LGA First Magazine | Helping the homeless

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No.606 | December 2016

Helping the homeless

A wider housing strategy is needed to deliver on the Homelessness Reduction Bill’s aims

Rough sleeper outside ECC

Ever since the draft Homeless Reduction Bill was published in Parliament in October, the LGA has worked hard to influence proposals within it and highlight concerns that without a wider housing strategy the Bill would not achieve its aim of reducing homelessness

The Private Member’s Bill – being led by Bob Blackman MP – proposes to extend the duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness.

Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can with existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, the LGA has warned there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness.

The causes of of homelessness are many and varied, ranging from financial to social, and councils were concerned the original draft Bill was undeliverable and would not achieve its outcomes.

LGA engagement with Government officials and Bob Blackman ahead of the final Bill being published has led to a series of positive changes. This has helped shape it into a more realistic piece of legislation that is more workable for councils to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

This included the removal of the 56-day accommodation duty for those with nowhere to stay, as there is an insufficient supply of suitable accommodation to discharge this duty.

The requirement to recognise an expired section 21 notice [issued by landlords to evict tenants] as proof of homelessness was replaced with a more flexible requirement in line with existing statutory guidance.

The LGA has been clear from the outset that all new duties proposed in the Bill will also need to be fully funded. As a result of this lobbying, the Government committed to fully funding the new duties under the New Burdens Doctrine when the Bill received its Second Reading in October.

The sector continues to press the case for sufficient funding from the Government to successfully deliver responsibilities.

It wants the Government to commit to undertaking a comprehensive review of the bill’s impact after a year of implementation to ensure that it is achieving its objectives and that councils are being properly funded.

it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness.

Homelessness is spreading across all areas of the country. The number of households local authorities have been forced to place in temporary accommodation has risen by 48% since 2010, while rough sleeping has doubled.

This crisis is spreading nationwide. Since 2010, the use of temporary accommodation has gone up 44% in London and 58% across the rest of England.

Councils also need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills.

This is the only way to deliver on the national ambition to address the causes of homelessness and prevent it happening in the first place.

National Pharmacy Association | Decisions about the future of your local pharmacies are just days away

National Pharmacy Association logo

Decisions about the future of your local pharmacies are just days away

About the campaign

Keep the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Pharmacy’.

The Department of Health recently announced a reduction of £170m to the funding of community pharmacies in England this year and it has not ruled out more cuts to follow. It’s believed that potentially 3,000 pharmacies could close (that’s a quarter of all pharmacies). At the same time, government officials have suggested that people should make more use of the internet to obtain medicines. Your local pharmacies are more than just places to get medicines.

The Local Government Association has criticised the Department of Health for overlooking the role of community pharmacy as a ‘much needed social and economic asset’.  The LGA predicted ‘unintended consequences that impact elsewhere in the local community’.

Your local pharmacies are more than just places to get medicines. Help us ensure they stay here for you, the people you represent and future generations.

Find out more about the campaign: www.supportyourlocalpharmacy.org  or contact Stephen Fishwick on 07920 494081.

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Dear Councillor Bull,

I spoke to many MPs, councillors and other delegates at the Party conference earlier this month, about Department of Health proposals for ‘efficiencies’ in community pharmacy in England.

It became apparent that many people believed, mistakenly, that these plans are on hold, following an announcement from Ministers in early September. In fact, cuts to local pharmacy services could begin as early as 1st December, just weeks away, and at the worst possible time in terms of loading winter pressures onto GPs and hospitals.

Community pharmacies play a far bigger role than many people realise. Along with dispensing medicines they play a key part in providing local healthcare, from treating minor ailments through to healthy living support programmes tailored to the communities they serve.
We need councillors like you to campaign to stop the closure of local pharmacies at the heart of the community. We are pleased to have the support of politicians from all parties, in parliament and in councils across the country.

You can help to secure this vital local health resource. Please:
Propose a Motion – in support of local pharmacies, for your council to consider. Newcastle City Council is one of a number of councils to have adopted Motions.
Contact your local MP
• Spread the word on social media – using the infographics here. Use #lovemypharmacy to be part of the nationwide conversation.

Best wishes,

Stephen Fishwick
Head of Communications

More reading:
LGA Media Release: Councils respond to Government announcement on pharmacies [20 October 2016]

LGA: Community pharmacy: Local government’s new public health role [October 2013]

LGA response to the consultation: putting community pharmacy at the heart of the NHS 

 

Cllr | Local Government and the refugee crisis – frontline and last resort

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Local Government and the refugee crisis – frontline and last resort

Is the burden of settling refugees falling disproportionately on some councils? Patrick Kelly investigates why some authorities have still not signed up to the scheme to resettle people fleeing Syria.

