the country (18 per cent of all households) compared with 3.7 million social rented households (17 per cent).

CIH chief executive Grainia Long said the Government should look at new ways of improving standards in the private rented sector by targeting tax allowances. Private landlords currently benefit from around £7bn of tax allowances per year for deductible expenses such as repairs and maintenance, insurance and professional fees, but they don't target or incentivise higher standards.
 
If landlords who committed to a higher level of standards benefited from a more targeted allowance, while those who did not saw their allowances stay the same or even reduce, the Government could encourage higher standards - without needing to find any extra money.

Ms Long (pictured) added: "This Government has focused on measures to boost home ownership, but with more and more people living in the private rented sector - including more older people, more families with children and more vulnerable people from the housing waiting list - it's vital that we look carefully at new ways to raise standards."

The growth of the private rented sector has been fuelled by the constraints on home ownership. Much of the growth has been financed through the buy to let market mortgage market, which the UK Housing Review shows has recovered sharply after the downturn.
 
Lending fell from a peak of £46 billion of loans in 2007 to £9 billion in 2010, before moving back up to £21 billion in 2013, with buy to let landlords being able to access interest-only mortgages more easily than first-time buyers.

The UK Housing Review 2014 has been sponsored by Affinity Sutton, Broadland, Crisis, HouseMark, L&Q, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Orbit Housing Group and the Scottish Government. It is being launched today at CIH's office on Grays Inn Road, London. Speakers include CIH director of policy and practice Gavin Smart, Million Homes, Million Lives co-founder Natalie Elphicke, CIH President Paul Tennant and review authors Steve Wilcox and John Perry.
 
www.cih.org
 
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NATIONAL:Four million families ‘one month from homelessness’

Some 3.8 million families are one month from homelessness because they have enough money to pay their rent or mortgage for only a month if they lose their jobs, Shelter has warned.
 
The housing charity urged the Government to provide better short-term support after a survey of 7,500 people who pay rent or a mortgage found that high housing costs and stagnating wages meant many were living on a financial knife-edge.
 
The Government said it already provides support in housing benefit.
 
In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it spent £94bn a year on benefits to provide a safety net for millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed.
 
This includes about £24bn a year on housing benefit which the DWP said had gone up by 50 per cent over the past 10 years.
 
Shelter's findings were based on a YouGov survey of 7,500 adults who pay rent or a mortgage. It says 44 per cent of working families with children under the age of 18 could be one paycheque away from losing their homes if they became unemployed because they have little or no savings.
 
Of these, 2.4 million (29 per cent) have no savings whatsoever and would not be able to survive a full month.
 
Campbell Robb (pictured), chief executive of Shelter, said: “No matter how hard ordinary families work, in today’s ‘knife-edge nation’ any drop in income can all too quickly put their home at serious risk.

"The Government must make sure the safety net is strong enough to stop families falling through the gaps, and going through the tragedy of losing their homes.”
 
Liz Clare, a helpline adviser at Shelter, added: "Every day we see the proof that just one piece of bad luck, like a sudden job loss or illness, could tip any of us into a spiral that puts the family home at risk.
 
"Sky-high housing costs and stagnating wages mean that saving is becoming a thing of the past for many people. Most of us simply don't have enough money in the bank that we can rely on for long enough to get back on our feet."
 
Citizens Advice has said that there is “little or no room for manoeuvre” in household budgets.
 
Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: "There is little or no room for manoeuvre for people with stretched household budgets. Many are still feeling the effects of the recession as low wages and high costs means people face a daily battle to make ends meet. A month without a pay cheque because of an unexpected redundancy or work drying up can easily prove disastrous.
 
“The loss of a home is all too real a threat for those only just managing to keep up with the rent or their mortgage. Last year Citizens Advice saw a 16 per cent rise in social housing rent arrears and a 26 per cent increase in threats of house repossession for social housing tenants. Changes to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support have put some people in even more difficult financial positions. Enquiries about Discretionary Housing Payments to Citizens Advice Bureaux have risen by 110 per cent in just one year. More affordable homes need to be built to stop housing costs rising even further.
 
“Changes to emergency support mean many people don’t know where to go for help, and for some, the help they need is no longer there. The availability of support for people in crisis situations must be made crystal clear.”
 
www.shelter.org.uk
 
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NATIONAL:Coun­cil tax lift for flood fam­i­lies

More than 1000 families still unable to move back into their homes after the winter’s floods will not have to pay any council tax until they do, the Government has announced.

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said a discount scheme originally planned to last three months would be extended, taking the cost from £4 million to £6m.

Residents were forced from around 7700 homes in England during what was the wettest winter on record and although flood defences successfully helped protect over 1.3 million properties 7,700 homes were flooded.
 
Most families are now back in their homes, as ground water continues to recede slowly, but the clean up can be slow going and a little over 1,000 households are still hoping to move back in.

Officials said a review of serious floods that hit the country in 2007 found half of affected households returned to their properties within three months and 82 per cent within six months.
 
Mr Lewis (pictured) said: “Thankfully many people have been able to return to their homes, but for some the process of homes drying out is going to take a little longer still.

“I don’t want to see any of those families having to worry about paying their Council Tax while they focus on getting their lives back in order.
 
