Monday, 20 February 2012

Rt Hon Danny Alexander MP
HM Treasury
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Horse Guards Road

The Welsh Tenants Federation represents thousands of tenants and leaseholders in Wales. We have travelled the length and breadth of Wales to discuss these reforms with members and supporters. The bedroom tax is the most hurtful of the reforms to them, as these penalties are employed as a direct result of accepted allocation policies and practice. We have suggested our own response to the under-occupation issue see

As you know, the Lords voted for a second time to limit the impact of the bedroom tax. Peers backed a much more modest proposal to the one that came back to the Commons last time by way of compromise. Although we reject the proposal outright, the proposal presented by the peers seeks to protect certain vulnerable people from the bedroom tax including those with disabilities, war widows and people unable to work, and only if they turn down a suitable smaller flat.

This proposal represents a tiny fraction of the money lost yearly through administrative error in the benefit system. Yet, while the financial cost of the proposal is small, the social impact of ignoring it will be devastating.

The bedroom tax is now the last issue of disagreement between the Lords and the Commons and on Tuesday you have the opportunity to mitigate its worst impact. We know that many Liberal Democratshave spoken out against this. As their voice in the Treasury you have the power to protect the most vulnerable from the bedroom tax.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Stock transfer – Is there a trend appearing?
Council tenants of Caerphilly were balloted today on whether to transfer 10,980 properties to the newly developed social landlord Castell Mynydd. In a not so surprising result, they voted an 65.2% No! 33.8% stating yes. The result was quite emphatic given the turnout was 66.7% (I wonder if it will be this good in the May local elections). The newly formed association could have pumped up to £173 million into the properties to bring them up to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by 2017, however, tenants will have to wait until 2019-20 before the standard could be realised.

The result is not surprising given that although the council had initially said it could not achieve the work, a financial review announced it could bring the properties up to the WHQS by 2019 or 2020, if tenants voted against the transfer. Providing tenants with at least an alternative, albeit, a wait and we’ll deliver approach. While I fail to understand why tenants seem to think that waiting another ten years to achieve even decent housing would be acceptable to them, I can sympathise having listened to some of the anti-transfer lobbyists propaganda that tend to permeate around the options discussions. This is by no means hindered (or helped) by the political debates concerning the various merits of the trickle down devolution.
However, more worrying, is that there does appear to be a trend starting to appear, with the Vale of Glamorgan also voting No in April 2011 by a slim majority of 51%, with a 70% turnout. Early indications would also suggest that Flintshire’s appetite to transfer is also wavering.  Could the two successive defeats start an implosion of the stock transfer agenda?
The appetite for transfer has certainly been weakened since the treasury entered talks into the breakup of the housing revenue accounting subsidy system and discussions concerning prudential borrowing emerging in Wales. No doubt both council’s will argue that the ‘regeneration gain’ estimated collectively to be in excess of 1.3billion from stock transfer to date, will be retained, albeit postponed by both authorities.
For tenants at least the fears propagated by transfer has diminished for a time. However there is now a larger concern, that of the welfare reforms that will cost landlords dearly over the next ten years. Lets hope that it will not impact on the ability of landlords to continue to deliver on the Welsh Housing Quality standard and the substantive regernation gain that it has brought.
History of transfer in Wales
·        Bridgend: Stock transferred to ‘Valleys to Coast Housing’ in September 2003
·        Monmouthshire: Positive ballot result announced 17th November 2006 - 67% turnout, 60.3% of those in favour of stock transfer. 'Monmouthshire Housing Association Ltd' established in January 2008
·        Rhondda Cynon Taf: Positive ballot result announced 22nd November 2006 - 55% turnout, 57.9% of those in favour of stock transfer. 'RCT Homes' established 10th December 2007
·        Torfaen: Positive ballot result announced 16th March 2007 - 68.1% turnout, 59.2% of those in favour of stock transfer. 'Bron Afon Community Housing' established 31st March 2008
·        Newport: Positive ballot result announced 16th November 2007 - 63.3% turnout, 83.8% of those in favour of stock transfer. ‘Newport City Homes’ established in March 2009
·        Conwy: Positive ballot result announced 26th November 2007 - 61.7% turnout, 50.8% of those in favour of stock transfer. ‘Cartrefi Conwy’ established in September 2008
·        Merthyr Tydfil: Positive ballot result announced 27th March 2008 - 57% turnout, 50.3% of those in favour of stock transfer. 'Merthyr Valley Homes' established in March 2009
·        Ceredigion: Positive ballot result announced 18th November 2008 - 70% turnout, 58.3% of those in favour of stock transfer. 'Tai Ceredigion' established 30th November 2009
·        Gwynedd: Positive ballot result announced 31st March 2009 - 65% turnout, 72% of those in favour of stock transfer to 'Gwynedd Community Homes' in 2010
·        Blaenau Gwent: Positive ballot result announced 23rd July 2009 - 55% turnout, 73% of those in favour of stock transfer. Transfer will be to a new housing association Tai Calon Community Homes
·        Neath Port Talbot: Positive ballot result announced 16th March 2010 - 61.6% turnout, 56.6% of those in favour of stock transfer to NPT Homes. NPT Homes established in March 2011, with responsibility for 9.300 council house and flats

