Category: Housing

Housing benefit cuts considered by ministers

Ministers are considering forcing all housing benefit recipients to contribute towards their rent as part of efforts to save £12bn from the welfare bill, government sources say.

Housing benefit currently can cover the full cost of rent.

The chancellor is also understood to be pushing for the cap on all benefits to be lowered from £26,000 to £20,000 outside London and south-east England.

It was previously announced the cap would be cut to £23,000 across the UK.

It is understood that other proposals to abolish or severely restrict the carer’s allowance have been dropped after opposition from the prime minister.

A government spokesman said it would not comment on speculation about next Wednesday’s Budget.

Since winning the election, officials and ministers have struggled to find £12bn in savings – a key Conservative manifesto commitment.

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/169/housing-benefit-cuts-considered-ministers

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Charity report reveals owning your own home in County Durham is “becoming a nightmare”

The dream of owning your own property in County Durham is becoming a nightmare for many low-income families, according to new research.

Investigations by Citizens Advice County Durham published in a new national report, revealed that people are spiralling into debt as they struggle to retain and maintain their homes due to a combination of health issues, unemployment, zero-hour contracts, stagnating house prices, and costly repairs.

In the report, Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Housing Crisis, the charity calls for the myth that owner-occupation is best for all to be debunked and says the UK needs a housing debate which looks beyond getting people onto the property ladder and involves everyone from local councils to builders, MPs and landlords.

The charity say that while for many people buying their own home is a positive decision, for thousands of people in County Durham the ‘nest egg’ is becoming a millstone around their necks.

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/145/durham-owning-own-home-nightmare

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The election has finally opened Tory eyes to the disaster of the bedroom tax

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from the Guardian on line

David Cameron on campaign bus
Some of Cameron’s party faithful are asking whether the bedroom tax costs more socially than it is saves financially. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The first flashpoint is the bedroom tax. Backbench Conservatives returned from constituents’ doorsteps with a very different view on the policy. They heard for themselves the human tragedies that imposing such a cost on maintaining a family home creates.

Many are worried about one group in particular: divorced or…

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South Tyneside is the North East’s eviction blackspot

More people in South Tyneside are at risk of losing the roof over their heads than anywhere else in the North East, alarming new statistics reveal.

The figures, from the housing charity Shelter, reveal that more than 350 people in the region have faced the threat of eviction every week over the last year.

The charity also identified ‘home threat hotspots’ – where people are most likely to face the risk of losing their home.

South Tyneside topped that list with as many as one in every 103 homeowners and people living in the private rented sector under threat of eviction, followed by Newcastle upon Tyne (one in 112), Hartlepool (one in 114) and Middlesbrough (one in 123).

Full story: http://northstar.boards.net/thread/66/south-tyneside-north-eviction-blackspot

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Housing association sell off will be a ‘disaster’ for rural communities

Letting housing association tenants buy their homes at a discount will be disastrous for rural communities, according to a leading academic.

Government plans to extend the “right to buy” will make an existing housing shortage worse, said Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal.

And the problem will be particularly bad in rural areas – where house prices are highest, he said.

But the policy was welcomed by North East MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick, who said funds raised from the sell-off would be used to allow councils and housing associations to build more homes.

It comes as a senior civil servant criticised the policy, which was one of the Conservative Party’s flagship manifesto promises during the general election campaign.

The Government is to extend the right to buy their home at a discount, which currently applies to council tenants, to 1.3 million housing association tenants.

But Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service who was the most senior official at the Department of Communities and Local Government until February, has warned that the plan will do nothing to address the housing shortage.

He said: “I think it’s wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and it won’t help tackle the urgent need to build more housing and more affordable housing in this country.”

Under the Conservative plans, 1.3 million tenants in housing association homes in England will be able to buy their properties at discounts of £77,000, or up to £104,000 in London.

Ministers say housing associations will be compensated with money raised by forcing local authorities to sell off their most expensive housing stock as it becomes vacant, ensuring that the affordable properties which are sold are replaced.

