Firstly, we need to let everyone know that the Spring General meeting of Leeds Tenants Federation is not at the Civic Hall as previously announced, but at Oxford Place, LS1 3AX. That’s between the town hall and the combined courts centre. The meeting is from 10am to 1pm. It will be an opportunity to raise questions about how Leeds City Council plans to deal with the impacts of new benefit cuts threatening people’s ability to pay their rent, and with the worsening squeeze on availability and security of social housing due to current government policy.
We think it’s important that as many tenants and residents attend as possible, so that councillors are aware of a high level of concern amongst Leeds people: we need to maintain pressure on them to make sure that all Leeds residents understand the implications of benefit cuts and attacks on social housing, to commit to a No Evictions policy and to prioritise social housing not just hype up developments of new housing for purchase which is of no use to people on lower incomes.
Secondly, there have been a number of developments with regard to the Housing and Planning Bill, which has received quite a battering in the House of Lords. Perhaps most importantly for current tenants, the Lords have voted for an amendment which makes it voluntary rather than compulsory for councils to charge more rent to so-called “higher-income” households. Another amendment raises the household income threshold at which social tenants would have to pay more rent, from £30,000 a year to £40,000 a year. A third amendment on this issue lowers the taper on additional rents to an extra 10p in the pound for every pound of household income above the threshold.
These amendments have to be debated in the Commons – which is scheduled to happen on 3rd May – so it remains to be seen what the outcome will be. However, to attempt to avoid further defeats, the government has made a number of concessions on this policy – no-one on Universal Credit or Housing Benefit would have to pay, nor would grown-up children living with their parents, and that child benefit, disability living allowance and tax credits will not count towards the threshold.
These concessions will certainly make a difference to some households – and if the Lords amendments are accepted it will make a bigger difference still (so there is plenty of point in continuing to lobby MPs on this before the Commons debate on 3rd May). However, we need to insist that the whole principle of Pay-(More)-to-Stay is wrong – in effect it is an extra income tax on people still within quite a modest income bracket, just because they live in social housing (the proceeds of the extra rent go to the Treasury, not into the local housing account). It also gives social landlords the right to pry into personal information about tenants’ finances. The policy is based on the misleading idea that it should be the market that decides what a fair rent is, and that therefore anyone who pays less is being unfairly “subsidised”. This is quite wrong, as social housing more than pays for itself over time, and is an economically sound model for providing housing on a much wider scale than is currently the case – not just as a tenancy of last resort for people with the highest social need.
Other amendments and concessions are as follows:
Starter Homes (the proposal to replace affordable housing for rent with houses for sale for first time buyers under 40 costing an unaffordable £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 elsewhere, which would receive a 20% state subsidy)
– Amendment: instead of buyers being able to pocket the whole subsidy (worth £90,000) if they sell after five years, they will have to pay part of it back (19% after 1 year, 18% after 2, and so on) for up to 20 years (agreed by 275 to 181, majority of 94)
– Amendment: local councils will have the power to decide the proportion of Starter Homes that should be built locally (agreed by 280 to 194, majority 86).
High Value Homes (the proposal whereby the government seizes cash from local authorities by forcing them to sell ‘high value’ properties as they become vacant, to fund housing association tenants’ right to buy)
– Amendment:The definition of ‘high value’ has been changed to ‘higher value’ and Parliament will get to vote on regulations defining this and what proportion of the proceeds local councils have to hand over to the Treasury (agreed by 279-203, majority 76)
To avoid further defeats, the Government conceded
– replacing each sold-off council home with a new one – no information available yet as to how this is supposed to be achieved!
– not selling houses in national parks
– to help vulnerable people avoid eviction, forcing landlords to contact anyone who has helped pay deposits before seizing ‘abandoned’ homes
Hope people find this useful – we’ll keep you updated on further developments. There’s still lots of work to do on the Bill, as well as enormous threats looming to housing benefits which will place households and children under threat of eviction, decimate supported housing and services, and also cost a lot more in the long run! So please come to our next Hands Off Our Homes meeting on Wednesday 4th May, at the UNISON offices on Woodhouse Lane (opposite the Fenton pub and universities), or to the local public meetings:
Armley, Dennison Hall club, 7pm Thursday May 5th
Middleton, St Cross Church hall, Middleton Park Avenue, 7pm May12th