Local councils sometimes have to make difficult decisions, and more often than not the outcome of these decisions prove unpopular with local residents, especially if they are going to lose out on money. Birmingham Council has recently had to announce that they are planning on increasing the rent on council tax properties by a substantial 4.9% in order to cover the costs of a £336 million debt handed to them by the government last year.
The debt was given to the council after changes in national rent subsidiaries meant that instead of the tenants of Birmingham paying sixty million pounds per year in tax to improve northern cities’ housing they now have the debt instead. Sixty-five thousands households face increasing rent prices, meaning that the average rent for a council home will now rise to £330 per months, whilst rent for garages will increase to £5.44 per week. Furthermore, the cost of housing services such as concierge and cleaning of apartment blocks will rise by one per cent when the changes go ahead this April.
Discussing the increase in prices, Birmingham Council’s deputy leader Councillor Ian Ward said: “I appreciate this is a difficult time for our tenants given the national and local economy but this is the first increase in rents for 18 months and the changes are necessary. I believe the rents charged to tenants continue to represent good value for money in comparison to charges by other registered housing providers and the private sector.”
“I have also been able to keep increases on service charges that are valued by tenants substantially below inflation – this is the first increase in these charges since October 2010. I will continue to work with tenants to increase the quality of services provided to the people of Birmingham.” Increase I rent prices is a concern for both social and private landlords, and many are taking time to talk to their residents to see how the changes will affect them, whilst private landlords are also ensuring that their income is protected with landlord insurance.
Other councils that have also recently increased their rent prices for council homes include Wolverhampton council which are implementing an increase of six per cent, Sandwell council with an increase of 9.6 per cent and Solihull council with 4.98 per cent.
The Highland Council in Scotland has come up with a new way to deal with the housing crisis that is affecting not only their country, but the whole of the UK. Due to the increase in the cost of living and the lack of wages, many people are now finding themselves homeless, which is why it is important for landlords to invest in landlord insurance in case they start experiencing problems with their tenants paying rent.
At the moment, those that find themselves homeless in the Highland Council’s area are placed into Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), which is costing the government £2.6 million per year. In HMOs, tenants only have a single room of their own, and share the communal areas such as bathrooms and kitchens with other members of the household. The Highlands Council have decided to transfer the money they are currently spending on housing the homeless in HMOs and investing it in building new self-contained one-bedroom flats across the Highlands and Inverness and away from the city centre.
Discussing the new plan, Committee Chairman Councillor for The Finance Housing and Resources Committee, Dave Fallows said: “I am very pleased that we are progressing this radical new approach to accommodating people who find themselves temporarily homeless. It is a much better way of spending public funds with the advantage of providing purpose built accommodation which can at a later time be brought into our mainstream stock of Council homes.”
Housing Director Steve Barron also discussed the plans and said: “Recognition that the Council’s use of tendered rooms in Houses of Multiple Occupation is less attractive both for the tenants and for the Council leads to this proposal for an alternative response to the issue. This new approach would see the Council take its current expenditure on tendered rooms and invest this in building new self-contained one-bedroom flats in small developments across the Highlands.”
“These units would be built to the same standard as the general Council house new build programme. This would involve a kitchen/living room with separate bathroom and bedroom. They would be located among mainstream Council housing developments and indeed they would be suitable for use as mainstream Council housing should demand patterns change in the future.”
Two tenants have been evicted from their properties after organising the theft of the boiler from their previous home. As of the New Year both the tenants will be removed from their properties after District Judge Birkby said that Thomas Smith, 37, and his daughter Melanie Smith, 22, showed no remorse for a serious crime that could have potentially resulted in the loss of life.
The pair, both from Kyle Crescent, Southey Green, have until the 25th of January to leave their current homes of residence. It has been reported that Mr Smith failed to return the keys to his previous property at Dryden Road when he left it in March, and then organised the theft of the boiler from the property. At first, Melanie Smith reported the theft as a burglary, but it soon was revealed by police officers that she had lied and that the robbery had been staged so that she could receive £50 for the boiler. She was then charged £80 for wasting police time.
Her father, Thomas Smith, at first claimed that he knew nothing about his daughter’s plans until after the robbery took place. However, when a housing officer told him that it would cost three thousand pounds to replace the boiler, Mr. Smith exclaimed that he should have asked more money for it, thus proving his guilt. Judge Birkby concluded that the council should have an outright possession order for both the Smiths’ property due to the fact that they had been involved in illegal activity.
