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This week's National news (August 18 - August 22)

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NATIONAL:House building increased by a fifth in England 


Latest statistics show house building in England is up by over a fifth compared to last year.

More homes are being built thanks to the government’s action to help homebuyers and fix the broken housing market, Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said yesterday.

The latest statistics show 36,230 new housing starts in England between April and June, an increase of 18 per cent on the same quarter last year.

It brings the total number of starts over the last 12 months to 137,780, a 22 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest level of house building since 2007.

Mr Lewis said the figures are further evidence that the government’s long-term economic plan to improve the housing market is working.

Almost 40,000 households have bought a home through Help to Buy, with over 80 per cent of sales going to first time buyers purchasing new build homes. The direct result is a new generation of homeowners and a 34 per cent increase in private house building during the first year of the scheme.

At the same time the construction sector has been growing for 15 consecutive months, and is currently experiencing the sharpest rise in house building orders since 2003, while companies are taking on new workers at the fastest rate since 1997.

A growing pipeline of new projects is also emerging from the reformed planning system. Last year successful applications for major housing schemes were up 23 per cent, and planning permissions were granted for 216,000 new homes.

Mr Lewis said the latest figures for Right to Buy sales, also published yesterday, show tenants are also benefiting from government assistance.

Between April and June 2,845 council owned properties were sold, a 31 per cent increase on the same quarter last year, and bringing the overall number of homes sold under the reinvigorated Right to Buy to nearly 22,500.

Receipts from additional sales are now being recycled into building new affordable homes. In the last quarter councils received £211 million, and started work on 675 new homes, bringing the total number of replacement homes started to almost 3,700.

More than 480,000 new homes have now been delivered since July 2010, including almost 200,000 affordable homes.

Brandon Lewis said: "Wherever you look across the housing market, the signs of progress are clear. House building in England is up by over a fifth compared to last year, orders for building materials are rising at the quickest pace for 11 years, and companies are hiring new staff at the fastest rate since 1997. Hardworking tenants are also voting with their feet and taking up the Right to Buy.

"This progress did not happen by accident. It bears testament to our efforts to reform the planning system and help homebuyers while paving the way for house builders to boost their output. But there’s still more to do, and improving the housing market will remain a vital part of our long-term economic plan."

After Right to Buy discounts were increased in April 2012, annual sales by councils quadrupled from 2,638 to 11,238.

The maximum discount caps available have just increased again, so tenants can benefit from up to £77,000 off the value of their home outside London, and £102,700 in the capital. These discounts will be increased annually by the Consumer Price Index level of inflation.

Earlier this month the government also announced that tenants can now be guided through the home buying process by a new team of experts.
 
Commenting on the house-building figures for England for April to June 2014, Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) chief executive Grainia Long said: "It is encouraging to see an increase in the number of new homes started and completed in the year to June.

"However, even though annual completions rose by seven per cent during that period to 114,440, that’s still less than half the number we need to be building to accommodate our growing population.

“Most importantly quarterly starts remain 26 per cent and completions 39 per cent below their March 2007 peak, which shows we have an awful lot of ground to make up if we are to have any hope of tackling our national housing crisis.  Building more homes for social rent, private rent and home ownership is vital if we are to help the millions of people who are being denied access to a decent home at a price they can afford."

Rachel Fisher, Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation, added: “The increase in house building shows housing associations are successfully getting on site and delivering the affordable homes we desperately need.

“However, it is clear that the total number of homes being built across all sectors remains woefully short of what’s needed.  Not even half of the 245,000 new homes required every year just to keep up with need were delivered in the last 12 months. 

“To solve this crisis we need the government to replace the disparate, short-term building programmes we currently have, with bold, long-term intervention that will see the right homes built in the right places at the right price. Politicians from all parties must look beyond the life-time of the next parliament and commit to end the housing crisis in a generation.”

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NATIONAL:Blog: A new investment model to kickstart housing


Richard Harrington, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP’s chief executive on attracting retail investors to local housing projects

Research by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year found that in 2013, 49 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds and 8 per cent of 30- to 34-year-olds still lived with their parents.

Recognising this issue was constraining our local economy, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership started work with the National Housing Federation and a number of housing associations on encouraging more retail investment into the UK housing market.

Our business case was initially driven by our engagement with local small businesses, a number of which told us they were keen to help their young employees get on to the housing ladder. We soon realised that the retail investment market might have potential that was not being fully exploited.

Buckinghamshire house prices are the third highest outside London. Nationally, the average person setting aside 5 per cent of their income each week in the 1990s could save up for a deposit on a house after just eight years. But today, saving at that rate, it would take that person 47 years to secure a deposit. In Buckinghamshire it would take 64 years, rising to 86 and to 92 in South Buckinghamshire and Chiltern districts respectively.

The idea of attracting business investment into housing is nothing new; it’s a concept that was born in the industrial revolution, when Victorian philanthropists such as Titus Salt and George Cadbury created social housing for their employees. BTVLEP is building on this concept.

We have already held positive talks with the government about extending the LEP a low interest loan, which would form part of a ‘blended’ package of finance to put behind the project. We have also pulled together 10 housing associations, all of which have indicated their willingness to work together and bring some of their own equity to the table.

We’ve spoken to a number of local authorities that recognise they have a desperate need for affordable and elderly care housing and may have land assets they could bring to the table.

Many have led us to believe that retail investment simply won’t work in this sector. That is not what our experience tells us. We have found that it requires something like a LEP to bring the various parties round the table.

All the signs are positive. We are already in preliminary discussions with a number of finance providers, including a newly established crowd funding platform looking to get into the housing sector. While the kind of returns an institutional investor normally looks for can limit their willingness to get involved in the intermediate housing market, retail investors generally look for much lower returns.

BTVLEP also recently hosted a transnational exchange meeting with a number of other local authorities from across Europe, all of which were interested in looking at tools and techniques for attracting retail investment into the housing market. The meeting, organised through an Urbact Project entitled USE-ACT, looked at how tools such as real estate investment trusts (REITs) and social investment regulations could help establish a positive environment for retail investment.

At a time when many traditional investment models are failing to deliver the right mix and volume of housing to meet the needs of local residents, the early signs are that retail investment could provide an interesting alternative.


buckstvlep.co.uk

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NATIONAL:House building increased by a fifth in England


Latest statistics show house building in England is up by over a fifth compared to last year.

More homes are being built thanks to the government’s action to help homebuyers and fix the broken housing market, Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said yesterday.

The latest statistics show 36,230 new housing starts in England between April and June, an increase of 18 per cent on the same quarter last year.

It brings the total number of starts over the last 12 months to 137,780, a 22 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest level of house building since 2007.

Mr Lewis said the figures are further evidence that the government’s long-term economic plan to improve the housing market is working.

Almost 40,000 households have bought a home through Help to Buy, with over 80 per cent of sales going to first time buyers purchasing new build homes. The direct result is a new generation of homeowners and a 34 per cent increase in private house building during the first year of the scheme.

At the same time the construction sector has been growing for 15 consecutive months, and is currently experiencing the sharpest rise in house building orders since 2003, while companies are taking on new workers at the fastest rate since 1997.

A growing pipeline of new projects is also emerging from the reformed planning system. Last year successful applications for major housing schemes were up 23 per cent, and planning permissions were granted for 216,000 new homes.

Mr Lewis said the latest figures for Right to Buy sales, also published yesterday, show tenants are also benefiting from government assistance.

Between April and June 2,845 council owned properties were sold, a 31 per cent increase on the same quarter last year, and bringing the overall number of homes sold under the reinvigorated Right to Buy to nearly 22,500.

Receipts from additional sales are now being recycled into building new affordable homes. In the last quarter councils received £211 million, and started work on 675 new homes, bringing the total number of replacement homes started to almost 3,700.

More than 480,000 new homes have now been delivered since July 2010, including almost 200,000 affordable homes.

Brandon Lewis said: "Wherever you look across the housing market, the signs of progress are clear. House building in England is up by over a fifth compared to last year, orders for building materials are rising at the quickest pace for 11 years, and companies are hiring new staff at the fastest rate since 1997. Hardworking tenants are also voting with their feet and taking up the Right to Buy.

"This progress did not happen by accident. It bears testament to our efforts to reform the planning system and help homebuyers while paving the way for house builders to boost their output. But there’s still more to do, and improving the housing market will remain a vital part of our long-term economic plan."

After Right to Buy discounts were increased in April 2012, annual sales by councils quadrupled from 2,638 to 11,238.

The maximum discount caps available have just increased again, so tenants can benefit from up to £77,000 off the value of their home outside London, and £102,700 in the capital. These discounts will be increased annually by the Consumer Price Index level of inflation.

