It’s official! Labour abandons their discredited plan for stock transfer of council housing

Some excellent news. The Labour Council’s unwanted proposal to abolish council housing in the borough has been abandoned. Vast sums were spent trying to persuade Council tenants and council leaseholders to back the transfer of their homes to an unaccountable Community Gateway housing association. But the opposition was overwhelming. Although they would have denied leaseholders a vote they faced a legal requirement to win support from tenants which they had no hope of gaining. The Conservative Government has also refused to write off the debt that would have been required.

A report for the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee says:

“On 7 December 2015, following the recommendations of the Residents’ Commission on Council Housing, Members agreed to pursue stock transfer to a new, locally-based not-for-profit Private Registered Provider constituted on the community gateway model. Members also noted that the stock transfer would be subject to, ‘the availability of funding and the negotiation of a satisfactory financial settlement,’ with Government.

3.2 Three other stock transfers have taken place since that report, all in March 2016. All these transfers received Government funding.

3.3 However, Government has now made it clear that there is no funding to support any more stock transfers. 3.4 The Council has with its advisors and the Shadow Board extensively explored all other options to finance a stock transfer, and has concluded it is not possible to produce a financially viable business case which also satisfies residents objectives. 3.5 It is not therefore possible to make an Offer to Residents as part of a Transfer Ballot. The stock transfer programme has been closed.”

It adds:

“In December 2015, Cabinet approved for the pre-ballot phase of the Transfer Programme, a budget of £617k for 2015/16 and £778k for 2016/17 for the General Fund (“GF”) and £80,000 for 2015/16 and £125k Housing Revenue Account (“HRA”) for 2016/17. 5.2 The total budget for the pre- ballot stage was £1,395k for the GF and £205k for the HRA. Actual expenditure on the programme is much lower: £904k for 2015/16 and 2016/17 of which £802k was GF and £103k was HRA.”

Love the way the way they try to make £1.395 million sound like less by calling it £1,395k.

An appalling proposal that left many of Labour’s traditional supporters feeling betrayed. Also a scandal that so much money was wasted on it. The Conservatives repeatedly called for the scheme to be abandoned – but Labour keep on pouring in public money into the doomed project. While lawyers, consultants and PR men were paid huge fees the Council claimed to have no money for a growing backlog of repairs.

They have not even had the grace to apologise.

Landlord licensing scheme meltdown at Hammersmith & Fulham

A flagship London Labour Council licensing scheme for private landlords was facing collapse this week as a series of legal mistakes forced Hammersmith and Fulham to slash the number of properties covered. In a Leader’s Urgency Decision by Cllr Stephen Cowan published on 1 February, the Council revoked the designation of 44 streets out of 172 within weeks of issuing the formal legal notices, admitting having used “erroneous data” to choose the streets it covered.

And opposition and residents are calling for the whole scheme to be dropped.

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour Cabinet passed the Selective Licensing scheme for private sector landlords at a Cabinet Meeting on 2 November 2016. The Scheme originally included some 172 streets, allegedly chosen because antisocial behaviour in those streets was “attributable to occupiers of privately rented properties”. It would have required all landlord in those streets to register with the Council and pay a licence fee of £500. However, the list included:

Two entire streets of Council-owned properties (Charlow Close and Watermeadow Lane) which have been empty for years and are scheduled for demolition.

A street where all but one of the houses have been demolished, leaving one house which is not privately rented at all (Gorleston Street).

A number of streets of properties owned by Housing Associations, which are not subject to selective licensing (Gwyn Close, Mandela Close, St John’s Close).

A street where the only residents are two Catholic priests and a school caretaker (Commonwealth Avenue).

It later emerged many of the 172 streets had simply been chosen because they included pubs with high crime levels – rather than the crime being anything to do with rental properties. The Urgency Decision refers to the pubs as “commercial outlets”.

