2,005 into 10 won’t go – Wandsworth Council unprepared for impact of Government’s Bedroom Tax

By Sadiq Khan MP

Freedom of Information requests made by the Labour Party to Wandsworth Council have revealed that 2,005 families across the Borough will be hit by the Bedroom Tax which came into force on 1st April. Yet there are only ten 2 or 1 bedroom properties available if the families wanted to downsize. sadiq

The Bedroom Tax means that tenants in social housing will have their Housing Benefit reduced by 14 per cent if they have one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent if they have two or more spare bedrooms.

But this new information proves that there are not enough smaller properties for affected families to move to, even if they are willing to do so.
It is estimated that the Bedroom Tax will cost an estimated 30,000 people across the South West of England £780 per annum.

Last month National Housing Federation figures revealed that 855 people would be affected in Tooting alone.

Sadiq Khan MP said, “These shocking figures show that 95% of people hit by the Bedroom Tax in Wandsworth will have nowhere to move to. Instead people, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our community, will have to pay the unfair tax or be forced to move into the expensive private rented sector or in the worst cases, become homeless.

“It would be one thing if the Council or government provided enough properties for these families to consider moving into but they haven’t. 2005 does not go into 10! These families will have no choice to pay the penalty and have their Housing Benefit deducted by way of a Bedroom Tax.

“This is happening in the same week that the Government is choosing to give millionaires a huge tax cut. This is absolutely disgraceful.

“I will continue to support the people affected by this unfair tax and demand the Government drop it now.”

Great Tory housing shame: Third of ex-council homes now owned by rich landlords

By http://www.mirror.co.uk/authors/nick-sommerlad/

The son of a former Tory Housing Minister and Mrs Thatcher aide during the peak years of right-to-buy owns at least 40 ex-council properties

House building graphic-1743450
Click to enlarge

The multi-millionaire son of a Tory minister who presided over the controversial “right-to -buy” scheme is a buy-to-let landlord owning scores of former council flats.

A Daily Mirror investigation found a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher were now owned by private landlords.

In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.

Read more here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/right-to-buy-housing-shame-third-ex-council-1743338

 

 

 

 

Two local people who have to leave our community

 By Cllr. Simon Hogg

Most weekends I knock on doors in Latchmere and listen to local people – last Saturday I heard two tough housing stories

First, I meet a 55-year-old Battersea woman who was worried sick that she will have to leave the house where she raised five children. “They’re all in work, I was strict like that,” she explains.Simon

She will lose 25 per cent of the help she gets with her rent – more than £1,000 a year – under the new ‘Bedroom Tax’. Her health is suffering as she plans to leave the area and lose the home where she raised her family: “My husband died in that room upstairs. I don’t think I could cope anywhere else”.

As I explain in this video

, I think the current housing benefits bill is far too large – but the planned cuts are deeply unfair.

Ten minutes later, I was speaking to a family man who works full-time but says he will become homeless on March 1st because he cannot afford Battersea’s run-away rents. His landlord has increased the rent on his two-bed flat by £200 a month. After our discussion, he was meeting a friend to arrange for a Saturday job – but he still didn’t believe he could afford to stay in this community and provide for his two children and pregnant wife.

The Evening Standard recently reported that private rents in Wandsworth increased by a staggering 11 per cent last year.

Wandsworth charges the highest council rents in the country – and this week I uncovered worrying evidence that suggests ‘Wandsworth council fixes rents by elections, not economics’.

Our local housing crisis is made worse as the council failed to secure our fair share of affordable homes from the luxury Nine Elms developments.

Battersea urgently needs a plan to increase the number of homes that local people can afford to rent and buy.

Leonie Cooper On Council Rent Rises

Wandsworth has the highest council rents in the country but is a low spender on repairs – our tenants don’t get value for money.

Wandsworth Has Highest Council Rents In The Country

By Cllr. Peter Carpenter

The Leader of Wandsworth Council this week announced, with much fanfare, the Open Council initiative, but nowhere in the 27 key indicators will you find Council Rents or Council Service charges. Nor will you find them in the longer list of 90 key indicators. I would suggest that there is a reason for this. Wandsworth has the highest council rents and service charges, not just in London, but in the country. Not number one for service and value, but number 169! So much for the openness and transparency trumpeted by our Dear Leader.

