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 »


“What Future for Council Housing?” now available

March 24, 2015

Ken Loach

“Martin Wicks has written a valuable account of a grassroots campaign from the inside, but the book is more than that. It deals comprehensively with questions that arise when discussing housing and makes a convincing case for our being able to find answers collectively and democratically. This is essential reading for campaigners”

What Future for Council Housing?

Council housing and the housing crisis

A book by Martin Wicks

There is much debate about the acute housing crisis in Britain though it is mostly the voices of housing professionals and academics that are heard, not to mention government ministers who know little about housing. This book is written by a Council tenant and reflects the work and the ideas of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group which was instrumental is helping to defeat an attempt to sell-off Swindon’s more than 10,000 Council homes.

The book records the campaign against ‘transfer’ and the work of the Group in challenging coalition government policy. It looks at the crisis through the prism of the housing situation in Swindon: the decline of home ownership, the rapid rise of the private rented sector and the shortage of Council homes.

It offers a contribution to the debate about the roots of the crisis and how it can be resolved.

Council housing was a collective solution to a social problem created by the failure of ‘the market’. The profiteering private builder gave us ‘jerry built’ homes and the ubiquitous slums. Council housing was a liberation for people who lived in ‘rooms’ and over-crowded housing. It gave them better quality homes than most people in the private rented sector had.

The book offers evidence that the housing crisis cannot be resolved without a return to large scale Council house building once again. So long as housing remains dominated by commodity production then the shortage of genuinely affordable homes for rent and sale will drag on and the rising generations will to be forced to continue to live with their parents or in over-priced private rented accommodation with no security of tenure.

Britain is at a cross-roads where a question mark hangs over the future of Council housing as more and more of the homes are sold off. Yet another path can be chosen to halt the haemorrhaging of stock and to begin building Council housing on a scale large enough to address what is a crying social need.

Price £5 per copy, £7 including packaging and postage

For the price of multiple copies please email martin.wicks@btinternet.com or ring 07786394593

Please send a cheque made out to Martin Wicks, c/o The Shop (Resource Centre), Cavendish Square, Swindon SN3 2LZ

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 »

A strange form of progress – the reality behind the coalition government housing propaganda

November 24, 2013

You can download a PDF of this here coalitionpropaganda

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”. All governments do it, putting a ‘spin’ on information or statistics in order to pretend that a particular policy is a roaring success when it isn’t, or is at least marking progress. If there is a germ of truth in such propaganda then it is likely to be more plausible. The coalition government, however, has produced some of the most dishonest propaganda such that there is a chasm between the picture it paints and the reality. Here’s an example of the new Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins presenting (some of) the latest housing statistics as proof that “government action is getting Britain  building again”.  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 »

‘Self-financing’ and managing housing debt – the interests of tenants come first

January 25, 2013

This is an updated version of this article.

Download a PDF of this article here finance

As a result of Swindon’s Housing ballot result, when 72% of tenants voted against selling off our homes, the Council maintained ownership of its housing stock and was thus one of the local authorities included in the new Housing Finance system – ‘self-financing’. The government closed down the national Housing Revenue Account and shared out the national ‘housing debt’ amongst all the local authorities that still owned their housing. Swindon’s share of that ‘debt’ was deemed to be £138.6 million. The Council had to pay it off in one lump sum on March 28th of 2012. In order for it to be able to so, the government’s Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) lent the Council that sum so it could pay the government. Having handed over this money to the government the Council owes the money to the PWLB. Read the rest of this entry »

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