Independence...Integrity...Value

June 2015

Jul 8th 2015, 15:41

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29th June 2015

This week we are starting to put together our programme of seminars for the autumn of 2015. They will be as follows:

All You Want to Know about Scottish Social Housing Finance

  • Falkirk – 15th September.

This is our regular introduction and overview of Scottish social housing finance. If you would like more information or to make a booking, please click HERE

Extension of Right to Buy: Financial Implications for Housing Associations and Local Authorities

  • London – 22nd September.
  • Oldham - 30th September.

This session will look in detail at the financial implications for housing associations and local authorities of the government’s proposals to extend the ‘right to buy’ to tenants of housing associations in England. If you would like more information or to make a booking please contact enquiries@awics.co.uk

All You Want to Know about Housing Association Finance

  • Oldham – 29th September 2015

This is our regular introduction and overview of housing association finance in England. If you would like more information or to make a booking please click HERE.

Welfare Reform: Implications for Local Authorities and Housing Associations

  • London – 20th October.
  • Oldham – 3rd November.

This session will look in detail at the financial implications for local authorities and housing associations of the government’s welfare reforms including those initiated in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 but focusing on the new proposals to save an additional £12billion by reducing welfare entitlements. If you would like more information or to make a booking please contact enquiries@awics.co.uk

Devolution in England: the Financial Implications

  • Oldham – 4th November.
  • London – 11th November.

This session will look in detail at the financial implications for local authorities of the government’s proposals for devolution in England including the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and the ‘DevoManc’ arrangements. If you would like more information or to make a booking please contact enquiries@awics.co.uk

All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance

  • London – 10th November.

This is our regular introduction and overview of local authority housing finance in England. If you would like more information or to make a booking please click HERE.

Local Authority New Build: The Financial Implications

  • London – 1st December.
  • Oldham – 8th December.

This session will look in detail at the financial implications for local authorities in England of building new council housing. If you would like more information or to make a booking please contactenquiries@awics.co.uk

I will look forward to meeting our clients – both old and new – at these seminars.

25th June 2015

I am afraid my blog is later than usual this week due to pressure of work.

The Chartered Institute of Housing has held its conference this week. One of the presentations that caught my eye was from Scott Dorling of Trowers & Hamlins who cautioned councils against setting up special purpose vehicles to own high value housing as a way of evading the requirement to sell such housing to support ‘right to buy’ for housing associations. He said:

“People have been talking about setting up vehicles outside the local authority’s control to shelter high-value voids… but it goes back to the issue of why a local authority would be doing that. The only reason would appear to be to avoid a well-known government policy.”

However, it is clear that ministers have been viewing local authorities with special purpose vehicles with suspicion for some time. For example, in March 2015, Brandon Lewis MP (then and now Minister for Housing) told Parliament that:

“The government’s policy is that where a local authority is developing or acquiring and retaining new social or affordable homes for rent that they should be… accounted for through the Housing Revenue Account.

“The government is aware that some authorities may be using their general power of competence under the Localism Act 2011 to develop new social or affordable housing and accounting for that stock in its General Fund. Accounting for stock in this way is not in line with government policy and if councils continue to develop social or affordable stock which they fail to account for within the Housing Revenue Account the Secretary of State will consider issuing a direction… to bring that stock into the Housing Revenue Account.

“It is important that new council tenants should have access to the ‘right to buy’ and that new homes should not be built by councils which are excluded from the ‘right to buy’.

“It is not acceptable for local authorities to establish new wholly owned or controlled housing companies deliberately to avoid the government’s reinvigorated ‘right to buy’ policy and the limits on indebtedness… The government will not support the establishment of such companies where they are developing or acquiring and retaining new social or affordable units for rental.”

This seems quite clear to me. It appears that those councils that have developed homes outside the Housing Revenue Account are likely to be challenged by the government. If this option is closed to councils it would put a significant constraint on their ability to deliver new homes.