If we look at the detail of Council Rents, we see that the Council’s proposed average rent increase of £8.33 a week or £433 pounds a year, takes the average council rent to £121.70 or £6,270 a year. Quite a lot of money for anyone on a modest income. However, the government has set a limit rent of £113.26 a week, close to Wandsworth’s current average rent of £112.38 a week. What does this mean? It means that the government will not reimburse Wandsworth for housing benefit paid above one hundred and thirteen pounds twenty six a week. According to the Housing Department’s figures 73 per cent of the proposed rent increase will be paid back by Wandsworth in Housing Benefit, only 27 per cent will be retained to spend on our housing estates. So out of total rent increases of £7.4 million, Wandsworth will retain only £2 million. I would submit that this is a very inefficient way of raising money.

If any one of us were donating to a charity and we were told that 73p of every pound we donated was going to be spent in administration costs, I suspect that we would very soon cross that charity off our list. But that is exactly what the financial wizards of Wandsworth are asking us to do. The only people who actually pay the £433 rent increase are the hard working and aspiring families who are not in receipt of housing benefits. Precisely the people who have been squeezed hardest by the government’s austerity measures. People whose votes one would have thought the Tory Party aspired to. Indeed the only time I can recall this Tory council reducing rents was immediately before the 2010 election, and that didn’t do them any good because they lost four seats.

What is even more peculiar is that the Housing Revenue Account doesn’t even need the two million pounds that will be raised by this rent increase. It is in rude good health with ample reserves of one hundred and eighty five million pounds. These will be boosted by the new financial settlement with the government to well over a billion pounds by the end of the 30 year planning period. I really am at a loss to understand this policy. It seems to me that by pursuing these reckless rent increases, the Leader has shot himself in the foot.

We see the same thing when we look at some of the service charges. Charges for communal heating and hot water to some 4,000 of our tenants and leaseholders are to rise by an average of 20 per cent, reflecting the increase in energy prices last year. But this average disguises some individual increases of over 60 per cent, £5 a week or £250 a year. At the Housing OSC I proposed that increases over 30 per cent should be phased over two years to mitigate the impact on hard pressed tenants and leaseholders. There aren’t that many of them, and the council is unlikely to be out of pocket as the current fall in energy prices means that its costs are likely to be over recovered next year. But the hard faced Tories on the committee said No.

I would ask the Leader of the Council to look again at Wandsworth’s rent and service charge policies. It is currently proposing to impose rent increases which are not financially justified on those hard working council tenants who are most affected by the current squeeze on living standards. Why make their life even more difficult, just for the fun of it?

Social housing and the myth of ‘inherited’ tenancies

by Cllr Leonie Cooper

The past few months have seen an upsurge of interest in social housing- but for all the wrong reasons.

One example that has had the Tories and right-wing media frothing at the mouth is the need to get rid of ‘lifetime’ tenancies, so that Councils can re-allocate properties on a regular basis, moving on tenants who are ‘under-occupying’.

Another new policy has been serving notice of eviction on whole households, including small children, when (usually) a teenager has been accused of being involved in the August riots.

In Wandsworth, we now have 3 such cases – but the local Tories proudest moment was being the first Council to serve an eviction notice. 8-year old Jessica, Daniel’s little sister may not see it as quite such a triumph, though.

But another area that has attracted recent attention are the 90,000 people who have inherited tenancies. “More than 90,000 live in ‘inherited’ council homes” screamed the Telegraph in October.

Rent subsidy for these ‘dreadful people’ could be as much as £300 million. Ministers are looking at closing this appalling loophole, we are told.

But nowhere is there an explanation as to why anyone might be allowed to inherit a Council or Housing Association tenancy in the first place.

So who are these people? They are joint tenants whose husband or wife has died, or someone in a civil partnership whose partner has died.

As one half of the joint tenancy has passed away, the remaining person succeeds to the tenancy as an individual. Sometimes, much more rarely, the inheritor is a son or daughter, usually living at the family home to care for an elderly parent. Councils and Housing Associations conduct very full checks before allowing anyone to inherit a tenancy – obviously.

But in the brave new world ushered in since the arrival of the coalition, we see the government promoting the eviction of the bereaved. It may be a Big Society, but it certainly isn’t a caring one.

Social Housing Debate

Peter Carpenter puts Labour’s position

Ravi Govindia justifies his absence

Labour Debates Housing, Homelessness, and Free Schools at Council Meeting

Labour expressed concern over two key Tory policies at last week’s council meeting and drew attention to cuts in provision for single homeless people.

In the housing debate Tony Belton, Leonie Cooper and Peter Carpenter raised their concerns about the Government’s plans to move Council tenants to fixed-term tenancies, arguing that it would have little impact on the supply of affordable rented housing and would increase the ghettoization of council estates by potentially forcing out those who were working.

