News from the sector April E-Zine

Tenant Outlook

Monthly E-Zine

 Welcome to our monthly E-Zine on news from the sector.  If you would like an article to appear in our next E-Zine please email Sharon@welshtenants.org.uk
who will gladly assist you.
Our E-Zine goes to Tenants and Residents across Wales, Housing Staff, 
Housing Organisations and PRS letting agents.

What’s in this month’s Tenants’ Outlook

The Housing Manifest in Wales
Should Deposit Protection Scheme be devolved to Wales
JRF research report – DESTITUTION IN THE UK
Clarity and transparency of Service Charges costs
Shelter Cymru – Good Finances, Good Living seminar
Community Programme for Tenants
Dragonsavers Credit Union
Free Tenant and Landlords Events on Tenant Support

And finally…

The Housing Manifest In Wales
Welsh Tenants had the opportunity to attend some political party debates recently and speak to people in the parties. First, it was refreshing to turn up with a host of other housing bods at the ITV Welsh Leader Debate (Wales decides) and to get a question to party leaders.
On a positive note, the call for a significant increase in supply of homes got a good reception among the parties with most agreeing that we need to double supply from 10,000 to 20,000 homes over the next 5 years.

Although not quite the huge 50,000 that have been said are to be required by researchers and academics, but welcomed none the less. (see Homes For Wales – our case for building a stronger Wales http://www.welshtenants.org.uk/2016/03/homes-for-wales-our-case-for-building-a-stronger-wales/

4,000 homes annually however, over the 5 year term of government  with the inevitable lag that we get from agreeing principles to the occupier receiving keys is a huge task. This is particularly challenging when social housing grant has fallen consistently in recent decades, so reliance on consequential funding from England and other investment opportunities will play a major factor.

So where are these new homes to come from? Finding capacity in the social sector alone (where the majority of homes have come from in the past) is going to be challenging. But there are some positive vibes doing the circuits.  For example;

Potential increased capacity to build new homes as a consequence of the ending of the local authority housing revenue account subsidy system (HRASS), potential for private sector investment to provide build and lease back schemes to the social sector, or even a huge growth in shared ownership, and accelerating mergers among the housing association sector. There has also been talk of pension pots that can invest in housing and the long debate about a Welsh Investment bank.

But critical to all these potentials is the quick release of land on existing sites held up in the system,  along with some of the big ideas around regional regeneration plans, such as the local authority consortium city deal getting from concept to action.

There has also been some heated debates around ending and or retaining the Right to Buy and Right to Acquire. A number of groups have suggested this is largely symbolic, and won’t make a great deal of difference with current sales in their hundreds rather than thousands (a decade or three too late perhaps).

Apart from a commitment to provide a significant number of additional of homes, there were also a range of housing related measures outlined in manifestos. These included:
•          addressing land banking,
•          potential rent control framework for the private rented sector,
•          clear choice between ending or protection of the right to buy/right to acquire,
•          protection of green field sites and countryside development,
•          promoting brownfield sites though clearance grants schemes,
•          public land for self-build or co-operative initiatives,
•          energy efficiency measures, and the list goes on…

There’s also talk about targeted markets to address specific needs, including housing associations merging to develop more specialisms such as student accommodation, accommodation for the elderly, co-operative housing and shared ownership etc. Could we see a future sector consisting of a handful of housing associations specialising in very specific types of accommodation?

Of course we can’t forget the existing programme that includes the on-going implementation of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2015 and a host of other housing related delivery programmes. Two other significant  challenges, is the potential impact for the European Union referendum and what that might do to lender confidence. And of course we have lost some of the big housing players in Wales who have done so much to shape current thinking and action.

Former Deputy Housing Minister Jocelyn Davies (Plaid Cymru) and Sandy Mewis (Lab) have signalled that they will not be standing, while Peter Black (Lib Dem) and Lesley Griffiths (current Labour Minister) are fighting fierce opposition to retain their seats. One thing is certain, is that there will be a number of challenges with the next Housing Minister having to hit the ground running to fulfil current and future commitments whoever wins power.

Should Deposit Protection Scheme be devolved to Wales?
Welsh Tenants took a long hard look at the Deposit Protection Schemes (DPS) process earlier in the year following a number of concerns raised by tenants in the private rented sector. Currently the DPS schemes are approved by the Department of Communities and Local Government in England, however the scheme covers both England and Wales.

The scheme was devised to protect both landlord and tenants from wear and tear when renting a property stopping spurious claims against their deposit. However, if there is damage to the property or tenants left the dwelling in an unreasonable condition, the landlord can make a claim against the deposit. When looking at the scheme we found it currently holds more than £3billion on deposit with the interest earned being used to fund the Deposit schemes mediation process.

Many tenants we spoke too that have had significant difficulties with landlords, even walking away from deposits claiming it’s too time consuming and difficult particularly when faced with challenges from a landlord they want to get away from. Literacy and numeracy may also play a feature in providing effective challenge. Past experience also often also informs their current thinking.