This week we have published a briefing paper on the government’s proposal to extend the ‘right to buy’ to tenants of housing associations. It considers its implications for housing associations and the response of the sector. It includes sections on:

  • The introduction of 'right to buy' in 1980
  • The role of housing associations in housing supply
  • The 'right to buy' and the 'right to acquire' since 2012
  • 'Right to buy' for tenants in housing associations
  • Responses from around the sector

YOUR copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

Our next seminar will be: ‘All You Want to Know about Scottish Social Housing Finance’ and will be held in Falkirk on 15th September 2015. This session is an introduction and overview of the finances of Scottish housing associations and local authority housing services and is suitable for anyone who wants a working knowledge of the subject. Previous sessions have been attended by housing officers, finance staff, councillors, board members and others and have been well received. If you would like more information or to make a booking, please click HERE

15th June 2015

Last week we held two seminars in London. The first was on ‘Developments in Local Authority Housing Finance’ and the second was on ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’. Both were very well attended and well received and I am grateful to all those who attended.

Delegates at the ‘Developments in Local Authority Housing Finance’ seminar said that the content of the seminar was ‘very relevant’, the presentation was ‘excellent’ and the session met their training needs fully. They described the seminar as: Interesting, Thought-provoking, Thorough and Useful. One delegate said that it was: ‘Enjoyable and useful, good for focussing the mind on some key issues’ and another was good enough to describe themselves as a ‘huge fan of AWICS courses’.

Delegates at the ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ seminar said that the content of the seminar was ‘relevant’ or ‘very relevant’, the presentation was ‘good’ and the session met their training needs fully. They described the seminar as: Useful, Interesting; Valuable and Practical. One delegate described it as ‘Good Overall’.

Both these series’ of seminars have now completed. However, they are both still available as in-house sessions. For further information about this please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk or on 017683-52165. The books that accompany the course can also be bought separately. For more information please contact me or click HERE

Impact Housing Association will hold its Annual General Meeting in Kendal on Thursday. It will be my last meeting as Chair as I will be standing down after six years on the Board and four years as Chair. Impact was an excellent housing association when I first got involved back in 2009. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and I am sure that it will continue to do so.

South Lakes Foyer at Kendal where the Impact Housing Association AGM will be held

During the last four years:

  • Staffing reviews resulted in a 17% efficiency gain
  • A Supporting People contract valued at £1.2m annually was retained
  • There has been a fourfold increase in the association's development programme
  • New foyers for young people have been developed with one opened in Kendal and another under construction in Whitehaven
  • A new extra care elderly scheme has been started at Brampton
  • Return on assets has increased from 1.5% in 2011 to 2.1% in 2014
  • A Tenants’ & Residents’ Association has been formed and the number of resident board members increased from one to three

I am obviously very grateful to Impact board members and staff who have provided me with excellent support especially during my time as Chair. I know of few organisations where board members and staff are as committed to the values and objectives of the organisation as they are at Impact Housing Association.

There are certainly challenges ahead for Impact as there are for all housing associations. The government’s proposals to extend the ‘right to buy’ to housing association tenants and to reduce welfare entitlements by £12billion will affect Impact and its residents. Cumbria County Council is also re-tendering its Supporting People contracts this year. And then there is the ongoing challenge of developing new homes and providing better value for money to residents. However, I am sure that Impact will continue to achieve its objective of making ‘Improvement through Action’ during this – its fortieth year. A copy of my presentation to the AGM can be freely downloaded from HERE

Further information about Impact Housing Association is available on their website at:www.impacthousing.org.uk

8th June 2015

I am writing this blog on the train. I am on my way to London in advance of our seminars and workshops: ‘Developments in Local Authority Housing Finance’ and ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ that will be held on 9th & 10th June 2015 respectively. Both sessions are well attended. I am grateful to all the delegates for their support and will look forward to meeting them.

The election of the new government last month confirmed the continued background of austerity but also heralded two significant changes that will affect local authority housing finance:

  • Extension of the ‘right to buy’ to housing associations funded by the compulsory sale of high value council homes.
  • Further welfare reform involving removing the entitlement to housing benefit from young people and additional measures that are expected to be announced in the budget in July 2015.