However the proposals have been widely criticised by housing associations, with many threatening to sue the Government if they are forced to sell.

Prof Shucksmith said:

“There is already a shortage of affordable housing, especially in rural areas where there is little social housing.

“Rural house prices are on average 26 per cent higher than in urban areas, and the ratio of house prices to local earnings is even worse.

“Disposing of housing association stock, at great cost to the taxpayer, will make the impact on rural communities much more serious.

“We are already seeing those on low and medium incomes, and especially young people, priced out of small towns and villages across the UK. With housing association properties sold off, and unlikely to be replaced in any substantial quantities, the wealth divide in rural communities will deepen even further.”

And he said the policy would hurt employers, by driving the staff they need out of rural areas.

With rural areas becoming increasingly socially exclusive, local businesses – from farms and shops to accountants and software developers – will find it even harder to attract the young, skilled, ambitious people they need.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Jun 2015

Homeless People Face £1,000 Fines For Sleeping Rough

Homeless people face fines of up to £1,000 for sleeping rough in public doorways, under a new asbo-style rule introduced by a London Council.

Homelessness charities have reacted angrily to Hackney Council’s ‘Public Space Protection Order’, which they say “criminalises homelessness”.

The new order bans homeless people from sleeping in public areas and doorways and can be legally enforced through a £100 on the spot fine.

This fine could quickly escalate to as much as £1,000, due to additional court costs. It remains unclear on how the Council will expect destitute homeless people to pay up.

Read rest of story at:

http://northstar.boards.net/thread/49/homeless-people-fines-sleeping-rough

Bedroom tax ruling gives ‘hope to tens of thousands of separated couples with children’

A housing provider on Teesside claims a landmark bedroom tax appeal ruling will give “hope to tens of thousands of separated couples with children”.

Coast & Country says its Tenants Working Together group has secured a legal victory which could mean parents sharing responsibility for a child or children will not be subject to the controversial bedroom tax on the spare room used by their child.

A first-tier tribunal judge ruled that a child can live in two homes for bedroom tax purposes.

It follows other tribunal successes, many based on room size or usage, which encouraged the group to help fellow tenants in lodging an appeal.

Kim Gallagher, chair of Coast & Country’s tenant panel, said:

“This successful appeal is incredibly exciting and has the potential to affect the lives of many thousands of people across the country for the better.

“It is the so-called absent parent, generally the father, who is hit by the bedroom tax, even if the child has a room that is regularly used at the house. This ruling opens the doors for many other people to appeal on the grounds that a child can have two homes.

“The bedroom tax is grossly unfair and it is only by determination to fight unjust cases that the most vulnerable are not penalised.”

Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said:

“The bedroom tax was one of the cruelest policies implemented by the coalition Government and under the current Tory Government, it will not be going away.

“A Labour government would have abolished this unfair policy and scrapping the bedroom tax would have been included in the first Queen’s Speech.

“The next best thing is winning these little battles in the courts and I completely welcome this decision and praise the hard work of these local campaigners.

“It is so vital that it is repeatedly pointed out how unfair and, in many cases, unworkable this policy is. I’m sure the Coast & Country tenants’ working group will continue to fight against the bedroom tax and I am happy to support their efforts.”

Coast & Country chief executive Iain Sim said:

“Coast & Country is pleased to be able to support our hardworking and energetic tenants’ group in ensuring that any tenant who may have grounds for appeal is made aware of this and assisted in every way.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said:

“This judgment does not change the wider policy.

“Ending the spare room subsidy is restoring fairness to the system and saving £1m a day.”

It is understood the ruling could still be subject to appeal.

Under the spare room subsidy, social sector tenants with rooms deemed to be “spare” face a reduction in their housing benefit.