Rose Bazzie is a nurse in a Sheffield hospital, runs a women’s choir in the city and is a mother of 3 children.

But 12 years ago, she was a refugee from war-torn Liberia. She arrived in Sheffield as one of the first people to be resettled through the Government-sponsored Gateway Protection Programme.

“I remember the day we arrived – I was shocked at how cold it was.” She says. ”I was only wearing slippers and a dress! I knew nothing, nothing at all about the UK. The Refugee Council showed us cookers and washers, and we had to get used to all this electrical stuff.”

In the year ending June 2016, 36,465 asylum applications were accepted in the UK. Rose’s story reminds us that behind that number lies an individual who has not only fled war and persecution, but having reached safety here, has to learn to adapt to their new home, to find shelter, education, work and support. Providing all those things is the task of Britain’s local authorities.

That job has not been made easier by the Syrian civil war, which has sparked the greatest global refugee crisis since the Second World War. Last year, David Cameron promised that the UK would respond by taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East by 2020.

Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, has agreed to help 75 of those refugees each year for the next 3 years. That’s in addition to the 1,162 refugees that it has aided since 2004 through the Gateway Programme. This involves co-ordinating the efforts of public agencies – including the police, health authorities and housing associations – as well as many volunteer agencies, from the national Refugee Council to local church groups. Together, they ensure that the refugee resettlement of people like Rosie is carried out as smoothly as possible.

It’s no easy task, but Cllr Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Housing at Sheffield City Council, is proud of her city’s record in resettling. “Sheffield is a welcoming and inclusive city. It’s important that we do our bit to respond to the refugee crisis, and help people fleeing war and persecution.”

But not every local authority is so keen on signing up to the Syrian scheme, which is voluntary and gives councils £8,500 for each refugee in the first year they arrive, falling to £1,000 in the fifth year. Councils also receive an additional £4,500 for each child aged 5 to 18 years and £2,250 for those aged 3 to 4 years, to cover the cost of education.

Less than two-thirds of councils have signed up, admits Cllr David Simmonds, who leads for the Local Government Association, which co-ordinating the scheme.

Some councils, like Haringey, say the pay-outs will only cover 70 to 80% of their costs. Cllr Claire Kober, Leader of LB of Haringey, said the council would like to rehouse more than 50 refugee families but “the Government’s reticence to put in place the support, not just in terms of housing costs, but in terms of the wrap-around support the vulnerable [people], particularly women and children, require is really causing a stick.”

But costs aren’t the only issue. Council housing waiting lists are already vastly over-subscribed, so local authorities look to housing associations or the private rented sector to find refugees somewhere to live.

Cllr Claire Kober said, “We have 3,000 families in this borough in temporary accommodation. Housing in London is in crisis and what we can’t do is look at this in isolation.”

Other councils, like Medway, say that helping refugees will have too much impact on already stretched local services. Leader, Cllr Alan Jarrett, told his local paper “Our priorities have to be with the people in Medway. It is unacceptable that children may have to be moved out, or residents should suffer.”

Local authorities in Cumbria have said that their priority is with victims of floods, while Manchester’s local authorities say that they already house 1 in 4 asylum seekers, and are demanding a change in the Government’s dispersal policy before they will join the Syrian resettlement scheme. In July, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee criticized those councils, particularly wealthier ones, for opting out.

In September, the National Audit Office expressed concerns that although early targets have been met, more refugees will have to be resettled each quarter from now on if the 20,000 figure is to be reached. It added that 4,930 houses or flats and 10,664 childcare and school places will be needed. “The future of the programme could be put at risk by local authorities’ lack of suitable accommodation and school places.”

But David Simmonds says that it has been a relative success story. So far, more than 2,800 people have been resettled “without a great deal of difficulty” and 20,000 offers, meeting the Government target, “are now on the table.”

He says the biggest challenge for local authorities is the patchwork of other refugee resettlement schemes, many of which were contracted out to private companies purely on the basis of price. The contracts, which account for the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, mean that companies are going for places where housing is cheap and readily available, adding to the already stretched services in areas of disadvantage. “Local authorities have no say in where people go, but they still have obligations in education and social care,” says Simmonds.

In addition, there are pressures created by schemes for unaccompanied refugee children and other EU agreements under freedom of movement regulations.

The LGA estimates more than £100m a year is spent by councils in looking after refugees, money that is not backed by any central Government funding. “Of course, no-one is saying that councils should not be helping, but that help needs to be backed by funding,” adds Simmonds, who points out this would assist in cementing public support for resettling refugees.

