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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Public Protection and Housing): 16th January, 2013

 

Report of the Director of Visible Services and Housing

 

Interim review of the HOMES4U Allocation Policy

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To apprise Members of the alteration to the HOMES4U policy to mitigate some of the adverse impacts as a result of the forthcoming Housing Benefit reforms.

Recommendation

1.             That Scrutiny considers the attached changes to the Policy and recommends to     Cabinet for approval.

Reason for the Recommendation

1.             To prioritise tenants adversely affected by the Accommodation cap and other Welfare changes to transfer to smaller properties which are suitable for their needs, but also affordable.

Background

2.             From April 2013 Housing Benefit Rules are changing for ‘working age’ tenants who live in Council and Housing Association properties. Deductions will be made from Housing Benefit claims where a claimant is living in a property that is classed as too large for them. There will be a 14% deduction for 1 extra bedroom and a 25% deduction for 2 or more bedrooms.

3.             There are currently over 600 households that will be adversely affected by the reforms, and this will result in financial hardship in most cases. This is broken down by residents who are:

·         Currently living in 4 bed properties:

          underoccupying by 1 room = 12

          underoccupying by 2 rooms = 8

          underoccupying by 3 rooms = 7

 

·         Currently living in 3 bed properties:

          underoccupying by 1 room = 281

          underoccupying by 2 rooms = 117

·         Currently living in 2 bed properties:

          underoccupying by 1 room = 218

4.             The amendments to the allocation policy will allow properties to be advertised more clearly, and ensure that applicants are placed in accommodation that they are able to afford and are suitable for the size of their family in line with the new guidelines. These changes will also be reflected in the HOMES4U Allocation matrix, which sets out what types of properties applicants will be considered for.

5.             There are a number of joint working initiatives with Housing Benefits, and with the existing HOMES4U partner organisations attempting to minimise the impact of the reforms and ensuring that consistent and timely information is provided in a variety of formats including open day events, distribution of leaflets, letters, home visits, improved money advice and amendment to the existing web pages for both Council and Housing Associations.

Relevant Issues and Options

6.             The points below set out the key amendments being made:

·         Additional preference to be awarded for those tenants under occupying accommodation, on a discretionary basis in addition to their GOLD priority banding.

·         Additional preference given to existing tenants who are lacking a bedroom, on a discretionary basis, where a move to a larger property would not conflict with the reforms

·         Changes made to the HOMES4U Allocation matrix to ensure applicants are only considered for properties that are suitable in line with the reforms. A copy of the amended matrix is included in Appendix 1.

7.             Local Lettings Policies for all new developments in partnership with Housing Associations with preference given to existing tenants and those under occupying their current accommodation.

8.             There will be, as a result of the reforms far greater emphasis on mutual exchanges to allow existing tenants to source more suitable properties across the HOMES4U partnership. All Officers will look to promote, source, and actively manage mutual exchanges for the benefit of tenants in the Vale of Glamorgan.

9.             Homeswapper, the national mutual exchanges scheme was adopted in September 2010, and all of the partner organisations in the Vale currently subscribe to the scheme. This will continue to be further developed with the partner organisations to provide better rationalisation of properties that are in high demand, and increase availability for those tenants adversely affected by the benefit reforms.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

10.        It is anticipated that some tenants may experience financial difficulty when adjusting to the welfare reform proposals.  The Accommodations cap and the reduction in council tax benefits will have an immediate impact on an individual's gross and disposable income.

11.        In addition the universal credit will also have an impact as individuals are expected to manage their own benefits and expenditure entirely for the first time as opposed to the housing benefit being sent directly to the landlord.

12.        The increase required in the Provision for Doubtful debts has been estimated at £170,000 for 2013/14.  It is envisaged that this peak in rent arrears may occur in 2013/14 but the situation will improve over the following five years as tenants become more accustomed to  managing their finances or are housed in more appropriately sized accommodation, thus enabling a relative decrease in the arrears over time.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

13.        None.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

14.        The production and summary of an Allocations Policy is a legal requirement of the Council.

Crime and Disorder Implications

15.        It is envisaged that issues will arise particularly on flatted estates where higher child density will occur. The Housing Staffing levels are increasing by 2 members of staff and will help mitigate increased Anti Social Behaviour.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

16.        The HOMES4U Allocations Policy must comply with the following legislation:

·         The code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation and Homelessness 2003

·         The Children Act 1989

·         The Equalities Act 2010

·         The Crime and Disorder Act 1998

·         Local Government Act 2000

·         The Homelessness Act 2002

·         The Human Rights Act 1998.

17.        An equality impact assessment has been initiated on the changes. Unfortunately, given the current lack of precision on how the measures will need to be implemented and the Public Sector Equality Duty requirement to engage with tenants to inform the equality assessment process, the assessment is not at a sufficiently robust stage to present to Members. Allowing for the current timetable for implementation, it is anticipated that Members will be provided with the equality impact assessment in September 2013.

Corporate/Service Objectives

18.        This report is consistent with the following corporate and service objectives of the Council:

·               Community Well Being - To make the Vale a safe and healthy place in which individuals, children and families can live their lives to the full.

Policy Framework and Budget

19.        This report is to inform Scrutiny Committee (Public Protection and Housing).

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

20.        The Housing Department is required to consult with tenants on any material changes to its policies.

21.        The Housing Department will need to consult with partners / agencies.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

22.        Scrutiny Committee (Public Protection and Housing).

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Mike Ingram - Operational Manager - Public Sector Housing.

Officers Consulted

HOMES4U Manager

Homelessness and Advice Manager

Responsible Officer:

Miles Punter - Director of Visible Services and Housing.

 

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