Saturday, January 26, 2013

'Bedroom Tax' and building Social Housing

Met with Mid Wales Housing Association today. Two important issues to discuss - which though local have a wider relevance. I wanted to discuss the background to them. Montgomeryshire AM, Russell George came along as well. First issue is construction/repairs contracts letting. Second issue is what's become known as 'bedroom tax'. Lets look at them in turn, against a background of how I see things. Other eyes will see things differently.

Over recent years its become fashionable for Housing Associations (and Councils) to come together and form a 'purchasing' group. The theory is that the 'bulk buying' aspect of this will lead to lower prices for contracts. I never thought this process would deliver - for several reasons. One problem in a sparcely populated area is that local contractors would not be big and flashy enough to put in glossy tender documents that impress. And that the winning tenders would sub-contract the work back to local contractors instead. And so its turned out. One recent substantial Newtown contract was let to a North Wales firm, Waites, who then sub-contracted to local firm, J U Bowen, who in turn used local contractors to do most of the actual work. Where we are now is that Waites are sitting pretty, Bowen's has gone bust and local contractors have lost very large sums of money. I wanted an assurance that the Housing Association would try to ensure Bowens had been paid for all work done - and if not to try to ensure it was recovered from Waites and passed on to local contractors. The Association take the same view, which was good. Not sure how successful they'll be though. I was also pleased that a different way of tendering projects in future is being considered.

The second issue is more problematic for me. First the background. There are lots of people in our country with nowhere to sleep. There is a huge surplus of bedrooms - often in properties occupied by single people. And there is a need for the social welfare bill (including Housing Benefit) to be brought under control. So the Government intends to reduce the housing benefit for occupants of housing with unused spare bedrooms. At least, it sees no reason why the taxpayer should pay housing benefit to support them. The issues surrounding this policy change are fairly obvious. I wanted to get an idea of what it all means 'on the ground'.

Mid Wales Housing Assoc. has about 10% of its properties with spare bedrooms. No reason why other social landlords wouldn't be about the same. Some of these tenants will find a way of coping with reduced housing benefit; some may let out the spare bedrooms; and some may try to find a single person property. Inevitaby, its going to make life more difficult for some. Today, we agreed that future building should include more single person properties, which seems blatantly obvious. My view is that almost no other form of social housing should be built in the near future. Homes for families would be freed up by those moving into single person properties. Obvious problems though - particularly from delays. Houses can't be built in a day. Another related issue is that the level of social housing grant available to the housing association is being cut from 58% to 25%. Inevitably rents are going to have to rise substantially to deliver a return on investment.

Left the meeting chewing hard on the food for thought I'd just been fed. Gov't and public bodies have no option but to cut spending and secure value for money. But lets not pretend there are not unwelcome consequences.


Cibwr said...

How about giving positive incentives for people to move to smaller properties? Like a one of cash grant and paying the cost of moving (which is substantial for many)..... Remember also the housing stock may not be appropriate - lack of single person accommodation etc.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there are a lot of unforeseen consequences with what, on the face of it, are sensible proposals. The divorced parent whose kids come to stay is one example.

Personally I think everyone should have a spare room, the real blockers are the pensioners with three or four bedroom houses, but aren't pensioners excluded from all this?

Of course what is needed is more house building .... house prices and hence rents are far too high in the UK. If you compare the rise in house prices with general inflation over the last 50 years they are ridiculously high. Of course we have this mad idea that high house prices are a good thing.

Anonymous said...

i know val i worked for 32 years sadly i am unemployed at present, there is no alternative accommodation for me to exchange to, so i have to make a choice between electricity or extra rent i cant do both impossible, whats even more unfair if you have a son/daughter in the armed forces who already gets accommodation costs taken from their wage who are away for 9 weeks or more then their room is classed as vacant and you must pay the room tax on it, so that young soldier on less than the minimum wage is forced to pay accommodation twice just to be able to have a bed to come on leave to, so thanks for your service, but your tour of duty is classed as absent from home its madness not everyone on benefits are scroungers, doesnt matter how fair they think this room tax is its not if you havent got it how can you pay it ? and they cant win the local authorities have no alternative accommodation to exchange to, i predict there will be more evictions in this year no surprise to read there are protected people in this scheme i will comment no further on who fits into that protected category !!!!! I have posted this as I think this is unfair to many and this was a reply on my own page Val Ingram

Anonymous said...

What no one appears to have considered is the suggestion that people on benefits take in lodgers so that they may be able to stay in their homes. the knock on of this is that they would then have people in their house and loose the benefit. Take a single parent with children expected to do this, is this fair would you or i want it ... I most certainly wouldn't so why should they be expected to. Coupled with which many people on benefits would then have to cope with the cost of moving and when ever anyone moves it costs money because a great deal of fixtures won't fit like curtains etc. These people are struggling at the best of times.Not only this and the main thing is their aren't the smaller accommodation units to move into. Why should people be displaced for others all of the time ? An ill conceived plan and you don't consider that if smaller units were to be available then if might be miles away from family and friends. Who are we making room for???? What about separated parents who might only have children at weekends... Are you going to encourage a baby boom just to be able to stay in your home? There should have been smaller houses built first before introducing this in the locality , so that people are wrenched away from family and friends. Val Ingram

Anonymous said...

A person that owned their own home that couldn't afford the rent would have no choice but to find a cheaper property. You are living in cloud cuckoo land if you expect the taxpayer to pay for your excess. Welcome to the real world.

Anonymous said...

to the last commentator about buying a cheaper house you are the one living in cuckoo land. The people in social housing are generally the ones who can't afford to buy their own homes. similarly if they are on benefits they are reliant to a large extent on the state. You missed the point entirely there are not smaller homes for these people to down size to. I also asked who exactly are we making these homes available to. I am fortunate enough to be neither on benefits or in social housing, but I do have empathy for people that are. stop assuming that everyone on benefits are the lowest of the low. Many people find themselves in this unenviable position. I have given or tried to educate you on examples of where this is unfair. So once again you have made an unfounded assumption by assuming it was me... Val Ingram