He sympathises with authorities which face significant housing shortages, and suggested that areas which are facing depopulation are in a better position to accommodate refugees.

David Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services [ADCS], says that outside of major cities, it does get harder for infrastructure to cope. There are fewer translators, and local schools are unused to dealing with traumatised children from conflict zones but “if we’re going to make this work, everyone has to make it work together,” he says.

Some councils are calling for more drastic action.

Coventry City Council, which has taken in more than 100 Syrian refugees, is writing to MP Theresa May, demanding that the Government enforces a minimum quota on all local authorities.

Coventry’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Abdul Khan, say, “We are very happy to support the programme because we believe these Syrian refugees are facing real danger and have been recognised by the UNCHR. It is part of our common humanity.”

He says that’s it not a question of money or resources. There is little justification for other local authorities not sharing the responsibility. “It’s not a question of having the right infrastructure, it’s a question of providing a place of safety,” he says. “Our argument is basically about fairness.”

Across the political divide, Tory-run Kent County Council also wants a compulsory system, The council, which sees itself in the frontline of the refugee crisis, because of its proximity to France, says it faces “enormous pressures” on services, foster placements, accommodation and finances.

“We believe that any national dispersal scheme should be mandatory,” says Cabinet Member for Childrens’ Services, Cllr Peter Oakford. “We urgently need to share the numbers fairly across all local authorities.”

Finally, the NAO in its report suggests that councils were worried that the Syrian Resettlement Programme is dealing with the most vulnerable group of refugees, and many of them may need substantial support beyond the 5 years of the programme. “Support for these needs is not covered by existing programme funding,” says the NAO.

Patrick Kelly is a freelance journalist

LGA | Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

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Media release | 14 September 2016

Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

Proposed new legislation to tackle homelessness will not work – and councils say what they really need is to be able to build more homes.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the Government needs to address the increasing gap between household incomes and rising rents, allowing councils to build more affordable homes.

If passed, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons next month (October), would impose on councils a raft of new duties, such as providing emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days for households not in priority need. It would divert resources away from other essential homelessness work leaving councils less able to support vulnerable people.

Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and support those who are homeless into housing as soon as possible but are struggling to deliver due to rising demand, reducing budgets, and falling levels of social housing. The Government needs to fully fund existing commitments – and any additional commitments new legislation would incur.

LGA Chairman Lord Porter said:
“Simply adding more duties to councils is not the answer to tackling homelessness. The only viable long-term solutions are increasing the availability of suitable affordable housing and addressing other underlying causes of homelessness.

“Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and to support those who are homeless into accommodation as soon as possible. However, legislation alone will not resolve homelessness – the causes are complex and range from the economic and social to the personal.

“The Government’s commitment to more mental health spending is a step in the right direction but it must ensure it reaches the people it is designed to reach.

“There is no silver bullet – homelessness is a historical problem which has been inherited by successive governments.

“Housebuilding is well below the levels needed to meet current demand. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and has caused an increase in rents that can make independent living more difficult.

“Social housing is critical if we are to house people who are homeless or at risk.  But the availability of social rented council housing has halved since 1994. We’ve got 69,000 people already currently living in temporary accommodation and more than a million extra on council waiting lists. If we are to succeed then we need to address the gaps between household incomes and spiralling rents, and resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

Notes 

  • Housebuilding is well below the levels required. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and causing an increase in rents and prices that can make independent living more difficult.
  • Stable social housing is therefore increasingly important for housing people who are homeless or at risk. However, the availability of social rented council housing has nearly halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016.
  • Councils have developed five year strategies for dealing with homelessness and spend £330 million a year tackling homelessness. In 2009/10, councils were successful in preventing homelessness in 85 per cent of cases (165,200 in total). In 2014/15, councils were successful in 93 per cent of cases (220,800 in total)

Background

The Bill proposes:

A new duty for local authorities to take action to prevent the homelessness of anyone eligible for assistance (e.g. ‘habitually resident’ in the UK) and threatened with homelessness within 56 days, without regard to their priority need status.

A new duty for local authorities to take steps to relieve the homelessness of anyone who is currently homeless, eligible for assistance and has a local connection to the area.

For households who are not in priority need but have nowhere to stay, the local authority must provide emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days.

The full homelessness duty of settled accommodation will remain in place for households who are eligible for assistance, homeless through no fault of their own, have a local connection, are in priority need and where the prevention and relief duties have failed.

