Independence...Integrity...Value

October 2013

Oct 10th 2013, 10:15

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28th October 2013

This week, I will be presenting a one day training course for the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation in Grangemouth, Scotland on ‘Scottish Social Housing Finance’. Details are available on their website at http://www.irrvscotland.org.uk/documents/Housing%20Finance%2030102013.pdf

Grangemouth has, of course, been in the news recently with the threatened closure of the petro-chemicals plant and oil refinery. While it is obviously good news that they will remain operational I can’t help thinking that this incident exposes the weakness of a United Kingdom economy that is too dependent on multi-national companies.

Eden District Council appears to be intent on losing its reputation as a ‘sleepy backwater’. Its Conservative Leader, Councillor Gordon Nicholson, has now come out against the ‘bedroom tax’, writing in the ‘Cumberland & Westmorland Herald’ that:

“I should make it clear that, as an individual, I do not support the manner in which the so-called bedroom tax has been introduced. I do think that existing tenants who, through no fault of their own, find their housing benefit reduced should have been exempt from these changes and I have made this point to ministers.”

In July I reported in the ‘Public Services News’ on the campaign to bring proper disabled access to Penrith railway station. As part of this, Elaine Waite of AWICS (who is disabled) was interviewed on Border Television explaining how she found it impossible to use the northbound platform. It appears now that some progress is being made in that the station has been nominated by Network Rail for funding under the ‘Access for All’ scheme and that a footbridge with lifts may finally be built. It is expected that a decision will be taken before April 2014. While this is good news, it is a pity that the railway companies don’t install disabled access for their customers at their own expense rather than expecting the taxpayer to pay for it.

Our latest briefing paper is on local authority housing finance in Wales. It can be freely downloaded from http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/local%20authority%20housing%20finance%20in%20wales%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

The next session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ will be held in London on Tuesday 12th November 2013. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance. Details are on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_housing_finance_2013_training_course.asp

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at an introductory workshop on service charges for the National Housing Federation in Manchester. Details are available on their website at: http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

This week we have announced the dates and venues of our seminars and workshops for 2014. Details can be found at http://awics.co.uk/seminars2014.asp

21st October 2013

I understand that the Homes & Communities Agency is not happy with the standard of Value for Money returns that they have received from housing associations! I am told that a number of associations can expect to be contacted soon! On Sunday I chaired Impact Housing Association’s annual Board Conference that was held at the Oval Centre in Salterbeck, Workington. It is a useful opportunity for board members to spend the day with the senior management team and members of the Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations to consider strategic issues. On this year’s agenda were: Welfare Reform, Development and Volunteering.

Our main concern about welfare reform is to ensure that, as far as possible, it does not result in a significant increase in poverty in the communities where we work. To this end we are providing support and advice to tenants and are seeking to reduce the ‘cost in use’ of our homes by addressing energy and utility costs as well as rent levels.

We have a significant development programme but are relying less on funding from the Homes & Communities Agency and more on our own resources and planning gain. This is changing the nature and location of the new homes that we develop with most of the opportunities now in urban areas where the economy is buoyant rather than in rural or deprived areas. I am sure that we will return to the challenges that this creates in due course.

Impact Housing Association has always had a significant number of voluntary workers, many of whom use voluntary work as a way of gaining experience before moving on to paid employment. Volunteers also ‘add value’ to what we do, enabling us to make a broader ‘offer’ to the communities where we work. We are now planning to increase the number of voluntary positions that we offer to over 200.

I have recently completed a project at Oldham Borough Council, looking at options for the introduction of service charges in the Council’s housing schemes for the elderly. The Council is now out to consultation on a proposal to introduce service charges in a phased way over the next five years.

In Wales the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system is still in operation. However, the Welsh Government has now reached agreement with HM Treasury over its replacement with a system of self-financing in 2014 or 2015. I have been assisting Denbighshire County Council with their preparations for this by carrying out a health check of their housing revenue account business plan.

I am also putting the finishing touches to this December’s Certificate in International Public Financial Management examination paper for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy.

The next session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ will be held in London on Tuesday 12th November 2013. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance. Details are on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_housing_finance_2013_training_course.asp

On 30th October 2013 I will be presenting a one day training course for the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation in Grangemouth, Scotland on ‘Scottish Social Housing Finance’. Details are available on their website at http://www.irrvscotland.org.uk/documents/Housing%20Finance%2030102013.pdf

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at an introductory workshop on service charges for the National Housing Federation in Manchester. Details are available on their website at: http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

15th October 2013

Last week I presented ‘Welfare Reform: The Implications for Housing & Local Government’ in London to an AWICS seminar attended by representatives of local authorities, housing associations and the Homes & Communities Agency. Welfare reform clearly continues to concern people across the sector.

Welfare Reform has also been exercising the minds of members of Eden District Council. Liberal Democrat councillors, who are in opposition, moved a resolution last week ‘that bedrooms of under 50sq.ft. should be declassified to avoid residents losing housing benefit’. The Council has transferred all its housing stock to housing associations and their proposal was that the Council, as housing benefit authority, should apply this ruling to all social homes. It is estimated that there are over 300 residents affected by the under-occupation penalty in the district.

The proposal was voted down but it raises some interesting points:

  • Is it now Liberal-Democrat policy that rooms of under 50sq.ft. should be declassified as bedrooms for purposes of calculating benefit entitlement?
  • If so, will Councils that are controlled by the Liberal-Democrats (including South Lakeland District Council that neighbours Eden District Council) implement this policy?
  • Will other Councils, many of which have spoken boldly against the under-occupation penalty, also declassify rooms under 50sq.ft for purposes of calculating housing benefit?

I will include more information in the next edition of the ‘AWICS’ Housing News.

