The change to the benefit system is becoming increasingly near, and we have discussed in the past few weeks how various social landlords, housing associations, and even private landlords have been preparing themselves for the changes. Many landlords have invested in landlord insurance to protect them, whilst others have started talking with their residents in order to understand what financial situation they are in now and what could happen in the future. One housing association has even come up with the novel idea of giving residents rewards points for paying their rent on time.
The Orbit Heart of England housing association provides 16,500 homes to families across the UK, and introduced the ProPoints scheme in 2010, which is now being used as an incentive to tenants so they prepare for the upcoming welfare reform changes. Lee Steele, head of operations at Orbit Heart of England said: “We have been astounded by the success of our welfare reform campaign.
ProPoints has enabled us to build a culture of responsibility amongst our customers, taking ownership not only of their rent payment but also making sure their benefits are paid on time.”
The new ProPoints campaign provides tenants with points if they start making plans as to how they will pay their housing benefits and rent to their landlords once the welfare reforms come in, and already over five hundred tenants have arranged direct debits to their landlords. Mr Steele said: “We have found that many are receptive to some very difficult messages that we have to deliver around welfare reform. We’ve built a solid platform which rewards our customers for positive behaviour, in line with the current thinking around the nudge theory.”
Points are rewarded to tenants not just for making sure that their rent is paid on time, but also for not deviating from other terms of their tenancy agreements. For instance, points are awarded if tenants do not get involved in anti-social behaviour, or if they make sure they keep the property well maintained. The points are eventually added up and converted into shopping vouchers that can be spent in over two thousand high street stores, meaning that both landlords and tenants benefit from the scheme.
There are fears that as many as 50,000 North East families are going to be affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. Figures from the NHF (National Housing Federation) highlight that housing associations across the North East do not have enough of the right-sized properties for the thousands of tenants who will fall foul of the new regulations.
One housing association alone estimates that 2,800 of its tenants will be classed as under-occupying their homes and they have only sixteen spare one-bed properties to move them to. This has seen a plea go out to all private landlords who have empty properties, to come forward and help with the situation. Local councils throughout the borough want as many of these properties as possible to be protected with a landlord insurance quote and used to house the affected tenants. The new under-occupation rules will not start until April next year, but when they are introduced tenants will have a choice of staying where they are only if they pay on average, an extra £40 each month if they have one spare room or £70 each month if they have two spare rooms.
Monica Burns, North East manager for the National Housing Federation, said “These new rules are futile and unfair. Housing associations in the North East have always been encouraged by Government to build bigger homes so families could live in the same homes for life and didn’t have to move when they had children. And as land was cheaper here that made good sense. Now those same tenants and housing associations are being penalised for having the wrong type of house. Many families on benefits will have no choice but to up sticks and move to private rented accommodation. The Government will then have to pay a higher rate of housing benefit to cover their rents for smaller homes.”
Even a household where each bedroom is in use could be hit with benefit cuts, because under the new rules children will be expected to share a bedroom up to the age of sixteen. Research estimates that 690,000 households in the United Kingdom will be hit by the new rules.
A housing association piloting a Government led tenant cashback scheme has had to rethink its strategy after problems surrounding landlord insurance became an issue.
Hastoe Housing Association owns and manages upwards of 4,000 properties in the South of England and was chosen to be just one of four associations chosen to pilot a government scheme whereby tenants were allowed to do some of the more mundane low risk repair and maintenance jobs in their own homes, and were rewarded by getting cash back from the housing association. It was envisaged that jobs undertaken by tenants such as gardening and outside painting jobs in communal areas would save the associations money, some of which they could pass onto the tenants who completed the work.
However, Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe, found things were not quite so straightforward, she explained: “Our property insurance company made it clear we could not allow tenants to do any work which would ask them to climb more than three steps or that involved any power tools. We still have to come to an agreed position with our insurance company as they have concerns that if we’re going to give anybody money to do their own repairs, we’d have to have an employer-employee relationship with them. I just think in principle, we are positive about the scheme but we are hitting some very real practical difficulties around insurance.”
Hastoe have now abandoned the idea of paying tenants cash for doing repairs but are looking for ways to carry the initiative forward. For the time being they are sending tenants who wish to do simple jobs a set of tools to complete the task and it seems that many tenants are quite happy to do this as it means they don’t have to wait long periods waiting for contractors to turn up. Ms Chalkley was keen to praise tenants who volunteered to do work saying: “I think it’s about respecting tenants as people who are capable of looking after their homes.”
Bromley Council along with other key members of the Safer Bromley Partnership removed eight tonnes of rubbish in one day from the Groves Estate in Penge. Fence panels, fridges, doors and rubble were just a few of the items removed during the clean-up campaign.
The council were joined by the safer neighbourhood team and housing association Affinity Sutton, who helped out by removing two and a half tons of rubbish and painting over six square metres of graffiti from the estate. The London Probation Service also got involved by running a community payback operation that saw offenders carry out work to help improve both the estate and the environment. The clean-up was just one of a series of action days that will be taking place throughout the borough in an effort to tackle low level crime such as graffiti, fly-tipping and abandoned vehicles.
Public protection and safety portfolio holder, Councillor Tim Stevens, said “Clean-ups such as these give a good kick start, making an area much more pleasant to live in while providing a firm foundation for local businesses and residents to carry on the good work to help keep the area clean in the future. Meanwhile, police have the chance to gather intelligence about those who might be held responsible for the crimes such as dumping builders’ rubble on the estate.”
One of the problems is that the estate is partly owned by the housing association Affinity Sutton and partly by Bromley Council who between them have thousands of properties protected with buy-to-let insurance. This means it has been very difficult to work out who is responsible for repairs and what land is owned by whom. The one thing that everyone agrees with is the smarter they make the estates look then the more residents will care about them.