 

First | No place for hate

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No.604 | October 2016

No place for hate crime

by Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board

Councils are best placed to tackle the challenges posed by reported increases in hate crime

National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016 [08-15 October] is all the more relevant this year. Hate crime report to the police in the last 2 years of July were 49% on the same period in 2015.

The charity Stop Hate UK – which organises the awareness week – saw a 60% increase in reports in late June and referred 40% more cases to the police. Racially-motivated reports more than doubledd.

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Post-referendum racism and xenophobia: abuse reported online [courtesy Worrying Signs/StreetWatch/PostRefAbuse]
Incidents included xenophobic graffiti [for example on the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith], arson against a Polish family in Devon, anti-immigation cards distributed outside a primary school, physical assaults and verbal abuse.

Although attacks are perpetrated by a tiny minority – the local community in Hammersmith was quick to offer the Polish Centre sympathy and moral support – both David Cameron and his successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May, have spoken of the need to tackle hate crime, and the Government has published a fresh action plan – Action Against Hate: The UK Goverment’s plan to tackling hate crime [26 July 2016].

Local government has a vital role in building community cohesion and combating extremism. The impact of hate incidents and crimes on both individuals and local areas is far-reaching. Victims are more likely to suffer serious and longer lasting damage when they have been targeted in this way, and the anxiety and tension this causes can permeate entire communities.

As soon as it became that we were facing an increase in incidents, the LGA provided a collection of documents and links on our website [see Community Cohesion and Hate Crime resource]. The page contains useful contacts, guidance, case studies, toolkits and other resources.

Councils are already doing much to combat hate crime.

For example, Essex has established a Strategic Hate Crime Prevention Partnership, bringing together schools, police and voluntary organisations, and using social media to encourage reporting and deliver sessions to schoolchildren.

Birmingham City Council has created a faith map to show the contribution faiths make to life in the city.

Tower Hamlets has a No Place for Hate Forum which brings together the council and key agencies to co-ordinate responses to race and hate crime.

Manchester has worked closely with voluntary and community partners, including housing providers, to establish reporting centres across the city. Each organisation has received training and signed up to a set of standards that support them to deal with incidents.

And Derbyshire has organised hate crime awareness training for staff, partner agencies, housing providers, third sector organisations, and police, probation and fire & rescue services.

Every community is different, and councils are best placed to tackle the challenges each faces. A great deal of good work is being done by the sector, and National Hate Crime Awareness Week offers us an opportunity to promote it and encourage our communities.

Further reading:
Stop Hate UK: Hate crime reporting post-Brexit

PostRefRacism: Post-referendum racism and xenophobia: the role of social media in challenging the normalisation of xeno-racist narratives 

 

The Times | Planning chaos leaves Tory pledge to build more homes in tatters

The Times logo

15 August 2016

Planning chaos leaves Tory pledge to build more homes in tatters

Homeowners and developers are experiencing “severe” delays in decision making as the government struggles to meet its pledge to get Britain building [Peter Byrne/PA]
Homeowners and developers are experiencing “severe” delays in decision making as the government struggles to meet its pledge to “get Britain building”.

Almost a quarter of a million applications have not been processed on time since 2010, with planning departments reducing staff numbers, freedom of information requests show.

Despite repeated government pledges to liberalise planning laws, the proportion of major applications approved has fallen between 2010 and 2015.

Fewer than 120,000 new homes were built last year, well short of the 250,000 that most experts say are needed to tackle the housing crisis. Developers say that delays are curtailing their ability to meet the demand for homes.

Gavin Sherman, from Linea Homes, which specialises in regenerating derelict sites, said that his business was suffering delays even when applications were sent with the correct paperwork and were “policy compliant”.

“Local authorities are so under resourced that they simply can’t acknowledge and administer the number of applications they are receiving,” he said. “Some officers only work two days a week which makes it impossible for them to deal with the workload they are given. We are not the only developer experiencing severe delays.”

Freedom of information requests to every council in Britain found that a third of major applications, which include large housing and commercial developments, have suffered delays over the past five years, with some councils only managing to process one in three applications within the statutory three-month time limit.

Homeowners and smaller developers have also suffered delays, with more than a quarter of minor applications, which include developments of fewer than ten homes and extensions, waiting longer than two months.

Not a single council has processed every application on time, while one in 16 is failing to process half on time.

Delays to minor applications were up 16 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Over the same period councils have shed 10 per cent of their planning workforce, equivalent to 1,200 jobs. Brighton and Hove city council, which has cut its planning staff by a third, is now processing less than a third of minor applications on time compared with three quarters five years ago.