National landlord organisations argue Selective Licensing schemes simply push up rents for private sector tenants, as landlords seek to recover the costs from their tenants. The Hammersmith license fees are amongst the highest in the country.

The scheme is already in meltdown, and there isn’t a scrap of evidence the remaining streets have high levels of crime caused by rental properties. It’s just another Labour stealth tax, and a tax that will be paid by tenants.

Public Notice of the scheme with a list of streets was given on Legal notices were published on 13 December 2016. A copy is here.

H&F Council’s Public Health budget still beset by waste

The Public Health budget for Hammersmith and Fulham Council in 2017/18 will be £22,338,000. So slightly down on the £23,633,000 in this financial year. My concern remains that this spending is largely wasted.

One area where the funds can be used effectively is in getting specialist help for the homeless. A majority of those being put in general hostels should be placed in specialist hostels.  The Council tell me:

“Adult Social Care estimate that around 55 per cent of residents in the generic supported housing services for homeless people have support needs related to their mental health, often presenting with substance and/or alcohol misuse. Approximately 20 per cent of these residents will have severe and enduring mental illness.”

Only £551,000 – about two per cent of the Public Health budget is allocated to supported housing. This is spent by the Adult Social Care Department.

After some persistence I have now been told that the Council has agreed to an extra payment from the Public Health budget and that “General Fund Housing Budgets are receiving £298,300 in 2017/18 that will help support vulnerable households.”

Now there are still some concerns about this. One is that two departments in the Council – Adult Social Care and Housing – will be operating separately carry out the same role. They will each be arranging to find specialist accommodation for groups of people. It would make sense for this to be “joined up”.

Another basic point is that far more of Public Health budget – millions more – should be allocated to this. But at least there is progress. The £298,300 will mean proper help for some of those who would otherwise but shunted off to a general hostel or a bed and breakfast hotel where they don’t get the help they need and their condition is left to deteriorate.

Government funding to tackle homelessness in Hammersmith and Fulham

In October the Government announced funding for innovative measures to tackle homelessness.

The Prime Minister Theresa May said:

“I want to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few, based on the values of fairness and opportunity.

That means facing up to the great social injustices in our society and tackling the complex and often stubborn underlying causes which can lead to a person losing their home.

We know there is no single cause of homelessness but I am determined to do more to prevent it happening by supporting those facing challenging issues like domestic abuse, addiction, mental health issues or redundancy, whilst also being prepared to offer a safety net to catch those who might simply be struggling to get by.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said:

“One person without a home is one too many, which is why we are launching this new £40 million programme to tackle homelessness and prevent it happening in the first place.

“It will fund different projects around the country, preventing people from losing their home in the first place and helping to ensure that rough sleepers have somewhere safe to stay.”

I’m pleased that Hammersmith and Fulham Council has been awarded some of these funds. The Council inform me of the following details:

“The Department for Communities and Local Government will award £603,373 for three Homeless Prevention Trailblazer projects. These are:

1.    The Transitions Project, working with Peabody to provide early intervention to prevent Youth Homelessness;  

 2.    The Under 35 and Under Occupation Links Project, to develop a web-based portal to enable under occupiers to let their spare rooms out to under 35 year olds; and  

 3.    Positive Pathways towards Private Renting Project, to work with housing associations to increase the supply of and support package within private rented accommodation.

An award of £166, 209 will be made through the Rough Sleeping Grant bid which will provide, in partnership with St Mungo’s, rapid assessment and intervention to people with substance misuse issues who are at risk of losing their tenancies and becoming rough sleepers.

A separate bid was submitted by the West London Sub-Region for the Rough Sleeping Grant, and H&F are included in this too. The total to be awarded across the sub-region is £400,000. The West London bid aims to focus on rapid intervention and an assessment building for new rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping.

