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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection): 1st December 2011

 

Report of the Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing

 

Homeswapper Scheme Update

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To advise Scrutiny Committee of current progress of the Homeswapper mutual exchange scheme since its adoption in September 2010

Recommendation

1.             That Scrutiny Committee notes the positive contribution Homeswapper provides in facilitating tenant mobility.

Reason for the Recommendation

1.             To allow Council tenants an alternative route to move to more suitable accommodation.

Background

2.             The Council currently has 363 tenants registered on HOMES4U awaiting a transfer to alternative accommodation. The majority of these tenants are low priority and are unlikely to secure an allocation in the future.

3.             Homeswapper provides an online registration service for all social housing tenants who are looking for a mutual exchange. Any tenant can register with the scheme. The cost to the tenant is £13.95 for 6 months membership. However, where the landlord is a member of Homeswapper the cost to the tenant is free. The system can also be used by the landlord to advertise immediately available homes. This would be particularly effective in some of the designated pensioner bedsit flats where there is little or no demand.

4.             There are currently  39 Welsh Housing Organisations signed up to the service including Wales and the West, Newydd, United Welsh, RCT Homes, Cardiff Council, Cardiff Community, Cadwyn, Taff, Linc Cymru, Newport City Homes, and Valleys to Coast. The service provides access to over 10,347 tenants in Wales. The scheme operates nationwide, with over 235,000 tenants registered. This gives tenants the added option of securing suitable accommodation to any area they wish to consider across the United Kingdom.

5.             The Homeswapper scheme has provided an opportunity to improve the way we manage our stock and also complements our existing allocations scheme. In April 2012 there will be the introduction of the Housing Benefit reforms, and whilst the full impacts of this are yet to be known it is anticipated that tenants who are under occupying their homes will be able to claim less housing benefit, therefore increasing their rent.

This could lead to an increase in rent arrears for those tenants who are unable to manage to pay more towards their rent, and may also lead to an increase in evictions due to higher levels of rent arrears.

The Homeswapper scheme will be a key element in assisting tenants moving to more suitable accommodation, and preventing potential evictions and homelessness.

6.             There are differences between a void, a transfer and a mutual exchange. When a mutual exchange is carried out the following happens;

·       The tenant needs to have a clear rent and recharge account.

·       The property needs to be in a condition that no void works would be required.

·       The incoming tenant accepts the property in its current condition.

·       The start and end date of the tenancies for the existing and incoming tenant is the same date which means there is no void period, no rent loss and no void works (although gas and electric tests may still be required).

·       With a transfer the tenant is required to have clear accounts and the property should still be in a good condition however there are often void works to be undertaken, the vacant property needs to be advertised and there may be a void loss period of one or two weeks.

·       With a void the tenant may simply give notice and/or vacate the property. This may leave arrears, voids works and void loss periods, resulting in additional costs to the Council. Currently the approximate cost for a void is £3,000.

·       The ability to advertise nationally difficult to let / immediately available properties is also a feature within the Homeswapper scheme. This is another potential benefit as it will increase the advertising scope for these properties and reduce the void loss by being able to let more quickly. For example, 31 Redlands House, Penarth was void for a period of over 1 year due to lack of demand within the Vale, resulting in a loss to date of over £5,000.

Relevant Issues and Options

7.             Prior to the adoption of the Homeswapper scheme in September 2010 there were both limited information and opportunities for those tenants who wished to move via mutual exchange to a more suitable property.

8.             In the 12 months since the adoption of the scheme a total of 50 mutual exchanges have been processed. This totals 100 individual moves which exceeds the take up in previous years. In addition, over 260 tenants have now registered for the scheme in the last 12 months.

9.             The benefits of joining Homeswapper include:

·       No separate mutual exchange register needed

·       More accessible options and an increased choice for all tenants

·       Reduced number of void properties by making the mutual exchange a more viable option for tenants

·       Reduced void loss/void costs

·       Nationwide advertising for hard to let properties

·       A reduction in staff administration time

·       Reduce HOMES4U list through the reduction of transfer applicants

·       Improve performance for both voids and lettings

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

10.        The Council currently has a housing stock of 3,800 properties, and based on this number, the annual subscription to the scheme is £2,170, with an additional fee of £405 for the facility to advertise the immediately available homes. There is a final cost of £11 when an immediately available home is advertised via the scheme.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

11.        None arising from this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

12.        None arising from this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

13.        The Homeswapper scheme will lead to continued better use of the housing stock and create greater housing opportunities for tenants in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Corporate/Service Objectives

14.        This scheme will contribute towards the health, safety and wellbeing of tenants. It will also provide a service that meets customers' needs. 

Policy Framework and Budget

15.        This report is consistent with the Policy Framework and budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

16.        None – This is a Vale wide initiative.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

17.        Housing and Public Protection

Background Papers

There are now a number of Homeswapper feedback stories which show the success and ease of the scheme to tenants. These can be viewed on the Homeswapper website via this link: http://www.homeswapper.co.uk/links/feedback.asp

For more information on the scheme please follow the link to the Homeswapper website: http://www.homeswapper.co.uk/

Contact Officer

Mike Ingram, Operational Manager

Officers Consulted

Operational Manager, Public Sector Housing

Housing Management

HOMES4U

Responsible Officer:

Peter Evans, Director of Legal Public Protection and Housing Services

 

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