However, the link between the number of staff and the speed of applications is not straightforward. Wigan borough council, for example, has lost 48 planning staff since 2010 but has managed to improve the proportion of major applications processed on time from 55 per cent to 83 per cent.

Many councils appear to have shifted resources from minor to major applications, forcing smaller developers and homeowners to wait longer so as to speed up big commercial projects.

Rico Wojtulewicz, from the National Federation of Builders, which represents local builders, said: “Councils overlook smaller builders. They don’t push through applications of less than ten houses even though these are the developments that can been done quickly to increase the number of homes. Larger projects can take years to deliver. Local builders used to make two thirds of homes — now we only build a quarter, and delays don’t help.”

The Local Government Association denied that planning delays were the main barrier to building new homes.

A spokesman said: “Hundreds of thousands of homes given planning permission are yet to be built.

“However, we want to do more and developers and councils have repeatedly called on government to resolve the underfunding of planning. Government limited the planning fees councils can charge, which impacts on services and means council tax payers have had to subsidise planning applications by £450 million over the last three years.

“Developers are increasingly willing to pay more, and fees need to be set locally so that they cover costs”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said that more than a quarter of a million new homes received planning permission last year.

A spokesman added: “We are getting Britain building again, with almost 900,000 homes delivered since the end of 2009. Now our plans to allow councils to introduce competition into the planning system will help speed up the process and bring a renewed focus to our efforts to build more homes. But the new local government secretary accepts we need to do more. That’s why housing will be a priority.”

Homeowners and developers face a planning lottery with some councils twice as likely to approve an application as others in 2015.

Many local authorities have also got tougher over the past five years despite pledges to make planning easier.

There is a north-south divide, with some in the south refusing more than half of applications while others in the north approve every major project.

Waverley borough council in Surrey approved the lowest proportion of major applications last year at 41 per cent, down from 80 per cent in 2010. Carlisle council approved every major application.

Councils near each other also have different approaches. Worcester council approved every major development last year but Stroud turned down a third.

There are also huge variations in the likelihood of extensions being approved.

In Amber Valley 97 per cent were given the green light but in Maldon only 59 per cent succeeded.

WMN | Councillors call for right-to-buy scheme to be scrapped

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11 August 2016

Councillors call for right-to-buy scheme to be scrapped

By Kate LangstonPosted: August 11, 2016

(top right) Cllr Owen

Over the last three years, Devon and Cornwall councils have funded an average of just one new home for every four sold – despite a policy of one-for-one replacements.

Councillors claim this is because the scheme is unsustainable, and warn the problem will get worse if ministers plough ahead with plans to extend it.

Exeter City Council member and portfolio holder for housing, Keith Owen, accused the Government of failing to grasp “the seriousness of the situation”.

Cllr Keith Owen

“As a local housing authority, we are not in a position to replace anywhere near the number of council properties which are acquired by tenants under the right-to-buy scheme,” he said.

“And the situation in Exeter is generally no different than it is through the rest of the country.

“Its getting harder and harder to [replace homes], and its not going to be helped by recent Government legislation.

“The whole idea is badly thought through… I think it has to be scrapped.”

According to new figures from the Local Government Association, the rate at which councils in England replaced homes sold under right-to-buy (RTB) fell by more than a quarter last year.

Their data shows that while 12,246 council homes were sold to tenants in 2015/16, just 2,055 replacements were started by councils.

Government figures show that in Devon and Cornwall a total of 361 properties were sold under RTB between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

In that same three year period, councils only began the process of replacing 87 homes.

In the district of East Devon, the ratio of replacements to sales since 2012/13 has been 4.5 to one.

A spokesman for the council said it had been struggling to fund replacements “for a number of years”.

Right to buy figures for Devon and Cornwall (source: DCLG live sales tables)

“The receipt we receive from Right to Buy sales, after the statutory and significant discount is applied, is insufficient to purchase or build replacement units on a one for one basis,” he said.

“We have purchased and built some new homes over the past few years, but our ability… has been compromised by a recent Government requirement to reduce rents by 1% each year for the next four years.”

“This reduces our ability to finance new council homes as it eliminates any surpluses we have set aside for new affordable homes.”

Cllr Owen shares concerns about rent reductions, as and about plans to fund the extension of RTB to housing associations through the sale of council assets.

He said the forced sell-off of high-value social housing will see local authorities deprived of both the asset itself and income from rent.

“It’s a vicious circle,” he said. “Any money we’ve had in the past to build replacement council houses is not going to be there.

“There’s no sign the government understands the seriousness of the situation.”