We have been told that letting agents have advised tenants to go to CAB if their landlord has said they will be making a claim against their deposit, rather than supporting them to challenge the landlord through the scheme. Tenants have also stated that they were told that they would have to go through to a court to claim their deposit by landlord/letting agent staff.

Wales’ contribution to deposit protection is difficult to assess but is estimated to be around 90,000-120,000 tenancy’s at an average deposit of around £500 would be around £45m-£60m, at the lower end with 2% interest this would generate around £900,000 to run such a scheme in Wales. With unresolved claims over 10 years this could be significantly higher. The question we would ask, is, does Wales get that level of value from the scheme?  Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved schemes.

Wales could look at devolving the scheme, particularly if there are plans to develop a Welsh bank with the interest earned used to better support private rented renters and their representation.

JRF research report – DESTITUTION IN THE UK
This week the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched an influential report that found 1.25million people, including 312,000 children, had experienced destitution at some point during 2015 in the UK.

The definition of destitution is that they, or their children, have lacked two or more of the six essentials of; shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing or basic toiletries over the past month, because they ‘cannot afford them’.

Destitution is not a one-off episode, but occurs in a context of severe poverty and hardship over a considerable period of time. Researchers state that the key triggers pushing people in poverty into destitution include debt repayments (usually to public authorities); benefit delays and sanctions; high living costs; and, for some migrants, extremely low levels of benefits and lack of access to the UK labour market.

JRF researchers also checked to see if people were going without these items because they ‘could not afford them’ and checked that their income was below the standard relative poverty line (i.e. 60 per cent of median income after housing costs for the relevant household size). As an added measure, they also checked that they had no or negligible savings and or their income was so extremely low that they are unable to purchase these essentials for themselves or their children. The robustness of the findings and their reliability should therefore shock us.

The study shows that destitution is closely linked to broader poverty and concludes that tackling destitution requires action on the fundamental drivers of poverty such as unemployment, low pay and high living costs, as well as better emergency support for those in crisis. However they found that for some groups other policy areas are also important including debt, immigration, asylum, housing, homelessness, mental health, addictions, and complex needs.

By way of alleviation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s is to issue a forthcoming comprehensive costed strategy for solving poverty in the UK. Something that is worthwhile monitoring in Wales.

Further information about the report is here: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/destitution-uk

Clarity and transparency of Service Charges Cost
A number of groups and individuals have contacted us about service charges and the perceived or actual “in-built unfairness of a system that penalises some social tenants”.

Many tenants in the social sector pay service charge costs, these are legitimate fees that landlords can charge for services provide that do not relate to the rent charged for the accommodation being let.

The definition and the information requirements to the occupier is outlined under the Landlord and Tenant Act, Wales, and in particular,  statutory instrument 2007 No.3160 (W.271). ‘The Service Charges (Summary of Rights and Obligations, and Transitional Provisions) (Wales) Regulations 2007.

These Regulations prescribe the content of the summary of tenants’ rights and obligations relating to service charges, which must accompany any demand for such charges made by a landlord, under section 21B of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. The Regulations also make provision for minor matters in respect of the form the summary should take.

Traditionally, many of the local authorities and some Housing associations, pooled non housing management costs and then recharged tenants purely on the basis of the division of the costs. However that system has been for many years to have been perceived as being unfair because people were often paying for service they had not received.

Landlords in Wales, particularly those who have not de-pooled, (among them some large scale voluntary transfers and councils with retained stock), were instructed to de-pool service charges by 31st March 2016.

The instruction emanates from two principles. The first, is due to the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) looking to ensure housing costs are separated from estate management cost. This is particularly important to the DWP when considering claims for housing benefit or, housing credit under the revised Universal Credit payment formula. The inference is that housing credit will only be paid for certain essential service charge costs that directly relate to the accommodation being let, with other non-appropriate service charges having to be found by the tenants themselves or by only those who receive it.

The second principle is the Minsters insistence to bring more transparency to rents and service charges. By bringing more transparency, tenants can decide on the appropriateness of those services and the value for money they get from them.

Of course, systems of recovery of service costs can vary depending on the covenants agreed for stock transfer organisations and sometimes whether or not roads and indeed other amenities have been adopted. In additional there may be hidden or confidential covenants under the transfer as part of the negotiations. These can be agreements to maintain paths or boundaries or even buildings or parts of buildings such as those in shopping centres in the centres of estates. The compiling of comprehensive asset registers and trawling through contractual liabilities is part of the management process that feeds into the de-pooling process, if not already undertaken by the landlord.

For tenants, they need he assurance that they are paying for what they ‘want and need, and that there is transparency between their housing and wider estate management costs.
Of course, many tenants feel rightly aggrieved that under some benefit changes certain service charges may not be claimed through housing benefit and would have to pay through the remaining benefits and so are not recoverable.

From enquires we have received, what particularly aggrieves tenants is that perceived wealthier owner occupiers on the same street, perhaps people whom exercised their right to buy who have open plan forecourts or take advantage of freshly cut lawns, may receive the benefit of those services without paying for them.

