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