Earlier this month the government also announced that tenants can now be guided through the home buying process by a new team of experts.
 
Commenting on the house-building figures for England for April to June 2014, Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) chief executive Grainia Long said: "It is encouraging to see an increase in the number of new homes started and completed in the year to June.

"However, even though annual completions rose by seven per cent during that period to 114,440, that’s still less than half the number we need to be building to accommodate our growing population.

“Most importantly quarterly starts remain 26 per cent and completions 39 per cent below their March 2007 peak, which shows we have an awful lot of ground to make up if we are to have any hope of tackling our national housing crisis.  Building more homes for social rent, private rent and home ownership is vital if we are to help the millions of people who are being denied access to a decent home at a price they can afford."

Rachel Fisher, Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation, added: “The increase in house building shows housing associations are successfully getting on site and delivering the affordable homes we desperately need.

“However, it is clear that the total number of homes being built across all sectors remains woefully short of what’s needed.  Not even half of the 245,000 new homes required every year just to keep up with need were delivered in the last 12 months. 

“To solve this crisis we need the government to replace the disparate, short-term building programmes we currently have, with bold, long-term intervention that will see the right homes built in the right places at the right price. Politicians from all parties must look beyond the life-time of the next parliament and commit to end the housing crisis in a generation.”

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NATIONAL:Government urged to turn around ‘sink’ estates within 10 years


Britain’s social housing estates are “nothing short of a national embarrassment” and politicians from all parties should pledge to turn around the most deprived areas within the next decade, according to a think-tank.

In a new report, The Estate We’re In,  think tank Policy Exchange argues that the condition of many of Britain’s social housing estates is nothing short of a national embarrassment.

The paper says that the results of decades of neglect and ghettoization have led to acute social problems that are entrenched and generational including: lone parents with low educational attainment and poor parenting skills; child neglect and domestic violence; low levels of employment; and the rise of gang warfare and knife crime.

It points to the case of the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham where the terrible living conditions, high unemployment and poor police relations contributed to the 2011 riots.

The paper argues that it would be “morally inexcusable” for policymakers not to pledge to turn around the most deprived council estates within ten years.

Written by author and inner-city crime writer, Gavin Knight, the report uses case studies to extract best practice, drawing out the key lessons for policymakers in how to turn around the worst housing estates. It references the work of individual police officers, neighbourhood managers and nursery workers who have helped turn around some of the most troubled estates. 

Crime reporting is fundamental. Getting people to report crime is the first step in reclaiming estates. Too often residents are too frightened or disillusioned to do so.

Leaders and interventions should be local. The paper shows that the dedication and effort of one individual can catalyse the recovery of an estate. Many of these individuals have lived in and around the area themselves and have in-depth knowledge of the problems facing residents. Successful interventions in the report case studies were based at the very heart of the estates they served. 

Agencies must work collaboratively. Residents often have multiple and overlapping issues that require different agencies from social workers and neighbourhood police officers to debt management advice and nursery care. It’s vital that these organisations work together.

Women must be supported. Domestic violence is endemic on many deprived estates and several of those we interviewed emphasised that young people who are exposed to violence in the home will often grow up to commit violence themselves. There is a clear need for better availability of and support for male perpetrator programmes; for better sex and relationships education; and for interventions to empower women in deprived areas through education, employment and parenting support. 

It makes a series of recommendations including:

The Government should set up an ‘Estates Recovery Board’, which would complement the Troubled Families team, pool funding from relevant government departments and work with Police & Crime Commissioners and Estate Recovery Teams to identify local leaders.

At a local level, Police & Crime Commissioners should set up ‘Estate Recovery Teams’ made up of local representatives from across all relevant agencies  including Chief Constables, the local authority, headteachers from local schools, NHS Trust representatives, drug and alcohol workers and other individuals from agencies or voluntary organisations who can work with the residents on each estate. On an estate-by-estate basis, Estate Recovery Teams will devise a Recovery Plan to prioritise and tackle the deep-rooted problems on individual estates such as gang crime, unemployment, lack of education, domestic violence and other issues. 

Gavin Knight, author of the report, said: “It would be morally inexcusable for policymakers to turn their backs on Britain’s sink estates. Deprived council estates can be transformed from dangerous backwaters. Gang members can be presented with a route away from crime towards a better life. Children and families living in these troubled communities can have their life changes dramatically enhanced. But only if the government commits to a ten year programme to clear up the worst estates in the country.”

Read the full report.

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NATIONAL:'Quality Counts' audit results published by HCA


The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has published the results of the Affordable Homes Programme Quality Audits 2013/14.

Each year the HCA undertakes a survey of residents and partner organisations to obtain feedback on the quality and design of homes funded under the Affordable Homes Programme (AHP).

The survey results are combined with other evidence from project visits to produce quality audits (QAs) of a sample of occupied schemes. The subsequent ‘Quality Counts’ publication highlights key themes from the audits.

The report summarises the results of the 2013/14 QAs based on visits to 89 schemes in 75 local authorities and most importantly interviews with 195 residents.

Through the Quality Counts report, the HCA continues to
  • disseminate key messages and lessons learnt from the visits and interviews
  • play a role in identifying areas of design and quality that are important to residents and where future schemes may be improved
  • monitor partner performance in terms of quality and resident satisfaction whilst ensuring compliance with agreed quality standards
  • gauge the extent to which design and quality policy objectives have positively impacted upon residents
As in previous years, the 2013/14 results show that residents are, in general, happy with their new homes, whilst still leaving room for future improvements in specific areas. 

When asked ‘How satisfied are you with the overall quality of your home?’ 72 per cent of residents (of those who answered) gave a score of 5 out of 5 (where the highest rating was 5). Nationally the average score was 4.7.

Residents expressed high levels of satisfaction across all aspects of their new homes and the wider developments. The size, space and kitchens within the home were widely appreciated (though there were also negative views on size and storage, see below), as were private gardens when provided. Such positive results year after year, are a testament to the sustained efforts of partners in delivering affordable housing.

Equally, this report highlights specific areas where evidence from residents and partners indicates room for improved practice. This year’s findings point to some of the same areas as have been highlighted in previous years, such as space, storage and thoughtful positioning of services, and some new issues such as the potential for overheating, effective refuse solutions and useable outdoor space for sloping sites.

Read the full report.

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NATIONAL:First increase in new Scottish housing supply for six years


The number of new homes in Scotland has risen by seven per cent in the last year, the first annual increase since before the recession, official figures have revealed.

The new figures show that 15,957 new homes were delivered in Scotland in the year to March 2014, compared to 14,895 in the previous year. This is the first increase since 2007-08.

The figure includes new build housing, rehabilitations, and conversions. Private sector house building and housing association rehabilitations accounted for the largest share of this growth, with private sector-led new build completions rising nine per cent on the previous year, to 10,686.
 
The Scottish Government said the latest statistics also confirm it remains on track to deliver on its target of 30,000 new affordable homes by 2016.
 
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) broadly welcomed the housing statistics but warned more needs to be done so every Scots has adequate housing conditions.
 
Susan Torrance, SFHA policy manager, said: “The SFHA broadly welcomes the new Scottish Government housing statistics published today which show an increase in the supply of housing in Scotland for the first time since 2007/2008. The recognition, however, that we still have a very long way to go to recover from the 42 per cent decrease in completions since then, is sobering and reflects the challenge to all providers of new housing.
 
“The drop in housing association completions represents the time lag between the introduction of the new subsidy levels in 2013 and the time taken to kick-start many projects previously unviable because of lower grant levels. However, the increase in approvals for housing association projects – up from 1620 in 2012/13 to 2875 in 2013/14 - gives some hope that we are beginning to recover from a devastating slow down in the construction of social housing, at a time when almost 1 million Scots can’t afford adequate housing conditions.
 
“It is also undoubtedly the case that many of our members are dealing with a difficult private finance market to compliment subsidy provided for new homes, and we are putting all our energy into working with the sector and Scottish Government to find better ways to deliver the supply of good quality new homes so desperately needed.”
 
Graeme Brown (pictured), director of Shelter Scotland, said: “The rise in the number of new houses being built is welcome and is a step in the right direction.
 
“However, coming hard on the heels of the Poverty and Social Exclusion project report saying that one million Scots cannot afford adequate housing, these figures show that the Scottish Government is still only scratching the surface of the problem.
 
“To bring hope to the 155,100 people currently on local authority housing waiting lists, the Scottish Government needs to increase the scale of its ambition and commit to funding at least 10,000 new socially rented homes a year to meet the backlog and increased demand.
 
