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Grimsby tenants refusing to pay Bedroom Tax

Millions of people in the UK have been affected by the new bedroom tax, and many are claiming that it is unfair to expect them to pay more or be forced to move away from their friends and family to a smaller property. Now, a number of tenants of the Shoreline Housing Association in Grimsby have refused to pay the bedroom tax, and are therefore facing eviction. One tenant is single mum Deborah Kirk, who has lived in her property for forty six years and claims that she cannot afford to pay the tax. Continue reading

Bristol Housing Associations introduce ‘housing speed dating’

Due to the introduction of the bedroom tax as part of the welfare reforms, many social housing tenants are being forced to move into smaller properties in order to avoid having their housing benefits cut. However, many have said that that they struggle to find a new property, and that the process of looking for a new place to live takes a considerable amount of time, meanwhile they are losing money and struggle to pay other bills. Continue reading

Housing Association appoints new CEO

We have recently seen a marked increase in the amount of housing associations that are changing the structure of their organisations in order to prepare for the challenges that will come as a consequence of the welfare reforms. Many associations are concerned that they need to adapt in order to protect their tenants from any housing benefit cuts and improve the efficiency of their companies in order to help alleviate the housing crisis.

This is why Pickering and Ferens Homes, who are based in Hull and helps those over the age of sixty, has recently appointed a new CEO in order to “future proof” its brand. The association has been running for around one hundred years now, and currently owns 1,250 properties and houses many elderly tenants across the Hull area, yet want to make sure they can continue to provide their services regardless of any changes made to the housing system in the future.

The association therefore chose Claire Warren in order to “breathe new life” into the charity, whom not only was previously the CEO of West North West Homes Leeds, but also has twenty three years’ experience working in the industry, and has even ran large council housing schemes with annual turnovers of £48 million. Discussing her new job role, Ms Warren said: “I am incredibly excited about what the future holds. I am very keen as part of my new role to raise the profile of older people in Hull and what their needs are.”

“It’s an organisation with so much potential and what really attracted me to Pickering and Ferens Homes is the fact that it’s a very successful, small organisation which is very well thought of. I want to build on the past and take the organisation forward in to the future, ensuring it is fit for new challenges and indeed new opportunities. I will be looking at ways we can enhance existing services and develop new ones in the most cost effective way. Listening, learning and adapting services where necessary will be key.”

Preparing for the future is important for any kind of landlord – whether they are part of a body or just have a personal property portfolio. If you want more advice on how to best serve your tenants and protect your livelihood you can always contact your landlord insurance provider who will be able to point you in the right direction and explain any upcoming changes in industry regulations.

Twenty-Five thousand Northern Irish tenants in Rent Arrears

Many landlords both in the private and social sectors are concerned that the upcoming welfare reforms will lead to more tenants falling into rent arrears. However, it has been reported today that around twenty-five thousand housing executive tenants in Northern Ireland are already in rent arrears, meaning that the landlords and local authorities are already struggling with making sure tenants pay their rent on time.

The Housing Executive has said that it is extremely concerned by the fact that a third of their eighty-eight thousand tenants are already in rent arrears, especially as the average debt per household is around five hundred pounds. Furthermore, there has been an increase in tenants relying on pay-day loans and doorstop lenders in order to pay their rent which often charge extremely high interest charges.

Chief Executive of the Housing Executive, John McPeake has claimed that around five thousand tenants living in Northern Ireland currently rely on pay-day loans in order to pay their rent. He went on to say: “Many social tenants in Northern Ireland are elderly, disabled or without work and indeed four tenant households out of five have nobody in paid employment. Those people on the economic margins can’t access the routine finance that others may be able to often feel they have no alternative but to turn to pay-day lenders or other doorstep lenders.”

“We believe roughly 5,000 of our tenants rely on pay-day lenders to pay their rent but beyond that, we have a particular problem here of unregulated door-step lenders who are coming along, often, it is alleged, connected to a criminal fraternity and they are putting tenants under extreme duress.” Pay-day loans have already been criticised by many financial bodies across the UK, as they are accused of praying on those that are most vulnerable due to financial difficulties. They depend on the fact that some members of the public may not be able to get any other type of finance, and therefore charge extortionate interest rates for their services, meaning that many customers often end up in more debt than they started with.

As a landlord, it is important that you discuss with your tenants the dangers of pay-day loans, as not only could they lead to your tenant experiencing financial difficulty but also yourself. Investing in a landlord insurance policy which includes rent guarantee insurance is a good way to protect yourself from the impact of rent arrears, but having open discussions with your tenants may also prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Housing Associations funding Private Rented Sector

George Obsbourne will be announcing his spending plans for the UK during his annual Budget report on March the 20th, and due to the fact that even the smallest decision could impact millions of families there are already rumours flying about concerning what he plans to invest in. The housebuilding industry is therefore excited to hear the rumour that the government is planning on investing two hundred million pounds into the industry in order to provide more private rented accommodation and ease the current housing crisis.