Those who voted no to transfer include:
·        Wrexham: Tenant ballot against stock transfer in March 2004. The authority is currently considering its position
·        Swansea: Tenant ballot against stock transfer in March 2007. The authority is currently considering its position
·        Vale of Glamorgan: Tenant ballot against stock transfer to Heritage Coast Homes in April 2011. 68.4% voted (3,245), 49.2% supported the transfer and 50.8% were opposed. Council to work with tenants to achieve WHQS
·        Caerphilly: Tenants Ballot against stock transfer 17th February 2012, 65.2% No, 34.8% vote Yes 66.7% turnout. Council to work with tenants to achieve WHQS by 2019/20

Possible pipeline transfers

·        Flintshire: Business plans demonstrate that resources available will be insufficient to meet WHQS and resolved to ballot tenants on transferring their stock to a new registered social landlord. Flintshire ballot anticipated in Spring 2012
·        Pembrokeshire: Business plan to support stock retention approach under annual review

Those who have the resources to retain include:

·        Carmarthenshire: Business Plan demonstrates that the authority can bring properties up to WHQS and maintain the standard with their own resources. Stock to be retained
·        Denbighshire: Business Plan demonstrates that the authority can bring properties up to WHQS and maintain that standard from their own resources. Stock to be retained
·        Cardiff: Business Plan demonstrates that the authority can bring properties up to WHQS and maintain that standard from their own resources. Stock to be retained
·        Isle of Anglesey: Business Plan demonstrates that the authority can bring properties up to WHQS and can maintain that standard from within their own resources. Stock to be retained
·        Powys: The authority is continuing to work towards meeting WHQS on the current understanding that it is likely to retain their housing stock

Source: WLGA and Welsh Tenants Fed collated results

Impacts of the welfare reforms

In response to Paul Lewis (Money box) recently blog relating to a couple experiencing real hardship as a result of the welfare reforms is not uncommon.

"I was on Radio 5 Live today and was shocked when – I’ll call her Jayne – rang from Dorset to say she was a single mum with a 17-year-old son and they were both living on her income support of £67.50 a week. Her child benefit had been taken away, she said, and so had her child tax credit. Her income had fallen from £138 to less than half that".

This is a terribly desperate situation, sadly it is one which is set to be replicated tens of thousands of times as a result of these harsh welfare changes. We have heard of many tenants in a similar position who will have to additionally find 14% of their rent out of the money that’s left because they under-occupy by 1 bedroom form April next year.

What the government doest’t realise, is that many people will be hit by ‘the multiplier impact’, where they will be pounded by a series of welfare changes over time. For them, delaying the cuts will not seek to lessen the final impact. Little wonder the Samaritans and other voluntary sector support agencies are preparing for massive demand in their support. Those in Wales and other areas who have experience of radical income change by the Tories know what to expect from the long term effects of these pernicious changes in our welfare system (I refuse to call them reforms).

Ironically, a very small percentage of the overall population claim welfare. In a decent society, of course it is right that we weed out the ‘absolute minority’ of those that do abuse the system, in order that the money can go further for those who rely on their entitlements through difficult times. But these measures claim no sense of moral or social justice. Compare this to the corporate tax dodgers, the bonus culture, the narrowing of the distribution of wealth and the government’s policy of subsidising business low ages through the minimum wage, little wonder we feel aggrieved. Wake up! the working classes and the squeezed middle, they will be looking to you next, to secure the riches of the few!

Steve Clarke,
MD Welsh Tenants

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hardest Hit

The Welsh Tenants Federation attended the hardest Hit campaign in Cardiff where more than 1,000 people gathered together outside City Hall, to rally against the welfare reforms imposed by the UK government.
The call to action, organised by Disability Wales CEO Rhian Davies provided an opportunity to voice people’s concerns over proposed welfare reforms.
The campaign across the UK was organised jointly by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), included individuals and more than 50 organisations in a fight against the Government’s planned welfare reforms, currently being steered through Parliament.
Wales was represented by Disability Wales, Parkinson’s society, RNIB, Cymorth Cymru, and many more small and medium sized charities providing support to those in greatest need across Wales. The campaign reported that more than 5,000 people gathered in 12 different cities across the UK for the Hardest Hit Day of Action, including Edinburgh, Cardiff, Leeds, Brighton, Manchester, Newcastle, London and Birmingham.
The last two years has seen a range of reforms designed to hit the poorest in society with disabled people those being hardest from benefit changes to local authorities slashing social care budgets.
Steve Clarke of the Welsh Tenants Federation said he was pleased to support the rally because the Welsh Tenants Federation were concerned at the bias contained in the proposed legislation that unfairly penalised forms of tenure and disabled people. He added, “the under occupation rule applicable to social housing tenants claiming housing benefit is particularly harsh, where people will have to contribute out of their disposable benefits 13% if they have one room un-occupied and 23% if two or more rooms. Yet, the government are paying millions to help under occupied owner occupiers to stay in their home. While the social housing sector has around 20% under occupation the owner occupied sector has over 2/3rds under occupying. People with disabilities in the social housing sector on welfare are being unfairly penalised by their tenure and that’s unfair and unjust. Further information about the rally can be found at