Or indeed, that while covenants with the RTB owner occupier may require such payments, many landlords do not collect them because it’s not cost effective to do so. The same rule also seems to apply to other non-enforcements of covenants under the right to buy agreement such as responsibility for gardens or boundaries.

The key principle here is one of transparency and fairness engaging and involving the tenants in discussions about the technical difficulties within contractual agreements while also being consistent about how policies and practices are applied.

Of course, if tenants are dissatisfied about the way their service charges are calculated, they can challenge individually or collectively under the landlords complaints process. They also  they have the right to ask a leasehold evaluation tribunal to determine whether you are liable to pay service charges for services, repairs, maintenance, improvements, insurance or management. These rights and obligations should of course accompany the prescribed notice of the payment. We have also included a new section specific to leaseholders rights and obligations on our website.
See here: http://www.welshtenants.org.uk/2016/02/a-brief-guide-for-leaseholders/ and here: http://www.welshtenants.org.uk/i-am-leaseholder/

Shelter Cymru Good Finances, Good Living Seminar
Financial Exclusion can result in people losing their independence, suffering deteriorating living conditions, descending into poverty and even losing their homes.

Working to help people manage their money and access help is a fundamental part of preventing homelessness.

This seminar aims to highlight current good practice, provide new tools for advisers and to offer a space for delegates to build new partnerships that will be of benefit to all.

Their programme to date includes:
· Shelter Cymru’s Specialist Debt Service, making the first step to seek help when debt is out of control
· Welsh Government Head of Welfare Reform (Housing)
· Grŵp Cynefin – tailoring and targeting debt work to prevent homelessness
· Shelter Cymru’s Education and Youth Service, looking at resources and projects to help young people in their transitions to independence
· Wales Co-operative Centre – working with tenants in the private rented sector

Who should attend?
Frontline advisers; housing/tenant support workers; social workers; new advisers working with people in financial difficulty. Housing Managers wanting to introduce new ideas in order to support tenants to manage their tenancies in these difficult times.

For more information, contact our team on 01792 483072 or email jennifersw@sheltercymru.org.uk

Date: 12th May 2016 Cost: £50 per delegate Time: 9.45 – 16.00 Place: Glasdir, Llanrwst
Supported by Grwp Cynefin

Community programme for Tenants with Cardiff Metropolitan University
They offer bespoke community based courses for tenants on:-
– Up skill your tenants board members
– Enhance tenant participation
Their courses are friendly and informal tailor-made, which allow people to build up their housing knowledge and develop skills for work place.

For further information please email Jane Mudd on jmudd@cardiffmet.ac.uk tel: 029 2041 6294

Housing Summer School courses are also available to tenants who would like to know more about housing , please contact Janet Beauchamp on jbeauchamp@cardiffmet.ac.uk tel: 029 2041 6294

Dragonsavers Credit Union
Dragonsavers Credit Union offers a safe place to save and access to affordable loans to those living or working in Rhondda Cynon Taff.
Savings – Safe savings accounts for any purpose.  Save as little as £1 a week to a maximum of £30,000.

Borrowing – Any purpose member loans from £50 to £7500 (above savings
Create Account – Join online, membership fee is £5.00 and you will need to deposit at least savings of £2.00 in your new  Dragonsavers account to activate it.
For further information please visit http://www.dragonsavers.org/Dragonsavers

What support should tenants expect in the future? Free May events for tenants and landlords
We want to know what support you would like from us in the future, funding is changing, funding is being cut, so we want to put everything you need in our forthcoming business plan to the Welsh Government.  Come to these free event events and tell us what you need.  Please complete a booking form http://www.welshtenants.org.uk/community/events/ as soon as possible.

Haverfordwest on 10th May 2016 @  10:00 – 12:00
Aberystwyth on 12th May 2016 @ 10:00 – 12:00
Newtown on 12th May 2016 @ 14:00 – 16:00
Holyhead on 16th May 2016 @ 14:00 – 16:00
Rhyl on 17th May 2016 @ 10:00 – 16:00
Wrexham on 17th May 2016 @ 14:00- 16:00
Newport on 19th May 2016 – 10:00 – 12:00
Ebbw Vale on 19th May 2016 – 14:00 – 16:00
Swansea on 24th May 2016 @ 10:00 – 12:00
Carmarthenshire on 24th May 2016 @ 14:00 – 16:00
Pontypridd on 27th May 2016 @ 10:00 – 12:00
Cardiff on 27th May 2016 @ 14:00 – 16:00

and finally …
Don’t forget to click on the news page of the Welsh Tenants web site and click the SUBSCRIBE VIA RSS feeds  http://www.welshtenants.org.uk/feed/. This will ensure that any news updates will go straight to your inbox.

Hope you find this Tenants’ Outlook of interest, please forward on as you wish.  Remember if you have an article you wish us to post for next month, email Sharon@welshtenants.org.uk before the 27th May.

 

 

Comments are closed.