Impact Housing Association's annual board conference will be held on Sunday at the Oval Centre in Salterbeck. This is an opportunity for board members and members of our residents' associations to get together to do some strategic thinking. This year we will be looking at development, welfare reform and working with volunteers.

The controversy about local authorities 'raiding' the housing revenue account to support the general fund continues. This week I am quoted by 'Inside Housing' in an article about the transfer at Canterbury City Council. See http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/finance/fourth-council-raiding-rents-exposed/6529024.article

The next session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ will be held in London on Tuesday 12th November 2013. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance. Details are on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_housing_finance_2013_training_course.asp

On 30th October 2013 I will be presenting a one day training course for the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation in Grangemouth, Scotland on ‘Scottish Social Housing Finance’. Details are available on their website at http://www.irrvscotland.org.uk/documents/Housing%20Finance%2030102013.pdf

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at an introductory workshop on service charges for the National Housing Federation in Manchester. Details are available on their website at: http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

8th October 2013

I am writing this blog while on the train to London prior to tomorrow’s session of ‘Welfare Reform: The Implications for Housing and Local Government’ at the Novotel Hotel in Lambeth. I am looking forward to meeting all the delegates. The seminar has proved popular, which is hardly surprising in view of the importance of welfare reform. It is now available as an in-house course.

Self-financing is being introduced in Wales, probably in 2014; and I am working with a Welsh local authority on its implementation, including reviewing their business plan and providing training. I hope that the Welsh can avoid some of the problems that have emerged in England. I am also preparing some more examination questions for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy for their Diploma in International Public Financial Management.

I see that Eric Pickles has leapt to the defence of leaseholders who he believes have been faced with excessive service charges by councils. His proposal is to limit service charges over a five year period for capital works to £15,000 in London and £10,000 in other places. As the existing legislation prevents councils from charging more than actual and reasonable costs this presumably would mean either that works would not be done or that tenants would have to pick up an increased proportion of the costs through their rents. Interestingly enough housing associations would not be affected by the proposal despite that fact that in places like Thamesmead the leaseholders feel that a housing association landlord is making excessive service charges. The proposals are out for consultation!

Today is the final day for purchasing shares in the Royal Mail. I am not intending to buy any but I am always surprised when we are told that a privatisation flotation has been successful because it has been over-subscribed. I have always thought that when you are selling something the objective should be to set the price so that demand exactly matches supply. If you do this you will sell all your goods or services and realise the maximum possible income. If you are over-subscribed it demonstrates that you have set the price too low and have sold yourself (or in this case the taxpayers) short. If I didn’t know better I would say that ministers have shown a remarkable lack of knowledge of business and economics!

I have just posted a new briefing paper on ‘Local Authorities and Housing Development’ that can be freely downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/local%20authorities%20and%20housing%20development%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

Our next session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ will be held in London on Tuesday 12th November 2013. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance. Details are on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_housing_finance_2013_training_course.asp

On 30th October 2013 I will be presenting a one day training course for the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation in Grangemouth, Scotland on ‘Scottish Social Housing Finance’. Details are available on their website at http://www.irrvscotland.org.uk/documents/Housing%20Finance%2030102013.pdf

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at an introductory workshop on service charges for the National Housing Federation in Manchester. Details are available on their website at: http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

1st October 2013

Welfare Reform is taking up a lot of my attention at the moment. Next week I will be speaking at our seminar on ‘Welfare Reform: The Implications for Housing and Local Government’ that will be held at the Novotel in Lambeth on Wednesday 9th October 2013. The seminar is proving popular but there are still a few places available. Details can be found on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/welfareseminar.asp

We have also published a briefing paper this week on the impact of welfare reform on claimants, landlords and local authorities. It can be freely downloaded from HERE

Last week I chaired the September board meeting of Impact Housing Association that was held at the Oval Centre in Salterbeck, Workington. The two main items on our agenda were to consider our finances and the question of: ‘Who we house?’

Our financial reporting to board has recently become more strategic, focusing on the key risks and sensitivities in our budgets moving forward rather than on a detailed look at the management accounts.

‘Who we house?’ is an interesting question for most housing associations. A few years ago almost all our homes were rented at social rents, usually to those in greatest housing need. Now we still have a lot of homes at social rents; but we also have many at ‘affordable ‘ rents under Homes & Communities Agency funded schemes; and a number of other schemes that we have developed without grant and where rents are at various levels mainly reflecting our costs. We have also moved towards housing people who can sustain their tenancies. We have not moved into market renting but many housing associations have. This new situation creates a range of issues and choices that are not easy to resolve. We will return to them at our board conference at the end of October.

I notice that a number of local authorities have identified a ‘loophole’ in the law following the introduction of self-financing that allows authorities that neither receive nor pay housing subsidy (that is, all English authorities) to transfer balances from the housing revenue account to the general fund. Dover District Council are an example of this and have decided to transfer £12.5million. The Council has about 5,000 council houses, so this represents about £2,500 a house or about a year’s rent for each house. I am surprised by this for three reasons:

  • How could the people who drafted the Localism Act 2011 have been so stupid to create such a ‘loophole’?
  • Why would Councils want to use the ‘loophole’ in a way that is clearly so unfair to their tenants?
  • Why is there no reaction from the government, Chartered Institute of Housing, Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy or external auditors?

If a Council found a ‘loophole’ that allowed it to use £12.5million of Council Taxpayers’ money to fund improvements to Council housing what would be the reaction? I think we all know the answer!

Our next session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ will be held in London on Tuesday 12th November 2013. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance. Details are on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_housing_finance_2013_training_course.asp

On 30th October 2013 I will be presenting a one day training course for the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation in Scotland on ‘Scottish Social Housing Finance’. Details are available on their website at http://www.irrvscotland.org.uk/documents/Housing%20Finance%2030102013.pdf

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