Councils could lose powers to clampdown on rogue landlords under new government reforms.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes has slammed government plans to revoke local authorities’ ability to introduce selective licensing of privately rented homes.
Since 2004, councils have had powers to regulate private landlords in areas of low housing demand or significant anti-social behaviour.
In March 2010, rules were relaxed granting councils greater powers.
Now, to avoid a ‘blanket licensing approach’, the government is wrestling back control and Coun Forbes argues this hinders the council’s ability to help residents.
“It is taking away our abilities as a local democracy. It makes it harder to tackle the problems in some areas of the city.
“Government has created an extra hurdle to jump before we can tackle the issue.
“Despite all of the talk around devolution, central government stripped away important powers from local councils. We have lost the ability to respond to residents.”
The government argue reforms will help councils focus their enforcement where it is needed most and stop good landlords being punished.
But the Labour leader of the council accused Whitehall of being influenced by the powerful private landlord lobby.
“Up to now local authorities have had the ability to introduce selective licensing successfully, wherever there has been a problem.
“Now the government has taken away that power and forced us to beg for the ability to do it. I can only assume government has been lobbied by the vested interests of private sector landlords.
“There are some really good private landlords but there are some terrible ones. Some privately rented properties end up becoming eyesores, and a blight on otherwise clean streets.
“It’s one of the things people consistently complain about and it is important we are able to licence these properties to ensure the safety of tenants.”
Bruce Haagensen, local representative for National Landlords Association, believes selective licensing has failed in the city.
“The NLA is fully behind efforts to improve the standard of housing in Newcastle and believe that selective licensing when carried out properly and fully resourced is a useful tool for councils to use.
“However this does not seem to be the case in Newcastle.
“The existing scheme has not achieved sustainable tenancies, improved prices or the reduced the number of empty houses and after consulting with interested parties (landlords, tenants, businesses and others in the community) it was found that over 60 per cent suggested there had been no change during the scheme; essentially the scheme has failed.”
The city currently has two selective licensing schemes in Benwell and Byker which have been running since September 2010 and March 2011 respectively.
Landlords have been hit with massive fines for failing to apply for the correct licences.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Apr 2015
Foodbank organisers have opened what is believed to be Newcastle’s first free clothes shop.
Set up in a church in Heaton, Newcastle, the Clothes Store has a stockroom full of warm winter coats, baby and children’s clothes and mens and womens outfits.
After the success of the East End Foodbank, which helps around 70 people a week, religious leaders have said people in the community are still in need and have now turned their attention to making sure people have enough warm clothes to get them through the winter.
> the success of the East End Foodbank – you might think that the very need for a foodbank is very much a lack of success.
Vikki Gosling from Walker, said:
“I have come to the church before to get two winter coats for my kids after a teacher at school mentioned it. A lot of people say they would dare, and ask how can you ‘embarass yourself’ but if it’s for your kids you’ll do it.”
The region’s first clothes bank, mirroring the way a foodbank runs, was set up in Durham City in October.
Senior pastor Julia Lawton, of the Elim Pentecostal Church on Heaton Road, said she was really keen to set up the store to help people in a time of crisis after running a successful ‘coats for kids’ scheme locally.
“For the clothes store we are trusting people. They will get a voucher and they will be allowed three items per person. If someone says they have a family of six people, then we would need to meet all six people.
“Some people don’t always qualify for things like the foodbank or official help, but they might be out of work. I’ve got one man whose has got two jobs and is struggling to make ends meet. We gave him a coat for his one year old son, and a whole sack of toys because he couldn’t afford them himself.
“There’s no need for anyone to be embarrassed. Most people at some point in their lives need help. It might not always need to be financial.”
The clothes are all of good quality and have been donated by church members and the local community and have been washed before going on display.
A toybank is also being set up after a local man put out an appeal on Facebook and collected dozens of second hand toys in good condition from people living in Heaton and Byker.
Vikki, who has had her benefits sanctioned with just weeks until Christmas, was able to pick up some gifts for her two young children.
“They will be absolutely buzzing to see what they’ve got,” said Vikki, who said she has struggled to find a job.
“When they told me what they wanted this year, I had to just say ‘you know you won’t get all that’. In the past they have asked a lot for presents at Christmas, but they know now that I just can’t afford it.
“I’ll be back with my own donation though, I’ll bring my size 8 clothes down from before I had my children to see if anyone else can use them.”
