Housing : Social Tenants / BTL & HB Problems / Shortages / Grenfell Tower Fallout

Discuss news stories and political issues that affect carers.
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Plans to stop house buyers being 'exploited' by ripoff leases delayed, almost a year after government promise.

Ministers vowed to legislate to outlaw " Feudal practices " – but have launched a fresh consultation instead.


What a surprise ?

Another year or so for those feudal barons to clean up ?

Almost guarantee than many in the House will have interests in " Leasehold reversions " ... just like portfolios of BTL properties , and that money tree known as Housing Benefit ?
Coming to a street near YOU ... caravan city ?

Image

Priced out of flats, now moved on in their vans Bristol’s rent crisis.

Hundreds of low-paid workers across Britain are forced to live in vehicles. But they face an uncertain future.
Brian Meekle’s caravan is parked beside the M32 motorway that cuts through the eastern half of Bristol. Meekle has been living there for the past two months because he doesn’t earn enough from the 33-to-45-hour weeks he works at a nearby retail warehouse to pay the rent for a flat.

“The rents in Bristol have rocketed,” he says above the roar of lorries and cars. “I am doing agency work but it could dry up on Monday. It’s all minimum wage stuff.” Meekle’s temporary home is in a ramshackle line of 16 caravans and vans. There are at least seven other vehicle encampments in the city, including in wealthy neighbourhoods such as Clifton Down. Bristol city council estimates that around 200 people are sleeping in vehicles across the city.

While some of them enjoy the freedom of life on the road, many are low-paid workers who have been priced out of Bristol, which has in recent years experienced some of the fastest-rising rents and house prices of any city.

Rents in Bristol have gone up by 33% over the past four years, according to the government’s Valuation Office Agency. A one-bedroom flat in the city now costs on average £795 a month. “There are a lot of people in this situation that don’t want to be,” says Meekle. “But it’s better to have a roof over your head than be out on the streets.”

He will soon be forced to move on to a new road because the council has served all the vans and caravans with eviction notices following complaints of antisocial behaviour.



Inevitable ?


No-fault evictions making hundreds of families homeless each week.

A law allowing landlords to throw out private tenants without giving a reason is exacerbating the crisis.



Also ... inevitable !
40 / 50 year old tower blocks considered unsafe ... what a surprise ?

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/h ... 92436.html

Hundreds of tower blocks across UK at risk of collapse, say experts.

Exclusive: Government urged to investigate ‘bigger issue than Grenfell’ as defects identified in more than 41,000 flats.


Tower blocks across the UK, home to an estimated 100,000 people, have a systemic structural flaw that puts them at risk of collapse, housing experts have told The Independent.

In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, safety problems have come to light at towers built using the Large Panel System (LPS) method during the 1960s and 1970s, which house more than 41,000 flats in cities up and down the country.

The flawed construction method has left cracks in some flats wide enough to allow residents to slide their hands in between the walls.

It also leaves them at risk of complete collapse in the event of a fire or gas explosion – something that already happened at one block in the 1960s.

Structural defects have been discovered at LPS blocks in Leicester, Rugby, Portsmouth and two estates in London over the past year. Hundreds of council tenants and leaseholders are in the process of being moved for their own safety.

Yet the defects and safety hazards – including the risk of a building collapse – are likely to be even more widespread, according to housing experts.

Documents seen by The Independent show at least 575 tower blocks built using the LPS method are still standing across the UK – just over 41,000 flats.

Tower Blocks UK, a campaign and research group, is now calling for the government to set up a nationwide safety audit, ensuring inspections are carried out at all LPS tower blocks in the UK.

“This is an even bigger issue than Grenfell because more tower blocks are affected by these structural problems than by cladding problems,” said Sam Webb, a retired architect who is the co-founder of Tower Blocks UK. “The government needs to take responsibility for this as a matter of urgency.”

The campaign group is urging the government to ask the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government or the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to lead the inspections.

“The government needs to carry out a safety audit to identify all the large panel system tower blocks, and make sure qualified experts check whether or not these blocks are safe,” said Frances Clarke of Tower Blocks UK.

“We have the face up to this because residents can’t be left at risk living in potentially unsafe buildings,” she added.

Labour MP John Healey, the shadow housing minister, also demanded action. “After Grenfell, the safety of these high-rise blocks is a national crisis so it must be the job of national government to get the work needed done,” he said.

“Government ministers must now ensure that all large panel system blocks are investigated to see that they meet the safety standards that residents expect, and any test results are published so that residents have full information about the safety of their homes.”

