Independence...Integrity...Value

February 2016

Feb 8th 2016, 11:29

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29th February 2016

Last week I presented the second in this year’s series of seminars of ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ in Leeds. The previous week I presented the first session in London. Delegates said that the information provided was very relevant, the quality of presentation was good and that the training met their needs fully. They described the session as practical, useful, thorough, clear and comprehensive. I am grateful to all those who attended.

Our next sessions will be held in September in Cardiff and London. For more information, or to make a booking please click HERE

This seminar is also available as an in-house session. To make enquiries please contact me atAdrian.waite@awics.co.uk

Many people have assumed that councils would react to the government policy of reducing social rents by 1% a year over the next four years by focusing on their core business and scaling down on their new build programmes and community investment. However, this does not appear to be the case with the Local Government Chronicle reporting this week that many councils are seeking economies in core management and maintenance budgets so that they can continue to develop. ‘AWICS’ clients also remain keen to develop despite the challenges posed by the rent reductions.

Our next seminar will be ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ in London on 8thMarch. As usual, this seminar is proving popular but we still have a few places available. For more information or to make a booking, please click HERE

George Osborne will present his next budget on 16th March 2016. It is widely expected to include another round of budget reductions and, if previous budgets are anything to go by, it will also include some surprises. To ensure that our clients are up to date we will be holding a webinar on 18th March that will summarise the budget and outline the implications for housing and local government. For more information or to make a booking please click HERE

Nationally, the European referendum is catching the headlines. It is interesting to see that Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy has pointed out that if Britain left the European Union it could ‘hit councils’; and Sarah Calkin, News Editor at the Local Government Chronicle has said that ‘leaving the European Union may save the exchequer money, but there is no guarantee any of this would find its way to councils’.

One of our clients, Oldham Council, has been in the news recently because of its good record in reducing ‘delayed transfers of care’ from hospitals to social services. Oldham Council already has the third lowest rate in England and has set up a team to develop a discharge plan for elderly patients as soon as possible after they have been admitted to hospital. The Council’s housing service also has a focus on sheltered accommodation and homes for the elderly.

Last Tuesday the House of Commons considered amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill made by the House of Lords. During the passage of the Bill the House of Lords has voted to amend the Bill to exempt carers and Guardian’s Allowance from the benefit cap; exempt kinship carers from the two child limit on tax credits; and to defer the 1% rent reduction in social housing by a year for supported accommodation. The House of Lords voted to reinstate income as a measure of child poverty and prevent cuts to Employment and Support Allowance that could have seen disabled people £1,500 a year worse off. The Government have also tabled amendments to the Bill that reinstate a statutory duty to monitor income related child poverty against the existing four criteria. We will be holding a webinar on the Bill on 4th May. For more information or to make a booking please click HERE

22nd February 2016

Last week was a busy week with trips to London and Yorkshire.

On Monday I had a meeting at the Local Government Association in London. I am currently assisting them with their peer review programme with financial diagnostics and as an associate peer reviewer.

On Tuesday I presented ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ at our seminar in London. The session was fully booked and well received and I am grateful to all those who attended. Our next session will be held in Leeds on Wednesday and that is also well attended although there are still a few places left. The seminar is available in-house and we will also be holding a further session on 13th September. For further information or to make a booking please click HERE

On Thursday I was in Yorkshire to present an introduction to housing finance to Board members at an Arms’ Length Management Organisation (ALMO). They found the presentation good, the information very relevant and said that the training fully met their needs. They described the session as useful, comprehensive, valuable, thorough and practical. One board member commented that it was:

“Good that we were also able to feed in the (local) context which was particularly useful to new board members”.

It is clearly a challenging time for ALMO Board members so I was pleased to be of assistance.

This week we have published the February 2016 edition of the Public Services News. It contains articles on:

  • The Housing & Planning Bill – What it says about Planning
  • Greg Clark announces Local Government Finance Settlement for 2016/17
  • The Role of Public Services in Society
  • State of the Nation 2015
  • The Historic Environment
  • The Scottish Budget
  • The Welsh Budget
  • Police and Schools
  • Housing & Planning Bill: The Implications for Housing & Local Government

Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

Later on today I will be presenting a webinar on ‘The Housing Revenue Account: An Introduction’. Information about all our webinars can be found HERE

This week’s Local Government Chronicle includes some interesting articles on social care and its relationship with housing and finance. Anna Dixon of the ‘Centre for Ageing Better’ says that:

“The idea that there’s a lot of wealth locked up in housing and that this can somehow be tapped into to pay for social care (is) not a long-term way of funding.”