“Until that happens, with demand outstripping supply, there is still the potential for rents and house prices to rise faster than people’s income, making housing less affordable for more people.”
 
Scotland’s home building industry pointed to the success of the Scottish Government’s Help to Buy shared equity scheme and warned that sustained increases in production were now under threat as a result of funding for this year having run out.
 
Philip Hogg (pictured), chief executive of trade body Homes for Scotland, said: “After the extreme difficulties encountered by our industry as a result of the economic downturn, it is very welcome news indeed that the downward trend, which has seen total output fall by over 40 per cent since 2007 and languish at levels not seen since 1947, has been arrested.
 
“The figures show that the increase in supply was driven by the private sector and this clearly demonstrates the huge impact made by the very successful Help to Buy (Scotland) scheme, which has generated over 4300 sales and reservations since launch less than a year ago. 
 
“Whilst we applaud the Scottish Government for introducing the scheme, funding for this year has already run out, leaving both buyers and builders very frustrated.  The industry has effectively had the rug pulled from beneath it before any firm recovery has had the opportunity to take hold.”
 
A total of 6,850 affordable homes were completed through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme in the year to June 2014, up nine per cent on the previous year. Approvals were up 25 per cent to 7,067, while starts were up 55 per cent at 6,530.
 
Local authority housing figures show that in the last year to March 2014, 1,140 new council houses were built in Scotland, the highest total in 25 years.
 
The Scottish Government has invested over £135 million through its Council House Building Programme, which has provided more than 4,000 new homes across Scotland since 2009.

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NATIONAL:BBlog: A new investment model to kickstart housing


Richard Harrington, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP’s chief executive on attracting retail investors to local housing projects

Research by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year found that in 2013, 49 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds and 8 per cent of 30- to 34-year-olds still lived with their parents.

Recognising this issue was constraining our local economy, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership started work with the National Housing Federation and a number of housing associations on encouraging more retail investment into the UK housing market.

Our business case was initially driven by our engagement with local small businesses, a number of which told us they were keen to help their young employees get on to the housing ladder. We soon realised that the retail investment market might have potential that was not being fully exploited.

Buckinghamshire house prices are the third highest outside London. Nationally, the average person setting aside 5 per cent of their income each week in the 1990s could save up for a deposit on a house after just eight years. But today, saving at that rate, it would take that person 47 years to secure a deposit. In Buckinghamshire it would take 64 years, rising to 86 and to 92 in South Buckinghamshire and Chiltern districts respectively.

The idea of attracting business investment into housing is nothing new; it’s a concept that was born in the industrial revolution, when Victorian philanthropists such as Titus Salt and George Cadbury created social housing for their employees. BTVLEP is building on this concept.

We have already held positive talks with the government about extending the LEP a low interest loan, which would form part of a ‘blended’ package of finance to put behind the project. We have also pulled together 10 housing associations, all of which have indicated their willingness to work together and bring some of their own equity to the table.

We’ve spoken to a number of local authorities that recognise they have a desperate need for affordable and elderly care housing and may have land assets they could bring to the table.

Many have led us to believe that retail investment simply won’t work in this sector. That is not what our experience tells us. We have found that it requires something like a LEP to bring the various parties round the table.

All the signs are positive. We are already in preliminary discussions with a number of finance providers, including a newly established crowd funding platform looking to get into the housing sector. While the kind of returns an institutional investor normally looks for can limit their willingness to get involved in the intermediate housing market, retail investors generally look for much lower returns.

BTVLEP also recently hosted a transnational exchange meeting with a number of other local authorities from across Europe, all of which were interested in looking at tools and techniques for attracting retail investment into the housing market. The meeting, organised through an Urbact Project entitled USE-ACT, looked at how tools such as real estate investment trusts (REITs) and social investment regulations could help establish a positive environment for retail investment.

At a time when many traditional investment models are failing to deliver the right mix and volume of housing to meet the needs of local residents, the early signs are that retail investment could provide an interesting alternative.


buckstvlep.co.uk

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NATIONAL:New Governing Board members at CIH


Two new Governing Board members have been chosen by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).
 
Will Nixon of the Aspire Group and Robert Grundy of Savills were openly recruited based on their skills and experience and will take up their new roles immediately.
 
Mr Grundy heads the Housing Division at Savills, the global real estate services firm, and sits on the Savills UK board.

He said: “I’m delighted to be appointed to CIH’s Governing Board. I’ve worked in housing for over 30 years, 25 of them at Savills.  With my real estate and property background I’m excited about the prospect of bringing a different perspective to CIH’s work. I want to help CIH open up new opportunities for its members in the rapidly-changing world of housing to complement its traditional strongholds.”
 
Mr Nixon is deputy chief executive at Newcastle-under-Lyme based housing group Aspire and is also chief executive of Enterprising Futures, the group’s social enterprise arm.

He said: “I am thrilled to be joining the board at such an important time in CIH’s evolution and with the significant challenges facing the housing industry. I am looking forward to connecting with our members and ensuring that I add value to the direction and work of CIH.”
 
CIH chief executive Grainia Long added: “I’m really pleased that Robert and Will are joining our Governing Board. They bring masses of skills and experience as well as a fresh perspective which I know will help us achieve our aim of providing the best possible support for our members and for the housing profession.”

www.cih.org
 
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NATIONAL:Federation concerned over HCA Code of Practice


The National Housing Federation has stated that it does not support the proposal by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to introduce a Code of Practice for the regulatory body.

In its regulatory framework consultation response the Federation said that "it does not support the proposal to introduce a Code of Practice. Such a Code is very likely to become regulatory in its effect".

It said: "All past evidence suggests that 'advice' from the regulator is treated, by the regulated bodies as well as by the regulator’s own staff, as being of equal force with formal regulation."

One issue that was raised was also called into question by Placeshapers which was the removal of provision for rent convergence which Federation have said will have a significant impact on a number of providers.

Also the proposed restrictions in the use of the general consent for disposals will create additional burdens for providers and for the regulator the response has claimed. The solution offered to manage these burdens is that "the regulator should allow providers to agree a programme of financial measures, and should not require individual consents to disposals carried out in accordance with that programme".

However, in general, the Federation has agreed with the emphasis on risk management and has welcomed the abandonment of the HCA’s former suggestion of mandatory ring-fencing between core and non-core activities.

The Federation also agreed that providers’ business plans should be subjected to rigorous stress-testing and providers should identify the risks to which they are subject and the steps that are necessary to manage and mitigate those risks.

Other issues the Federation feel need to be revisited are: 

• The nature, and attendant limitations, of the power to consent to disposals, which is not a general power to regulate financial transactions;
• The treatment of disposals by for-profit RPs, which fails to distinguish the grant element from the other proceeds of sale.

The conclusion of the consultation stated: "The Federation agrees that a more complex and demanding operating environment requires a regulatory response, and feels that the proposals in the HCA consultation paper represent a welcome advance from the ring-fencing approach outlined in last year’s discussion paper. It is right to focus on risk and how it is managed, and the prime responsibility for this is rightly placed on boards."

Read the full response.

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NATIONAL:Labour pledges to remove 'bad' energy firms licences 


Labour
has pledged to give the regulator Ofgem power to remove energy firms' licences, if it wins the next election.

The party says the new rule would apply in cases of "repeated instances of the most serious and deliberate breaches of their licence conditions".

It claims their pledged action would protect consumer interests.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said: "Where firms fail to meet standards there must be tough and decisive action."

An Ofgem spokesman said it already had powers to revoke licences in "specific circumstances, including where companies have failed to comply with particular enforcement orders."

However, a Labour spokesman said the current rules meant a firm could repeatedly break the law as long as it paid the fines issued by Ofgem.

"That's the kind of regulatory gap we want to address," he said.

Energy UK, the trade body for the industry, said it already had "strong penalties for companies found to be in breach of licence conditions".

"Having a strong set of licence conditions is essential for the protection of consumer rights," it said.

Labour also revealed figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which it said showed 16 energy companies faced probes into mis-selling, poor customer service and other bad practices.

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NATIONAL:Financial crisis brewing in social housing sector, says research


Money Saving Movement has revealed that only 5 per cent of tenants would approach there housing association for financial help, with 96 per cent have faced financial difficulties.

The report titled, “Scraping the Barrel” – The Cost of Living for Social Housing Residents, is the first instalment of their research on the cost of living for social housing residents and they claim their findings "suggest that a financial crisis is brewing in the social housing sector, as residents are increasingly struggling to keep their head above water."