Homeswap Direct

Tenant have indicated their concern about the availability of real choice to exchange or transfer both within their own landlords stock and to other landlords both within the sector and the potential to extend transfer options to include support to downsize to other sectors such as the private rented or owner-occupied.
We have raised the issue alongside the general concerns tenants have expressed about their ability to downsize their homes and to receive support or compensation for good maintenance of their tenanted properties. This is a pressing issues as the welfare reforms under-occupation rule has frightened many people.
We are pleased to see the Minister for Housing Regeneration and Heritage Hugh Lewis has written to all social landlords encouraging them to join a new scheme that enables tenants to register to swap their homes through Home Swap Direct.
Steve Clarke, managing director of Welsh Tenants Federation said Home Swap Direct is one internet service where tenants can explore options to move to another location providing tenants with the ability to exchange to a wider choice of homes to find work or move to areas where work may be more achievable.
However, the scheme requires that someone else will want to move into your home. If you are struggling to find work in your area or someone doesn’t put up a property that is suitable for your needs then it’s going to provide you with very limited choices. There are only about a hundred landlords on some of the schemes and most located in England. You would need thousands of small medium and large landlords to offer any real flexibility and fluidity in the market.
The Housing Act 1985 gave social tenants the right to exchange tenancies and this was later included for housing association tenants, thousands of them take place every year across the UK. Moves of this nature were previously facilitated by the HOMES agency, which ran a national mutual exchange register called Homeswap among other projects designed to help tenants move more freely to areas of their choice. In 2007 funding was hacked and it closed leaving the private sector to take up the gap. Following a brief injection of government money it was re-launched as MoveUK. It also failed but re-launched as a ‘for profit’ service. The market now has a plethora of companies offering mutual exchange services homeswapper, housexchange; apply4homes; etc. helping to facilitate mutual exchanges, however the issue of performance for landlords who buy into the schemes is still an issue of concern. Bringing together some of the market leaders into a single scheme may help that.
To encourage more flexibility and fluidity into exchange and transfers, what we need is a radical re-think about how we enable people to explore downsizing options, such as developing cooperative schemes to bring into use empty homes, an exploration of home share in the owner occupied sector to better utilise the estimated 25 million empty rooms. Sometimes the private sector does not provide the right solutions for these approaches. This is however one welcomed piece in a jigsaw but a small and necessary piece. Further information about Homeswap direct can be found here

Priority Move-On

Downsizing has become a major discussion point among Welsh Tenants Federation members. The anxiety of tenants have increased significantly following the UK government proposals to penalise tenants for under-occupying their home. From April 2013 tenants in the RSL sector who claim housing benefit will have no choice but to contribute 13% of the rental cost out of their welfare payments if they under-occupy a property by 1 bedroom and up to 23% if two bedrooms or more. This will create significant hardship for many poor families already hitting multiple deprivation indicators such as fuel poverty and unemployment.
The issue of how we support and enable people to ‘move-on’ (perhaps as a last resort) if they are unable to meet these additional costs, is therefore a popular discussion point among the tenants movement.
The Welsh Tenants Federation have argued for better support to exchange or transfer and indeed for the Welsh Government to take the lead on developing compensation schemes for tenants who wish to free up their under-occupied homes for families who are desperate for that accommodation, thereby making more efficient use of the existing stock. Compensation schemes are on offer, but they vary widely across Wales from £100 to £2,500. Schemes vary within a single landlords stock and can be based on the condition of the property, size of the rooms being freed up and its location. However existing schemes lack consistency, fairness and transparency. They depend hugely on whether the property being vacated is indeed desirable to exchange. This can unfairly penalise tenants who live in poorly maintained housing on sink estates.
Tenants have had a right to mutual exchange or transfer among a suite of rights since the introduction of the 1984 Housing Act. The scheme was extended to include assured housing tenants in the housing act 1996 and under the tenants guarantee. However the scheme is not actively encouraged widely by all landlords, this despite 20% of tenants stating they would consider moving if a suitable property could be found and the costs of removal could be met.
The Welsh Tenants Federation has suggested that we should consider whether there should be a legal duty on RSLs and LA to support tenants who are under-occupying as a priority need category thereby ensuring that loyal tenants who under-occupy get priority when homes become available. This would have the benefit of ensuring that families stuck in unsuitable or overcrowded temporary accommodation can move-in more quickly, while the family waiting in temporary accommodation can more quickly receive suitably sized accommodation. Priority move-on could also increase the level of priority if the family moving on from their existing social housing can also demonstrate that the move-on would enhance their job prospects.
According to research published by the intergenerational foundation, there are 25 million empty rooms in the owner-occupied sector across the UK. Many elderly people are capital rich while being cash poor, combing opportunities to support owner occupier conversions, providing more flexible Priority move-on, coupled with social letting agencies and internet providers such as home swap direct, we can begin to make better use of the existing stock across the range of markets. We need a more whole market solution. We need to get away from the controlling and restricting aspects of the existing systems to do so.