However, since 2010 the government has cut funding for housing associations, meaning that many are starting to no longer rely on government investments and have instead chosen to venture into the commercial sector themselves, whilst looking for new ways to secure funding in order to build more properties in the future. Thames Valley Housing has already set up a commercial arm called Fizzy Living which has already gained a seventy million pound investment and are hoping to attract even more investors throughout the upcoming year.

Discussing the company, development director at Thames Valley Housing, Mark Allnut said: “It’s all up for the taking. There needs to be a private sector solution – if there’s too much long-term government support it becomes like a crutch, and people start relying on it.” Meanwhile, chief executive of Fizzy Living, Harry Downes, said: “The private rental sector has huge demand and it’ll be a long time before that demand is used up. We’re hoping those institutions will see that they can now invest in the UK market. Anyone would agree that it is an attractive asset. What we need to do is start putting specialist properties into the market. Nobody’s building this at the moment.”

Fizzy Living are so confident that they will be able to find investors to fund their housebuilding projects that they have officially said that even if the government does provide two hundred million pounds for the housebuilding industry they will not put in a bid for it. They believe that there is “a lot of activity” in the private rented sector and are already planning on investing forty million pounds on one hundred homes across the area.

Landlords who offer private rented accommodations will be happy to hear that there are now more companies willing to invest in the sector themselves instead of relying on government handouts, as it will mean more business for them as well as their sister industries such as landlord insurance providers.

Social Housing Company puts future in Tenants’ Hands

Housing associations and social housing companies are having to make some difficult decisions recently, and many are concerned that the upcoming welfare reforms will mean things will only get harder. We have published numerous news articles recently discussing how private rented sector landlords are protecting themselves against the upcoming reforms with landlord insurance, however many housing associations and social housing companies are choosing to discuss with their tenants how the reforms will affect them.

One social housing company has gone even further though, and has actually decided to let their tenants vote on who they want to run the company in the future. Even though many housing associations and social housing companies have been discussing financial matters and the upcoming reforms with their tenants recently, this is one of the very few times that a company or association has actually asked the tenants about how it should be managed.

Salix Homes in Salford have launched their ‘Your Home, Your Say’ survey that will inform the City Mayor’s decision as to whether the Salix’s properties should remain owned by the local council or goes to a tenant ballot for transfer to a housing association or a registered provider. The survey is giving the Salix Homes’ tenants the choice as to whether they want to stay with Salford City Council – who currently own the homes – and have them continue to be in charge of their housing services, repairs and improvements on the council’s behalf, or be transferred to a registered provider.

Even if the tenants do choose to transfer the properties to a registered provider, Salix Homes could become a registered provider itself if it is supported in the survey and the potential ballot. Discussing the survey, Assistant Mayor for Housing, Councillor Gena Merrett said: “The Your Home, Your Say survey is a unique opportunity for Salix Homes’ tenants to shape the future of their own social housing. I hope as many tenants as possible take part in the survey, so the customer panel has a true picture of opinions on such a crucial issue.”

Meanwhile, Barbara Harper, a Salix Homes tenant and chair of the survey’s customer panel said: “I’d encourage each and every tenant to make sure they take this chance to have their say on what they want for their home and future housing service. We will be making a recommendation to the City Mayor informed by what tenants say in this consultation, so it is important that we get as many views as possible.”

Housing Association’s Chair awarded MBE

Housing associations are under a large amount of pressure recently due to the fact that the current economic climate and housing crisis have created so many families in need. Many have been criticised in the news recently for not keeping up with demand, however one chair of a housing association has recently been awarded a massive accolade when she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to community relations, social housing and diversity.

Janet Storar became chair of the Nottingham City Homes (NCH) in 2009 after she was unanimously elected by other members of the board, even though she had only been elected to the board two years previously. Furthermore, Ms Storar is the first ever chair of the NCH who is also a tenant of the association, showing that her knowledge of living in a social housing project has proved invaluable. Ms Storar has been a tenant with the association for thirty five years, and became involved with her local tenant and resident association back in 2005 after the running of the 28,500 homes was taken over by ALMO from Nottingham council in 2005.

Discussing her MBE, which she received as part of last years’ Queen’s Birthday Honours, Ms Storar said: “It was a very proud day for me when I received my MBE from the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, Sir John Peace. He’s the Queen’s representative in the county and it was a fabulous occasion. I was awarded the honour for my services to housing and diversity in our great city. But really it’s just as much an award for all the hard working employees of Nottingham City Homes – and the massive contribution tenants and leaseholders make to creating ‘homes and places where people want to live.’”

“My proudest moment up to now was becoming chair of the board but this is even more of an honour. Together we work to improve council housing in Nottingham and make sure our tenants and leaseholders have the best possible service.” Landlords will be interested to see the praise that housing associations are currently receiving for their work, and it may hopefully sway their opinions when it comes to social and council housing. Many landlords are wary of letting their properties as council houses, however by working with the right housing association and landlord insurance providers it can prove beneficial for all.

Housing firm creates profit for parent company

Despite the continuing demand for more good-quality, affordable properties throughout the UK, house building companies are still struggling due to the economic climate. Landlords are therefore finding it hard to provide suitable accommodation for all their tenants, meaning that many are choosing to refurbish their properties and claim on their landlord insurance. However, the housing, regeneration and construction specialist Lovell, based in Mold, have recently announced that they have achieved a £47 million profit for their parent company the Morgan Sindall Group.