After six months of research concerning how the unaffordable cost of living is impacting peoples’ lives, Money Saving Movement revealed the stark realities facing low-income households in the UK today. After surveying over 1,200 social housing residents from ten housing associations across the UK, Money Saving Movement found that:
  • The vast majority of residents have experienced some form of hardship
  • 94 per cent have had financial difficulties in the last six months 
  • Even the basics are a struggle for many
  • More than two in five struggle to keep up with household essentials (43 per cent)
  • Friends and Family are where people go first for help
  • Of those who knew where they would turn, 48 per cent said family & friends
  • Housing associations are not seen as a primary source of support
  • Twice as many people would go to their bank for help (10 per cent) than their Housing Association (5 per cent)
The research adds further weight to a growing body of evidence that suggests that low-income households are bearing the worst brunt of the financial crisis, as well as the resultant recession.

With the cost of living having risen 25 per cent since 2008, low income households are now also facing an average extra yearly cost of £1,280, thanks to the “Poverty Premium”. For the 13 million people living below the poverty line in the UK, these added expenses can mean the difference between living on the breadline, or being pushed over the edge into damaging debt-spirals.

The report states that: "For those living in lower income households, the reality is that life today is the hardest it has been in a generation. While jobs offering decent pay or decent hours are scarce, families and individuals are struggling to afford even the basics to get by."

With limited financial provision provided to those in poverty and support services often not getting through to the right people at the right time, families and individuals are constantly forced to make dire decisions between getting ripped off or living in deprivation.

With 3.7 million English households living in social housing and almost half of those earning a low income, financial difficulties for low-income households could prove a serious problem for social housing providers.

Many housing associations are working to mitigate these issues, and do provide a variety of support services to their residents. But with further social security cuts looming that will cost those in poverty an average extra £2,744 a year, more and more people are struggling to make ends meet.

There is a financial crisis brewing amongst social housing residents in the UK, and the sad fact is that with the government’s planned cuts to social security, things are only likely to get worse before they get better.

Payday loans are being used for rent, unpaid bills are stacking up behind the sofa, and ringing phones are being left unanswered in case it’s debt collectors on the other end.

Forward-thinking social housing providers are working extremely hard to support their residents through these tough times, and today’s figures show the urgent need for those services. What’s clear, though, is that these vital services must be expanded, with more innovation and cross-sector collaboration encouraged in supporting social housing residents’ financial health & general wellbeing.
 
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NATIONAL:New standard to give housing apprenticeships a boost

 
The Housing Apprenticeship Standard published yesterday will encourage more young people to choose a career in housing, says the National Housing Federation.
 
In March, the Prime Minister announced that the housing sector was to join the Apprenticeship Trailblazer programme, putting employers at the helm of the development of an Apprenticeship standard in housing management. 
 
Since then, a consortium of nine housing associations has been working with the National Housing Federation to shape the future of training and skills funding for apprenticeships in the sector. 
 
David Orr (pictured), chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “The standards published today have been designed by the housing sector for the housing sector to support the future training needs of all housing managers.
 
“Not only will the new standards improve the quality of apprenticeships by increasing skills and adaptability but we also hope it will create more opportunities and encourage more young people to consider housing as a career.
 
“Housing is diverse sector and a rewarding career with fantastic development opportunities. All too often housing associations are missing out on talented people who have the ability and skills to help respond to a rapidly changing social, financial and political landscape. The new standard will help capture these people and hone their talents.”
 
The consortium of housing associations is: Aspire Group, Amicus Horizon, Affinity Sutton, Coast and Country Housing, Futures Housing Group, Guinness Housing Partnership, New Charter Housing Trust Group, The Community Housing Group, Yarlington Housing Group
 
Chair of the consortium Tim Edwards, Group Head of Regeneration at Aspire, said: “We are very pleased to have the new Housing Apprenticeship standard published as part of the joint work across the sector to raise the profile of housing as a career and support the skills of the sector.”
 
Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “I’m delighted that the housing sector has developed a new apprenticeship standard in Housing Management. 
 
“Since 2010 there have been 1.8 million apprenticeship starts and the housing sector is leading by example in the development and delivery of high quality apprenticeships that give people the chance of successful careers and help businesses get the skills they need to grow.”

www.housing.org.uk

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NATIONAL:Proposed domestic abuse offence ‘long overdue’ says Home Group

Proposals for a new offence of “domestic abuse” designed to criminalise men who bully, cause psychological harm or deny money to their partners have been proposed by Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

The law would make the worst cases of non-violent “controlling behaviour” a jailable offence.

Home Group, a provider of domestic abuse services, has welcomed news of a proposed new criminal offence of domestic abuse, saying that a change in legislation is long overdue.

Stonham, the care and support arm of Home Group, has voiced its support for the potential law, which would define emotional and psychological harm inflicted by a partner within a relationship as a criminal offence.

Stonham has been running domestic abuse services for over 25 years and has supported thousands of domestic abuse survivors to rebuild their lives.

Audrey Mitchell, client services director for Home Group (south), said: “A criminal offence of domestic abuse is long overdue. While existing laws protect people from crimes such as violence and harassment, abuse in relationships – be it physical or otherwise – can be harder to prosecute and this will give police certainty in their right to intervene.

“Domestic abuse is not just physical, but also includes verbal, psychological and financial abuse. It can affect anyone, no matter what their race, religion, class or gender. With the latest statistics suggesting that 30% of women and 16% of men will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, it is more vital than ever to ensure that victims of such abuse receive the help they need.

“Working to break the cycle of emotional and psychological harm which destroys people’s confidence, perpetuates isolation and impacts on general health and wellbeing is an integral part of our domestic abuse services. Creating a specific offence which explicitly states that coercive and controlling behaviour is a crime may help victims recognise what is happening to them as abuse and encourage them to seek help.

“It also sends a clear message to perpetrators that this behaviour is not just unacceptable, but is also breaking the law. If we can break the cycle of abuse it will help end the destructive behaviour which blights the lives of so many people.”

www.homegroup.org.uk
 
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NATIONAL:Blog: How safe is your data?


Andrew Myatt, director of communities and housing at Tai Calon Community Housing in South Wales, shares how Tai Calon has overcome the challenges of data protection.

I would like to tell you about our data protection journey - the challenges we faced and overcame as well as how we manage our data and personal information. 

However, first, let me tell you a little about Tai Calon which celebrated its fourth birthday in July.  We own and manage just over 6,000 homes and are based in the beautiful valleys of South Wales, around 30 minutes away from Cardiff.

We are the largest social landlord in Blaenau Gwent, which is the smallest county in Wales. 

We, like every other organisation, hold, use, exchange and share a vast  amount of personal and sensitive information.  As a consequence we face risk over how we store, manage and exchange this data.  

While we have formal protocols in place with some of the organisations we share information with, what happens the rest of the time? 

We decided to take a long hard look at what we do and don’t do.  I would suggest you do the same - you may be very surprised at what you see and hear. 

For example:

  • what information is regularly left on desks that anyone could see and read?
  • Do the computer screens shut down when staff are away from their desks? 
  • What’s been left on the dashboards or front seats of the vans or cars used by your own staff or contractors?
  • As well as looking – listen. . . who is discussing what for all to hear in your reception or staff kitchen?
  • How private are your interview rooms?
  • Who can access the different areas of your building?  Is anyone allowed to wander where they want?  
  • And, how good are you at managing people in and out of your buildings?

However, for us, things came to a head two years ago.  A small mistake by an outside company and a member of staff led to limited, but sensitive personal information being released to a third party without permission.

We immediately reported the breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office as well as our own industry regulator.  Importantly we also explained what we were doing to learn and to do better. 

We commissioned an external auditor to review our handling of the specific case.  They also examined our wider process and policies in terms of how we manage and secure personal data.  In reality this meant setting up an internal project team, sponsored by me but supported by Paula Tighe at Wright Hassall

Its’ been a tough 18 months.  I cannot over emphasise how much work has been done but it has been worth it. Some of our highlights are that we now have:

  • Fully trained staff – who understand the law, our systems/processes and importantly their responsibilities
  • Front line, customer facing, managers are now accountable for data management – it's no longer seen as a back office role
  • Tenants understand the issue better and how it can impact on what service we can give
  • All visitors are well managed and only have access to the areas where they really need it
  • We have redesigned our office so that personal information cannot be inadvertently seen from public areas
  • We have a comprehensive new suite of  policies, processes and governance documents
  • We regularly test our systems, and
  • Continue to strive to improve.

What happened to us was an innocent mistake - however, it could have had very serious consequences for us as a business and for the person affected.    

