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Local government in action

This WHQ feature provides just a taste of some of the work that Welsh local authorities are doing to meet the housing and related needs of communities across Wales.

Caerphilly: relocation grants

In July 2002 the Government, by way of a Regulatory Reform Order, introduced significant changes in relation to Private Sector Housing Renewal by repealing much of the existing legislation governing the provision of housing grants. This was replaced with a new wide-ranging power allowing local authorities the ability to provide assistance for housing renewal in any form. This Order afforded a much greater degree of flexibility in devising a strategy to deal with those issues considered a priority in the local area.

One of the objectives already identified in Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Community Strategy was to enable independent living in local communities through appropriate support mechanisms for individuals, families and carers. In addition, the Caerphilly CBC Housing Needs Study had identified that 29% of all households contained someone suffering from a health problem/disability that had a direct impact on their housing requirements. It had also identified that, amongst those households wishing to move, 11% indicated that the reason for doing so was that the layout of their home was unsuitable for a household member with particular needs. It was, therefore, considered essential that the housing needs of persons with ill health or disability were addressed when developing a new housing renewal strategy.

Although most of the legislation relating to housing grants was repealed as a result of regulatory reform, the provision of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) was retained. These grants were introduced in 1990 and give a mandatory right to any eligible disabled person to a grant to alter their dwelling so that they are able safely to gain access to and use all the normal facilities of home, and to care for others where this is relevant. The use of DFGs produces significant health gains and prevents accidents and admission to residential care. Research has shown major improvements in quality of life and independence for recipients. Disabled children and their siblings benefit in development, education and social contact. Carers suffer less stress and have reduced likelihood of injury.

However, the provision of a mandatory DFG does not provide an ideal solution in all cases. There are occasions where the adaptation of a person’s home is not reasonable when taking into account the age, character and locality of the property. There are cases where the adaptation of the existing dwelling, whilst resulting in a significant improvement, may not adequately meet the needs of the disabled person or their family/carer at the present time or in the longer term. There are also a limited number of cases where the maximum DFG of £36,000 is insufficient to achieve the desired outcome.

For these various reasons, it was decided that Caerphilly CBC’s Private Sector Housing Renewal Strategy would include the provision of two forms of discretionary grant assistance:

  • a discretionary DFG with the same eligibility criteria and post completion conditions as a mandatory DFG but with a maximum of £7,000. This grant can be utilised as a top up to a mandatory DFG or as a dedicated grant for discretionary works for the purpose of making a dwelling suitable for the accommodation, welfare or employment of a disabled occupant
  • a discretionary Relocation Grant to offer assistance towards the relocation of a disabled person to alternative accommodation in appropriate circumstances. This grant is subject to the same means testing regime and post completion conditions as a mandatory DFG and is restricted to the same grant maximum

Whilst the offer of a Relocation Grant has only been taken up by a small number of households, evidence suggests that it has transformed the lives of those who have been willing to consider the significant upheaval involved.

The majority of those interested in pursuing the possibility of relocation are owner-occupiers who are reluctant to move into the social housing sector. In most cases, the availability of suitable social housing is, in any case, extremely limited, particularly in their local areas and, even if such accommodation exists, they face a considerable wait in unsuitable accommodation with no certainty of ever being allocated a suitable property.

In determining the level of financial assistance to be offered, consideration is given to the cost of adapting the current home, if it is capable of being adapted, compared with the anticipated cost of any mandatory DFG assistance required in the proposed new property. The value of both properties is also taken into consideration together with the level of outstanding mortgage debt to ensure there can be no allegations of profiteering.

In determining eligibility, it is made clear to applicants that the total offered to them by way of Relocation Grant and mandatory DFG in their new home will not exceed the cost of the DFG that would be paid in respect of their current home, were they to remain, or the maximum DFG if their current home is unable to be adapted. Officers within the Adaptations Team assist applicants in finding one or more potentially suitable properties, liaise with mortgage lenders and other interested parties, and provide the client with an offer in principle to enable them to proceed.

The grant monies are transferred to the purchaser’s solicitors at exchange of contract for them to hold to enable them to proceed to completion, at which point a Legal Charge is registered against the new property. If required, a mandatory DFG is approved on the new property as soon as practicable following completion.

The present housing market and economic situation has had some impact on potential applicants as it has become increasingly difficult to find buyers and suitable properties to facilitate moves. There have also been hurdles to overcome in respect of households being able to remortgage or transfer existing mortgages to a new property.

The following two case studies provide examples of Relocation Grants completed to date.