Last August tests commissioned by Southwark Council showed four LPS blocks at the Ledbury Estate in south London at risk of collapse. Residents there had complained and filmed the cracks between the walls of their flats.

Danielle Gregory, 32, was one of those able to place her entire hand through the widening cracks in the walls of her 12th floor home.

“It was frightening to realise other people had these same gaps between walls,” said Ms Gregory. “After Grenfell I realised these flats weren’t secure anymore and couldn’t stop a fire from spreading.”

Southwark Council is yet to make a final decision on whether to demolish the almost empty towers at the Ledbury Estate, but a majority of residents voted in favour of strengthening work and refurbishment during the consultation process.

Gas was removed at the four affected blocks last year, and council officers are busy trying to find suitable homes for the final few residents.

Leicester City Council has decided to demolish the 23-storey Goscote House once residents are moved out of the LPS block because of fears for its “long-term structural integrity”. Last month a Rugby Borough Council report recommended two LPS blocks at Biart Place were of “poor build quality” and should be brought down.

Council bosses at Portsmouth and Haringey have yet to decide whether LPS blocks they deemed unsafe earlier this year should be demolished or strengthened.

All these buildings share the same basic design: the LPS technique popular with councils in the 1960s as a way of getting high-density housing up in a hurry. Factory-made concrete panels were stacked on top of each other, then held together with bolted joints.

Fears about the flimsiness of this method date back to the disaster at Ronan Point in east London in 1968. A gas cooker explosion at a flat inside the LPS block led to the collapse of the entire south-east corner of the building. Four people were killed and 17 others injured.

Arnold Tarling, a building surveyor who has examined LPS blocks across London, believes “fundamental” structural flaws means the risk of collapse remains in all LPS blocks.

“It’s like a house of cards,” Mr Tarling explained. “The cards were stacked up and held together by a bit of simple bracing work. It’s not just the risk of gas explosion like Ronan Point. A serious enough fire in a LPS building could result in collapse. The floor slabs would expand and push out the external wall panels and things would break up quite quickly.”

“Strengthening work isn’t viable with these blocks,” he added. “The flaws are so fundamental”.

Hannah Brack, an independent housing researcher, has gathered evidence showing 575 tower blocks across Britain were built using the dubious LPS technique. Documents she shared with The Independent show these blocks still stand in every major city in the UK - from Belfast down to Brighton.

“This a major national problem,” says Ms Brack. “There could be at least 100,000 residents living in blocks built using LPS construction methods and potentially at risk.

“The government needs to help local authorities come up with a plan to deal with it. These were flats built using the very shoddiest of methods. Councils just don’t know exactly what they have on their hands and what to do with them now.”

Both Mr Tarling and Ms Brack have been told by several local authorities they no longer hold a complete record of building work at their LPS tower blocks. This means it isn’t clear which towers have undergone repairs in an effort to strengthen them.

“It’s a mess,” says Mr Tarling. “The government needs to find out where the blocks are, what state they are in, and start facing up to the problem. You can’t leave residents in potential danger.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Independent that the department held its first “forum” last week to discuss the LPS tower block problem with local authority representatives.

“Building owners are responsible for checking their properties and we have given councils and housing associations advice on checking the structural safety of buildings which use large panel systems,” said the government spokeswoman.

he Local Government Association (LGA) confirmed the meeting had taken place but could not say how many council representatives attended.

“The issues that building owners face with LPS buildings are complex and technical ones,” a LGA spokesman explained. “They require expert advice on what to do and the LGA is not placed to do that. We have therefore been pushing the government to provide that advice.”

For now, however, there remains nothing to compel councils to inspect their housing stock.

The emerging safety crisis has the potential to make the nation’s housing shortage even more intense. If more blocks are found to be unsafe, how do councils – overwhelmed by huge waiting lists for social housing – provide affected residents with affordable places to live?

Ms Gregory, the tenant who helped discover the cracks at Ledbury Estate, now lives at a nearby council home with her husband and three daughters. She leads a local campaign fighting to make sure the estate is not doomed to a developer-led regeneration scheme.

“These kinds of structural problems could affect a lot of people across the country,” says Ms Gregory. “If a massive safety problem ends up leading to a massive loss of social housing, then it’s a kind of double punishment.

“My worst fear is all these (LPS) estates will eventually be demolished and replaced with mainly private apartments,” she adds. “After Grenfell and all the concern about the terrible housing inequality we have, what kind of response it that?”

Another difficulty remains: how big a say should residents get in deciding whether LPS blocks found to be unsafe can be saved and strengthened?