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of constantly reviewing and improving your systems of handling sensitive data. 

Don’t delay, start the process today - before something happens.

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NATIONAL:Labour pledges to remove 'bad' energy firms licences

Labour has pledged to give the regulator Ofgem power to remove energy firms' licences, if it wins the next election.

The party says the new rule would apply in cases of "repeated instances of the most serious and deliberate breaches of their licence conditions".

It claims their pledged action would protect consumer interests.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said: "Where firms fail to meet standards there must be tough and decisive action."

An Ofgem spokesman said it already had powers to revoke licences in "specific circumstances, including where companies have failed to comply with particular enforcement orders."

However, a Labour spokesman said the current rules meant a firm could repeatedly break the law as long as it paid the fines issued by Ofgem.

"That's the kind of regulatory gap we want to address," he said.

Energy UK, the trade body for the industry, said it already had "strong penalties for companies found to be in breach of licence conditions".

"Having a strong set of licence conditions is essential for the protection of consumer rights," it said.

Labour also revealed figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which it said showed 16 energy companies faced probes into mis-selling, poor customer service and other bad practices.

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NATIONAL:Home Group surplus reaches £62.1m


Home Group has recorded a robust set of annual accounts as it builds on the foundations for future growth.

They generated an operating surplus of £62.1 million from a turnover of £327m during the financial year 2013/14.

Highlights included:

  • 743 new homes built
  • Increase in operating margin to 23 per cent from 19 per cent through careful control of operating costs and through efficiency
  • £105m invested in maintaining and improving housing stock
  • Improved regulator assessment to V1G1 rating
  • 50 per cent increase in funds invested in new build and existing properties
  • Extension of key national justice contract for a further two years
  • Diversification of care and support portfolio with new health contracts
  • A+ stable Standard & Poor’s rating
  • 47.4 per cent gearing ratio
Home Group confirmed it remains on course to deliver 7,000 new homes in its current development programme to 2019.

The Newcastle-based provider, which operates from Devon to Dundee, will deliver 762 new homes in 2014/15 and expects to drive housing income from £248m to over £300m by 2019.

Bob Davies, chairman of Home Group, said: “This has been a robust performance by Home Group at a time when the wider economics of the sector have been under pressure.

“Welfare reform and changes to the way care and support services are commissioned and funded have presented significant challenge for the group on all fronts. The senior management, supported strongly by a talented and committed workforce, have ensured that Home Group has not lost ground and instead has further developed the strong foundation required to deliver strong growth in the future.

“Home Group remains committed to being one of the largest providers of new affordable homes – attested by our recent award of £42.3m grants by the HCA and GLA to deliver 1,976 additional properties between now and 2018 which forms part of our overall plans to deliver 7,000 new builds by 2019.

“Our ability to forge opportunities in new and developing care and support markets, particularly the increasing integration of health and social care, and exciting prospects in the criminal justice sector present enormous opportunity for growth over the coming years.”

A copy of Home Group’s Financial Statement can be viewed here.  

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NATIONAL:Financial stability in the social housing sector continues


The social housing sector continues to demonstrate its financial stability, and has access to sufficient finance, according to the latest quarterly survey published by the Homes and Communities Agency today.

Overall the sector is in a strong position in relation to its future financing needs with £13 billion of undrawn borrowing facilities and £4bn held in cash.
 
As the regulator of social housing providers, the HCA undertakes a quarterly survey of housing providers to establish the levels of exposure to a range of risks faced by the sector. This report is based on a survey of all private registered providers owningand/or managing more than 1,000 homes for the quarter ending 30 June 2014.
 
New facilities arranged in the quarter totalled £1.1bn. Investors’ confidence in the sector was demonstrated by the continued trend towards capital market funding; over half of the new funding came from capital markets including the first long term government guaranteed bond arranged through Affordable Housing Company plc, which raised £180 million for English providers.
 
Affordable Home Ownership (AHO) sales remained stable with 2,116 sales reported in the quarter. The stock of unsold homesfell to 2,985. There were fewer AHO completions reported in June than in March – the anticipated increased numbers of completions in 2014/15 are yet to be achieved. 1,734 completions were reported this quarter; the 18 month pipeline to 31 December 2015 anticipates a quarterly average of 3,066 units.
 
This report also includes additional information relating to properties developed for market sale – the forecast pipeline for completions over the next 18 months anticipates a marked increase in activity, averaging 879 homes per quarter.
 
Mick Warner, HCA deputy director of regulatory operations, said: “The sector as a whole remains financially strong with £13bn undrawn borrowing facilities in place.  Most of the sector’s forecast debt requirement over the next 2 years is to fund development programmes.
 
“The number of unsold AHO and market sales homes fell in the quarter and sales risk is concentrated in relatively few providers. However, pipeline figures for AHO and market sale development in the next 18 months forecast a level of new supply significantly in excess of current sales volumes. 
 
“The July announcements, by HCA and GLA of £1.3 billion allocations to deliver over 60,000 new homes, will give providers greater clarity of their future debt requirements.
 
“As regulator, we remind providers to ensure that they secure facilities well in advance of need so that they can meet their financial commitments in an orderly manner.”
 
The latest quarterly survey is available to download from the HCA website.

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NATIONAL:Almost one million Scots cannot afford adequate housing conditions


Nearly one million Scots cannot afford adequate housing conditions and more than a quarter of a million are not properly fed, new research has shown.
 
The largest study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK found that the percentage of households falling below society’s minimum standard of living has increased from 14 per cent to 33 per cent over the last 30 years, despite the size of the economy doubling.
 
The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom (PSE) project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has shown that even full-time work is not always sufficient to escape from poverty.
 
The study compares people's actual living standards with the minimum standards which the public thinks everyone should have. It claims 800,000 people are too poor to engage in common social activities.
 
The report shows there is slightly less poverty in Scotland than the rest of the UK - 18 per cent of children and adults in Scotland were poor at the end of 2012 compared with 22 per cent.
 
Researchers from universities across Britain, including Heriot-Watt and Glasgow, found that in Scotland:

  • Over 400,000 adults go without essential clothing
  • More than 200,000 children live in homes that are damp
  • Nearly one in three people (30 per cent) cannot afford to heat their homes adequately in winter
  • About 350,000 children live in cold homes in winter and 50,000 children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home
  • Nearly one in four adults has an income below what they consider is needed to avoid poverty
  • One in every eight (13 per cent) adults in paid work is poor
  • One in five adults has had to borrow in the last year to pay for day-to-day needs.
The findings will be discussed later today at an Edinburgh conference which has been jointly organised by the PSE team and the Scottish Government.
 
Experts have criticised the UK Government's poverty strategy and have called on both Holyrood and Westminster to do more to tackle deprivation.
 
Prof Nick Bailey (pictured), from the University of Glasgow, said the study proved Westminster and Scottish Government attempts to tackle poverty had failed.
 
He added: “The UK Government continues to ignore the deep problems in the Scottish and UK labour markets.
 
“They do not have adequate policies to address this growing problem. UK and Scottish governments both need to do more.”
 
Prof Glen Bramley, from Heriot-Watt University, said: “It is worrying that, in the 21st Century, more than 40 per cent of households who want to use meals on wheels, evening classes, museums, youth clubs, citizens' advice or special transport cannot do so due to unavailability, unaffordability or inadequacy.”

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NATIONAL:Blog: Profit for a purpose, why housing associations are social entrepreneurs


Ann Santry, chief executive of Sovereign Housing Association, examines how housing associations have become more commercially aware while retaining a culture driven by social purpose.

We all know that housing associations offer far more than bricks and mortar. A home represents security, somewhere residents can feel confident enough to put down roots and achieve their aspirations.

That’s why housing associations care about creating safe and stable communities, why affordability matters and we make long-term commitments to our residents and partners.

And housing associations have been doing this for a long time. Housing associations pre-date council housing with the earliest examples being alms houses in the 10th century. From these humble and altruistic roots we now provide around 2.5m homes for 5m people – 8% of the population.

That’s a big social responsibility.

On the financial side the way we fund our business has shifted dramatically, increasingly relying on funding from banks and building societies rather than the state.

Last year Sovereign reported a turnover of £200m, £1.3bn in borrowing and an asset base of more than £5bn at open market values. Many housing associations are moving into new areas, increasing their market rent portfolio, building homes for outright sale or even privatising back office functions.

It’s a significant and evolving business and one that is now affected more by market trends.

With so many differing expectations and the need to navigate a safe route through tricky financial waters, people often ask if we are social or commercial organisations. Is it all about the bottom line or are we here to give people the support they need to achieve their aspirations, whatever the cost?