Case Study 1

Grace – a 3-year old amputee living in an owner/occupied mid terraced property with parents and 3 older siblings.

OT recommendation received for:

  • steplift to front access
  • wheelchair access to ground floor bathroom
  • provision of suitable safe play area
  • ground floor bedroom or access to first floor

Site conditions were difficult owing to elevated position of property with variation in levels between ground floor rooms and a tiered rear garden, with large retaining wall.

If a Mandatory DFG had been pursued, a living room would have been utilised as a bedroom and the variation in floor levels would have limited Grace’s access to certain ground floor rooms. Provisional costings were estimated to be in excess of £36,000 and we had concerns as to whether a mandatory DFG would be reasonable and practicable. A realisation of the compromises required by the whole family should they remain rendered them sympathetic to the suggestion of relocation. However, the family support available in their village, continuity of schooling for siblings who had already been subject to significant emotional upheaval and budget restrictions were primary concerns.

After 3 months of looking, the family became aware of a repossessed bungalow being marketed in a prime location in their village. It was soon established that the only requirement for Grace would be an access ramp and level threshold front door, estimated to cost £3,000. Following an aggressive bidding process against considerable competition and several nailbiting setbacks, the sale was eventually finalised with a Relocation Grant of £33,000, the maximum available in this case. The family have now settled into their new home and consider it has transformed all their lives. Grace’s father said: ‘I can’t believe how lucky we have been. This move has transformed all our lives. We can’t thank you enough.’

Case Study 2 – Gordon

Gordon lived in a 3-bedroom mid terraced property with his wife and child. He is a wheelchair user. Access to the front of the property was directly off the footpath via a very high internal step. Access to the rear was via a set of steep steps to a small yard. Neither access was suitable for adaptation for a wheelchair user. In addition, Gordon was unable to access a room suitable for use as a bedroom and neither an extension nor a vertical lift were viable options in their home.

Gordon had relatives living in the same village who, when they were made aware of the situation, offered to downsize and ‘house swap.’ However, Brian was unable to fund the balance of the transfer as his mortgage company were unwilling to increase his debt. Also, whilst the relative’s property had the potential to provide accommodation suitable for Gordon’s long term needs, it too would require mandatory DFG assistance in the region of £20,000. The families agreed a differential balance of £10,000 between the two properties, which was subsequently confirmed by independent valuations. A Relocation Grant of £10,000 was then offered to Gordon to cover the cost of the property and reasonable moving expenses. The transfer of ownership was timed to coincide as closely as possible with the approval of the mandatory DFG that, at completion, totalled £23,500 inclusive of fees.

Whilst the family found the process to be quite stressful, largely due to the extensive adaptation works required in the new property, the relocation has resulted in a positive outcome for them, enabling Gordon to remain in his home village where there was no realistic prospect of him being allocated suitable social housing. Looking back at the process Gordon considers that ‘it was the best move we could have made and we are very grateful that you were able to help us to achieve such a good result’.

For more information, contact Fiona Wilkins, Principal Housing Officer (Private Sector) at
Caerphilly County Borough Council, tel 01495 235029, email [email protected]


Rhondda Cynon Taf: warmer homes for RCT residents

As is the case in many parts of the country, over half of the homes in Rhondda Cynon Taf are considered ‘hard to treat’. These include homes of a non-traditional style or solid walled properties which means that they require a different form of wall insulation to be fitted either externally or internally. Many of these ‘hard to treat’ properties also come with inherited structural defects, maybe damp problems due to their age and style. Where some energy efficiency funding has been available, it goes nowhere close to addressing the actual costs of works, leaving a shortfall for the household. These properties are also likely to present a Category 1 hazard for Excess Cold along with higher energy bills, meaning people living in these homes are more likely to be in fuel poverty, or at risk of fuel poverty/ There may also be an impact on health, including mental health and respiratory conditions, from cold housing.

Funding that is available either does not cover the complete costs of the works and/or does not cover any structural defects that certain property types require to allow private sector households to take advantage of the funding opportunities.

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council is committed to tackling fuel poverty and is determined not to miss opportunities for external investment. We have therefore worked in partnership with local housing associations to deliver schemes for both social and private housing. To make this a reality and attract investment to communities, the council has provided grant funding from the Capital Grants Programme to cover the shortfall and help householders address structural problems.

By working strategically with its housing association partners, the council has been able to attract offers of investment to our communities. It has also been able to achieve the ‘best deal’ for all tenures by aligning its own investment, obtaining Arbed funding and RCT Homes investment via its WHQS programme to use as a ‘bargaining tool’ to encourage utility companies to invest in our communities.