In June, two blocks on the Broadwater Farm estate in north east London were found to be structurally unsound and at risk of collapse. Haringey Council told tenants and leaseholders at Tangmere House they must be out of their flats by the end of this month, followed by the inhabitants of Northolt Tower.

Rev Kwaku Frimpong-Manson, a community leader who has lived in the same third-floor flat at Tangmere House since 1991, will soon be moving off the estate to a council flat elsewhere in the borough.

“It’s been very stressful time,” said Rev Frimpong-Manson. “Broadwater Farm has meant everything to me so I will miss it. But, like everyone else, I’m worried for my safety.”

“I think these two buildings will probably need to be demolished,” he added. “I just hope the rest of Broadwater Farm has a bright future.”

Haringey Council has estimated it would cost £28m to strengthen and refurbish the two unsafe LPS blocks at Broadwater Farm, and would prefer to demolish them both and build new homes instead.

Jacob Secker, secretary of Broadwater Farm Residents’ Association, would rather the blocks were saved. He wants a ballot giving residents the option of voting for strengthening work, and the right to return after repairs are done.

“If there was a scenario where you had all these wonderful new council homes, I suppose I would be less opposed to demolition,” said Mr Secker. “But local authorities never seem to have the funding to rebuild their estates with new council housing.”

Despite all the faults of the system-built council tower blocks of the 1960s, the era was full of big ambitions for social housing. Today, expectations are depressingly low.

“A lot of council residents, understandably, just don’t believe they’re going get anything as good elsewhere,” said Ms Clarke, of Tower Blocks UK.

“But everyone has the right to housing that is both safe and affordable. We shouldn’t have to compromise on safety because of a shortage in affordable housing.”



Potentially , more devastating than Grenfell Tower ... and the fallout that is slowly being made known.

Cities in the sky ... in essence , how to cram more people into a confined space , usually those at the lower end of income earners.

A time bomb even when on the drawing board.

Action ?

Only when one block starts crumbling away ... big time ?
So much for the " Crackdown " on rogue landlords ?

Shades of a couple of generations ago ... Rent Act 1957 ... Peter Rachman ... and his links to the Establishment ... being bankrolled by certain individuals ?

The House at it's finest ... my favourite debate of all time ... bar none :

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/comm ... t-1957-and

Government policing of rogue landlords labelled " Pathetic. "

MPs hit out as Guardian and ITV News investigation shows convicted landlords exploit loopholes in law.

The government’s efforts to police rogue landlords have been branded weak and pathetic after a Guardian and ITV News investigation found convicted landlords continue to operate by exploiting loopholes in the law that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable tenants.

The comments came after the Guardian and ITV News revealed that rogue landlords are collecting rent, often funded by taxpayers via housing benefit, despite convictions for housing offences and failing to pass the “fit and proper” person tests required by housing legislation in England and Wales. Because of the way the law is written, this is usually perfectly legal.

The exposé also discovered that local authorities have failed to make a single entry on to the central government’s new rogue landlord database in the six months since its launch.

The government estimated before the launch of the database that there were 10,500 rogue landlords operating in England and said it expected more than 600 of the worst offenders to be entered on to the system. The contents of the database are being kept secret from the public and the government said it was “not in the public interest” to explain why
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Developers hog land for record 130,000 homes, analysis reveals.

Record gap between planning permissions and homes built sparks call for tough penalties on " Land banking. "



Simple economics.

Demand exceeds supply ... prices will rise.

Why build now when you can get 20 / 30 / 40 % more within 5 years.

Interest rates remain low if borrowing to do so.

Whole deck stacked in favour of " Sit tight , do nothing , let the market rip ! "
Very interesting ... I'll have to revise my own guesstimate !

Housing benefit bill set to treble to £70 billion by 2050, report warns.


The cost of housing benefit is set to treble to over £70 billion a year by 2050 because successive Governments have failed to build enough council houses, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has warned.

As the Chancellor puts the finishing touches to Monday’s “ End of austerity ” Budget, the CSJ warns that so-called " Affordable” new homes only help the middle classes and will do nothing to reduce the burgeoning housing benefit bill, which is forecast to hit £23.4 billion in 2018-19.


£ 70 BILLION ... how much of that will be paid over to BTL landlords ... I wonder ?

A licence to print money ....
Theresa May's flagship policy to solve housing crisis will deliver no new homes in half of England.

Exclusive : Ministers admit half of local authorities stand to miss out on billions of pounds of funding for new low-cost homes.
Theresa May’s flagship policy for sparking a revival in council housebuilding will not deliver a single new home in more than half of the local authorities in England, The Independent can reveal.