Over the last few years we have been approaching this crossroad and having to make some very difficult decisions.

How do we keep building the homes we so desperately need? How do we keep providing the right services to support independence and resilience in our communities? What rents are affordable to people and still make the business robust and attractive to investors? Should we diversify our business and how far should we go?

I expect this session at the Federation's conference in September will produce a very lively debate about how associations are striking that balance between what is good for the business, for the customer and for society as a whole.

For me, housing associations are the original social entrepreneurs, reinventing themselves over and over again to make lives better for people for hundreds of years.

As we have refreshed our own strategy this year we have reaffirmed our commitment to our social purpose and found that it is not at all at odds with a business-like approach.

Difficult times demand fresh thinking, however I believe the sector is equipped and up for that challenge, with people, homes and communities firmly at the heart of what we do.

www.sovereign.org.uk

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NATIONAL:New homes built by Persimmon up by 26 per cent


Persimmon has reported a rise in operating margin to 17.7 per cent.
 
Results for the half year to June 30 2014 show Persimmon made an underlying pre-tax profit of £212.9 million from £135.3m last time on turnover of £1.2bn from £900m.

Persimmon built 26 per cent more homes during the year to June and expects to start work on another 100 sites during the rest of 2014.
 
Jeff Fairburn (pictured), Group chief executive, said: “Persimmon has produced another strong performance in the first half of 2014, taking advantage of the current market opportunities to deliver growth whilst strengthening the financial position of the business.
 
“As we have entered the traditionally slower summer trading weeks, we have been encouraged by our private sale reservation rate since 1 July which is currently running 9 per cent ahead of the same period last year.
 
“These results demonstrate the ability of the Group to successfully execute its operational objectives to deliver the ten year strategic plan launched in 2012. We remain confident of Persimmon’s continued successful development.”
 
Chairman Nicholas Wrigley added: “We remain focussed on mitigating build cost pressures and working with our supply chain partners and site teams to deliver efficient build costs.”

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NATIONAL:England needs more bungalows, says new planning minister


Building more “quintessentially British” bungalows would be an important way to tackle the housing crisis, according to new housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis.
 
Mr Lewis (pictured), who replaced Nick Boles in last month’s reshuffle, told The Telegraph he was keen to see developers build bungalows as it would allow older people in large family houses where the children have left home to downsize to smaller properties.
 
In his first newspaper interview since his promotion, Mr Lewis said he was concerned that the need for more single storey homes had been “overlooked” by builders.
 
He said: “Representing Great Yarmouth we have got a few areas that have got quite large bungalows and some very, very nice bungalow properties.
 
“I think they are a really really important part of the mix – my in-laws are in their 70s, pretty fit, mentally really with it, they live in a normal house which they both struggle with. They are not ready to move into what they would see as a retirement home, but where they live there is not access to bungalows.
 
“We should be looking to love bungalows a little bit more. They are an important part of the mix particularly if we do say to people like my in-laws ‘look there is somewhere you can move to which is ideal for you without having to go into what you might see as a retirement home’.
 
“In some areas on the outskirts of London you have tonnes and tonnes of apartments being built and not enough houses, because not everyone wants to live in an apartment.”
 
Earlier this year the Government amended guidelines to require council planners in England to set aside a certain number of flats or bungalows for older people.
 
Projections show that more than half of new households created are expected to be aged 65-plus in just a few years.
 
By 2021 the number of households is on course to increase by 2.2million. Of that, 1.2million or 54 per cent will be households aged 65-years and over.
 
However only 300 bungalows were built in England in 2009, the most recent figures show, and currently only two per cent of English homes are bungalows.
 
Mr Lewis also backed a forecast from Mr Boles in 2012 that the proportion of England that needs to be developed needs to increase by three per cent to 12 per cent, or 1,500 square miles, to meet demand.
 
He said: “The core priority that Nick was making and I have always felt was the true and correct one was that we sometimes forget just how little of our country is built on.”
 
Mr Lewis said that it was important to “realise just how much open space we have got” when considering where new building has to take place, adding that greenfield sites could be considered.
 
“If you want to increase some of the land that you can build on, it doesn’t have to be on some of these beautiful green fields. There are lots of areas that are not built on that are not beautiful green fields or are not necessarily classified as brownfield.”
 
Mr Lewis stressed that it was not up to him where new homes were built – that was a choice for local councils in their local development plans, which have to say where five years-worth of housing can be built.
 
He said: “You have got to look at what is right in your area, what would be sacrosanct in one area won’t necessarily be sacrosanct in another, depending on that community and what people feel.”
 
Councils have been invited by the Government to submit ideas for new garden cities, similar to one which is being planned for Ebbsfleet.
 
Mr Lewis disclosed that officials from Kettering, Northants had been to see him to discuss their plans for a new development with at least 5,000 new homes although the final figure might be much larger.
 
He said: “Kettering is quite an interesting place – the council there is very forward thinking, really keen to see development. They see big growth there because they see themselves as being able to pick up people who want the quality of life in Kettering but work in London.”

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NATIONAL:Shortlist revealed for first wave of £1bn new homes programme


Building more “quintessentially British” bungalows would be an important way to tackle the housing crisis, according to new housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis.
 
Mr Lewis (pictured), who replaced Nick Boles in last month’s reshuffle, told The Telegraph he was keen to see developers build bungalows as it would allow older people in large family houses where the children have left home to downsize to smaller properties.
 
In his first newspaper interview since his promotion, Mr Lewis said he was concerned that the need for more single storey homes had been “overlooked” by builders.
 
He said: “Representing Great Yarmouth we have got a few areas that have got quite large bungalows and some very, very nice bungalow properties.
 
“I think they are a really really important part of the mix – my in-laws are in their 70s, pretty fit, mentally really with it, they live in a normal house which they both struggle with. They are not ready to move into what they would see as a retirement home, but where they live there is not access to bungalows.
 
“We should be looking to love bungalows a little bit more. They are an important part of the mix particularly if we do say to people like my in-laws ‘look there is somewhere you can move to which is ideal for you without having to go into what you might see as a retirement home’.
 
“In some areas on the outskirts of London you have tonnes and tonnes of apartments being built and not enough houses, because not everyone wants to live in an apartment.”
 
Earlier this year the Government amended guidelines to require council planners in England to set aside a certain number of flats or bungalows for older people.
 
Projections show that more than half of new households created are expected to be aged 65-plus in just a few years.
 
By 2021 the number of households is on course to increase by 2.2million. Of that, 1.2million or 54 per cent will be households aged 65-years and over.
 
However only 300 bungalows were built in England in 2009, the most recent figures show, and currently only two per cent of English homes are bungalows.
 
Mr Lewis also backed a forecast from Mr Boles in 2012 that the proportion of England that needs to be developed needs to increase by three per cent to 12 per cent, or 1,500 square miles, to meet demand.
 
He said: “The core priority that Nick was making and I have always felt was the true and correct one was that we sometimes forget just how little of our country is built on.”
 
Mr Lewis said that it was important to “realise just how much open space we have got” when considering where new building has to take place, adding that greenfield sites could be considered.
 
“If you want to increase some of the land that you can build on, it doesn’t have to be on some of these beautiful green fields. There are lots of areas that are not built on that are not beautiful green fields or are not necessarily classified as brownfield.”
 
Mr Lewis stressed that it was not up to him where new homes were built – that was a choice for local councils in their local development plans, which have to say where five years-worth of housing can be built.
 
He said: “You have got to look at what is right in your area, what would be sacrosanct in one area won’t necessarily be sacrosanct in another, depending on that community and what people feel.”
 
Councils have been invited by the Government to submit ideas for new garden cities, similar to one which is being planned for Ebbsfleet.
 
Mr Lewis disclosed that officials from Kettering, Northants had been to see him to discuss their plans for a new development with at least 5,000 new homes although the final figure might be much larger.
 
He said: “Kettering is quite an interesting place – the council there is very forward thinking, really keen to see development. They see big growth there because they see themselves as being able to pick up people who want the quality of life in Kettering but work in London.”

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NATIONAL:Federation defends commercial activity of housing associations


The National Housing Federation has responded to speculation in the media regarding the growing surplus profit in housing associations.
 
The speculation followed a study by the think-tank Million Homes, Million Lives, which calculated that housing association profits have grown tenfold in the last five years to stand at £1.93 billion.
 
However, at the same time their operating costs have increased by only 11 per cent overall, the study finds. Forecasts suggest profit margins will increase further in the next four years.
 
The report states the increase in surplus is down to above inflation rent increases, while the costs of management have remained relatively flat in real terms.
 