The Local Housing Partnership is extremely pleased to have eleven declared Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP) areas in Rhondda Cynon Taf to date, out of a potential 33 Lower Super Output Areas.

To date, a total of 565 private properties within these areas have been signed up for free external wall insulation, (funded via CESP, Arbed and the council), as well as other energy efficiency measures under CESP. Works have commenced with a planned completion date before the end of the CESP period in December 2012. These private properties alone attracted close to £4million of investment from utility companies. Aounr double this amount is involved with social housing properties included.

Homeowners Insulation Grant (HIG) and Boiler Replacement Grant

Following a successful pilot, these two innovative grants funded out of the capital programme to help households out of fuel poverty have continued in 2011/12. A total of 64 Home Improvement Grants were granted and 8 Boiler Replacement Grants issued.

These grants were created to assist households who are not necessarily in receipt of benefits, but have low incomes and are not eligible for assistance elsewhere and are likely to be in fuel poverty due to low incomes. The grants fund 100% of the cost for loft, cavity wall insulation and/or a boiler replacement (for defunct boilers) for owner-occupiers with a household incomes up to £20,021.

Both grants are unique in that:

  • they have significantly raised the threshold of grant assistance available locally
  • they means that the council is providing a ‘tailored’ approach for our residents who would not have otherwise qualified for existing national grants but who are still unlikely to have been able to afford such energy saving improvements themselves

Heat and Save Scheme

Rhondda Cynon Taf’s innovative Heat & Save Scheme offers free and discounted loft and cavity wall insulation to private householders. It has delivered 5,653 measures since its creation in 2009, 1,196 of these in 2010/11, with take up levels slowing as coverage is reached across the borough.

With approximately £120,000 of council funding, this scheme has attracted over £1.3 million of Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT)funding into the area and over £154,000 of private investment from householders investing in their own properties. So over £1.5million of investment only required a relatively small contribution from the council – every £1 spent by the council has attracted over £12 of other investment.

The scheme has helped householders reduce their energy bills by on average £680,000 a year and reduced carbon emissions by 2,227 tonnes per year (based on average figures from Energy Saving Trust).

We have also recently appointed a Home Energy Efficiency Officer in partnership with Care & Repair Cymru, based within our Private Sector Housing Unit. This post will support the affordable warmth agenda and, by being able to provide tailored energy advice to our residents within their own homes, will fill the gap in current services available locally.

For more information, contact [email protected]


Flintshire: innovation in the use of Social Housing Grant in a rural community

This scheme shows how the development of new housing in a rural community can be secured through an innovative approach to utilising Social Housing Grant and private funding to provide much needed affordable and market homes and secure broader community benefits.

The partners involved in the scheme are Flintshire County Council, Clwyd Alyn Housing Association, Lovell and Treuddyn Community Council.

The land in question was owned by Flintshire County Council and was also an allocation for housing within the Flintshire Unitary Development Plan (UDP).

Flintshire had allocated Social Housing Grant within its Programme Delivery Plan (PDP) to the scheme in order to fulfil the Section 106 contribution for affordable housing. Flintshire’s planning policy requires sites of over 1 hectare in area, or more than 24 homes, to provide 30% affordable homes. However as Social Housing Grant had been allocated to this scheme, this allowed the council to exceed the 30% threshold.

In an alternative to the more conventional procurement route, Clwyd Alyn Housing Association purchased the whole site from Flintshire County Council and engaged with a developer, Lovell, to construct the remaining part of the development for market housing. This effectively limited the developer’s risk as the council wanted the whole scheme to be developed in conjunction with the affordable provision. The remaining part of the site benefited from the infrastructure work which would be required for the affordable housing development. Consequently, the developer would not have to contribute to this, reducing the developer’s up-front costs.

By adopting this approach, positive benefits have been secured for all parties:

  • The council
    • Flintshire County Council was able to release land which was allocated for housing within the UDP
    • The council received a capital receipt
    • Affordable housing provision was secured, and with delivery through Social Housing Grant, allowed full flexibility in the tenures being offered
  • The local community
    • benefited from new affordable and market housing
    • through planning gain, the local community secured contributions for play facilities, public open space and wildlife conservation
  • The developer
    • benefited from reduced development risk due to the use of Social Housing Grant funding as part of the development package

Work on the site is currently under way with the affordable housing being ready for occupation in January 2013. The market housing phase of the development is also under construction with the show home scheduled for completion by the end of September 2012.

