Thousands of former council tenants have a new landlord today after the North-East’s largest local authority sold its last 18,400 homes to a new independent group.
Durham County Council sealed the £114m deal with the newly formed, not-for-profit County Durham Housing Group (CDHG) late last night (Monday).
Supporters say the historic transfer will pave the way for £800m of investment in the homes over the next 30 years and the £80m construction of 700 new properties within the next seven, plus the cancellation of the council’s remaining housing debt of £130m.
CDHG chief executive Bill Fullen said there was an opportunity to create something “really significant” in County Durham, while council chief executive George Garlick said communities across the county would be regenerated.
CDHG now owns and manages 18,400 homes across the former Wear Valley, Easington and Durham City districts.
It comprises three new landlords, or Community Benefit Societies – Dale and Valley Homes and East Durham Homes, previously Arms-Length Management Organisations (Almos) responsible for managing council-owned houses, and Durham City Homes, previously an in-house council service.
It went ahead despite delays and a government deadline having been missed.
Sites for the new homes have been identified, mostly around existing estates, but details have not yet been released.
Mr Fullen said:
“The results of last summer’s ballot told us that tenants wanted to see change and that’s exactly as a group what we set out to achieve.
“I want people to say that they are proud to call Durham home and that doesn’t just come from bricks and mortar.
“It’s about improving lives beyond the garden gate and I’m confident that by working with Dale and Valley Homes, Durham City Homes and East Durham Homes we can achieve this together.”
Mr Garlick added:
“The completion of the transfer allows for millions of pounds to be invested in current social housing as well as building new homes, helping to regenerate communities across the county.”
For more information, visit countydurhamhousinggroup.co.uk
Durham City Homes can now be contacted via durhamcityhomes.co.uk, 0800-068-0013 or email: email@example.com
Dale and Valley Homes’ and East Durham Homes’ contact details remain unchanged.
Council houses in other areas of the county have already been transferred to landlords Cestria Community Housing, Derwentside Homes, Livin and Teesdale Housing Association.
Last night’s (Monday) deal was signed hours before the Conservatives pledged to extend the right-to-buy to 1.3m housing association tenants.
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Apr 2015
New prepayment meters are being installed in hundreds of homes to help residents pay for their gas and electricity.
From the end of the month, Derwentside Homes will install the new smart meters, which display how much gas and electricity is being used and how much it costs, in 200 homes.
Under the pilot project, the meters will be installed in the company’s properties as they become vacant.
It follows a deal between Derwentside Homes and energy provider Ovo.
Vicky McCourt, new business development manager at Derwentside Homes, said: “The deal we have struck with Ovo will go a long way to helping our residents to reduce their energy use – and to cut their bills.
“Prepayment meters can be very expensive for customers on low incomes, who often have no choice but to have this type of supply arrangement.
“However, Ovo are consistently very competitive on the market when it comes to prepayment deals and by supplying customers with real time information on their energy use, and its costs, we can help to bring prices down even further for our residents”.
The first meter has just been installed at a house in Moorside, near Consett and Derwentside Homes says it ultimately hopes to have smart meters installed in all of its properties.
Ms McCourt added: “New residents will be set up with Ovo as their supplier – but, importantly, they will have the choice whether to stay with them or switch to an alternative provider.
“We believe this exciting initiative has the potential to reduce fuel poverty among Derwentside’s residents.”
Source – Northern Echo, 25 July 2014
Benefit claimants in the North-East and North Yorkshire have been hit harder by Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ than any other region, a new study has revealed.
The report, by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute (NPI), warns that wide-ranging cuts are changing the shape of welfare support at a time when rising prices are making it harder for families to make ends meet.
The study, Multiple Cuts For The Poorest Families, found 28,000 of the poorest households in the region are being hit by the bedroom tax and are £12.80 per week worse off, with around 3,000 at least £20 a week out of pocket.
As a result, job seekers, carers, single parents or those with a disability or illness who are unable to work are being pushed deeper into poverty, it said.
North Durham MP Kevan Jones (Labour) said the record use of food banks was a clear indication that not only the unemployed, but also those in low pay, are being forced to rely on charity to survive.
He said: “In the year 2014 it is a national scandal. It is a situation where they are forcing people to move who have lived in the same homes for many years. The Government is treating people’s home as commodities rather than homes.”
But cuts to council tax benefit are more widespread in the region, where 103,000 of the poorest households have seen a cut in their cash payments.
These households now have to pay around £2.40 per week in council tax, a charge they were previously deemed too poor to pay.
The worst off are those 40,000 households who have seen both cuts in their housing benefit and their council tax benefit.
North-West Durham MP Pat Glass (Labour) said: “People who have never been in debt before are now in debt.
Renters in the private sector have also seen their housing benefit slashed too, through cuts to the Local Housing Allowance.
The research estimates that this has affected 29,000 of the poorest households in the area, costing them around £7.80 per week.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam chief executive, said: “This is the latest evidence of a perfect storm blowing massive holes in the safety net which is supposed to stop people falling further into poverty.”
In London, where the population is two-and-a-half to three times greater than the North-East, around 34,000 of the poorest households are being hit by the bedroom tax.
On average they are £20 per week worse off, the highest cut of any region, and around 7,000 are being hit by at least £25 per week.
But cuts to council tax benefit are much more widespread in the capital where 240,000 of the poorest households have seen a cut.
Geraldine Kay, chief executive of Derwentside Homes, the social landlord which manages former council housing stock in the north-west of County Durham, said: “The North-East has been disproportionately adversely affected by welfare reforms compared to all other regions with the exception of London for a different reason.
“In London the issue is the extortionate cost of housing, to buy or to rent, exceeding the benefit cap.
“In the North-East it is the ‘bedroom tax’ that is causing particular hardship as our housing stock is dominated by two and three bedroom family homes with very few flats and apartments.
“There are simply not the smaller properties for people to downsize into and tenants are caught in the ‘bedroom tax’ poverty trap.”
Conservative Stockton South MP James Wharton said hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting list for homes while hundreds of thousands more have properties bigger than they needs, which are paid for by the taxpayer.
He said: “The housing system this government inherited was in need of major reform and by paying for what people need, rather than over the odds, the taxpayer can get people into the right sized homes and free up properties for those in desperate need.”
> Except… that doesn’t work. Surely he’s grasped the fact by now ?
Source – Northern Echo 22 April 2014