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Welsh Tenants Federation sponsorship feature

Housing in Our Hands conference

Tenantiaid Cymru recently held its annual conference. With housing devolved to Wales and momentum behind the Housing (Wales) Act, the theme, entitled ‘Housing in our Hands’, prioritised three key debates – the recent White Paper on the forthcoming Housing (Wales) Act, the impacts of under-occupation and how tenants can help develop and monitor the delivery of the WHQS programme.

Housing Act: The White Paper on the Housing (Wales) Act was received positively by tenants and speakers alike in Wales, particularly the efforts to modernise the private rented sector (PRS) including letting agents. However, as we stated ‘the devil will be in the delivery’. Tenants were unanimous in their belief that if we don’t address the PRS sector this would seriously inhibit tenants’ ability to move out of the social housing sector as a consequence of, for example, the ‘bedroom tax’ and as a means of initiating real tenant choice.

If we are to place reliance on the PRS without seriously undermining standards for those who rent, the disparity between affordability, quality, tenancy rights, representation and consumer protection compared to the social housing sector are issues that needed to be addressed. Tenants were clear that, to not address the rights and obligations of the PRS sector would seriously undermine the Welsh Government’s aspiration to improve housing for all.

Among the more popular concerns raised by delegates such as empty homes and future supply were a range of housing subjects such as park homes, tenancy reform, domain regulation, space standards and profiling.

One of the key priorities that emerged was the need for good quality independent housing advice, the need to engage private rented sector tenants in debates about their housing and better information provision about (in particular) welfare changes.

Under-occupation: The issue of under-occupation or ‘bedroom tax’ was also hotly debated, with recent efforts by landlords to respond to the impacts not being very well received by delegates. Great store had been placed on how landlords should respond in terms of housing management. As several delegates stated ‘not enough was being done to provide solutions for those who would be affected’. Most tenants would have no option but to pay up, at a cost to other expenses such as fuel or food, with other options such as lodging and downsizing not well supported.

Only one delegate considered taking in a lodger despite the incentive offered by the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP), once Universal Credit kicks in next October, to keep all the income from lodging. There are also considerable concerns about those who are already in debt, but unable to downsize because they were on suspended possession orders. This is a policy that needs to change! Delegates however welcomed efforts made by Wales Co-op via credit unions to provide financial management assistance on direct payments and the potential for loans and initiatives to pay for removals. There was an absence of incentives for tenants to downsize regardless of whether they would be impacted financially, while there were also concerns that landlords were restricting services to those who have been identified (rightly or wrongly) as being under-occupied. Clearly, there is a lot to do to provide support, including the need to provide better independent information.

WHQS FOD: The final debate focused on the Welsh Tenants initiative to develop a ‘WHQS Focus on Delivery Charter’ for the sector concerning the commitment to deliver and maintain the Welsh Housing Quality Standard. The background to the debate covered the Wales Audit Office report findings and the recent supporting recommendations of the influential Public Accounts Committee. While both reports recognised that much had been done to deliver the standard, there was still more to do as both sectors had not achieved the stated aim of achieving the standard by March 2013. While the housing associations were projected to achieve 98% compliance by 2017, some of the local authority sector was lagging behind further with some not achieving the standard until 2020 or beyond. This was more acute in the retained authorities that had voted ‘no’ to stock transfer. Clearly, from the tenants perspective, voting ‘no’ was not a rejection of the standard, but an affirmation that landlords and tenants should work together to shape the delivery programme. The proposed charter would set out the conditions by which tenants and landlords could work together to develop an involvement and on-going WHQS delivery, monitoring and scrutiny programme. Given that better annual monitoring is a key recommended by the Public Accounts Committee, the charter would ensure that tenants were involved in that process.

Debates were facilitated by Judy Wayne, Arnold Philips and Simon Inkson. We would like to thank all the speakers, delegates and exhibitors who supported the event and made it a memorable occasion. A full conference report will be made available on the Welsh Tenants web site.

Our Mission:

To enhance and protect the rights, representations and housing standards of all tenants in Wales.

Ein Cenhadaeth:

Gwella a diogelu hawliau, cynrychiolaeth a safonau tai pob tenant yng Nghymru.

Tenantiaid Cymru / Welsh Tenants, Milbourne Chambers, Glebeland Street, Merthyr Tydfil, CF47 8AT

Tel: 01685 723922, email: [email protected], www.welshtenants.org.uk

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