A Government spokesman said there is a rolling three-year deadline for local authorities to deliver an additional home “and so far they have delivered well within their sales profile”.

“However, we have always been clear that if local authorities don’t start building replacement homes within the three-year deadline, then we will step in and build them for them,” he added.


What is right-to-buy?

Right-to-buy was introduced in 1980 under Margaret Thatcher’s government, as a means of boosting home ownership

It gives most council tenants the right to purchase their home from their landlord at a discount of up to 35% for a house, and 50% for a flat

Tenants can apply to buy if the property is their only or main home and self-contained, and they have had a public sector landlord for three years

If the property used to belong to the council, but has since been sold off, a tenant might still qualify for “preserved” right to buy

The Government is looking to extend right-to-buy to housing association properties, starting with a voluntary pilot scheme, through the Housing and Planning Bill

Guardian Editorial | The Guardian view on housing policy: a rethink is needed

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11 August 2016

EDITORIAL | The Guardian view on housing policy: a rethink is needed

The government has boosted demand but not supply. There are too few new homes, and too many penalties on social housing. It’s not a policy, it’s a disaster
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‘In the past six years, the party of home ownership has failed to revive home ownership.’ Composite: Alamy

It is very hard to detect what this government thinks a successful housing policy looks like. In the past six years, the party of home ownership has failed to revive home ownership. Far from the Tory dream of a Britain transformed into a property-owning democracy, the median price for a house is now nearly nine times the median income and generation rent struggles to put so much as a toe on the property ladder at all.

Meanwhile, the long war of attrition against social housing goes on: right to buy, almost moribund by 2010, was fanned back into life with new and bigger discounts in the early coalition years. Council receipts from the discounted sales were cut to a third of the sale price, which has to be reclaimed in a slow and bureaucratic process from central government to meet the obligation imposed by Whitehall to replace all right to buy sales. In fact, councils are now building just one new home for every nine sold.

The Local Government Association, representing councils in England and Wales, says a rethink is essential if the right to buy is going to benefit more than this generation. Soon, higher-value council properties will have to be sold too, to fund a new assault on social housing, the introduction of the right to buy for housing association tenants. The latest English Housing Survey found that tenants were paying up to half their income on rent – even more in London. Meanwhile the rent councils receive is being cut year on year. The LGA foresees a £2bn hole in council finances by 2020.

An era of very low interest rates, and the new ability of people with pension pots to invest in property rather than buy an annuity with it, is propelling a huge market in buy-to-let. It has slowed with new higher stamp duty, but the grants designed to support first-time buyers have had only a limited effect as the supply of new homes continues to lag far behind demand, putting the next move out of reach. There are already 1.4 million people on council waiting lists. The cost of housing benefit for tenants in private accommodation is soaring along with rents – and homelessness. Earlier this month, the Resolution Foundation published research showing unaffordable home ownership is not just a London problem but affects people across the whole of the United Kingdom. It is at its lowest level since the early 2000s. The number of new homes started was less than 150,000 last year, the average house price has risen 60% in 13 years, while pay for many people has risen at only a fraction of that rate. On some estimates, in less than a decade there will be a shortfall of at least 4m affordable homes. Whatever its intentions, the government appears to have created a housing catastrophe.

The Local Government Association is controlled by Conservative councillors. It is not a radical organisation trying to challenge government. It merely wants voters able to live in homes they can afford to buy or rent. They know how to do it. Theresa May promised a country that did not entrench privilege. Housing is a good place to start.

 

Guardian | Right-to-buy reform urged as council leaders fear for social housing

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11 August 2016

Right-to-buy reform urged as council leaders fear for social housing

Figures show that replacements for homes sold under the right-to-buy scheme fell by 27% last year, worsening the housing crisis

Hilary Osborne
Matilda House in Wapping, London, which is made up of private tenancy and housing association homes
The promise to make discounts available to 1.3 million housing association tenants was part of the Conservative manifesto at last year’s general election. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) showed that 12,246 council homes were sold to tenants under right to buy in England in 2015-16, but just 2,055 replacements were started by councils – a drop of 27% on the previous year.

The right-to-buy scheme allows low-income tenants to buy their council-owned home at a sizeable discount to market value. Since it was launched by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s, almost 2m properties have been sold by councils across England and the proportion of homes that are social housing has fallen from 31% to 17%. Use of the scheme was slowing until the Conservative government relaunched the scheme in 2012 and quadrupled the discounts available to London tenants.

Right to buy has been scrapped in Scotland and the Welsh assembly last week confirmed that it planned to do the same. The LGA said the scheme could become a thing of the past in England, too, if councils were not helped to fund replacement homes.