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 May 2105

And The Minister For Housing Is … A Fucking Landlord

the void

landlord-jailedThe interests of tenants and landlords are in direct opposition.  Tenants need secure homes with low rents and which are well maintained.  Landlords however want to charge the highest possible rent for the least possible work and be able to throw a tenant out of their home the second they get a better offer.

This means that you cannot claim to support both tenant’s rights and landlord’s profits.  You have to pick a side.  And we know which side the new Housing Minister Brandon Lewis is on because the register of MP’s interests tells us.  He’s a fucking landlord.

Lewis was first appointed as Minister of Housing in June 2014, replacing parliament’s nastiest, slimiest MP Kris Hopkins.  He was re-appointed by David Cameron last week where he wil continue his work ensuring the UK has one of the most expensive and least regulated private rental sectors in the…

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Housing : Pressure to combat ‘student ghettos’ in Durham

A council is facing renewed calls to combat “student ghettos”, after the last local resident of a city centre street described her life as “hell on earth”.

Jackie Levitas, the only remaining non-student on Waddington Street, Durham, said Durham County Council had concentrated on the county’s villages to the neglect of the city – and must decide whether it really “cares” about Durham.

“It’s your duty. People have fled the city. You’ve got to encourage them to come back.

“You must think about how to improve Durham – every decision taken should be an improvement,” the 78-year-old poet said.

Her calls were echoed by Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, who called the situation “dreadful” and said it left her “almost beyond despair”.

Roger Cornwell, chairman of the City of Durham Trust conservation society, said: “Jackie’s is an extreme form of what’s been going on.

“Her street is treated as part of a student hall of residence. She’s treated as an interloper. The street is totally dead when you get to the (university) vacation.”

 Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning and assets, said it acknowledged the scale of student numbers could create tensions and it recognised the importance of Durham University to Durham.

“Ensuring a balance in respect of these issues is very difficult,” he added.

“We recognise that in Waddington Street and the adjoining streets almost all of the properties are in student use, largely down to how the market has operated over a period of time.

“We have policies in place which mean future applications for student housing developments take all of the above aspects into account and do not have an adverse impact on local communities.”

While first year students at Durham University live in college, many second and third years – plus postgraduates – live in formerly private homes that have been converted into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) for students.

 Recently, a string of large-scale schemes for purpose-built student accommodation have come forward. Planning permission has been granted for more than 2,000 more student beds and several hundred more are in the pipeline, even though the university expects to expand by only 359 students by 2019-20.

The council is under pressure to introduce an Article 4 direction, which would force developers to apply for planning permission to convert a house into an HMO, and produce a comprehensive student accommodation strategy, a previous attempt having been rejected by a planning inspector.

Professor Graham Towl, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor, said:

We are keen to work with the community to ensure there is a positive environment for all who live and work in Durham and Stockton-on-Tees and we welcome open dialogue.”

Source –  Durham Times, 15 May 2015

Tenant evictions reach six-year high amid rising rents and benefit cuts

The number of tenants evicted from their homes is at a six-year high, according to new figures, as rising rents and cuts to benefits make tenancies increasingly unaffordable.

County court bailiffs in England and Wales evicted more than 11,000 families in the first three months of 2015, an increase of 8% on the same period last year and 51% higher than five years ago.

The increase in the number of tenants losing their homes means 2015 is on course to break last year’s record levels. Nearly 42,000 families were evicted from rental accommodation in 2014, the highest number since records began in 2000.

Rental prices have soared in many UK cities but wages failing to keep pace with rising costs and caps to benefits have left many poorer tenants unable to make payments.

Separate figures also published on Thursday showed almost 59,000 households have had their benefits capped in the past two years. Nearly half of those families were in London, where the the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom home is £2,216.

Housing charities said the figures were a glaring reminder that many tenants were struggling to maintain a roof over their heads, and they called on the new government to do more to tackle a housing crisis in the UK.

The latest repossession statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, reveal the highest number of evictions in a single quarter since 2009, when comparable records began, with nearly 126 families forced out every day.

