Independence...Integrity...Value

Blog 18th April 2019

Apr 18th, 16:11

Blog 18th April 2019

In this week’s blog, I refer to: Universal Credit; Rent Arrears; Woking Borough Council; Sheerwater Regeneration scheme; Scottish Government; UK Government; Adult Social Care; Department for Health & Social Care; Local Government Association; Association of Directors of Adult Social Services; Seminars and Training.

We have just launched our seminars on ‘Universal Credit and Managing Rent Arrears’ that will be held in London and Leeds in September 2019. This seminar looks at how Universal Credit is being introduced, the effect that it is having on rent collection and arrears and at how rent arrears can best be managed as tenants move to Universal Credit.

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Rent arrears are an increasing problem in both local authorities and housing associations. The roll-out of universal credit is bringing further challenges and is driving increases in rent arrears. There is therefore a need to understand how universal credit works, including alternative payment arrangements, and how to manage rent arrears effectively.

The seminar also looks at rent management strategy, value for money and how to move from ‘cure’ to ‘prevention’.

The seminar will address the following questions

  • How does Universal Credit work and what effects is it having on rent collection and arrears?
  • How do Alternative Payment Arrangements work?
  • How can Value for Money be achieved?
  • How to develop a Rent Management Strategy?
  • How to shift focus from Cure to Prevention?

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

Since August 2018, AWICS has been the Independent Tenants' Advisor for the tenants of Sheerwater in Woking where there is a regeneration scheme. Plans to transform Sheerwater were approved by Woking Borough Council in April 2017. By using the existing sense of community, the regeneration provides an exciting opportunity to create a thriving, balanced and sustainable community for the future that meets the housing needs of residents.

The regeneration will allow local people of all ages to benefit from high quality new homes, excellent leisure and retail facilities, open green spaces and improved transport links, as well as a local centre that blends social, retail, recreation and community uses. It will also provide economic benefits for local people and businesses by offering local job opportunities and ensuring that much of the money spent on the scheme is spent with local companies. A wide range of house types will ensure a choice of modern, spacious, energy efficient homes that are economic to maintain, and flexible enough to satisfy diverse and changing needs.

In April 2019 the revised hybrid planning application received planning consent. Work is now expected to start on site within a matter of weeks. A newsletter will be sent to residents during the week commencing 15th April 2019.

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Flats at Sheerwater

Any secure council tenant who lives in the regeneration area and who has questions or concerns about the Sheerwater Regeneration scheme may contact the Independent Tenants’ Advisor for advice. We can be contacted free of charge by telephone or email as follows:

Freephone helpline number: 0800-321-3461

Email address: sheerwater@awics.co.uk

For further information about our work at Sheerwater, please click here.

The Scottish Government has published a report ‘Social Tenants in Scotland’ that provides interesting statistics about social housing and tenants in Scotland and makes interesting comparisons between social housing in Scotland, Wales and England.

Interesting conclusions include:

  • In 2017, 23% of homes in Scotland were social rented, compared with 17% in England and 16% in Wales.
  • 34% of social rented households in Scotland spent more than 30% of their net income on housing costs in the period 2015/16 to 2017/18, lower than the equivalent figures of 49% for England and 48% for Wales.
  • In 2017/18, the £70.73 average weekly local authority rent in Scotland was around 18% lower than in England (£86.71), and around 16% lower than in Wales (£84.65).
  • The £82.28 average weekly housing association rent in Scotland was around 14% lower than in England (£95.59), and around 6% lower than in Wales (£87.10).
  • Between 2007/08 and 2017/18, the supply of affordable housing in Scotland was a third higher than in England, and within this the rate of supply for social rented housing was even higher – more than double that in England.

I think these differences can be explained by a combination of factors. The Scottish Government has given a higher priority to affordable and social housing in its budgets than has the United Kingdom government, the ‘right to buy’ has been suspended; and the financial arrangements in Scotland have always been simpler and more flexible than those in England. However, I think there is also an important cultural difference that was recently explained to me by a Chief Executive of a Scottish housing association who had previously worked in England. In their view, Scottish housing associations enjoy a constructive and co-operative arrangement with the Scottish government in which their efforts are valued. In their experience this is not the case in England.

The report can be viewed or downloaded from the Scottish Government’s website by clicking here.

It is generally recognised that there is a crisis in the funding of adult social care. In my work preparing financial briefings for peer review teams for the Local Government Association, I often find myself reporting that councils are having trouble in managing adult social care services within budgets because of increasing need and constrained resources. Even more importantly than that, they are having trouble in providing the care that vulnerable people need.

The Department for Health & Social Care has long recognised the problem and has stated an intention to publish a social care green paper. The original deadline for its publication was in the summer of 2017 but this deadline has been extended five times and the latest deadline, at the end of March 2019 was also missed.

It is understood that the Green Paper will consult on policy ideas such as a more generous means-test, a cap on lifetime social care charges, an insurance contribution model, a care ISA and tax-free withdrawals form pension pots. However, it appears that some proposals are ‘less well developed than others’ and that the policy requires ‘greater consideration’. It is also suggested that the publication has been delayed by ‘Brexit’ and by disagreement within government about the funding arrangements.

This simply is not good enough. As Glen Garrod, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, told the ‘Public Finance’ magazine:

“The longer the delay, the more pressing its publication becomes. The pressure on adult social care does not abate.”

The sooner the Green Paper appears the better!

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