I noted recently how the Labour council were caught out making false claims about the number of new affordable homes being built in the borough.
But apart from numbers it is also a matter of what priority is given to what is built.
A report put before the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee last month stated that 100 people on the waiting list for sheltered housing and there is “a waiting period of around 13 months for an offer to be made.”
I asked the Council how many new sheltered housing units are currently planned and by what date are they due to be completed?
It would seem common sense to make this a priority if it means building one bedroom units to free up three bedroom flats.
It doesn’t mean that the sheltered housing has to be run by the Council itself – it could commission others – such as Hammersmith United Charities (HUC) who provide excellent accommodation – to provide new places in return for nomination rights. HUC’s current properties include John Betts House, pictured, who has a strong sense of community.
Glendine Shepherd, the Head of Housing Options, replies:
“At the time the draft Older Persons’ Strategy was written, there were 100 people on the waiting list for sheltered housing and the average waiting time was 13 months for an offer. The position has improved as there are currently 94 applicants on the waiting list and 11 of these have been made offers.
We, unlike many London authorities provide an assisted choice scheme, which allows applicants to not only choose sheltered housing but to specify the scheme they wish to be housed in. This may delay their offer but residents see it as positive because they are offered the property they want, in the location they want. We are making efforts to get applicants to widen their choice of scheme to minimise the time they wait for an offer, by organising open days at schemes so they can see for themselves what each scheme is like.
This average waiting time does not reflect the fact that some tenants have received an offer in 4-6 weeks. Compared to 4 other authorities we recently benchmarked with in London, we have the shortest waiting times and the lowest number of applicants on the waiting list.
The Council has facilitated a scheme for its partners to build an extra care scheme with 80 beds in the borough by 2021. This will provide move-on accommodation for our sheltered tenants who require more support and free-up their current accommodation for those on the waiting list.
We are working hard with our partners to look at every opportunity to increase the supply of new accommodation in the borough. In addition, we have a range of schemes to support tenants who wish to move to smaller accommodation and free-up their larger homes, for example we offer £2000 for every bedroom they release. Many tenants in 3-bed accommodation do not want to move to 1-bed accommodation and prefer to keep a spare bedroom for relatives to stay, consequently we have an adequate supply of 1-beds but a shortage of 2-bed accommodation.”
The trouble is that with an ageing population by 2021 the demand for sheltered housing will probably have increased.
It is absurd to have people in three bedroom properties wishing to downsize who are having to wait for a year. The most cost-effective way to help everybody is to focus on increasing the supply of good quality, attractive, well managed sheltered housing. So ideally not run by the Council but by the HUC or other independent charitable bodies with a good reputation. The Council’s role should be to provide the funding (via Section 106 receipts from property developers) to make it happen. That would allow the larger homes to be made available to families in overcrowded conditions or temporary accommodation.
It seems crazy that we are having to offer council tenants substantial cash incentives to move out of accommodation that is too large for their needs. So a single person would receive a tax-free payment of £4,000 if they move from 3-bed property to a 1-bed flat.
Sure, everyone would like a spare room for the occasional visitor or the model railway, but many in the private sector, renters and buyers, do not have that luxury.