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Blog 15th January 2018

Jan 15th, 21:27

Blog 15th January 2018

In this week’s blog, I refer to: Local Housing Companies and Development, Impact Housing Association, the Homes & Communities Agency, Loreburn Housing Association, Eden District Council and Universal Credit.

Last week, we launched our seminar: ‘Local Housing Companies and Development’. Local housing companies are independent arms-length commercial organisations wholly or partly owned by councils. They can develop, buy and manage properties within and outside of a local authority area. The homes they provide sit outside of the local government housing financing system and are not subject to the Housing Act and most of the social / affordable housing regulations. Over the past few years the number of companies has increased among councils across the whole of England. It is estimated that there are over 150 local authorities that have set up local authority housing companies However, they are not the only housing delivery vehicles that are available to Councils and this is still an emerging area in terms of policy and best practice.

This seminar will explain and examine why and how local authorities are setting up local housing companies and other delivery vehicles. For more information or to make a booking, please click here

The January edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’ was published today. It includes articles on:

  • Impact Housing Association and Governance
  • Fixed and Variable Service Charges
  • Funding Supported Housing
  • The Scottish Budget and its implications for Housing
  • Loreburn Housing Association to open dementia facility and youth foyer in Stranraer
  • Homelessness Services in Wales
  • The United Kingdom Housing Market

To download your copy, please click HERE

The lead article on Impact Housing Association follows the downgrading of the Association from G1/V1 to G3/V3 and the announcement that, after 43 years as a locally based housing association providing homes and support to individuals and communities, Impact Housing Association is to be taken over by the Riverside Group.

It appears to me that whole process from the In-Depth Assessment to the proposed Merger has been shrouded in secrecy and neither Impact Housing Association nor the Homes & Communities Agency (now rebranded as Homes England) appear willing to provide much information to the public, the tenants or even Impact Housing Association’s shareholding members (of whom I am one).

I have therefore carried out my own investigation during which I have spoken with current and previous board members, senior staff, staff of Homes England and others in the community. Some conversations have been ‘on the record’ while others have been ‘off the record’. What I have discovered is very interesting, not only from the point of view of people who are concerned about the future of Impact Housing Association and the communities that it serves, but also for anyone who is concerned about the governance, viability and regulation of Housing Associations in general.

My intention is to serialise my findings and conclusions in the ‘AWICS Housing News’ and in this blog, starting with this article on governance issues.

My conclusion is that while much has been said about the accountability of Housing Associations and their Boards, this example suggests that Housing Association boards are not necessarily accountable to anyone – even when they are judged as being not ‘fit for purpose’ by the regulator.

I intend to write about the finances and financial management of Impact Housing Association in the next edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’.

The article on Loreburn Housing Association highlights the success of a relatively small Scottish Housing Association in diversifying its offer into extra care elderly housing and a youth foyer. The youth foyer is only the second in Scotland, but I expect it will not be the last!

Eden District Council’s public consultation on its budget for 2018/19 closed last week, and I responded in my capacity as a person who lives and works in the district.

In the Council’s press release, the Leader of the Council is quoted as saying that:

“This is a budget proposal for jobs, for housing and for growth, to improve the quality of life for residents and businesses.”

However, my analysis shows that the Council has not taken every opportunity that it could have done to pursue its stated objectives; that the Council is being insufficiently ambitious in this budget and that there appears to be scope to improve financial management. I suggest that the Council consider:

  • A more significant capital programme to address especially the economic development and housing objectives that it has identified, funded through surplus reserves, prudential borrowing and more effective asset management; and perhaps delivered through ‘Heart of Cumbria’.
  • Providing greater clarity and transparency about the objectives and activities of ‘Heart of Cumbria’ (the Council’s arms’ length housing and development company).
  • Improvements to the project management of the capital programme.
  • Approving revenue budgets that do not contain ‘budget slack’, that aim to reduce reserves to an appropriate level and that focus resources on direct services.
  • Increasing Council Tax by 3% in 2018/19.

My response has been acknowledged by Robin Hooper, the Chief Executive of Eden District Council, who e-mailed me to say:

“Thank you for your response to the budget which as always is interesting to read, and I know members will appreciate the opportunity to consider its content.”

A copy of my response can be viewed or downloaded from here.

Earlier today I watched ‘Inside Out’ on BBC Northeast and Cumbria. It reported on the ‘rolling out’ of Universal Credit with some worrying examples of how Universal Credit is causing hardship and forcing people into debt. I cannot understand how making people whose financial circumstances are such that they are eligible for Universal Credit wait six weeks for their benefits can be justified.

Our next seminars are on:

  • All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing
  • All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance
  • Funding Supported Housing
  • Local Housing Companies and Development

For further information or to make a booking, please click here.

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