Some of the most deprived towns and cities with the greatest need for new homes, including Liverpool, Bolton and Wakefield, are among areas that will miss out as a result of changes that will only benefit some councils.

The prime minister used her speech to the Conservatives’ annual conference last month to announce a major change that will see the government scrap restrictions on how much councils can borrow to fund housing.

She said: “Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it.”

No 10 said the move would allow councils to build up to 10,000 new homes a year for low-income families, as councils scale up borrowing by £4.6bn.

However, ministers have admitted that less than half of councils have the type of account that will allow them to increase their borrowing.

Only 160 of the 326 councils in England with responsibility for housing have housing revenue accounts (HRAs), the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said.

The revelation will prompt fears that people in areas with a desperate need for new homes will lose out, while those in neighbouring areas could benefit from a boom in housebuilding.

Councils set to miss out on the potential funding boost include several with some of the longest housing waiting lists in the country.

Authorities that will be unable to borrow more include Bolton, where 25,600 households are on the council waiting list – the third highest in England – and Wakefield, the sixth highest with 20,600 families waiting for a home.

Liverpool, which has the 11th longest waiting list, totalling 16,500 households, will also miss out.

The Independent has revealed that the government spending watchdog believes the lifting of the HRA cap will deliver far fewer new homes than Downing Street claimed.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said the move would result in fewer than 9,000 new homes over the next five and a half years – a fraction of the 10,000 per year predicted by ministers.

While it will allow councils to build 20,000 new homes – around 3,600 a year – the OBR said this would be offset by fewer homes being built by housing associations, meaning the net total is just 9,000.

Many councils have already transferred their housing stock to a housing association and closed their housing accounts, meaning they will miss out on the ability to use their increased borrowing powers to fund thousands of new homes.

In response to a parliamentary question from Labour, housing secretary James Brokenshire said: “There are 160 local housing authorities without a housing revenue account, as they have transferred their housing stock to a housing association.”

Governments have long encouraged councils to close their housing accounts and transfer their homes to a private body because, unlike council borrowing, housing association debt has traditionally not been included in national debt figures.

Under current rules, councils must own 200 homes before they are allowed to open a housing revenue account, creating an obstacle for many that might now wish to do so. Authorities are also likely to have lost their housing expertise when they transferred their properties to a housing association.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, called on ministers to ensure all councils have HRAs so they can borrow to build new homes.

He said: “Councils led by all political parties want to build big but ministers are failing to give them government’s full backing.

“Half of all councils have no council homes left and no capacity to build – ministers should back these areas to set up and start building again, as Labour has proposed.”

Mr Healey also called for the controversial right-to-buy scheme to be halted. Critics say the policy acts as a disincentive to housebuilding because councils know that any homes built are liable to be sold off to tenants.

He said: “If councils’ new borrowing freedoms are to count in helping to fix the housing crisis, then the government must also suspend the right to buy to stop homes being lost faster than they can be built, and boost central funding for local areas to build again.

“Both Labour and Conservative governments did this in the decades following the Second World War.”

Lifting the cap on councils’ HRA borrowing has been a demand of local authorities for years, and was warmly welcomed by town halls.

However, ministers are now likely to face calls to ensure that people across the country benefit from the change, and take steps to stop some deprived areas completely missing out.

Councils in England are legally obliged to kept their housing finances separate from the general fund they use for other services.

They are able to use this account and the revenues they earn from rents and sales to borrow money to fund new homes.

However, central government has previously set strict limits on how much councils are allowed to borrow, to ensure they do not put their financial stability at risk or drive up national borrowing figures.

A Ministry of Housing spokesperson said: “We have abolished borrowing restrictions, freeing councils to double building from around 5,000 to 10,000 homes per year by 2021-22. This move forms part of our overall mission to build more, better, faster.

“Local authorities that have transferred their housing stock to a housing association can already borrow in order to build the homes their communities need. If such councils want to get on and build they can do so, and once they have built more than 200 homes they can open a housing revenue account.”


Smoke and ... mirrors ... yet again ?
Fury over " Gagging clause " preventing Grenfell cladding experts criticising Theresa May.

Government accused of " Unforgivable cowardice " over contracts preventing contractors from causing " Adverse publicity. "


The government has been accused of “unforgivable cowardice” after it emerged experts hired to test cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire were banned from criticising Theresa May.

A contract signed with engineering firm WSP just 12 days after the disaster stipulated the investigation must not generate “adverse publicity” for the Cabinet Office or other bodies, including Number 10.

The Cabinet Office insisted the clause was a standard feature of contracts across the public and private sector and was not aimed at silencing whistleblowers or criticism of government policy.