It argues that this is particularly the case with "mega-landlords", the 25 landlords who are responsible for around 1.1 million homes (about 40 per cent) and make about 45 per cent of the profit (£876 million in 2013)
 
The Telegraph report stated that housing associations, set up are to provide affordable social housing to some of poorest people in Britain, collectively own almost 2.7 million homes.
 
While the report accuses many of them of abandoning their original “social mission”, with a knock-on effect for the rest of the property market.
 
Natalie Elphicke, chair of Million Homes, Million Lives, who is also leading a Government review on Britain’s acute housing shortage, said: "Housing associations need to follow their guiding principles and not become bedazzled by the prospect of greater and greater profits.
 
"Every board member of a housing association should consider their social mission – are they doing all they can to help the least well off after the deepest recession in recent times?"
 
Calum Mercer, her co-author, added: “It is not right that housing associations are cashing in to such an extent on their social tenants.
 
“The excess profits are equivalent to £500 for each social home.”
 
In reply to these accusations Gill Payne (pictured), director of policy at the National Housing Federation, said: “All housing associations invest any profit back into providing homes and services for local communities. Any commercial activity simply provides extra funding to build homes at social rent for people on low-incomes to afford, which government grants no longer fund.”

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NATIONAL:Mergers should not be led by self-interest, says Placeshapers


A landlord's group, has called for the English social housing regulator to amend its proposed code of practice to ensure mergers are not driven by self interest.

Placeshapers, which represents over 100 small housing associations, has stated that it is "puzzled...as to why there is such emphasis on the need to avoid conflicts of interest when entering arrangements with third parties".

This is because it is "fundamental to effective organisations and is explicit in many of our processes already because to conduct business for the personal or professional benefit of a third party is fraudulent activity and therefore unlawful".

They feel that rather than this attention should instead be focused on "the significant role that Chief Executive self-interest can play in driving mergers. This can lead to the perceived benefits of mergers being overstated and can also result in a blindness to potentially catastrophic risks. Clearly, objective and independent assessment of merger proposals by RP boards is key to the management of this conflict but we do think it is worthy of at least mention in the Code".

The response also questioned the changes to the regulators rent standard, particularly concerning the loss of the ability to converge rents at "target" levels.

It said: "Loss of this facility is taking capacity out of our members’ business plans to fund new supply and the only way of recouping this is by converting more properties to much higher “affordable” rents when they become vacant which is likely to lead to higher housing benefit claims than would be the case otherwise."

The group also proposed a further two measures in this regard, the first regarding "flexibility to enable them to increase rents (above the annual CPI + 1 per cent formula) back up to target levels if the market changes over time."

The second measure proposed was for a change to its rent standard to allow landlords to convert a property to market rent without individual consent. It said: "This may well be a more appropriate way of subsidising provision of new homes at lower rents than via outright disposal or conversion to “affordable rents”, subject of course to market renting being an appropriately controlled business activity for the provider."

The HCA, which regulates housing associations in England, has for the last 12 weeks been consulting on revisions to its regulatory framework, intended to protect social homes in an environment of for-profit housing associations and unregistered parent companies.

Read the full report.

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NATIONAL:4,000 Scottish council house milestone a ‘step in the right direction’


Scottish Government funding has helped provide more than 4,000 new council houses, new analysis has shown.
 
Introduced in April 2009, the Scottish Government Council House Build Programme has seen more than £135 million invested to provide local authority housing for people across the country.
 
The funding incentivises local authorities to build new homes – the first such central government support to councils in a generation.
 
The milestone was welcomed by Shelter Scotland, though the charity urged the Scottish Government to increase the number of new social homes to meet demand.
 
Graeme Brown (pictured), director of Shelter Scotland, said: “We welcome this announcement by the Scottish Government meeting its 4,000 new social homes target which is a step in the right direction and shows what can be achieved, working with local authorities and housing associations.
 
“However, to bring hope to the 155,100 people currently languishing on local authority housing waiting lists, the Scottish Government needs to increase its scale of ambition and commit to building at least 10,000 new socially rented homes a year to meet the backlog and increased demand.”
 
First Minister Alex Salmond hailed the return of council house building which he said is providing a “huge boost” to the economy.
 
Speaking during a visit to a scheme to provide 18 new homes at Noran Avenue in Arbroath, backed by £652,000 of Scottish Government funding, Mr Salmond said: “Our funding for council house building has now provided more than 4,000 new homes across Scotland and demonstrates the scale and ambition of this programme – the first in Scotland in a generation.
 
“Backed by £135m of Scottish Government funding, the programme has provided much needed new homes for people the length and breadth of Scotland. This transformation followed the period before this Government came to power, when just 6 council homes were built in 4 years to March 2007.
 
“This demonstrates our commitment to investing in infrastructure to support our economy. In Scotland we have consistently adopted the approach that maintaining this kind of vital capital spending is vital to support growth and employment – in direct contrast to the austerity and cuts of Westminster.
 
“Despite these considerable challenges to our budget, we plan to spend over £1.7 billion to deliver our target of 30,000 affordable homes during the lifetime of this Parliament, supporting an estimated 8,000 jobs each year.
 
“However only the full powers of independence will give us full control to tailor our housing supply investment and initiatives to meet the needs of our communities and the homebuilding industry in Scotland.
 
“It will also provide the full borrowing powers we need to invest prudently in infrastructure, and not have our capital budget dictated to us by Westminster.”

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NATIONAL:UK rents ‘rise by 2 per cent in a year’


The cost of renting a home has risen by 2 per cent in the last year, with increases seen across nearly every region of the UK, a survey has suggested.
 
The average cost of renting a home stood at £753 a month, according to LSL Property Services.
 
This was up from £738 a month in July last year and was the highest level seen since November.
 
But official figures for the second quarter of the year showed a 1 per cent annual rise in the UK.
 
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said last month that private rental prices grew by 1 per cent in England, 1.1 per cent in Scotland and 0.2 per cent in Wales in the 12 months to the end of June.
 
The latest survey from LSL, which owns agents Reeds Rains and Your Move, is based on their own data.
 
The survey suggested that rents rose year-on-year across the UK, except in the North East of England, where there was a fall of 3.8 per cent. The biggest rise was in the South East of England, where it rose by 3.8 per cent.
 
It found that the average rent had risen by 0.8 per cent compared with the previous month.
 
"As the summer turns to early autumn, the rental market is approaching its busiest period - yet rent rises remain modest," said David Newnes, of LSL.
 
The proportion of tenants in arrears on rent payments fell slightly, LSL said.

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NATIONAL:Shortlist revealed for first wave of £1bn new homes programme


The continued development of the Greenwich Peninsula in South East London and the redevelopment of the former Rugby Radio Station site are among the 36 projects shortlisted to receive a share of a £1 billion scheme that will unlock or accelerate the provision of over 200,000 new homes across the country.
 
The scheme’s first wave of large-scale housing projects, which are in line to receive a share of £850 million of funding to get work going onsite and housebuilding started, were announced by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles on Friday.
 
Sites in Greenwich Peninsula and Rugby will help provide nearly 10,000 and 6,200 new homes respectively, while funding is also expected to go to Ebbsfleet Eastern Quarry, to help provide 3,500 homes.
 
Mr Pickles (pictured) said housing is a key part of the Government’s long term economic plan and these projects were critical in getting Britain building.
 
The £850m of funding for shortlisted projects forms part of the Government’s £1bn, 5 year large sites infrastructure programme, and will be used to build the infrastructure needed to provide schemes of at least 1,500 homes. The money will go towards the building of road improvement, schools and parks to support the extra homes being planned.
 
Other developments on the shortlist are the Monkton Heathfield development outside Taunton (4,500 homes), the New Lubbesthorpe development in Leicester (4,000 homes) and the DN7 initiative in Doncaster, which will help provide over 3,000 new homes.
 
The 36 projects will go through a final rigorous due diligence process before receiving the funding.
 
Eric Pickles said: “We are supporting locally-led development, and this £1bn programme will help unlock or accelerate over 200,000 new homes across the country. This is part of our wider package of housing programmes to support home ownership, increase investment in the private rented sector and further increase house building.
 
“The funding will be available between 2015 and 2020 and will be in the form of a long term loan, with interest - ensuring a fair rate of return for taxpayers.
 
“As well as the £1bn loan funding, the large sites infrastructure programme also includes £12.5m capacity funding and expert planning and technical support for councils dealing with large-scale sites, as well as brokerage support from central government to unblock obstacles to development.”