And Barry Quirk of Lewisham Borough Council points out that:

“Across England, six in every 1,000 children are in care… The locality with the highest rate of children in care is Blackpool Council with sixteen in every 1,000… This stark difference arises more from the pattern of underlying need than the differences in practice… This is the challenge of finding a fair approach to funding… The extended offer of a four-year settlement on the revenue side can only work if it is accompanied by a soundly based needs-based review… This review needs to be objective, open and inclusive.”

15th February 2016

I am spending a lot of time at the moment providing training in service charges in social housing.

Last week I was in South Wales providing an in-house session to a housing association that was well received. Participants found the information provided was very relevant, the quality of the presentation good and that the training met their needs fully. They described the session as useful, thorough, clear, practical, comprehensive and interesting. Particular comments included:

  • Very relevant to us at our stage of introducing service charges.
  • Very useful course. Gave me the depth I need for my role in a clear, engaging way at a good speed.
  • A very good and thorough summary of the service charge issue by a knowledgeable speaker.

Tomorrow I will be presenting the seminar in London. This session has been fully booked. I am looking forward to meeting the delegates and hope that everyone will find it a useful day. Our northern session will be held in Leeds next week and while this is also a popular event there are still a few places available.

In view of the popularity of this seminar we will be holding additional sessions in Cardiff and London in September. Details will be published on our website as soon as they are available alongside details of the session in Leeds HERE

We are also holding a webinar on service charges in April. Further information is available HERE

On 8th March we will be holding our annual and popular seminar ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ in London. This will provide an introduction and overview of local authority housing finance and will also outline briefly the implications of recent and expected policy changes such as the sale of high value homes. For further information or to book your place please click HERE

This seminar is also available in-house. For example, I will be presenting a session to Board members at an Arms’ Length Management Organisation in Yorkshire on Thursday.

Earlier today I had a meeting at the Local Government Association. I am currently assisting them with their peer review programme by providing analysis and advice on financial issues. This is clearly a challenging time for local authorities not least from a financial point of view with a need to reduce expenditure at a time of increasing need.

Last week I met with officers of a unitary authority in Northwest England that had commissioned me to provide advice on their housing revenue account business plan. The Council has a significant amount of sheltered housing in their stock and one of the significant risks that they face is posed by the government’s decision to limit housing benefit to local housing allowance rates from 2018 and to move towards funding housing support costs from a ‘localised pot’. This issue is clearly causing concern across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and I notice that Alex Neil, the Scottish Minister of Social Justice, has written to Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform and has said that:

"What's still not clear is how far this cap will go when it comes to the most vulnerable... This includes women and children fleeing domestic violence, disabled people and those affected by homelessness. We know rent and service charges in supported accommodation are significantly higher than the local housing allowance rate. Without the existing levels of housing benefit to cover these costs, refuges will be forced to close... The organisations that provide supported accommodation are being left in an unacceptable state of uncertainty."

There is clearly a need to factor welfare reform into business planning and risk management.

9th February 2016

I am writing this blog while on the train to South Wales where I will be presenting an in-house session of ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ at a Welsh Housing Association tomorrow.

This seminar is proving very popular with our session in London next week already fully booked, our session in Leeds the week later almost full and a number of in-house sessions already arranged.

In view of the popularity of this seminar we will be holding an additional session in London in September. Details will be published on our website as soon as they are available HERE

We are also holding a webinar on service charges in April. Further information is available HERE

Yesterday the government made some announcements about details of the Welfare Reform & Work Bill and the Housing & Planning Bill. One announcement regarded the compulsory sale of high value homes. It was confirmed that for purposes of this legislation housing would only become vacant once it had been occupied and a tenancy came to an end. Brand new vacant housing (that had not ever been occupied) would not fall within the definition of vacant housing for the purposes of this policy. Doubtless this will be some relief to authorities that are planning to build new schemes that would be deemed to be high value council housing. However, it seems a little illogical to me to have a policy whereby councils can build high value homes, let them once and then have to sell them on the open market!

