Homelessness and the Housing Revenue Account

May 11, 2017

Swindon Council’s second raid on the housing account

As Swindon Council faces the decline of central government Revenue Support Grant year on year, it has scrabbled around desperately looking for ways of saving money. Its imposition of parish councils on the town without a democratic mandate was one such means, transferring services and costs to the new parishes1. Casting its eye around for other sources of money to cover the growing financial chasm in the General Fund, it organised a “transfer of assets” between that fund and the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the separate account for council housing. It transferred garages and some shops owned by the HRA to the General Fund, giving the latter an extra annual income of £1.25 million. After some housing owned by the General Fund was transferred to the HRA as a sweetener, the housing account still loses an income of more than £500,000 a year. The ruling group had said that the outcome of the transfer between the two accounts would be “fair and balanced”. In reply to a question at a cabinet open forum the Cabinet Member cynically replied, “yes, but we never said it would be equal”! “Fair and balanced” meant the General Fund gaining at the expense of the HRA and tenants.

Now faced with a funding gap for homelessness prevention and relief (for reasons explained below) they decided to make another raid on the HRA. The Council Cabinet proposed to use £17 million of HRA money to buy 80-100 properties on the open market so that they could transfer some families currently housed in the private rented sector and thus prevent the General Fund from having to pay for them. Their presentation of this as action to deal with homelessness was pure propaganda. This was simply a means of preventing the General Fund having to cover a funding gap of £400,000. (Read on below or download a PDF here sbcraid ) Read the rest of this entry »


Tory war of attrition against Council housing

August 11, 2015

Just before the general election the Tories announced that they were going to extend ‘right to buy’ to Housing Associations and to force Councils to sell off so-called ‘high value’ Council homes to fund it. Not only will this mean that Councils will lose scarce housing stock but it will undermine the finances of Council housing for reasons we will explain below. Only 6,600 Council homes were built in the five years of the coalition government. More than double that number were demolished: 13,530 in the first four years of the coalition (we don’t have a figure for the last year yet). The coalition introduced an ‘enhanced right to buy’ scheme with higher discounts which increased sales significantly (see Appendix). Over the first four years of the coalition government Council housing stock shrank by 104,000 in England alone.  {Read on below or download a PDF here attrition } Read the rest of this entry »


What future for Council Housing?

February 20, 2015

Council housing and the housing crisis

A book by Martin Wicks

Everybody knows there is a housing crisis. However, it is usually written about by academics or professionals who work in the housing sector. Tenant voices are rarely heard. What Future for Council Housing? is written by a Council tenant and reflects the work and ideas of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group which has successfully resisted the sell-off of our homes; managed to secure more money for their maintenance; and challenged the dominant policies responsible for the crisis.

What Future for Council Housing? is a contribution to the local and national debate on housing policy. It begins with a detailed account of the ‘Swindon Housing Vote’ in which tenants decisively rejected ‘transfer’ of their homes to a Housing Association with a 72% ‘No’ vote on a 65.6% turnout. It gives a blow by blow account of the dirty tricks of the Council and how the campaign challenged their propaganda. The experience is rich in ideas that can hopefully be used by other tenants facing a ballot. (Download a PDF here whatfuture  or read on below) Read the rest of this entry »


Osborne’s Mansion House speech: no market solution to the housing crisis

June 21, 2014

Download a PDF of this article here osbornemansionspeech2014

George Osborne’s recent Mansion House speech had a few rabbits in the hat supposedly designed to address “the challenges of the housing market”. Firstly, he has decided to give the Bank of England new powers over mortgages including the size of mortgage loans as a share of family income or the value of the house. He says

“In other words, if the Bank of England thinks some borrowers are being offered excessive amounts of debt, they can limit the proportion of high loan to income mortgages each bank can lend, or even ban all new lending above a specific loan to income ratio. And if they really think a dangerous house bubble is developing, they will be able to impose similar caps on loan to value ratios as they do in places like Hong Kong. It’s important that decisions to use these powerful tools are made independently of politics by the Bank of England.”

The idea that such decisions are not political is as illusory as the original decision of Gordon Brown to give the Bank the power to set interest rates. The advantage for Osborne is, of course, that any mistakes can be identified as those of the Bank rather than his.

How these powers are applied will be worked out by the Bank and the Treasury though Osborne said that legislation would be introduced before the end of this Parliament. In any case the impact of this policy will not have worked its way through by the time of the General Election. Read the rest of this entry »


Swindon Council Housing Allocations: the case of the £75,000 a year straw man

October 28, 2013

Download a PDFof this here strawman

“Do you think somebody on £75,000 a year should get a Council house?”

The question came from a Council Officer trying to justify turning Council housing into a means-tested tenure. Council Housing has never been means-tested. Currently applicants to the Housing List are not asked what their income is. However, as we shall see, the criteria for giving tenancies these days are such that anybody who is very well off would not stand much of a chance of gaining a tenancy, even in the unlikely event that they applied.

So what’s the answer to the question? The ‘common sense’ response would be ‘no’.  Obviously somebody earning that much would be able to buy a home. Yet you have to ask the question would somebody on £75,000 a year want a Council house, never mind be given one? No, this spectral applicant on the waiting list is a straw man. It’s a trick question. Answer ‘no’ to it and it implies acceptance of introducing a means-test. Necessarily the question then follows where should the threshold be set? How much income is ‘too much’? This is no easy question to answer. Originally the Council was proposing a level of £38,000 a year, yet it had to rethink the issue. Even though they have started the consultation on changes to the Allocations Policy they haven’t even finalised where to set these thresholds which would have to be different according to the type of property, be it a flat or a house and varying numbers of bedrooms. Read the rest of this entry »


Swindon Council’s “Tenancy Strategy” proposals should be rejected

June 23, 2013

Since the beginning of the 1980’s Council tenants have, in law, had a ‘secure tenancy’. This gives us real security. We know that if we pay our rent and do not behave in an anti-social manner, we cannot be kicked out of our homes. For propaganda purposes the coalition government is calling this a “lifetime tenancy”, suggesting that it’s unreasonable to give somebody ‘a home for life’. There is in reality, no such thing. ‘Secure tenancies’ are in practice open-ended tenancies, but if a tenant breaks the tenancy terms they can be evicted, and some are. A Council has to take legal action and the court has the discretion to decide whether the move to take possession is ‘reasonable’ or not, but every year tenants are evicted. You cannot keep your tenancy regardless of your behaviour. There is no guarantee that it will be ‘for life’. Read the rest of this entry »


Swindon’s Census: what does it tell us about the housing crisis in Swindon?

February 14, 2013

The 2011 Census statistics for Local Authorities and wards are now available on line. I’ve just started ploughing through the ones for Swindon. Between 2001 and 2011 the population rose by 16%; by 29,209 – from 178,649 to 207,858 . The number of households increased by 17.5%, from 75,154 to 88,360. The stats help to give an indication of the housing situation in the town.  It’s fairly consistent with national trends.

As you can see by the chart below, despite 13,206 extra households the number of mortgages has declined absolutely, and steeply, as a percentage of the number of households (from 47.38% to 39.78%). Properties owned outright have increased but remain stable as a percentage of households. ‘Social housing’ has declined as a percentage, despite an increase in numbers of over 1,700.  Read the rest of this entry »


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