For more information, contact [email protected]


Carmarthenshire: maintaining the supply of good quality affordable private rented accommodation

Social lettings schemes have been set up in many parts of Wales to help provide accommodation for those in often in most housing need. Rent levels are set at or below Local Housing Allowance. However, it has been suggested that the ongoing changes to the housing benefit system could spell disaster to these schemes. The main reason for concern relates to the reduction of Local Housing Allowance which would mean reduced income for landlords. This could result in landlords dropping out of schemes. In Carmarthenshire, the Housing Services Division is working with landlords to mitigate the changes in Local Housing Allowance.

The Carmarthenshire social lettings scheme is delivered in-house as part of the remit of the Housing Options and Advice Team. It is used to provide accommodation to homeless and potentially homeless people. The team found that although after the change in Local Housing Allowance, some landlords did not want to let their properties through the social lettings scheme any more, the council has secured other properties through the social lettings agency. The number of private properties managed by the council is now around 150.

One of the ways that Carmarthenshire County Council works with private sector landlords is through the use of Section 180 Homelessness Grant provided by the Welsh Government. The £70,000 grant provided over two years has been used to fund small grants of up to £1,000 and interest free loans of up to £10,000 to landlords and owners of empty homes to bring them back into use, on condition that they are let through the social lettings scheme. Loans are repaid via the income from rent which is collected by the council. Whilst the provision of funding to help empty home owners is not new, officers in Carmarthenshire have been surprised by the levels of funding which have acted as an incentive to empty home owners to become landlords. The average level of assistance has been £2,500. The improvement work has involved essential maintenance, but has also included work which makes a property a home. As well as renewing floor coverings and essential electrical work including the provision of smoke alarms, typical work has also included minor improvements to kitchens and bathrooms such as that pictured.

Robin Staines, Head of Housing Services in Carmarthenshire, noted: ‘Our Housing Options and Advice Team link up a range of issues to make our social lettings scheme successful. For example, we provide advice on how empty homes can be improved, how to access financial assistance and advice on how owners can become landlords through our social lettings’.

Carmarthenshire Council hopes to continue this approach in future and will use the funding provided by the Welsh Government Houses to Homes loan scheme to support this.

www.carmarthenshirehousing.co.uk

(See p50 for an article from CanDo Lettings, the social lettings agency run by Cadwyn Housing Association that operates in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.)


Gwent: collaborating for Healthy Homes, Healthy Lives

We are very well aware of the current economic climate and the pressure on budgets and ever diminishing resources. As a result, there are increasing expectations and a necessity for public services to work more collaboratively. An area where this is particularly pertinent is where health, social care and housing overlap, with the links between poor health and poor housing becoming more widely recognised and the drive to support people to remain independent.

At the Healthy Homes – Healthy Lives conference late last year, the Aneurin Bevan Health Board, the Gwent local authorities and Gwent-based RSLs were challenged by both the Minister for Health and Social Care and the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, to establish a forum of representatives from health, housing and social care, which would develop a holistic approach to developing strategic and operational improvements to improve the lives of local people.

In May this year, the first Gwent Health, Social Care and Housing Forum was convened. It brought together for the first time representatives from five local authorities, Aneurin Bevan Health Board, housing organisations and the Welsh Government, to explore opportunities for joint working and collaboration. Some of the key themes to emerge from the Forum was the need for better joint forward planning and a greater level of information sharing about the future accommodation needs of residents prior to a ‘crisis point’ being reached.

The Forum firmly embraces the collaboration agenda and seeks to maximise the advantages that can be achieved through partnership working and the sharing of knowledge and expertise. By taking a combined approach, more creative, efficient and effective services can be delivered despite resource limitations. And with the alignment of planning processes and increased understanding amongst partners, the Forum has the potential to provide improved outcomes and more joined-up services in the future.

The Forum will meet quarterly and will continue to focus on making best use of combined resources through joint working and the creation of sustainable processes, whilst a Task and Finish Group is currently identifying options for the commissioning and delivery of accommodation solutions for people with continuing health care needs.

By pioneering this regional Forum, the first of its kind in Wales, members are able to effectively embrace the challenges that lie ahead in health, social care and housing and work together effectively to achieve positive outcomes for local people.

For more information, contact Neil Howell, Head Of Housing and Business Support at Torfaen County Borough Council, email [email protected] or Mark Gardner, Chief Executive of Melin Homes and RSL lead on the Forum, email [email protected]


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