Councillor Harry Harpham, Sheffied Council cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods, said “We really hope this court case acts as a deterrent to anyone who thinks stealing boilers is an easy way to make money. You could lose your home but more importantly, you could be putting lives at risk by taking part in this extremely dangerous and serious crime.”
Landlords insurance gives landlords protection against tenants that attempt to steal from their properties, and can also pay for legal fees should a landlord decide to take tenants to court in order to get them evicted from their residences.
Second homeowners and private landlords who do not rent out their empty properties are to be hit with council tax increases as ministers move to end the madness of the system that encourages leaving properties empty.
The Government are about to announce their plan to abolish discounts on holiday homes that are only used at the weekend and they will also impose an extra premium on any home that is left empty for more than two years. The coalition feels that it is wrong for there to be around a million empty homes in the United Kingdom with 730,000 of these in England alone. It is estimated that bringing the homes back into use could half the number of people waiting on council housing lists across the country. The Government would like private landlords to forget about empty home insurance and instead install tenants and cover their properties with landlord insurance. Andrew Stunell, the Lib Dem communities minister, will confirm the plans to stop councils giving discounts and he will also push ahead with the empty homes premium.
Mr Stunell said: “We’ve lived with the scourge of empty homes for too long. They’re a blight on our communities and a waste of much-needed housing. It’s madness that councils have been forced to offer discounts on empty and second homes, which don’t take into account local circumstances and provide an incentive to leave homes vacant indefinitely.”
The Lib Dems have for some time been pushing for a clampdown on second homeowners after arguing some parts of the country have become ghosts towns during the winter when properties stand empty. Cornwall is one of the biggest losers through discounts offered to second homeowners as they miss out on more than £2m yearly. However, there are concerns that, with councils facing cuts of up to 10% in their funding, those areas without large numbers of second homes or empty properties will be forced to find savings elsewhere.
A Staffordshire family of three are delighted with their new home which has been built by their council to help meet a chronic shortage of housing for those with special needs. Hannah and Stephen Lowe have moved into the bungalow with their 16-year-old son, Josh. Their new home is one of seventeen eco-homes built in the area as part of a £1.8 million project to meet the demand for two-bedroom bungalows.
Building work on the bungalows finished in April and all of the homes which come complete with solar panels, under-floor heating and wet room bathrooms, have been allocated to those who need them most. Sixteen year old Josh suffers from hypoplastic anaemia from inadequately functioning bone marrow and at times needs a wheelchair to get around; his parents needed a home which could be adapted to his needs. The bungalow is ideal because he no longer has to negotiate stairs and can also manoeuvre his wheelchair through the wider doorways and hallway.
Mr Lowe said: “We had lived in a town house in Burslem for 14 years and it was very difficult for Josh to use the stairs. We were also spending up to £800 a quarter on electricity, so we really appreciate having a bungalow like this. It also benefits us in terms of it being eco-friendly. Josh’s condition means he needs to be kept warm and we are able to do that now at a cheaper rate. We are glad we have somewhere to call our permanent home.”
The new homes have been purpose-built for elderly and disabled residents and are the first properties to be built by Stoke-on-Trent City Council for twenty-five years. The innovative design of the properties has not adversely affected property insurance premiums and landlord and tenant alike are delighted with the finished homes. The concept behind the building scheme was not to create a new community but to bring families into existing ones. The overall view is that the plan has been a resounding success.
Rugby Borough Council is very close to buying back former properties from Central Government and it could mean a weekly rent rise of 5% for tenants. It has also been revealed that the council will be taking on £75million of debt when the agreement takes place.
The council will have to make a one-off payment in order to buy them out of the national funding scheme for council housing. They, like any other council in England have no choice but to do so at a price that is determined by those in Whitehall. However, it does mean that Rugby Council will be able to invest all of the future rents to both repay the debt and improve the homes for the existing tenants. Tenants are certain to see their rent increase during each of the next five years to help pay off the debt.
Councillor Leigh Hunt said: “Whereas the council understands that a rent increase in these difficult economic times would be difficult for many people, we must set rents at a level that will reduce our debt costs, cover our UK property insurance and allow us to invest in council homes. Our rents are still significantly below market rents in the private sector, which are also rising. Government’s November estimate of the debt is higher than its last one, and although the final rents for next year will not be set until full council meets in February, when the final figure will be available, my advice to tenants is to prepare for further rent increases.”
