All posts from: September 2011
When is an overspend not an overspend? Answer: When it is an ‘underbudget’.
The news emerged this week that Circle 33 is being monitored by the Tenant Services Authority after spending millions more on repairs and maintenance then expected.
The TSA confirmed the overspend to Inside Housing, but bizarrely a spokesperson for the housing association denied it existed.
In a piece of spin worthy of Alistair Campbell himself, the association insisted there was no overspend, it had just ‘underbudgeted’.
However you gloss it, something has gone seriously wrong and a large amount of money has been spent which was not budgeted for. The association is so worried it has now launched an operational review of its budget setting.
The bigger question is whether other associations are likely to fall into the same trap.
With reduced capital funding, landlords are under pressure to sweat their assets and most are looking at ways of saving money.
The Circle 33 case is a warning to landlords to make sure targets for savings are realistic and achievable - otherwise the regulator will come calling.
The debate around whether eviction of social housing tenants should be used as a punishment for convicted rioters became party political this week.
As I said in this column a few weeks ago, Wandsworth Council’s decision to seek the eviction of an 18-year-old alleged rioter if convicted (as well as his mother and younger sister) has sparked a debate about whether the removal of social homes should be used as an additional punishment for convicted rioters.
This week the Liberal Democrats made their position abundantly clear.
A motion at the party’s conference said that evicting social housing tenants would discriminate against them compared with private renters or owner-occupied. It also said evictions would create more deprivation and encourage criminality.
The Lib Dems’ position is in direct contrast to that of the housing minister, who has proposed changing rules to allow people convicted of anti-social behaviour beyond their immediate neighbourhood to be evicted.
This sets up a potential split in the coalition over the issue and, as a result, it is doubtful whether Grant Shapps’ proposed new rules will become a reality in this parliament.
Labour, meanwhile, has unveiled tough suggestions of its own, pledging new ‘hasbos’ to enable people of all tenures to be evicted from their homes and banned from living within a five mile radius.
In the short term what the national political parties say does not matter as it will be the courts that decide.
In order to be evicted Daniel Sartrain-Clarke would first need to be found guilty by the criminal courts and then Wandsworth Council would have to persuade a county court to grant an eviction order.
This process will take several months and could fail. This, coupled with the political split in the coalition means there is a strong chance that nothing will change regarding eviction of tenants, despite this week’s political rhetoric.
We have all, at one time or another, experienced the frustration of IT problems, whether at home or in the workplace.
The frustration of wanting or needing to get tasks done but being hampered unexpectedly by failing technology can be very stressful.
Frustration is of course multiplied if problems hamper an entire IT project as the Tenant Services Authority has found over the last few months.
The regulator is moving its systems on the department for communities and local government network. According to Claer Lloyd-Jones, chief executive of the TSA, technical incompetence on the part of the supplier Steria has been to blame for a three-month delay to the project.
Ms Lloyd-Jones said this week that the TSA and Steria have ‘broken the back’ of the problems and the project is finally nearing completion.
The big question is though, what happens now?
The CLG-Steria contract expires in January 2013, and the regulator has to decide whether to move its systems on to the in-house system of the Homes and Communities Agency, with which it will amalgamate next April.
With all the upheaval of moving regulatory functions to a new HCA regulation committee, computing problems are the last thing staff members need.
It is vital that whatever the regulator decides, there are no more IT fiascos going forward.
Rarely can a single eviction notice have caused such a furore.
The decision by Wandsworth Council to serve a notice of possession on a mother of an 18-year-old boy charged with riot-related offences led to protests this week.
More than 2,000 people have signed a petition against the move and the issue has led to interest from the international media, with French television station Canal Plus reporting from outside Wandsworth Magistrates Court.
So what has caused this depth of feeling?
The issue seems to have caused controversy for two reasons. One, because of the way it links alleged crimes committed with the right to hang on to a secure tenancy and secondly, because the whole household could potentially be evicted because of the actions of one person.
Whereas many would accept that eviction is a justified remedy in cases where repeated anti-social behaviour affects neighbours, the idea that a person can be evicted for crimes elsewhere in the locality is more controversial.
‘If they did this across the country there would be 50,000 homeless families’, that’s the claim from Tony Belton, a Labour councillor.
The issue strikes at the heart of what a social landlord is for.
Is social housing a privilege that can be withdrawn by landlords as punishment for offences, regardless of where they take place? Or should a resident have the right to hold on to a secure social housing tenancy regardless of convictions? And is it really fair to evict a whole household for the crime of one person?
Wandsworth Council has said it will withdraw its eviction proceedings if Daniel Sartain-Clarke is acquitted. Even if he is not, the council will need to convince a county court judge to grant an eviction.
The council then is, in one sense, a long way away from carrying out its eviction threat. For this reason some protestors have accused the authority of mere posturing.
Whether that is the case or not, the issue has already prompted a vigorous debate in the housing sector.