Between January and March, 11,307 tenants and their families were evicted by bailiffs, compared with a figure of 10,380 between October and December last year, and 10,482 in the first quarter of 2014.

The record figure comes as the number of landlord repossession claims – the first step of the legal process leading to an eviction – also rose. Claims were up 10% on the last quarter, but at 42,226 they remained below a six-year high of 47,208 in the first quarter of 2014.

Claims by both private and social landlords were up, the figures showed, although most of the rise was explained by claims by the latter. Social landlords were behind nearly five times as many attempts to recover properties than private landlords, the figures showed. These landlords are typically housing associations providing homes at lower rents than the market rate, often to tenants who receive housing benefit.

In the first three months of the year, 64% of possession claims were made by social landlords. These 27,204 court actions came alongside 5,551 made by private landlords and 9,741 accelerated claims, which could have been by either social or private landlords.

In May 2014, when the threat of evictions reached its highest level for a decade, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations across England, told the Guardian the bedroom tax was causing problems for social landlords. The policy cuts the amount of housing benefit paid to social housing tenants whose homes are deemed too large for their requirements. Benefit sanctions were also thought to be causing problems.

But many housing associations, particularly in London and the south-east, have turned out tenants as they have sought to redevelop generations-old estates to take advantage of the big rise in property values. This has in turn led to an increase in the number of grassroots campaigns to oppose evictions, such as the Focus E15 mothers.

In one case of eviction resistance last week, activists from Housing Action Southwarkand Lambeth in London answered a call from a 14-year-old girl to successfully resist her family’s eviction from a flat in an estate that Southwark council had marked for demolition. Elsewhere in the capital, shorthold tenants in Brixton’s Loughborough Park estate, owned by the Guinness Partnership housing association, have defied eviction orders by occupying their flats.

The MoJ figures came on the same day as the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that 58,690 households across the UK had their benefits capped to a maximum of £26,000 a year since April 2013. Londoners were the worst affected, with 26,636 families facing a cut in benefits over the period to February 2015, followed by 5,953 in the rest of the south-east.

DWP proposals to meet the Conservatives’ pledge to cut £12bn from the welfare budget, in documents leaked to the Guardian last week, included barring under-25s from claiming housing benefit, increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of tenants, limiting welfare payments by family size and freezing welfare benefits at current levels.

Responding to the eviction statistics, Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:

“Today’s figures are a glaring reminder that sky-high housing costs and welfare cuts are leaving thousands of people battling to keep a roof over their heads.

“Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact of a housing market at boiling point, with the cost of renting so high that many families are living in fear that just one thing like losing their job or becoming ill could leave them with the bailiffs knocking at the door.

“The new government must make sure people aren’t left to fall through the cracks and hurtling towards homelessness by preserving, if not strengthening, the frayed housing safety net to protect ordinary families desperately struggling to make ends meet.”

Betsy Dillner, director of the campaign group Generation Rent, said:

“These record eviction figures and signs that they are accelerating are a stark reminder of the housing crisis that the government must urgently start taking seriously now they’re back in power.

“Whether it’s an inability to pay expensive rents or a landlord’s desire to take back their property, the fact that more than 40,000 families were forced out of their homes last year is a symptom of the government’s failure to create a sustainable housing market.”

The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, defended the government’s performance, pointing out that mortgage repossessions had fallen drastically, keeping owner-occupiers in their “hard-earned homes”.

He said:

“Mortgage repossessions continue to fall at 56% lower than this time last year, and the lowest annual figure since the series began in 1987. Meanwhile, numbers of county court mortgage possession claims continue to fall to the lowest quarterly number since records began. This is thanks to our work to tackle the deficit and keep interest rates low, helping more families to stay in their hard earned homes.

“There are strong protections in place to guard families against the threat of homelessness. We increased spending to prevent homelessness, with over £500m made available to help the most vulnerable in society and ensure we don’t return to the bad old days when homelessness in England was nearly double what it is today.”

Source – The Guardian,  14 May 2015