Bosses at Chorley Community Housing (CCH) say they are about to take a much stronger approach to collecting rent. The organisation that manages the town’s former council houses have just announced it is owed over £400,000 in rent arrears.
Housing chiefs have released data which shows that around half of the 1,500 tenants who live in their properties which are protected with buy to let insurance are now in arrears. A Rent Collection and Arrears Recovery Team has been set up and their remit will be to encourage tenants who are in arrears to address the situation promptly. The team will notify customers as soon as they fall into arrears but they will not be taking a hard approach to begin with as they plan to provide financial advice and only take legal action if all other attempts fail. It is this action that may see tenants evicted from their home.
Elaine Jackson, Group Arrears Recovery Manager, said: “We are having a robust crackdown on rent arrears. We will take action if tenants fail to engage with us, but we are here to give advice and assistance. We understand that some people fall into arrears, and we are here to help them – but they must take a responsibility as well. Tenants should be paying in advance, and it gives us time to get in and help them if they need it.”
Chorley Community Housing tenants will also be given the opportunity to take advantage of two rent free weeks commencing on April 2nd and April 9th. During the weeks, those in rent arrears must still pay and this will allow them to either reduce or clear their debt. Chorley Community Housing are part of Adactus Housing Group who since April 2011 has helped almost four-hundred tenants who have been struggling, to manage their finances, through a free ‘Money Advice’ service. This service has resulted in an additional income of £250,000 for CCH and at the same time helped tenants manage their finances more successfully.
Residents of a small housing estate in Coventry must go back to court to keep their privacy after a housing association plan to appeal against the decision which refused their plan to demolish garages and replace them with houses. Whitefriars was refused permission in August to build three houses in Wyken.
At the time residents were delighted with the decision after they had fought for almost three years to stop the plan, which they feel would increase traffic, block out light and most importantly ruin their privacy. Whitefriars plan to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate which will consider whether to overturn the decision of Coventry City Council’s planning committee.
Ann Love, who has campaigned against the plan, said “I can’t believe it. Its four months since the decision was made and we’ve been given just three weeks to make representations. We thought it was over. We’re tired of fighting; I don’t think many of us have got much fight left in us. We’ve got to write to the Secretary of State with our grievances and send copies to the inspectorate in Bristol. We’re just so disappointed and disgusted with the way Whitefriars are continuing to try and push this through. The traffic in the close has actually increased since the decision was made in July.”
Whitefriars Housing is Coventry’s largest social landlord and has thousands of properties which are all protected with landlord insurance. They are also one of the country’s most successful post transfer social housing organisations. A spokesman for Whitefriars Housing said they were disappointed at the original decision which stopped them providing three new, three-bedroom homes, which would be offered at affordable rents to three families who are on low incomes. With a growing demand for affordable housing in the city, Whitefriars believe housing those in desperate need of shelter should be a priority.
A city in the North West of England has decided to fight back against anti-social elements in the area and private landlords, social landlords and tenants are leading the way.
In a declaration of war on anti social behaviour, all the leading community services in Liverpool have joined together to try and make their city a safer and more pleasant place to live in. Although the city experienced only minor problems in the summer riots it has an ongoing problem with gangs and other criminal elements.
Community leaders have now stepped in and officially launched the “Be Safe” campaign in St Georges Hall in the city centre. Representatives from the NHS, Liverpool City Council, The Fire Service and the Police were joined by Housing Associations and tenants to launch a set of standards that will ensure residents and tenants in all properties get a fair deal and that landlords also are treated equitably by their tenants.
Community leaders believe a strict adherence to the code will force anti-social elements away from decent tenants and landlords leaving them to go about their daily lives without fear. Angela Forster, a director at a housing association and a speaker at the meeting, said “By working together with residents and taking a consistent approach, it makes it very clear to those people who commit crime and anti-social behaviour that it will not be tolerated in Liverpool.”
The initiative will come as a relief for many landlords in the city who have seen their landlord insurance premiums rise as a result of claims arising from the actions of vandals and rogue tenants. Community leaders will closely monitor the scheme over the next few months and in the meantime other cities will be looking on with interest.
Council chiefs in Scotland’s Capital are to lend over £21 million to Housing Associations in the city to facilitate the building of another two hundred affordable properties in order to help with the current housing shortage.
The new homes will be covered by landlord insurance before being leased to tenants for what is being classed as a “mid-market” rent. This will be set somewhere between social and private rents, but at a level that low-income working families can afford.
The council are planning to borrow the money needed before lending it to registered social landlords throughout Edinburgh. The social landlords are themselves finding it extremely hard in the current climate to borrow money. The idea behind the plan is that the council will lend the money to social landlords who in turn will provide properties for tenants on a low income, with the cash involved improving Edinburgh’s chances of meeting the current high demand for rental properties.
There is currently a demand for over four thousand homes from low income families who are unable to buy their own properties. Although they can’t afford to get on the property ladder they are also highly unlikely to be given priority for social housing because they are working. Edinburgh is the most popular place to live in Scotland, with around 130 bids placed for each property advertised by both the council and social landlords.
City housing leader, Councillor Paul Edie, said “This initiative is an innovative way of dealing with the shortage. The council can borrow money much more cheaply than registered social landlords so we are using our prudential borrowing muscle here. We are going to invite bids so that every registered social landlord in Edinburgh has an opportunity. We have a chronic shortage of affordable housing in the city, which includes mid-market rent for hard-working families.”
The £21m is expected to fund 70% of the cost of building the new homes, with social landlords getting the other 30% from private lenders. The council expect to make an official decision in August.