Wednesday 4 January 2012

Housing issues that will hit the fan in 2012

This is an edited version of an article in the Winter 2011 issue of  Partnership News from Brent Housing Partnership:

Brent Council is to consult on a new Brent Tenancy Strategy following new powers introduced by the Localism Bill which was passed in November 2011.  Any resulting changes will be introduced in 2012-13. Existing social housing tenants will not be affected but some new tenants will be.

New papers regarding the 15,000 households on Brent's housing waiting list will give council's more freedom to decide who qualifies to go on the list. This includes additional priority for households who are in work (but see Janice Long briefing below).

Other changes in social housing mean that homeless households in priority need can choose to wait for a council home to become available or, if they agree, be offered a suitable private rented sector home. New rules mean that the council can place some homeless families in private accommodation without giving them the option of waiting for a council home.

Under the new rules councils and housing associations will be able to grant a fixed tenancy of 2 years, 5 years or longer as well as retaining the option to grant a lifetime tenancy.

In future tenancy holders will only be able to pass their social housing tenancy on to one person, either a spouse or a partner, ending the possibility of other family members suc ceeding to the tenancy. This will do away with the discretionary (otherwise called second succession right), unless Brent Council decides to adopt its own rules.

Housing associations will be able to set an affordable rent up to 80% of local market rents on new homes and some existing homes when they are re-let. (This suggests we will have to redefine what 'affordable' means! MF). This is to cover the costs of changes in the way new social housing is funded.

Cllr Janice Long, lead member for housing, issued the following briefing note for the well attended Brent Town Hall meeting on housing organised by Barry Gardiner MP, REPORT,
Temporary Accommodation and Housing Benefit.

In January the 9 month transition for Housing Benefit comes to an end.  Many households will have a rent higher than their Housing Benefit.

The housing benefit caps are

1 bed = £250, 2 bed = £290, 3 bed = £340, 4 bed and above = £400

There are 3000 families in Temporary Accommodation.  This figure is fairly stable


As at 13/11/11 there were 268 households in hotel accommodation. This is a 70% increase in comparison to 2010/11, when there was an average of 157 households in hotels at any one time.  This figure is likely to rise.

B&B accommodation is more cramped, often not in Brent, is unsettling for the family and is much more expensive for the Council.

 All the households have been written to.  Landlords have also been contacted to see if a lower rent can be negotiated. 

One badly affected group are single people under 35 renting one room.  They are now only allowed a Single room rate, ie they must live in shared accommodation with a communal kitchen and bathroom (HMO). There are 124 people affected.

There is huge difference between their rent and the new HB rate.  All these people will be called or written to and be given advice.

A special team in Housing Solutions has been set up to deal with the extra cases.  Brent has also won a grant from DWP to have a team in the Revenue and Benefits teams to deal with extra queries and workload.

The effect on housing applications is:

As at the end of October 2011, 807 households had made a homeless application, this is an increase of 29% when compared to the figure as at the end of October 2010 (625 applications). Homeless applications which were accepted as at the end of October 2011 totaled 275. This is an increase of 33% against the October 2010 figure (207 acceptances).

If residents live in private rented accommodation and the rent is above the Housing Benefit cap they will probably have to move or they will go into rent arrears.  But they must be given a legal notice to quit by the landlord.

BHP Casework should go to

Universal Credit

Universal Credit begins to be introduced in 2013.  I will get some worked examples of the impact. One example to mull over:

The maximum a family can get under Universal Credit is £26000

If the rent for a four bedroom flat is at the cap of £400, the annual rent will be £19,200. That will leave 6,800pa to pay gas, electric, water rates, TV licence, phone, clothes, travel costs.  Food is optional. There is a fear that people will go into debt or take out loans they cannot pay.

Tenancy Strategy

Following the passing of the Localism Bill Brent is reviewing its housing policies including the tenancy strategy.  There will be full consultation but areas be covered include:

Homelessness Duties

Allocation policies

Fixed Term Tenancies

Affordable Rent

Cllr Ali referred to Councils that have prioritised working people.  Brent is not planning to do this but will aim to target help on households who are actively looking for work.  Given the job shortage it is a step to far to take away your home if you can’t get a job.  

Affordable rent is at 80% of Market Rent.  Due to high demand private sector rents are already high in Brent.  It will prove very difficult for many social housing tenants to be able to pay these rent levels. In 2010 the average (median) income in Brent was £22,064.  Half of social tenants are in employment. A three bed property at £300 a week will be £14,400 a year. This will mean many families will be in financial difficulties.

Brent Housing Partnership Issues


The Housing Revenue Account is ring-fenced.  Currently all rents are paid into Central Government and we receive an annual subsidy. From April 2012 we will keep all rents.  Brent is one if the gainers as our current debt is £338.3  This will be reduced by 184.9m leaving Brent with a debt of £153.4 (Figures are subject to final confirmation but should not change much.)  Brent has 9, 225 dwellings.  There will need to be a 30 year business plan to pay off the debt and to plan for investment in the stock.  Eg external decorations, energy work.

Some Council’s currently have no debt and are being given our debt.  There is mumbling but most Council’s are accepting the proposals as it means that they can plan for the future.  At the moment most Council’s cannot plan as they do not know what they will be getting from the current subsidy system.  So business planning and Treasury management will be introduced into management of the HRA.

This does not mean that the backlog of external decorations work will be done in 2012 but there will be a proper timetable of when the work will be done. 

A major difference from the scheme proposed by the Labour Government is that RTB receipts will be kept by the Treasury.  They will be pooled and handed back to Councils for new build. In London this will be done by the Mayor’s office.  So a RTB sale in Brent may not generate a replacement housing unit in Brent.  Also any of the new units will be at Affordable rent levels.

Right to Buy

The Government has announced increased discounts for RTB, the percentage is yet to be confirmed.  The aim is that the receipts will be used to build a “replacement unit”.  However this will be at the Affordable rent level – 80% of markets rates.

Since 1981 the following number of units have been sold in Brent under the RTB 

There are currently 9225 council housing units. Over 800 of the RTBs are now sublet.

In April  2011 there were 3181 families on the waiting list for 3 bedrooms. This was the most popular category of sale.  So RTB has had an impact on the waiting list.

Cllr Janice Long, Lead Member for Housing

November 2011

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