[In view of the snow, Ben Reeve Lewis has abandoned his Hawaiian shirt for a pair of slippers…]
Snow is on the way to London as I write and I am like a kid at Xmas. I love snow, I love the look of it and even the chaos it brings with it.
I got so excited at the prospect when listening to the weather on the radio the other night that I missed the sink whilst draining my spaghetti and poured boiling water on my foot and ended up In Kings College hospital A&E.
This caused me to appear in Lambeth County court yesterday defending a mortgage repossession case wearing slippers.
They have got used to my last minute, unplanned appearances in Hawaiian shirts and converse but I think the slippers tipped the judges hands, enabling them to finally decide if I actually know what I am doing or am just a confident blagger.
I have of course known the answer to that one for some time.
Oxford gets tough on HMOs
A bitty news week on the housing front, I’m sure you will agree. However the story that struck me the most is Oxford City Council’s announcement, reported in a number of places, that they are extending HMO licensing to ALL HMOs not just those of 5 person or more and 3 or more floors.
They are threatening fines of £20,000 for not licensing and estimate that this will require 5,000 properties to register. Whether a landlord registers or gets done for not registering its a nice little earner all round I would say.
Of course amongst the landlord fraternity this has gone down like Abu Hamza speaking at an English Defence League meeting.
We all know that HMOs tend to have the worst property standards going and the highest rate of social problems amongst their tenants but they are an essential part of the PRS and with the age limit for the Shared room rate of housing benefit raised to 35 in January we will need more HMOs than ever.
A balance must be struck between, on the one hand raising standards and safety in these properties, with suitable penalties for breaches and on the other disincentivising landlords from bothering to rent out HMOs.
I followed a thread on Property 118 about this where many landlords aired their views on HMO licence fees and if those views are extrapolated across the country it doesn’t bode well for the future of HMOs.
As a council worker I have to say I don’t know where they will find the staff or resources to police this project or what Oxford landlords will do in response. Certainly one to watch.
The bedroom tax rears its head
The prospect of bedroom tax has been rearing its ugly head again. For those of you that may have missed this one it isn’t a tax on when you get ‘jiggy in the kissing club’ with your spouse but a fiendish method to save more public purse pounds by cutting benefits where a tenant has more bedrooms than they need.
Government got defeated on this in a vote back in December but they have vowed to push it through again in February. These plans are being attacked by a growing band of social landlords who are quite rightly pointing out that once again it is the poorest who get kicked in the teeth.
Yes there are the odd cases out there, beloved of the Daily Mail and Express of people doing very nicely on benefits but most aren’t. Could you live on £65 a week JSA? Losing £14 a week from your limited benefits can be crippling for some and the bedroom tax doesn’t take into account people’s more complex individual circumstances.
The bedroom tax in practice
24 Dash ran just one such example. Welshpool tenant Jamie Carter and his daughter and autistic son were moved from their flat by social services as being unfit for their occupation and into a 3 bedroom house.
Under Bedroom Tax rules he would have to choose between losing much needed benefit or downsizing to a 2 bed and forcing his autistic son to share a room with his sister.
Mr Carter, who needs the accommodation and has to provide a certain number of respite hours requiring specific accommodation each week said:
“I love my children, I don’t want to lose them. I don’t know how I would provide a good life for them – I’m out of work and this tax could just cripple me.”
Of course some people will be happy to downsize and free up larger accommodation for others but Jamie Carter’s family are just one example of ordinary people with more complex lives than government plans take into account.
DHP – Councils are losing it
Right, that’s my weekly slag off of government out of the way, now lets have a go at councils.
The tight-arse award of the week goes to Wirral Council as reported in the Guardian Many people don’t know there is a thing called DHP. Which stands for Discretionary Housing Payment.
This is an extra fund attached to housing benefit, through which a council could decide to top up people’s rent shortfall or make single payments to help out those in difficulty.
As with all council budgets, funding is on a ‘Use it or lose it’ basis. If they underspend by £50,000 on the DHP budget by the end of March they lose it for the following year, so it makes sense to spend it helping your most vulnerable local residents doesn’t it?
So why do so many council underspend on DHP? Wirral topped the league of 6 councils who are reported to have spent less than 50% of their allocated budgets with just 8 weeks to go before the end of the financial year.
You would think these departments think its their own bloody money.
Of course the system itself is just plain daft. If a company were so efficient that they managed to underspend on a service they would expect to be rewarded but councils get penalised for saving money. It’s a mad world.
And finally the ‘Kick Shapps’ moment.
Housing Excellence ran the wonderfully titled “No dust on Shapps” article. “the Prime Minister and the Government is determined to put housing centre stage, meaning tangible progress is already being made – with plenty more moves on the way , said Mr Shapps.
The thing is he has been saying this for nearly 2 years but not much is happening.
In the article he makes much of the fact that he is ending the practice of many years whereby councils have to give a proportion of the rent they collect to central government stating “For years, councils have been captives of a centralised system”.
What he is conveniently leaving out is that this boon is only in return for councils taking on billions in housing debt in return for keeping the rents.
One wag posting on a website this week asked when the government would be introducing the ‘Reformation of Reality Bill? When indeed?. Now, where’s my slippers?
Ben Reeve Lewis
Ben’s runs Home Saving Expert, where he shares his secrets on defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties, catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.