Tenants are angry about the proposed rent increases, with most of the working tenants paying about £326 each month for their council accommodation and they are quite rightly worried about the future increases. Despite working many are struggling with increasing utility bills and also an increase in food shopping.
Fears that Northumberland County Council will sell off social housing from HfN (Homes for Northumberland) if it took over its management, have been eased. If anything the council look set to be getting a bigger landlord insurance bill as they add more houses to those that they already own.
An in-principle deal will see the council take on both the management and maintenance of the social housing provider. At a recent residents meeting dozens of worried tenants articulated their fears to council leaders. Among the concerns raised by the tenants was the fear that the council will decide to sell the housing stock privately in the coming years. Residents also pointed out that when they switched to HfN, the council advised everyone that this was the best option. Now two years later, the county council is saying it will be better run if they ran it in-house, and everyone is worried that this too could change. The tenants requested a guarantee that the council will not take the properties back and then decide sell them on to another firm when they realise they can not cope with the extra 8,500 houses.
Councillor Gordon Castle said: “Selling off the housing stock is not on anyone’s agenda. Most of the people who work in the organisation would still be working in the organisation. For the most part, we would be retaining the vast majority of people that tenants are used to dealing with. It would still be called Homes for Northumberland and tenants would still contact the same telephone number and the same people.”
From 2012 each local authority will have to take on their own share of the national housing debt, which for Northumberland totals £94 million. Any company taking on the properties will need to take on the debt, which is much more than the value of the houses (currently estimated at £70million). The council have also assured all tenants that they will be at the heart of deciding what the rent money is spent on.
Barnet Council want to end lifetime tenancies and replace them with the introduction of a new draft tenancy strategy throughout the borough. The strategy has already been approved and will go to consultation next month.
The strategy would see the council bring in short-term tenancies for all of their properties which are protected by property insurance. The new tenancies will start from April next year and a review of the tenant’s housing needs and earnings will be done every five years to see if they are still eligible for the council’s subsidised accommodation. Anyone who has an existing tenancy will still retain their lifetime leases, but all new tenants from April will be given the much shorter lease. The new strategy will ensure that Barnet’s limited housing stock is given to those who need it most and also address the issue of under occupancy.
Councillor Tom Davey said: “We are looking at how we can use the new tenancy scheme to support people in housing need in Barnet given our limited housing stock. I think supporting young people to become independent by offering them a short term tenancy in return for them studying or training is really positive. Our overarching aim is to make sure that the council’s housing stock is used as effectively as possible to provide homes for Barnet residents who are unable to find a home in the private sector. This can be done by helping people move on from council housing once they are earning enough to be able to rent or buy a home of their own.”
The council believe that social housing should be part of somebody’s housing journey in the way that the first home bought will not necessarily be the home for life for private buyers. Lifetime tenancies will still to be given to ex-army personnel who have seen active service, existing tenants and households where someone is disabled or terminally ill.
The new landlord of thousands of former council homes has made a promise to all their tenants to go on a £220 million pound spending spree. Neath Port Talbot Homes have also made a pledge to increase tenant involvement, promote welfare rights and make tackling antisocial behaviour on its estates a priority.
Nearly 400 Neath Port Talbot Council workers have been moved across to Neath Port Talbot Homes who took over responsibility for 94,000 council properties at the weekend. The move follows what was a controversial ballot of tenants in 2010 on whether or not the change should take place, with a view to bringing all council properties up to the Quality Standard of the Welsh Housing Assembly. Neath Port Talbot Homes are now fully responsible for both managing and maintaining the housing stock.
NPT Homes Chairman Roger Williams said “Tenants have placed a great deal of trust in us as a board and we are committed to delivering on all of the promises set out in the offer document.
“NPT Homes is now one of Wales’s largest social landlords. As a community housing mutual, tenants will have a real say on how the organisation is run and how together we can make a difference to the homes and the areas in which they live. We are looking forward to creating and sustaining great homes and great communities in the Neath Port Talbot area.”
NPT Homes, who will cover all the properties with landlord insurance, has said they will make the multi million pound investment over the next six years. The council staff, that has transferred, will remain in the existing offices until NPT Homes can find a suitable new location. The transfer has been classed as the most significant change to take place in the history of council housing in the Neath Port Talbot area.