Even though Lovell has achieved such a great success, the parent company has still announced that they have seen a nine per cent decline in its order book, down to £3.1 billion. Furthermore, the dividend for the year was 27p a share, down from 42p the previous year. Even though the company’s profits have fallen this year, Lovell’s work with housing associations has greatly helped the company, with managing director Stewart Davenport saying: “We experienced difficult trading conditions across all of the markets in 2012.”

“Despite this, our open market completions were 15% up on 2011 and we maintained a healthy order book of £1.3 billion securing key projects throughout the year. The third quarter of 2012 saw a restructure of the business in order to remain competitive and deploy best practice and resources as efficiently as possible. Our strategy remains focussed on delivering affordable new homes for our RSL clients and open market customers as well as offering a national planned and responsive maintenance service.”

Lovell have had numerous projects with housing associations in the past year, such as the thirty five million pound housing refurbishment for Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (CCG) where they refurbished 1,100 homes both internally and externally. Furthermore, CCG is also paying Lovell six million pounds in order to completely remodel and refurbish seventy-three properties of non-traditional construction. Other housing associations that Lovell has worked with include the Rhyl for Pennaf Housing Association, whom last July paid the company £1.2 million to refurbish their listed buildings.

Lovell is also working with Deeside College as part of their Pathways to Apprenticeships scheme, where Chris Humphreys and Paul Woby from the company held mock interviews with the students. Deeside College’s head of construction, Dave Roberts said: “In the current economic climate it is vital that we are providing our students with the opportunity to develop skills that are going to give them a head start when applying for first time jobs. Regardless of their technical abilities, not performing well at an interview could cost these youngsters their first break, which they will need to get onto the career ladder.”

Housing Association defends second Rent Increase

The cost of rented accommodation is something that a large amount of the population is now concerned over, especially as so many now rent their homes instead of own them. However, at the same time the cost of living has increased which means that both private and social landlords have had to increase their rent prices, which proved an unpopular decision amongst tenants.

It seems as though the rented housing sector is balancing on a knife’s edge as landlords try to make a living whilst not overcharging their tenants to the point that they fall into rent arrears. This is why many have invested in landlords insurance in order to protect them for upcoming changes. However, the tenants of many housing associations are finding changes more difficult to adapt to, especially in the town of Glasgow where rent prices have not increased once but twice recently.

Last year the Queen’s Cross Housing Association increased the amount of rent they charged by 4.5 per cent, and now they are planning a further 4.6 per cent increase which will mean some tenants will now have to pay an extra £30 a week. So far residents have launched a campaign opposing the increase, however the association have said that it is necessary due to the upcoming welfare reforms.

Chief executive of Queen’s Cross Housing Association Shona Stephen said: “The consequence of the welfare reforms is that we are trying to manage the impact on services without harshly impacting on tenants. The ‘bedroom tax’ will affect about 300 tenants. The cost for us will be about £176,000. Those tenants will have to find money they did not have before.”

“Alongside that is the Universal Credit, which will go directly to the tenants. They might up using that money for other costs. About 70% of our tenants qualify for housing benefit. This is paid directly to us, but in future we will have to pursue 4000 of our tenants for rent payments.” The council have also claimed that the average rent for their tenants is currently £66.70 a week, which is lower than other housing associations of a similar size.

Scottish Housing Association talks to tenants about future Investments

Yesterday we published an article discussing how housing associations across the UK are planning on working with their tenants in order to improve quality of life, such as Coastline Housing in Cornwall who is making sure that their buildings are well ventilated in order to prevent health issues such as eczema and asthma. Now, River Clyde Homes in Scotland is planning on holding a meeting so that all their tenants can put forward their concerns about rent increases and what they would like to see money being invested in.

From Wednesday 30th of January to Saturday the 2nd of February, meetings will be held at the former Millets shop in the Oak Mall, Greenock, and will then move on to Port Glasgow to the 7½ John Wood Street Centre on Tuesday the 5th of February. Recently appointed chief executive at River Clyde Homes said: “River Clyde Homes has done a good job over the last five years in some challenging circumstances. Over half of our homes now meet the Scottish Quality Housing Standard and hundreds of impressive new homes have been built across Inverclyde despite the economic downturn.”

“However, much work remains to be done. We also know we can improve our services. The challenge for us now is to ensure that we provide our customers with the standard of services they want at a price they can afford. The rent consultation is the start of a process to get the views of our customers on progress at River Clyde Homes so far and what services and priorities for investment they would like to see in the future.”

Customers of River Clyde Homes will be able to fill out a feedback form which will address various aspects of the service, all of which will also be entered into a prize draw where residents can win one of two £50 Tesco vouchers. In the last five years River Clyde Homes have kept their rent prices stable, however with the introduction of the new welfare reforms this may change. Private rented sector landlords have already protected themselves from the expected increase in rent arrears by investing in landlord insurance, however social housing landlords are finding that having discussions with their tenants is also beneficial.