On 8th March we will be holding our annual and popular seminar ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ in London. This will provide an introduction and overview of local authority housing finance and will also outline briefly the implications of recent and expected policy changes such as the sale of high value homes. For further information or to book your place please click HERE

During April we will be holding seminars on the Housing & Planning Bill. For further information or to book your place please click HERE

One aspect of the funding of local authorities that is causing concern is funding for children’s services against a background of a 60% increase in the number of children with child protection plans since 2008. As the Local Government Association points out:

“Funding cannot keep pace with demand and nineteen of the 74 councils inspected for children’s services by Ofsted since February 2014 have been judged inadequate. These councils now risk losing control of children’s services to third party organisations or high performing local authorities.

“Continuing reductions to education grants outside the dedicated schools grant and to early intervention funding risk under-resourcing local authorities in their delivery of early support to children, young people and families. Reducing core funding is counter-productive and will lead to significant cost pressures in the longer-term, due to increased demand for more costly longer-term / life-long interventions. We want to understand how the government expects to find the £600million in Education Services Grant reductions and whether it intends to reduce statutory duties for councils.”

However, ministers appear to believe that the local government financial settlement should not affect front-line services. For example, Rory Stewart MP, a Minister at the Department for Food & Rural Affairs recently told the ‘Cumberland News’ that:

“Frontline services do not need to be cut... for our local authorities to make savings”.

The Historic Environment (Wales) Bill has now passed through initial debates successfully and generated some proposed amendments that need to be considered before it is finally passed. The Bill, forms part of a suite of legislation, policy, advice and guidance that makes improvements to existing systems for the protection and sustainable management of the Welsh historic environment. It gives more effective protection to listed buildings and scheduled monuments, enhances existing mechanisms for the sustainable management of the historic environment, and introduces greater transparency and accountability into decisions taken on the historic environment.

Meanwhile, a significant milestone in the progress of devolution in Scotland has been passed with the announcement of the Scottish Budget for 2016/17. For the first time a devolved administration has set its own income tax. As Don Peebles said, on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy:

“This is an historic budget. For the first time ever, Scotland has set its own income tax. Even though Scots will pay no more or less, it is a locally set rate of 10p, which will generate £4.9billion and may vary in the future from the United Kingdom rate. The National Health Service gains a real terms increase of 6.5%. However, local government loses out with a real terms reduction in funding of more than 7% over one year. The budget also signals immediate tax reform. It proposes assigning income tax receipts to local government. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy welcomes this swift response to the report of the Commission on Local Tax Reform.”

How long will we have to wait before the Welsh Government and combined authorities in England will be able to set their own rates of income tax?

3rd February 2016

It is always good to receive positive feedback from customers so I was pleased to receive the following email from a college lecturer who has attended many of our seminars but who is now retiring:

“Just a line to say that I am retiring at the end of this week (from lecturing in) Housing Economics where your great updates have kept me on the straight and narrow.

“Can you… please (let me have) a continued link if that is possible via my own email…I am undertaking some ‘bits’ of research and will want to keep in touch with events.

“It occurs to me that all changes yet nothing changes regarding housing. I refuse to say the situation is worse than it was at the beginning of my working life but I fear it might be. Anyway, through AWICS we are all better educated an informed!”

Last week the government announced that it will exempt supported housing from the 1% reduction in rent in 2016 and will look again at how its policies on rent reductions and limiting housing benefit to the local housing allowance will impact on supported housing. This will be good news for all supported housing providers in England as it is widely considered that if the government goes ahead as intended most schemes would be forced to close. However, at present it only represents a ‘stay of execution’ as the government has made no firm commitments and until they do so, rent reductions from 2017 to 2019 and the cap on housing benefits at the local housing allowance rates from 2018 are still proposals that are on the table. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the government will listen to people in the sector and come up with a long-term plan to ensure that supported housing remains funded and viable.

This week we have launched our seminars on ‘The Housing and Planning Bill – The Implications for Housing and Local Government’ that will be held in London and Leeds during April 2016. The Bill contains a number of significant proposals for housing and local government including:

  • Starter Homes
  • The ‘voluntary’ right to buy for housing association tenants.
  • The sale of ‘high value’ council homes.
  • Near-market rents for social tenants on ‘high incomes’
  • Reducing Regulation of Social Housing
  • Measures to tackle rogue landlords
  • Phasing out of lifetime tenancies
  • Neighbourhood Planning
  • Planning reforms including automatic planning permission on brownfield sites and reforms to support small builders.

For further information or to book your place please click HERE

Our next seminars are on ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’. There will be sessions in London on 16th February and Leeds on 24th February. Both sessions are proving popular but there are still some places available. For further information or to book your place please click HERE

And on 8th March we will be holding our annual and popular seminar ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ in London. For further information or to book your place please click HERE

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