The Clothes Store will run on the third Thursday of every month between 2.30pm and 4.30pm at Elim Pentecostal Church in the former Heaton bingo hall on Heaton Road. The first one however opens today to give people a chance to have a look before Christmas.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Dec 2014
Low pay and rising prices are pushing thousands of North East families into poverty, a charity chief has told MPs.
Sara Bryson, policy and development officer at Children North East, said that the majority of children in poverty in the region came from working families and that rising employment had not translated into living standards for many.
Giving evidence to Parliament, she called for central and local Government bodies in the region to introduce the Living Wage so that families could cover the basic costs of living.
Ms Bryson said that more than 60% of all children living in poverty in the North East have working parents and that it was years of stagnant pay and high prices that has pushed many low-income families to breaking point.
“It’s about making sure when people do work they can afford to feed their children and send them to school,” said Ms Bryson. “In order to do that they need to earn a living wage.
“National Government is very much focussed on getting people jobs in the private sector but the recession has hit hard and industry still hasn’t fully recovered up here. The region’s public sector, which has always been our most dominant employer, has also been hit hard.
“One in four children and young people in the North East live below the official poverty line. It is not fair or right that they don’t get the same chances and breaks as their peers.”
During the Parliamentary discussion, Ms Bryson shared her views, opinions and knowledge around poverty in schools and child poverty issues.
The Children’s Commission on Poverty and The Children’s Society will meet in August and September to review the findings from the sessions and produce an independent report which will be published in October.
“Education is so important to lift children out of poverty but they need to have a positive experience at school,” added Ms Bryson. “Some children will never have been on a school trip, they will have gone without meals, warm clothes and perhaps felt embarrassed or scared to bring their friends home.
“I was brought up in Blakelaw, in Newcastle’s west end, and it was my first school trip that inspired me to go on to university and study.
“As well as adopting the Living Wage we need to work closely with schools to maintain a bursary for pupils after the National Education Maintenance Allowance was abolished and ensure schools are effectively using the Pupil Premium funding from the Government to support disadvantaged children.
“We also doing terrific work as a charity at helping teachers and school staff better understand the individual needs of children in poverty. This goes a long way to abolishing the stigma and prejudices felt between children at school.”
The latest figures show that 24.5% of children in the North East are in poverty, compared to a UK average of 20.6%.
That figure rises to 29% in Newcastle and the proportion of children living in poverty in some parts of the city is far higher. In both Walker and Byker, in the city’s east end, the figure rises above 50%.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 31 July 2014
Battling parents staged a ‘Teddy Bears Protest’ outside Newcastle City Council against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.
The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service. Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.
Scores of mums and dads with their kids, along with Sure Start workers, converged on Newcastle Civic Centre for the colourful event, one of many that organisers ‘Parents Against Cuts’ have lined up in the run-in to the council’s budget implementation in October.
Spokeswoman Vanessa Cutter of Fenham, Newcastle, said: “We want to let the council know that they’re in for a fight.”
She said at a previous event earlier this month – a picnic in the Civic Centre grounds – Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes spoke to the protestors.
Vanessa said: “While he sympathised with us, he said there was nothing he can do as it was to do with Government cuts.
“But isn’t his role as leader of the council to fight for the people of Newcastle?
“We’re not putting ourselves above other services. We just think the cuts are too deep and the nearer the council can get to zero per cent cuts the better for us.”
All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.
A Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.
In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.
The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.
They say it will make a deteriorating situation even worse on the back of cuts which have seen the axing of council play and youth services last year.
Yvonne Holliman, 33, of the Montagu Estate, Newcastle, said of Sure Start: “It was an absolute lifeline for me. When my son, Josh, was born I suffered from Post Natal Depression and had nowhere to go at first.
“I was referred to Sure Start by my Health Visitor as are others have been. If it had not been there I don’t know what I would have done, maybe lapsed into a deeper depression.
“I got a chance to go somewhere to meet other parents and my son had kids to play with in a safe environment.
“At the end of the day, if the cuts are carried out, it will be the kids who suffer.”
Dad Rob Forster, 28, from Byker said: “I’m here to show support for the programme which supported my family.
“I don’t care about the financial side of it, it’s the social aspect I’m concerned about and the impact it will have on families.”
Dad Richard Cutter, 40, husband of Vanessa, said: “If the council closes these down now it will create a whole lot of social problems further down the line.
“The North East is one of the most deprived areas in the country and Sure Start helps provide tremendous support for the less well off. People who need help with raising kids, it teaches them about society and the community and means we are less likely to hear about problems of crime with them.
“It’s not just about the impact now, it’s about the impact it will have on Newcastle in the future.”
A council spokesman said: “The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016. We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions. Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 July 2014