Independence...Integrity...Value

February 2015

Feb 9th 2015, 09:12

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23rd February 2015

This week we are launching our latest seminar and workshop ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’. This seminar and workshop will be held at the Novotel Hotel at Waterloo on 20th May 2015. It is designed to give an introduction and overview to this important subject and is fully up to date with all developments.

Service charges are an integral part of landlords’ work in financing value for money services and sustaining customer satisfaction. They have always been relatively complex but with increased financial challenges and legal and financial complexity there is an increased need to understand how service charging works. This has been highlighted only last month when an upper tier tribunal found against a local authority that had sought to make service charges to leaseholders for ‘improvements’ that the leaseholders considered to be unnecessary.

Flats at Stockwell Park, Lambeth.

Housing Associations have traditionally levied service charges with most local authorities in England introducing them in the ‘noughties’. In Wales, local authorities are currently in the process of introducing service charges as part of the Welsh government’s new rent policy. Across the United Kingdom the rolling out of Universal Credit is having an impact on benefit entitlement for service charges.

This seminar and workshop is suitable for people who are not experts in service charges, but who need to understand the basics and achieve an overview of what is going on. It is suitable for councillors, board members, housing managers, finance staff, tenant representatives, members of the service charges team with limited experience and others who realise that an understanding of service charges can place them at an advantage!

The Session Covers:
  • How do Service Charges work:
  • In Housing Associations and Local Authorities?
  • For Leaseholders and Tenants?
  • How are service charges calculated?
  • How to de-pool service charges?
  • When are service charges eligible for housing benefit / universal credit?
  • How to ensure excellent customer service?

The session includes a participatory case study and is accompanied by a very useful 100 page book that is designed for reference after the session entitled: “All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing 2015”

To find out more or to make a booking please click HERE

16th February 2015

I am writing this blog in the Travelodge at Waterloo where I am staying while doing some work with Community Trust Housing in Stockwell Park. Community Trust Housing is a community-based housing provider that was established to regenerate the Stockwell Park Estate, Robsart Village and neighbouring street properties by delivering a £110million regeneration plan over nine years and is due to be completed in 2017. The master plan for the regeneration of the community is driven by the ambitions of residents. The vision sees the area as a healthy, safe and welcoming place. Community Trust Housing residents want good quality, well managed and maintained homes at affordable rents, in an area revitalised by good schools, improved parks and a wide range of community facilities.

On this visit I have had the opportunity to meet the board members, most of whom are residents, as well as the staff. I have been very impressed by the commitment of the board members to their community. More information about Community Trust Housing is available on their website at: http://www.cth.org.uk/

Community Trust Housing offices and flats in Stockwell Road

Last week we held our seminars and workshops on ‘Implementing Self-financing in Wales’. These were very well supported by the stock-holding Welsh local authorities and well received by those who attended. Delegates described the sessions as:

  • Useful
  • Clear
  • Interesting
  • Thorough
  • Practical

While the ‘open’ seminars and workshops are now completed, the session is still available as an in-house course. For more information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk or 017683-52165.

My accompanying book: ‘Implementing Self-Financing in Wales’ is now available to buy online. Further information is available HERE

I have also published a briefing paper on ‘Implementing Service Charges in Wales’ that can be freely downloaded from HERE

Last Friday I attended a briefing on the Local Government Association’s peer review programme in Macclesfield. Their new finance offer relies on making use of expertise in the sector, both member and officer peers. It includes a new financial health check; a new budget challenge; and new tools to allow councils to assess their own financial position and consider opportunities and threats to their financial strategy. Following the abolition of the audit commission and its ‘top-down’ inspections there is a need for local government to demonstrate that it has a voluntary system in place that can deliver continuous improvement. I believe that the addition of the finance offer represents a significant new offer to local authorities by the Local Government Association and I am very pleased that the Local Government Association has asked me to participate in the pilots. Further information is available on their website at http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/5659557/A+guide+to+our+sector-led+improvement+offer+for+finance.pdf/550b705b-2107-42c0-8a02-bb7d437416d1

Our next seminar and workshop is our ever popular ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ that will be held in London on 10th March 2015. This session will address the following questions:

  • How does the Housing Revenue Account work?
  • How does the Housing General Fund work?
  • What are the Implications of Self-Financing?
  • What are the Financial Opportunities and Threats for Local Authority Housing?

As usual this session is proving very popular but there are still a few places available. For more information please click HERE.