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NATIONAL:DWP rolls out Housing Cost Verification process


The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced the roll-out of a successful scheme which changes the way that housing costs are verified when Universal Credit claims are made.
 
A trial has been running in Warrington with Golden Gates Housing Trust and was introduced as a result of close working relationships between the DWP, the National Housing Federation and housing associations in the North West. The trial has proved successful so will be extended to all live running sites.
 
From today, new Universal Credit claimants will be asked to bring a recent rent account statement as well as a copy of their tenancy agreement to their first new claim interview at the Jobcentre Plus office. Claimants will be advised that an easy way to do this is to obtain this information from their landlord, and/or to give consent for DWP to contact their landlord directly for this information.
 
Welcoming the change, the National Housing Federation said: “This process will improve and streamline the housing cost verification process and crucially, enable the DWP to inform housing associations at the earliest opportunity that their tenants have made a Universal Credit claim. As illustrated in our recent report, Universal Credit One Year In, landlords currently often won’t know that tenants are on Universal Credit until they fall into arrears.
 
“This change will also enable early identification of any rent that may be outstanding so Alternative Payment Arrangement requirements can be considered.
 
“We welcome this change as it will improve the process for housing associations, although we will continue to work with members and the DWP to find a fully data sharing solution in the future.”

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NATIONAL:The Community Housing Group plans to merge subsidiaries


A district housing provider has announced plans to merge two of its subsidiaries.
 
The Community Housing Group (TCHG), which has a combined turnover of £27 million, will bring together Wyre Forest Community Housing (WFCH) and Wyre Forest Sheltered Housing (WFSH) in April, 2015.
 
Administrative costs will be reduced and governance arrangements streamlined by the changes. Savings made will be reinvested into providing new homes.
 
Yvonne Leishman, managing director of WFCH, said: “Merging the two housing companies makes good financial sense, ensuring that we can continue to invest in our communities by improving existing services and providing desperately needed new homes for the area.
 
“The proposal will not have any negative impacts for the company or our tenants and we are delighted to have received such a positive response from the public to the plans.”
 
WFSH, which provides supported accommodation for older and vulnerable people, was separated from general home company WFCH in 2005 so it could registered as a charity.
 
WFCH has now gained charitable status itself so the two subsidiaries can be merged.
 
A community consultation was held with all tenants of both companies and the responses were “very positive”, according to the housing group.

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NATIONAL:Benefit claimants urged to pay extra rent in advance to prepare for Universal Credit


People on benefits are being told by housing associations to make extra rent payments in advance to avoid ending up in financial difficulties once they are transferred to Universal Credit, the Observer has reported.
 
The instructions to people on housing benefit are said to reflect concern among housing providers that people will default on payments when they have to pay rent themselves, a month in advance, under the new system.
 
The Town and Country Housing Association, which provides 9,000 affordable homes in 22 local authority areas in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and south London, has told its tenants who receive housing benefit to hand over £14.60 extra a month until they are a month in credit, so they can meet the first rent payment once they are on Universal Credit. If they do not, their tenancies could be in doubt.
 
“This will ensure that when you transfer to universal credit you will not be in arrears which could put your tenancy at risk,” the association has said in local newsletters.
 
In one case reported to the Observer, a tenant who was owed £362, after having paid the ‘bedroom tax’ by mistake, was told by Town and Country that the money would not be reimbursed as it was in her “best interests” for it to “remain on your account” pending the introduction of Universal Credit, at an unknown future date.
 
Six Town Housing, which is based in Bury, Lancashire, tells tenants on its website that because Universal Credit will be paid four weeks in arrears "you need to make additional rent payments now if you are affected by the introduction of universal credit. Otherwise, you are at risk of your rent account falling into rent arrears".
 
A spokesman for Town and Country said it understood that it would "be difficult for anyone who is likely to be on full housing benefit, in which case we ask for the minimum of £14.60 per month. This will ensure that their rent account is in credit.
 
"Similarly, it will also help to ease the transition when Universal Credit is introduced and residents will be responsible for paying their own rent from the credit they receive."
 
In respect of the tenant who was told she would not be reimbursed for wrong payment of bedroom tax, it said it would write to her to see if an acceptable arrangement could be reached.
 
Gillian Guy (pictured), Citizens Advice's chief executive, said: "It's for householders to manage their finances, not landlords or housing associations. There's a difference between advising people to be financially prepared and doing it for them, and it would be concerning if the latter were the case."
 
The Department for Work and Pensions says it has put in place arrangements to ensure that people who struggle with the new system can have all the advice they need. It also says those who want, or need to continue having their rent paid directly to their landlords can continue to do so.

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NATIONAL:Blog: The latest drive towards healthier buildings report


By Paul Burns, Green Futures Manager, Gentoo Group
 
Social housing providers provide a roof over an individual’s head and health professionals provide care when needed. Some people may not see a link but I think there is room here for a joint approach. Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to look at the bigger picture instead of keeping people on a never-ending health-roundabout?
 
In 2011/2012, one in three of our social housing residents presented themselves at Accident & Emergency or walk-in medical centres, compared to just one in seven of non-social housing residents in Sunderland. This was coupled with a difference of 13 years in life expectancy between two districts of the City separated by just 1.8 miles. That equates to a person losing more than one day’s life expectancy, for every metre travelled.
 
These statistics shocked us, and after looking at the anecdotal evidence and speaking with the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) we explored the idea of a Doctor prescribing environmental improvements to homes. Funded by the CCG, local GPs identified six households (non-Gentoo residents) suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
 
We carried out energy efficiency assessments to see what improvements could be made i.e. new boiler, windows, or insulation, and work was undertaken to monitor the environmental improvements to the home. Each patient’s GP then measured any possible improvements in health and results from our first pilot are due out in September. I’m happy to report we’re already hearing good things.
 
In previous energy saving projects, customers received similar upgrades and although happy with the savings to energy bills, the scheme delivered so much more. Families told us it was the improvement to their quality of life that was the major benefit. They felt healthier and happier; their general wellbeing was improved. Some families also found they were able to heat their whole house and could re-enter previously unused rooms.
 
I think there’s an opportunity for housing and construction firms to work together with health professionals on a range of issues currently facing home occupiers in the UK, including fuel poverty, home energy efficiency and health, and the demand for ‘healthy buildings’ will quickly rise once medical professionals accept the link between environment and patient health.
 
However, the latest ‘Drive towards healthier buildings’ report suggests that gaining the attention of doctors will be difficult. The report says that almost a quarter of medical professionals questioned said they are unlikely to change their perspective even if they did have more information on the connection between buildings and health.
 
But, hopefully come September, we will have facts and figures to show these professionals that they won’t be able to ignore. And once they come round to the idea, I am genuinely excited to see what the worlds of housing, construction and health can do together.
 
This blog first appeared on the Constructing Excellence in the North East website.

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NATIONAL:‘Family friendly’ test to help troubled families


Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced that all Government legislation will face a 'family friendly' test, to judge the effect it may have on domestic life.

New Government figures show that Britain has 500,000 "troubled families", costing the state more than £30 billion a year, and the prime minister will say that for too long Governments have taken decisions that ignore the impact on family life.

He has unveiled a series of measures to try to persuade families to remain together, he has announced:

• A doubling of the budget for relationship counselling to £19.5m.

• More than 500,000 families will now receive help via a programme to support families facing multiple problems, such as unemployment, anti-social behaviour, debt and truancy. The programme expands from its current focus on 120,000 families, with work starting immediately in over 50 council areas before spreading across the country.

• An initiative to encourage adoption by allowing councils to apply for help from a £19m fund. Adopting a child from care will trigger an extra £1,900 in additional pupil premium money to their school.

• The new family test, to ensure that every domestic policy is examined for its impact on the family.

Louise Casey, the official running the Government's initiative on troubled families, told the Sunday Times: "These families are off the barometer in the number of problems they have. This is the first time we have been able to evidence the extent of the problems."

Cameron said: "We can't go on having government taking decisions like this, which ignore the impact on the family. I said previously that we would introduce a family test into Government.

"Now that test is being formalised as part of the impact assessment for all domestic policies. Put simply, that means every single domestic policy that Government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family."

The prime minister will also return to his early personal messages about the importance of family. He will say: "For me, nothing matters more than family. It's at the centre of my life and the heart of my politics.

"Long before you get to the welfare state, it is family that is there to care for you when you are sick or when you fall on tough times. It's family that brings up children, teaches values, passes on knowledge, instils in us all the responsibility to be good citizens and to live in harmony with others."

Last year, Cameron persuaded the chancellor, George Osborne, to introduce the marriage tax allowance, although Osborne believes it is a waste of money.

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