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.