The organisation, which represents 370 local authorities across England and Wales, said it expected 66,000 council homes to be sold to tenants by 2020 and that councils would struggle to replace the majority of them.

A further 22,000 homes will be sold if councils are forced to offload higher-value properties to fund the extension of right to buy to housing associations. The promise to make discounts available to 1.3 million housing association tenants was a key part of the Conservative manifesto at last year’s general election.

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The LGA warned that the fall in the number of much-needed council homes would exacerbate the housing crisis and increase homelessness and spending on housing benefit at a time when there were 1.4 million people on waiting lists.

The government has committed to one-for-one replacements for all additional homes sold since the scheme was relaunched. However, the LGA said urgent reform was needed to ensure councils could replace housing quickly and effectively.

It said authorities needed to keep 100% of receipts from sales, rather than the one-third they can currently retain, and that discounts should be set locally to reflect regional variations in house prices. Under the existing system, London tenants can get a discount of up to £103,900, while outside the capital homes are sold for up to £77,900 below market value.

The LGA’s senior vice chair, Nick Forbes, said current arrangements were restricting councils’ ability to replace homes and suggested this would mean that eventually there were no more properties to sell. “Right to buy will quickly become a thing of the past in England if councils continue to be prevented from building new homes,” he said.

“Housing reforms that reduce rents and force councils to sell homes will make building new properties and replacing those sold even more difficult. Such a loss in social housing risks pushing more people into the more expensive private rented sector, increasing homelessness and housing benefit spending.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said the government was prepared to take action to ensure replacement homes were built.

It said: “We’re committed to building the homes this country needs and investing £8bn to build 400,000 more affordable homes. There is a rolling three-year deadline for local authorities to deliver an additional affordable home and so far they have delivered well within their sales profile.

“However, we have always been clear that if local authorities don’t start building replacement homes within the three-year deadline, then we will step in and build them for them.”

Around 40% of council flats sold through right to buy are thought to be owned by property investors now and are likely to be rented out at market rates. Some local authorities have attempted to stave off sales of social housing with new schemes for tenants. Recently, Barking and Dagenham council said it would allow tenants to buy a stake in their homes but would retain a share in each property.

LGA | Unpacking *Purdha*

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Purdah: A short guide to publicity during the pre-election period

Introduction

In response to requests from council communications teams to produce simple guidance to communicating during the pre- election period (also known as ‘purdah’), we are publishing this short, updated guide.

This document provides advice on the publicity restrictions that should be observed during the purdah period. It should be read in conjunction with any guidance produced by your own Returning Officer or Monitoring Officer, which provides specific advice depending on your local circumstances.

The term ‘purdah’ has come into popular use across central and local government to describe the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on communications activity are in place. The term ‘pre-election period’ is also used.

2016 Local Elections

Many authorities will have elections on 5 May 2016, including parish and town councils, borough or district and unitary, and police and crime commissioner elections.

The latest date that purdah can start is 30 March 2016. Local government sometimes views this period as a time when communications has to shut down completely. This is not the case, and the ordinary functions of councils should continue, but some restrictions do apply, by law, to all councillors and officers.

The Code

The Government published a new Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity in 2011. The Code is based around seven principles to ensure that all communications activity:
• is lawful
• is cost effective
• is objective
• is even-handed
• is appropriate
• has regard to equality and diversity
• is issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity.

This last principle, to ensure special care is taken during periods of heighted sensitivity is of particular relevance during the pre- election period.

Legal basis and official guidance

The pre-election restrictions are governed by Section 2 of the Local Government Act 19861, as amended in 19882. Essentially councils should “not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.

Section 43 of the Act makes clear that councils need to have regard for the code of recommended practice that supports the Act. A new code of practice was published in 20114 which replaced all previous guidance. The essential points from the code are:
• In general you should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters (an exception being situations covered by legislation or regulations directing publication of information about referendums for explanatory purposes, for example promoting the existence of the referendum and explaining how to take part).
• Particular care should be taken during the pre-election period to abide by the Act.
• Consider suspending hosting third party material or closing public forums if these are likely to breach the codes of practice.
• Do not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views on proposals in a way which identifies them with individual councillors or groups of councillors.
• Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published unless expressly authorised by statute.
• You are allowed to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.

Although this new code supersedes the previous versions and may seem less specific, in practice your conduct should be similar to previous elections.

What this means in practice

Publicity is defined as “any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public.”