The GLA submitted a bid to the Social Impact Bond on behalf of a number of Boroughs, in which we are included. They were awarded £2m. There are three projects within their bid:

1.    Intensive focus on helping 350 of London’s most entrenched rough sleepers;

2.    A project to help people who have started sleeping rough in the previous three months off the streets;

3.    Money to develop a better system in which hostel spaces across London can be utilised by rough sleepers more effectively.

All money obtained through these bids is time limited until 2020. Money will be paid periodically over the next two years.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council owns 423 empty garages

A Freedom of Information request from Property Partner has found that Hammersmith and Fulham Council owns 423 empty garages – a third of the total number.

In our case the average garage is 170 square feet.  The average size of a one bedroom flat is 500 square feet. So that 71,910 square feet of empty garage space is equivalent to 144 homes.  It may well be that in some cases replacing garages with new homes would not be viable. On the other hand, these figures only allow for bungalows. Often, of course, it would be perfectly viable to replace a row of garages with two, three or four storey housing.

The Council also rents out another 179 garages privately – that provides a useful source of revenue for the council. But would it not be better to convert some of those garages into homes too?

Also any of the 423 empty garages that can’t be replaced with homes should be rented out privately.

The present mismanagement is a terrible waste of resources.

New affordable housing in H&F slashed under Labour

There have been plenty of broken pledges from Labour’s manifesto for the Council elections. There was the “early pledge” to block the planned changes to Charing Cross Hospital (which the Council doesn’t have the power to do). There was the pledge to cut Council Tax at a faster rate than the Conservatives.

Then there was the promise  for more affordable housing. “Those who need affordable homes to rent struggle to get anything suitable in the private or social housing sectors,” it said. The Conservative council has “refused” to provide “truly affordable homes for residents.” It went on to pledge that “Labour will change this” and “provide more new affordable homes for residents to buy or rent.”

So what are the facts?

The Council has given me these figures.

The total number of affordable housing units approved for year 2013/2014 under the Conservatives was 1,511.

The total number of affordable housing units approved in 2015/2016 under Labour was 165 units.

A complete failure both by comparison with the Conservatives and compared with the current performance of other London boroughs.

What a complete betrayal of those who put their faith in Labour last time.

Council cover-up over its failing stock transfer proposals

Cllr Lisa Homan, Cabinet Member for Housing: She knows the results of the consultations we have paid for. Why won't she tell us what they are?

Cllr Lisa Homan, Cabinet Member for Housing: She knows the results of the consultations we have paid for. Why won’t she tell us what they are?

Labour are spending vast sums on “engagement” (ie propaganda) in support on their plans to abolish council housing in the borough. They want to transfer all the housing stock to a Community Gateway housing association. This year alone they are spending £778,000 form the General Fund and another £125,000 from the Housing Revenue Account.

Yet despite all this spending how much support do they have? Not much to judge by those I’ve spoken to. So why not just ditch the flawed scheme before any more money is wasted.

So I asked the Council for “any indications so far – from polling, focus groups, consultations, etc – as to the level of support among tenants and leaseholders for the proposal.”

Ayesha Ovaisi, the “Project Manager” replied that:

“The engagement activity over summer has proved to be very useful and was aimed at building awareness of the possible stock transfer.”

That didn’t really answer my question. So I tried again, this time with an FOI request:

“Please provide any information that has been collated from polling, focus groups, consultations regarding the views of tenants and leaseholders on the proposed council housing stock transfer.”

Here is the response:

Hammersmith and Fulham confirms that it does hold information covered by your request. It has become necessary to carry out a public interest test. This is where needs to balance the public interest in disclosing the information against the public interest in withholding it. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 obliges us to respond to requests promptly, and in any case no later than 20 working days after receiving your request. However, we now need further time in which to consider the public interest in disclosing the information. We estimate that it will take up to an additional 20 days to take a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies. Therefore, we will respond to you by 3 January 2017.

Yours sincerely

Graham Ostle

Senior Investigations & Information Officer

Remember it’s our money Labour have been using for all this activity.

What have they got to hide?