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Policy update



Conservatives set to spell out £12bn welfare cuts

Chancellor George Osborne could spell out further cuts to benefits for people of working age in his Budget on July 8. However, disagreement within the coalition about where the axe should fall could delay some announcements until the spending review in the Autumn.

The first cuts were laid out in the Conservative manifesto and form part of the Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill in the Queen’s Speech. The overall benefit cap will be reduced from £26,000 to £23,000 a year, working age benefits will be frozen for two years from 2016/17 and 18-21 year olds will lose automatic entitlement to housing support. However, the IFS estimates that these measures will raise less than £2 billion of the £12 billion Osborne wants..

Leaks during the election campaign suggested that a range of other cuts were under consideration in housing benefit, disability benefit and tax credits. One option was reportedly an increase in

the bedroom tax. Reports suggested that Iain Duncan Smith was working on plans to cut child benefit but these have since been ruled out by Downing Street, placing even more pressure on other benefits.

For more details on the housing implications of the Immigration Bill in the Queen’s Speech, see Equality Update.


Starter home scheme

In addition to the extension of the right to buy, the Housing Bill features a new Starter Home scheme.

Plans for 100,000 Starter Homes reserved for first-time buyers under 40 were announced under the coalition but the new scheme doubles that to 200,000 by 2020. Where the original scheme
was intended for sites that would not normally receive planning permission for housing, it is understood that the new one will allow housebuilders to count Starter Homes as their contribution to affordable housing in section 106 planning agreements. It is unclear how the 20 per cent discount will be policed.

The Bill would also implement a Right to Build, which would force local authorities to support custom and self-builders in identifying suitable plots of land, and a statutory register of brownfield land to help achieve a target of getting local development orders on 90 per cent of suitable brownfield land by 2020.


Councils pay out DHPs to mitigate bedroom tax

Scottish local authorities made 118,000 awards of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) worth more than £50 million in 2014/15.

Official statistics show that councils received 132,000 applications and processed 130,000. The average payment was £429.

Scottish ministers have had the power to determine the limit of local authority DHP expenditure since November 5, 2014. An order removing the limit came into force on December 9.

Housing minister Margaret Burgess said: ‘Discretionary housing payments are a lifeline for tenants who need extra help with housing costs or to offset the harmful effects of the bedroom tax which was introduced by the UK Government in 2013 and affects over 70,000 Scottish households.

‘The Scottish Government is providing £35 million this year
to ensure every local authority in Scotland will have sufficient funding to fully mitigate the bedroom tax whilst also protecting non bedroom tax elements of DHPs.

‘Using the new powers coming to Scotland, the Scottish Government will abolish the bedroom tax as soon as possible. We continue to do all we can to limit the damaging effects of the UK Government’s welfare cuts which impacts on some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.’


Deadlock on benefits cuts

Continued political deadlock over welfare reform meant Northern Ireland was facing the prospect of benefit cuts imposed from Westminster as WHQ went to press.

The parties at Stormont had reached an agreement in December to introduce the same cuts as the rest of the UK but with extra mitigation including enough discretionary housing payments to cover the costs of the bedroom tax for three years. That deal collapsed in March when Sinn Fein withdrew its support.

At the end of May Sinn Fein and SDLP members of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against a Bill introducing measures such as the bedroom tax and overall benefit cap. Subsequent all-party talks failed to resolve the impasse.

If no deal can be reached, Northern Ireland faces a choice between cuts to other budgets and the direct introduction of the benefit cuts from Westminster.


Success for response to domestic abuse scheme

A Welsh Government project aimed at improving the multi-agency response to victims of domestic violence has exceeded its target. Figures from the 10,000 Safer Lives Project published in April show that 14,000 people feel safer, or are safer, as a result of work in Wales to tackle domestic abuse and sexual violence since October 2013.

Public services manager Leighton Andrews said: ‘All of the organisations who supported this project can rightly be proud of this achievement. The number of people who feel safer as a result of their work across Wales will be strengthened further as the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act is implemented.’

Help to Buy boost for buyers and builders

The Welsh version of a UK government scheme offering equity loans on new homes supported 1,378 purchases between January 2014 and the end of March 2015.

The Help to Buy – Wales scheme supports buyers and builders by helping people who have struggled to raise a deposit on a new home. A total of £48.7 million equity loans have been provided by Welsh Government so far, with the value of the homes bought totalling £245.7 million.

First-time buyers took up 74 per cent of the loans and the average purchase price was £178,290.

The scheme is worth a total of £170 million and, with builders reporting another 600 purchases in the pipeline, Welsh Government says it is on track to support the construction of 5,000 homes across Wales.

Minister for communities and tackling poverty Lesley Griffiths said: ‘Time and time again I have met people who had been struggling to secure large cash deposits and thought homeownership was out of their reach before receiving assistance from Help to Buy – Wales. Thanks to the scheme, people across Wales now have access to high quality, safe and affordable homes.’

In February the minister announced Welsh Government’s intention to extend the scheme beyond the end of March 2016.

The extension also featured in the Conservative manifesto for the UK election.

Homelessness shake-up now law

Fundamental reforms to homelessness legislation came into force in Wales at the end of April.

The main objective of the provisions in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 is to ensure that people who are homeless or facing homelessness receive help as early as possible.

The legislation places a duty on local authorities to work with people who are at risk of losing their home within 56 days to help find a solution to their problems. Welsh Government hopes the new provisions will prevent three out of four people at risk of homelessness from losing their home.

Local authorities also have more flexibility to use privately rented accommodation to provide a home to people who are facing homelessness.

Communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths said: ‘This legislation is a UK first and the most significant piece of homelessness law in well over 30 years. I recognise the challenges faced by all those involved in the housing sector, with continuing pressure on public finances, the rising cost of living and increasing demands on the affordable housing supply. This is why we are implementing this forward-thinking legislation, which focuses on the prevention of homelessness and reducing the number of people who go through the trauma of becoming homeless.’

John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, said: ‘Homelessness prevention services are for everyone who is at risk of losing their home. You don’t need to be on benefits and you don’t need to fit into a “priority need” group anymore. The fact is that homelessness can happen to anyone no matter what their background may be – a fact recognised by the Welsh Government who is opening up services wider than ever before. People need to be aware that this source of help is available to them.’

Consultation papers

  • Protecting Community Assets gov.wales/consultations/ people-and-communities/protecting-community-assets- consultation/?lang=en – Responses by September 11
  • Developments of National Significance gov.wales/ consultations/planning/developments-of-national- significance/?lang=en – Responses by August 12



IWA Constitutional Convention report Institute of Welsh Affairs, June 2015 www.iwa.org.uk/en/publications/view/242

House in Multiple Occupation: Review & Evidence Gathering – report of findings
Welsh Government, April 2015 gov.wales/docs/desh/research/150505houses-in-multiple- occupation-hmo-final-report-en.pdf

Social Businesses in Wales: the state of the sector Wales Co-operative Centre, June 2015 www.walescooperative.org/wp-content/uploads/ 2015/05/Social-Businesses-in-Wales-Report-ENG.pdf

Women’s Equality Now: poverty & economic violence Bevan Foundation, May 2015 www.bevanfoundation.org/publications/women-economic-violence

A Constitutional Crossroads: ways forward for the United Kingdom

Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, June 2015 www.biicl.org/documents/595_a_constitutional_crossroads.pdf

Welfare Reform – lessons learned

National Audit Office, May 2015


A Nation of Renters – How England moved from secure family homes towards rundown rentals Citizens Advice, May 2015 www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/policy/policy-research-topics/housing-policy-research/a-nation-of- renters/

Delivering Change: what housing associations can tell us about employment and skills
Centre for Cities, June 2015 www.centreforcities.org/publication/delivering- change-what-housing-associations-can-tell-us-about- employment-and-skills/

Future Finance – a new approach to financial capability
Centre for Social Justice, June 2015 www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/UserStorage/pdf/Pdf reports/CSJ—Future-Finance.pdf

Easing the Burden – the impact of welfare reform on local government and the social

housing sector

Grant Thornton, May 2015

www.grant-thornton.co.uk/Global/Easing-the-burden- welfare-reform-report.pdf



Makeover will make homes look ‘just like new’

Non-traditional council houses in Wrexham are being transformed with external wall insulation (EWI).

Wrexham County Borough says residents will see a significant drop in their energy bills and radical improvements to the external appearance of their homes.

The non-traditional properties include houses built from steel, concrete and other brick alternatives such as Swedish timber and were mostly built in the late 1940s and 1950s to tackle post-war demand for housing. They were prefabricated in factories so that they could be erected on site much quicker than traditional brick houses. However, they are showing their age and cost more to heat than modern day equivalents.

Over the next 12 months, 190 properties will benefit from the scheme, which will see a 100mm layer of insulation applied to the outside walls and elevations with improved render and brick slips on top of that to make them look brand new from the outside.

‘This is the most significant programme of improvements these properties have received for several decades,’ explained lead member for housing, Cllr Ian Roberts. ‘The houses are going to look just like new once the work is finished, and you cannot underestimate the impact that the physical transformation of these streets is going have on the local community. It will be a massive step in turning these streets into neighbourhoods that tenants can really be proud of.’

Welsh duo celebrate awards wins

Two Welsh housing associations triumphed at the UK Housing Awards in April.

The first winner was United Welsh subsidiary Celtic Horizons, run in partnership with Mears, in the Maintaining High Quality Homes category. The judges praised it for its ‘strong commitment to developing customer service standards through embedding a strong leadership culture through investment in employee training and reinvestment back into the communities they serve’.

One example of this came when Celtic Horizons visited a property last winter and found an older couple living in just one room of their home as they could not afford to pay to heat the rest. Following a referral to United Welsh’s money advisors, it was discovered they weren’t claiming hundreds of pounds worth of benefits. They can now afford to heat their entire home.

Meanwhile the HWB Dinbych scheme managed by Grwp Cynefin won outstanding development of the year in the up to 24 homes category. Located on a brownfield site in Denbigh, it features a number of community facilities, including a music studio, IT room, teaching kitchen and classrooms as well as six flats for young people from the Denbigh area and services to support and prepare them for independent living. Representatives from John McCall Architects, Anwyl Construction and Denbigh Youth Project joined Grwp Cynefin in receiving the award on behalf of the project partners.

Ark launched for universal credit

RCT Homes is the first social landlord in the UK to sign up to a new initiative designed to support tenants and landlords during the introduction of universal credit.

The Ark project has been created via a partnership between South-Wales based social investment and financial intermediary Asiant Capital and DotComUnity. The idea is to offer a collection of services in one place to support

local authorities, housing associations, property providers and landlords in the provision of sustainable accommodation to tenants in the private rented sector.

Central to the project is the ‘Ark account’, a managed account designed to accept universal credit payments. Asiant Capital says this will help landlords to ensure they still receive their rent on time at the same time as helping tenants on universal credit manage their money safely and effectively.

RCT Homes chief executive Andrew Lycett (left, with Lee Cecil of Asiant Capital) said: ‘We know that many of our tenants will face competing financial demands each month. There are bound to be times when some are tempted to spend the rent component of Universal Credit on something else. But that could put their home at risk. We need to be able to help tenants to ensure that the bills that must be paid are paid each month. The Ark Project is a tangible solution to that scenario.’

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