In the debate on Supporting People, Rex Osborn and Billi Randall challenged the Tories on cuts of £454,000, affecting up to 750 vulnerable people. Rex Osborn felt that there had not been proper consultation with all the organisations and the proposals lacked transparency in deciding which organisations would get their funding cut.

 On Academies and Free Schools, Wendy speck and Ben Johnson welcomed the setting up of a review panel to vet potential sponsors and providers, but argued that the Tories were inflexible in their approach because they did not see a role for good Education Authorities like Wandsworth to open schools. Paradoxically, the need for this committee suggested that the Council foresaw problems with the Government’s haphazard approach to providing new school places and exposed divisions in the Tory ranks.

Video of the debates can be seen here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/WandsworthBC#p/u/13/N4ljedfRH18

 Labour’s position on Free Schools

1. We have shown in government that we welcome innovation and greater involvement from outside organisations in schools. The free schools policy is not the best way to achieve this, but of course we remain supportive of those organisations who want to be more involved in our education system and bring innovation to it just as we were with academies and trust schools.

2. We’re worried that the government’s free school policy is a distraction from the vital task of improving the vast majority of schools and, as people know, we have major concerns about parts of this policy, including:

 • The schools are being funded by money taken from other schools

• There is no account of how the schools will be joined up with other local schools and services. We don’t want a free-for-all undermining other schools

• There are clearly concerns that schools might be able to open without meeting basic minimum standards like having a play ground That’s why we don’t support the Government’s free schools policy and why we have always been clear that this is not the way that we would have gone about things if we were in government now.

 3. We say that where schools that are established under the current government are successful, delivering for their pupils and communities, it is right that they continue. Labour wants to see good schools that extend opportunities, particularly in deprived areas, drive up standards in their localities, and close the attainment gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds. That is the basis on which we will assess the Government’s Free Schools policy and determine where changes are needed.

Southfields dad committed suicide after housing benefit cut

Reposted from Wandsworth Guardian

A desperate man who lined up three kitchen knives before stabbing himself twice in the heart, blamed cuts in housing benefit. Unemployed Richard Sanderson took his own life after writing three suicide notes which were laid out neatly on a bed in a meticulously planned act. In one to his wife he wrote: “Don’t come into the bathroom, this time I will most certainly be deceased”.

Mr Sanderson, who said he could not face the thought of his family being homeless, stabbed himself twice in the heart with a kitchen knife on May 29 at home in Augustus Road, Southfields, after years of being unable to find work finally took its toll, an inquest heard. The 44-year-old former helicopter pilot wrote three suicide notes – two for his wife, Petra, and one for the police – after carefully planning the suicide over several days.  This followed a failed attempt less than a year earlier.

Coroner: Man ordered by Job Centre to give up training course

After returning a verdict of suicide at Westminster Coroner’s Court on Tuesday, August 23, Dr Fiona Wilcox said: “What I find particularly tragic in this case is this act appears to be pursued by a man who was not suffering from an illness and appears to have made a considered act in response to his inability to find employment.

“The fact his housing benefit was about to be cut and the family would be at risk of having nowhere to live, and being ordered to give up his training course because of the Job Centre’s rules, would appear to be especially poignant and tragic.”

Read the whole story here:

http://www.wandsworthguardian.co.uk/news/9215292.Dad_committed_suicide_after_housing_benefit_cut/

Labour’s housing spokesperson, Councillor Mark Thomas said:

“This is a tragic case.  It is understandable that people facing the prospect of having their housing benefit cut will be worried about losing their home.  If you are in this situation, approaching an organisation like Shelter or Citizen’s Advice can be a real help – they know all about housing law and can advise you on the different options that might be open to you.”

‘Wandsworth Challenge’ Fails Labour’s Test

Labour took on the Tories’ ‘Wandsworth Challenge’ at last week’s council meeting and found it wanting. The other key debates were on housing and cuts to town centre street cleaning.
Rex Osborn and James Daley dissected the Tories’ Wandsworth Challenge and concluded that there was very little of substance in their vague ‘big society’ agenda – but watch this space for large-scale cuts in the autumn.
On housing Mark Thomas and Peter Carpenter spoke about Wandsworth’s need to re-invest in social rented housing rather than spending the returns from Council house sales. The shortage of social housing in Wandsworth, they said, was a problem of the Tories’ own making.
Sheila Boswell and Leonie Cooper confronted the Tories over their cuts to street cleaning in our town centres, pointing out the opposition of local business to the reduction in the number of times our busiest streets are swept each day.
Labour councillors also asked about school crossing patrols, pay to play and cuts to the Furzedown Festival grant.

The questions – and replies can be found here:

http://ww3.wandsworth.gov.uk/moderngov/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=14601