The first question to ask is ‘could a reasonable person conclude that you were spending public money to influence the outcome of the election?’ In other words it must pass the ‘is it reasonable’ test. When making your decision, you should consider the following:

You should not:
• produce publicity on matters which are politically controversial
• make references to individual politicians or groups in press releases
• arrange proactive media or events involving candidates
• issue photographs which include candidates
• supply council photographs or other materials to councillors or political group staff unless you have verified that they will not be used for campaigning purposes
• continue hosting third party blogs or e-communications
• help with national political visits (as this would involve using public money to support a particular candidate or party). These should be organised by political parties with no cost or resource implications for the council.

You should also think carefully before you:
• Continue to run campaign material to support your own local campaigns. If the campaign is already running and is non-controversial (for example, on issues like recycling or foster care) and would be a waste of public money to cancel or postpone them, then continue. However, you should always think carefully if a campaign could be deemed likely to influence the outcome of the election and you should not use councillors in press releases and events in pre-election periods. In such cases you should stop or defer them. An example might be a campaign on an issue which has been subject of local political debate and/or disagreement.
• Launch any new consultations. Unless it is a statutory duty, don’t start any new consultations or publish report findings from consultation exercises, which could be politically sensitive.
You are allowed to:
• Continue to discharge normal council business (including determining planning applications, even if they are controversial).
• Publish factual information to counteract misleading, controversial or extreme (for example, racist/sexist information). An example might be a media story which is critical of the council, such as a media enquiry claiming that the salaries of all the council’s senior managers have increased by five per cent. If this is not true, a response such as ‘none of the council’s senior management team have received any increase in salary in the last 12 months’ is acceptable. It is perfectly right and proper that the council responds, as long as it is factual.
• Use relevant lead officers rather than members for reactive media releases.
• Use a politician who is involved in an election when the council is required to respond in particular circumstances, such as in an emergency situation or where there is a genuine need for a member-level response to an important event beyond the council’s control. Normally this would be the civic mayor (as opposed to the elected mayor in those areas with elected mayors) or chairman (that is, someone holding a politically neutral role). If the issue is so serious, it is worth considering asking the council’s group leaders to agree to a response which would involve all of them.
• If you are in any doubt, seek advice from your Returning Officer and/or Monitoring Officer, legal or communications colleagues.

Ultimately, you must always be guided by the principle of fairness. It is crucial that any decision you take would be seen as fair and reasonable by the public and those standing for office.

Further guidance

You can find more information from the following:
• referring to advice published by your Returning Officer or Monitoring Officer
• the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity
• the LGcommunications leaflet, Cracking the Code
• annex A – template letter to councillors.


LGA - Purdah FAQ 01

LGA - Purdah FAQ 02

Acknowledgements

The LGA would like to thank LGcommunications, Coventry City Council, Warwickshire County Council and Eastleigh Borough Council in the creation of this document.

Annex A : Template letter for sending to councillors

Dear Councillor

Guidelines and restrictions on decision making and publicity during the pre-election period

As you will be aware, the local elections are due to take place on 5 May 2016, so I thought it would be useful to remind you about the guidelines and restrictions on publicity during the pre- election period that starts on XXXX date. These restrictions apply to all elections happening during this period.

From the start of the pre-election period (‘purdah’), the council must comply with restrictions outlined in Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986. In addition a Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity published in 2011 makes clear that particular care should be taken in periods of heightened sensitivity, such as in the run up to an election. The Act defines publicity as “any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public.”

Generally, the Act says that we should “not publish any material which, in whole, or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.” The Code of Practice recommends that authorities should generally not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters and that publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published unless expressly authorised by statute.

Decision making

In relation to decision making within the council, the position remains that it is ‘business as usual’ unless there are very good reasons why this should not be the case. In the vast majority of cases, the pre-election period will have no impact on normal council business, including the approval of planning decisions.

What this means

• The primary restriction is on proactive publicity by the council which particularly relates to candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election.

• The council can still issue media releases on factual matters provided that these do not identify individual councillors or groups of councillors.

• Councillorsarestillfreetorespondtoenquiriesreceivedfromthemediainapersonalcapacity.

• Individual councillors can issue their own statements, write letters to the local newspaper(s) for publication, contact the media directly or say what they like in a personal capacity, but must not use council resources to do so.

It is still possible for the council to issue statements on behalf of a councillor holding a key political or civic position provided it relates to important events which are outside the council’s control and can be shown to justify a member response. These occasions are likely to be rare and to be the exception, rather than the rule.

I hope this letter provides you with the general information you need for the pre-election period, but if you have specific concerns or queries, please feel free to contact xxxx.

Yours sincerely