There are 423,000 sites with planning permission waiting to be built. Our group is calling for local councils to control the “right to buy”, for powers of compulsory purchase and to charge council tax, whether the houses are actually built yet or not.
As icy blasts arrived from Siberia this week, bringing sub-zero temperatures, our members, councils and volunteers are assisting with emergency overnight accommodation across the country.
The number of homeless people is growing. There are more families than ever living in emergency accommodation, 79,190 in the quarter to September 2017. In the same quarter, UK councils accepted over 29,000 new applications for “statutory homeless”. According to Government figures – 83 per cent are in priority need and over 3,000 are children. That is only counting the people that councils know about.
The difficulty of making ends meet financially are made worse by family break-up, drugs or alcohol misuse and abuse, mental health, poverty and lack of legal residency. Offering a roof over someone’s head does not solve all their problems, but it is a start. Councils have always had a responsibility for keeping children safe. The number of children needing support has increased dramatically. We are also now responsible for children leaving care for longer, which includes preventing them from becoming homeless.
According to the Chartered Institute of Housing, the rising tide of homelessness is tied to the failure of welfare and housing assistance to keep up with rapidly rising rents. Charities that help homeless people back to work, such as Emmaus, and some private landlords rely on directly receiving housing benefit for rent. They will struggle if the rent cannot be paid directly once Universal Credit takes over, especially if penalties are applied.
Councils now have to do more following the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 which is coming into force on 3 April 2018. The Act means that we must work with more people. Everyone who is eligible according to the council’s criteria, and is either already homeless or threatened with homelessness, must be assessed and given a plan, starting 56 days ahead. Support can be debt advice or paying a rent deposit. This is already the case in Wales.
The LGA has worked with the Government to shape the legislation to be more deliverable and secured £72.7 million in new burdens funding, £61 million for this Act alone. Councils will now receive payments for housing a homeless person. The level of funding and the rapid timetable for implementation still makes it a tough call, and the LGA has a consultation out until 13 March 2018.
Will building more houses solve the problem? The Government is suggesting that if we build fast enough we will flood the market and bring the price down. However, developers can be reluctant to do that. There are 423,000 sites with planning permission waiting to be built. Our group is calling for local councils to control the “right to buy”, for powers of compulsory purchase and to charge council tax, whether the houses are actually built yet or not.
We and the LGA called for a lift in the borrowing cap, so councils can buy or build more council houses. That has been granted this week with a 3 per cent lift in the cap, enabling councils to do more, as long as it makes good business sense.
I am also raising the problem of the viability assessments from developers who come back to the council to be let off the hook on their contributions to local services, facilities and affordable housing. Without those, I would argue, the developments are no longer sustainable. In my area, the strategic housing market assessment calculated that some 52 per cent of new housing needed to be affordable, if we were to make any headway to meeting demand. With the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy payments towards a big road scheme, we have just lowered our requirements to 25 per cent of houses to be “affordable” and our recent record of achievement from developers is nearer 10 or 15 per cent. Worse, the term “affordable” was recently described as 85 per cent of the average market value, but as we know, many residents have far less than 85 per cent of the average income. So who is going to pay to fill the gap, or do we go without?
We shall be discussing this very subject at our Spring Conference in Lincoln (postponed due to adverse weather until 16 March). With local elections coming up in May, we also have an event for people thinking about becoming a councillor. It’s on Tuesday, 6pm in London at the LGA. Are you coming along? Can you bring or encourage one other person to come with you? We need good councillors focusing on getting the best for local residents. That is what our group members are good at and it is what makes us good councillors. That’s why we need more like you!
The icy blasts from the EU have also exercised us this week at the LGA as we come up to the first anniversary of the Government triggering Brexit negotiations. Our group members and I continue to take an important part in working to get the best for our residents. Based on your comments, the LGA’s brief continues.
Emergency Planning and Civil Resilience Political Leadership Masterclass
West Midlands Fire Authority, Birmingham
Thursday 15 March 2018: 10.30am - 4pm
A new political leadership masterclass has been developed which focuses on the role of the councillor when preparing for and dealing with a crisis situation. This one-day masterclass will feature expertise and experience from leaders involved in major emergencies and will provide an introduction to handling the media, understanding your role as a councillor during a civic emergency and provide practical advice and best practice. To book a place please contact [email protected]