The government will also have to decide what to do about depreciation and impairment in the housing revenue account as outlined in my blog last week (see below).

I have written a briefing paper on the government’s proposal to compel local authorities to sell high value council homes. It contains sections on:

  • Response of the sector to extending the right to buy
  • Sale of high value council homes
  • Response of the sector to the sale of high value council homes
  • Impact in London
  • Potential financial arrangements

Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

Right to buy has also received comment in today's 'London Evening Standard'. Under the headline 'Tenants on £100,000 may get right to buy discount' they quote Mark Field, Conservative MP for the Cities of London & Westminster as saying:

"The whole policy was a rabbit pulled out of the hat. You need to produce those policies at an election, but there had been no consultation whatsoever with any housing associations. We need some time to iron out its obvious iniquities."

Service charges are becoming an increasingly high profile element of housing management as landlords seek new sources of income without falling foul of tribunals or benefit regulations. The introduction of Universal Credit is changing the way in which service charges are considered for eligibility. Under Universal Credit there will be three requirements: The right to occupy the accommodation must be dependent on the tenant paying service charges; Service charges must be reasonable and must relate to services that it is reasonable to provide; and Service Charges must fall into one or more of four categories:

  • Maintaining the general standard of the accommodation
  • Areas of communal use
  • Basic communal services
  • Tenant accommodation – specific charges

June is also a busy period in my role as an examiner in Management Accounting for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy. The summer examinations were sat on 4th June 2015 and we are starting the test marking. We are also busy preparing for the introduction of e-assessment with the December 2015 examinations.

1st June 2015

The June edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’ is published this week. With a new government promoting many controversial initiatives there is much to report. It contains articles on:

  • The New Government and the Implications for Housing
  • Extension of Right to Buy to Housing Associations
  • Councils, New Build and Purchase
  • Valuations, Depreciation and Impairment in the Housing Revenue Account
  • Rent Increases
  • Temporary Accommodation, Subsidy and Universal Credit
  • Developments in Local Authority Housing Finance

Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

We have also published two briefing papers this week as follows:

  • The New Government and the Implications for Local Government. Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE
  • Valuations, Depreciation and Impairment in the Housing Revenue Account. Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

The issue of valuations, depreciation and impairment is becoming increasingly urgent. The proposed ending of the transitional arrangements in 2017 will mean that depreciation and impairment will become real costs in housing revenue accounts. One of the implications of this would be to make many local authority new build, buy and buy-back schemes unviable. It is to be hoped that, now that the election is out of the way, some attention can be given to this matter by the Department for Communities & Local Government.

Last night I listened to a programme on Radio 4 about the housing crisis. The programme asked whether the current system - where councils do deals with developers to provide cheaper homes - is working. I think it concluded fairly convincingly that it is not. In particular, the system whereby developers can secure planning permission on the basis that they will provide a certain number of affordable homes but then go back later with a ‘viability assessment’ to get that requirement reduced or removed lacks transparency. These assessments are not generally publically available, are sometimes not even available to councillors and often lead to significant reductions in planned levels of affordable housing. Furthermore, even if councillors refuse to vary the planning permission they can be over-ruled by a government planning inspector.

The programme examined three case studies - the redevelopment schemes at Earl's Court and on the Greenwich Peninsula, as well as a development in rural Suffolk. It asked whether developers are being allowed to duck their obligations to provide affordable homes as a condition of planning permission; and whether councils too under-resourced and under-skilled to negotiate with large development companies. Since 2010, Councils have made larger reductions in their strategic housing budgets than in almost any other service.

The programme can be listened to online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vzysp

This week I am making the final preparations for our seminar and workshop; ‘Developments in Local Authority Housing Finance’ that will be held in London on 9th June 2015 and will look at all developments in local authority housing finance. This is an annual event and down the years many people have found it a good way to keep up to date with developments in local authority housing finance. There are still a few places available. For more information or to book a place, please click HERE

By popular demand we are also holding another session of ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ in London on 10th June 2015. There are still a few places available. For more information or to book a place, please click HERE

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