“So from today the Government will extend its discount and no family will pay a single penny in Council Tax until they are safely back in the comfort of their own home.”

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NATIONAL:Nine out of ten homes ‘too expensive’ for local people



Research by property search engine Adzuna showed that 91 per cent of homes in London were too expensive for locals, while other areas highlighted were Brighton, Oxford, Chelmsford and Cambridge.

The comparison of property prices and average local salaries showed that Belfast, Sunderland, Salford and Hull were the most affordable places for first-time buyers.

In these areas, average property prices were 2.5 times average local earnings compared with over seven times in the most expensive cities.

Andrew Hunter of Adzuna said: "Despite Government schemes like Help to Buy, it's clear that many parts of the country are on the verge of an affordability crisis, with young first-time buyers being almost completely priced out of the market."

Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said: "Help to Buy is both helping people on to the housing ladder and getting more homes built - nearly 20,000 home-owners have bought through the schemes, leading developers have said they'll build more as a direct result of the scheme, and last year housebuilding rose by 23 per cent.

"We've also taken action to reduce the record deficit we inherited, which has kept interest rates at a record low and made mortgages more affordable.

"On top of this, since 2010 the Government has helped deliver 170,000 new affordable homes, and we have a £20 billion investment programme in affordable housing up to 2015, and a further £23 billion after it."

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NATIONAL:Blog: Personal safety nets no substitute for Government support

By Kate Webb at Shelter
 
How would you keep a roof over your head if you lost your job? It’s not a question many of us like to ponder (just as we tend to ignore those issues like what exactly will happen if we fail to eat five (seven?) fruit and veg a day). But it’s a situation thousands of ordinary families unexpectedly find themselves facing every year.
 
Worryingly, the facts suggest many of us would struggle to keep up with rent or mortgage payments if we suddenly lost our income. New research for Shelter found that four in ten families are just one pay cheque away from being unable to afford their home.
 
It’s not news that Britons are struggling to save, and with incomes stagnant and living costs rising for several years many of us have been dipping into our savings just to keep ticking over. But it does mean that we’re ill-equipped to deal with a sudden change in circumstances, for example job loss or relationship breakdown.
 
A quarter of UK workers polled by Shelter had no savings at all and would immediately find themselves struggling to keep up with housing costs if they lost their job. Four in ten could cover less than  one month’s rent or mortgage payment, rising to six in ten after three months. Just over half of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance end up taking more than six months to get back to work, raising real concerns about how long people can support themselves for.
 
Perhaps we don’t think so much about how to pay for our homes if we lost our income because we assume that a safety net will be there to support us if we need it. This may seem a little complacent but it isn’t entirely unreasonable. Especially as most people are well aware that they’ve paid in to a system to support them. In fact, it’s because of this safety net that job loss rarely leads directly to homelessness in the UK (a success that we’re far too modest about).
 
Moreover, the majority of people don’t just assume the safety net is there, they think it ought to be there. Six in ten agree that the government is responsible for providing a decent standard of living for the unemployed, which would surely require a system for preventing homelessness.
 
Unfortunately continued cuts to the safety net have weakened this protection and made it harder for people to keep a roof over their head. Homeowners have to wait 13 weeks before receiving any help for mortgage interest payments, and even then the support they receive may be below their actual mortgage costs. Payments to private tenants has been cut back, meaning that many people paying average rents are not entitled to sufficient support. This problem is set to get worse when the short-term buffer for new claimants is abolished under Universal Credit.
 
This is why Shelter is campaigning against any further cuts to the housing safety net. The support it offers is already inadequate in many cases, and any further reductions risk pushing the system to breaking point. We all want to know that a safety net is there if life takes an unexpected turn, and that safety net has be strong enough to genuinely support people through difficult times and help them back on their feet.
 
www.shelter.org.uk


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NATIONAL:Weather dampens construction output but longer term upward trend emerges

Flooding and severe winter storms at the beginning of the year has been blamed for a short-term fall in construction output, though longer term figures paint a slightly improved picture.
 
Output figures in February from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) fell by 2.8 per cent when compared to January, equivalent to a £270m drop, but rose 0.3 per cent when the three months to February were compared with the previous three months.
 
When comparing February 2014 with February 2013, construction output was up 2.8 per cent.

Within the figures, private sector new housing activity, which had driven growth in the construction sector in 2013, fell by 6.3 per cent in February - the biggest fall for nearly a year.
 
The ONS cited adverse weather conditions at the beginning of the year, with severe winter storms and flooding, as the primary reason for the short-term fall in output, with subsequent repair and maintenance work yet to be recorded in the data.
 
Estimated to be £5,800 million in February 2014, the output of new work is now 12.3 per cent below its monthly peak of £6,600 million recorded in June 2011.
 
Simon Rawlinson, head of strategic research and insight, EC Harris, said: “Poor weather in January and February is likely to have been a significant contributor to the fall and output is likely to rebound in March – particularly in house building ahead of the Spring Sales season.
 
“One watch out is infrastructure, where output was lower than a year ago – possibly indicating that efforts to smooth workload during the transition between control periods in the water, gas and electricity industries may not have been as successful as intended.”

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