WSP were one of more than 300 companies and 40 charities that have been blocked from voicing public disapproval of the government, according to claims by The Times.


The Cabinet Office hired WSP less than a fortnight after the fire to advise officials on whether cladding used during refurbishment work on the estate had complied with building regulations.

The contract, worth £100,000 plus VAT, stated the company should make sure that neither it nor anyone working for it should “embarrass” or be “in any way connected to material adverse publicity” relating to the Cabinet Office or other Crown bodies.



The Cover Up continues ... at a fair old pace.

4,000+ tower blocks in the UK ...
One in 10 rental homes advertised as excluding benefits claimants.

Shelter says landlords insisting ‘no DSS’ causes misery and is likely to be unlawful.

Thousands of lettings agents and landlords who reject housing benefit claimants could be in breach of equality laws after a single mother won compensation for sex discrimination from a lettings agency that refused to consider her as a tenant, in a landmark case in February.

The analysis by the two housing organisations found that discrimination was widespread in England. Nearly 60% of adverts in north Cumbria excluded potential tenants on housing benefits. A quarter of adverts in Gloucester, Lincoln, Halifax, Worthing, Oldham and Rochdale said “no DSS”, referring to the Department of Social Security, now called the Department for Work and Pensions.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter England, said: “It’s staggering to see this discrimination laid out in black and white – and brazenly enforced by letting agents, landlords and online property websites. ‘No DSS’ is outdated, offensive and causing misery for thousands.

“Not only is ‘No DSS’ grossly unfair, it is likely to be unlawful because it overwhelmingly affects women and disabled people. That’s why we need the lettings industry to stop blaming each other, accept its role in this shocking practice and clean up its act.”



As posted several pages ago ... and it's spreading !

Just imagine if BTL landlords took the same definition as the DWP ... State Pension / Carers Allowance ... overlapping benefit rule ... state pension classed as a " Benefit " ???
" Green " drive leaves thousands of families stranded in homes riddled with damp and mould after contractors bodged the insulation, double glazing and boiler repair work.

Contractors bodged work so badly that sodden walls are sprouting mushrooms.

The builders have now gone bust, putting ministers under pressure to pay.

Campaigners fear that as many as a million homes renovated under the " Green Deal " might be affected.

Thousands of low-income households were offered free insulation, double glazing and a boiler in a drive to cut greenhouse gases.

But contractors bodged the work so badly that sodden walls are sprouting mushrooms. The builders have now gone bust, putting ministers under pressure to pay for repairs to the 387 homes in Preston.

Campaigners fear that as many as a million homes renovated under the ‘Green Deal’ might be affected.


Residents in Preston’s Fishwick estate were offered the work by door-to-door salesmen employed by the big energy companies, which were under pressure to meet energy efficiency targets.

In 2013 entire rows of terraced houses were swathed in several inches of polystyrene insulation topped with pebble-dash rendering.

Occupants were soon complaining of severe damp in their front rooms and surveyors said the work had been bungled. Rainwater was seeping in through gaps before becoming trapped in the brickwork.

Afsha Hussain signed up to the Green Deal on the promise of cheaper energy bills –instead they have doubled.

And her terraced property in Preston has been made almost worthless through damp that she blames on botched external insulation fitted under the scheme.

‘It’s impossible to warm the house up now, it’s so damp,’ said the customer service adviser. ‘I have to have the heating on all the time.

‘I was paying £75 a month for my energy bills, now it’s more like £135 a month.’

‘Who would want to buy the house now? It was valued at £80,000, now it’s not even worth a tenth of that.’

Miss Hussain, 40, said every room was mouldy and she feared for her health.

Some owners have been quoted £40,000 to repair the damage to homes worth £90,000.

In 2014, the company behind the main insulation scheme, InterGen, was ordered by energy regulator Ofgem to repair 62 homes at a cost of around £1.5million. But in a statement yesterday, Ofgem conceded it had ‘since become apparent that the problems with the work are more widespread’.

‘Unfortunately at the time of our settlement with InterGen, we were only aware of problems with 62 houses – so the agreed settlement with InterGen only required them to resolve these complaints and did not include any further issues that might arise,’ it said. It said it was ‘still looking at other options’ to assist Preston residents whose homes had been blighted.

Preston council, which has been working to help residents despite, it says, having no legal liability, said it had exhausted all avenues and only the Government could help.


Sir Mark Hendrick, who is the city’s Labour MP, highlighted the issue during an adjournment debate in the House of Commons last month. He said it ‘had been an absolute tragedy for those living in those 387 houses, who have been trying to put up with substandard housing and great inconvenience’.
274 posts