9th February 2015

I am writing this blog in the Novotel Hotel in Cardiff where we will be holding our seminar and workshop on ‘Implementing Self-Financing in Wales’ tomorrow. I am very grateful to all the people who are supporting this event by attending and am looking forward to the day. I hope that everyone will find it useful. On Thursday I will be running the same session in Wrexham for the benefit of people in North Wales.

While the session in Wrexham will be the last ‘open’ session, the seminar and workshop will still be available in-house. For further information about this please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk or on 017683-52165.

I was also in Wales last week to make a presentation on service charges at Wrexham County Borough Council. Wrexham County Borough is centred on the town of Wrexham in northeast Wales. It has a population of nearly 135,000 inhabitants. Just under half of the population lives either within the town of Wrexham or its surrounding conurbation of urban villages that has a population of around 63,000 people. The rest live to the south and east of the town in more rural areas. The area has strong links with coal mining. The housing office is located on the edge of the town and is shown below. Wrexham County Borough Council is a long-standing ‘AWICS’ customer.

Another long-standing ‘AWICS’ customer – Basildon Borough Council - is in the news because of its decision to establish a housing company: Sempra Homes. It expects a £5.1million return on the initial £10.6million investment it plans for the housing company. The plans are consistent with the recommendations of the Elphicke-House review of what councils can do to increase housing supply.

Croydon Borough Council has received three nominations for the Local Government Chronicle’s 2015 awards. These are for: Business Transformation; Commissioning Pioneering; and Housing. Croydon Borough Council frequently sends representatives to ‘AWICS’ seminars and workshops. Another long-standing ‘AWICS’ customer, Lambeth Borough Council, has also been nominated in the commissioning pioneering section. I would like to wish both authorities well.

Last week I suggested in my blog that councils should consider seeking the approval of their residents for increases in Council Tax of over 2% to support and protect key services. I now understand that Brighton & Hove City Council is considering taking this step. I am sure that if they do this there will be many who will follow events with interest.

Our next seminars and workshops will be held in London on 10th & 11th March 2015. They will cover:

Please click on the titles for more information.

2nd February 2015

We are now well into the season when local authorities set their budgets for the following year including setting their Council Tax. This week’s ‘Local Government Chronicle’ reveals that, despite the government continuing to offer councils a Council Tax freeze grant, 42% of Councils are planning an increase in Council Tax. Indeed, in the Midlands and the Northeast a majority of Councils are expected to increase the Council Tax.

Lambeth Borough Council (the largest local authority client of ‘AWICS’ in London) has frozen Council Tax for the last seven years but this year is planning an increase of 1.99%. Councillor Lib Peck (Labour), the Leader of the Council writes in the ‘Local Government Chronicle’ that:

“In conversations with residents about our budget challenge we are increasingly being asked ‘why don’t you just raise council tax?’ People in Lambeth are proud of their borough and I believe most are willing to pay an extra 30p or so a week to protect the most vulnerable and see the area continue to prosper. Raising Council Tax by 1.99% can reduce the deficit by £5.7million.”

However, Lambeth is not the only place where there is evidence that people are prepared to pay more Council Tax to protect valued services. Councillor Patricia Bell (Liberal-Democrat) of Cumbria County Council has told the local media that the majority of respondents to the Council’s consultation supported the proposal to increase Council Tax by 1.99%; and papers before the Cumbria Police and Crime Panel on the budget consultation reported that:

“The majority of those surveyed supported a rise in the Police precept of at least 1.9% for the next two financial years.”

A YouGov poll has found that 42% of the British public want the government to spend more on public services even if taxes increase to pay for it while only 14% want tax reductions at the expense of services. Perhaps the general assumption that the electorate would never support an increase in Council Tax of over 2% is not correct. I wonder which Council will be the first to test this!

This week will see the launch of our new e-newsletter: The ‘AWICS Wales News’. While our existing e-newsletters, the ‘Public Services News’ and ‘AWICS Housing News’ will continue to include articles of interest to people in Wales, I think there is a need for a separate e-newsletter for Wales to reflect the unique political, legislative, regulatory, social and economic situation in Wales and the specific issues that arise. The first edition will include articles on:

  • Implementing Self-Financing in Wales
  • The role of Welsh Housing Associations
  • Welfare Reform in Wales
  • Reform of Right to Buy · Denbighshire Council forced to cut budget · Risk Management in Social Housing

Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

We intend to launch another new se-newsletter, the ‘AWICS Scotland News’ later in the year.

I am currently busy preparing for our next seminar and workshop ‘Implementing Self-Financing in Wales’ that will be held in Cardiff on 10th February and Wrexham on 12th February. Further details can be found HERE

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