Mike Wilkins is chief executive of Ducane Housing Association, a small association in west London which specialises in delivering affordable homes to students and key workers. He is also the treasurer of the G320, a group which represents smaller housing associations in the capital.
Mike worked previously for Network Housing Group and Notting Hill Housing Association as a development manager, and then he was appointed director of North Lambeth Day Centre where he worked with homeless people.
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The season for vintage comedy has been in full swing. During one Laurel and Hardy rerun, I’m sure I heard Oliver Hardy say to Stan Laurel, ‘This is another fine Pickles you have got us into’ – although that might have been the sherry!
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Posted in: BEDROOM TAX
From 1st April 2013, as one of the changes introduced by The Welfare Reform Act the government will introduce the ‘bedroom tax’ for new and existing, working age housing benefit claimants living, in social housing. The effect of this proposed change is that residents may receive less housing benefit if they have spare bedrooms and may see a reduction of around £11 a week for one ‘extra’ bedroom not used, or £20 with two, possibly more depending on where you live. The change will only apply if you are under 65 however. You mentioned the direct.gov web page and in case others want to look at it, see below.
You also mentioned valuations. The application of new rules means that the Local Housing Allowance (LHA),is now used to calculate HB for social housing tenants. The Valuation Office Agency has a good web site which shows the LHA by borough and also has a separate LHA bedroom calculator which might help.
The object of the exercise, as far as the government is concerned, is to reduce the HB bill, and one way is to now apply the HB rules on ‘under occupation’ that currently apply to private sector tenants, to social housing tenants. I hope this helps.
The Welfare Reform Act introduces a single working age benefit – universal credit- and payment of Housing benefit will, from next year, go direct to tenants rather than social landlords. It is estimated that 15% of local authority tenants and 13% of housing association tenants do not have bank accounts. So setting up an account and arranging a direct debit to pay the rent would be a good move. Non-working households will have a cap on benefits of all kinds at £500 a week or £26k a year.Also from April next year bedroom tax will apply and may cost around £11 a week if you have one bedroom not used or £20 if you have two, possibly more depending on where you live. Also from April those claiming Housing Benefit will no longer be able to claim HB for those at home over 18 and not in full time education. Tests will be introduced to assess eligibility for Disability Living Allowance and some estimate that 20% of claimants will loose this benefit as a result.
Local authorities and housing associations are working hard to advise tenants and gear up for a change in how they collect the rent, cope with higher levels of rent arrears and rent write offs and how they could handle arrears and Possession Order cases. Many, if not most HA’s will be keen to try to mitigate the impact, where they can on tenants and not just evict regardless. Most HA’s will be able to sustain a higher level of bad debts without any significant impact on business plans I would say. However some HA’s are taking no chances! In a recent Inside Housing survey of 25 big associations,seven of the twenty respondents said they were more likely to use, or are reviewing their use of, ‘Ground Eight’ orders.These are rarely used orders, are mandatory for possession rather than discretionary. Courts must grant possession to evict if the tenant has arrears of eight weeks or more, unless tenants can prove it would breach their human rights. Possibly a field day for the lawyers! Overall however I would say it is unlikely that HA’s will wantto forcibly evict large numbers of tenants affected, through no fault of their own, by reductions in their benefits. Doing so would be bad publicity and also pushes the problem along to colleagues in hard pressed local authorities, who then must assess priority need and whether the applicant household is intentionally homeless.
Posted in: career in housing
I would say that recruiters might regard you as a bit ‘non- standard’, that is harder to place, if they felt that your background experience was likely to suggest to employers that you had only a minimal background in social housing. That’s not to say you don’t have transferrableskills, it may be a perception that you have to work around. One way to do that might be to get some unpaid or intern experience with either a HA or local authority. We have a Dutch student working with us at the moment on a three month internship who has no experience of the sector but is working on communications – the web site, the Facebook page etc. This works well for us and I think for her, as he can put this on her CV. You mentioned maintenance and this is another route in, if you have basic building construction knowledge, but a bit more of a harder ‘sell’ unless perhaps you find an apprenticeship on offer. By the way, a housing officer post is quite likely to be the level you should aim at initially. We also took on someone with no housing experience as a trainee a few years ago and she is still here! She was able to convince me that she was genuinely passionate about housing and for a recruiter this has real value. I think if you could find ways in which to demonstrate your enthusiasm for this kind of work, then this would help.
Posted in: HOUSING Allocations and Notices
Taking your points in order, it is not usual for local authorities to take the view that the threat of homelessness is more likely if you are in receipt of a notice confirming the date of the eviction from the Court, however there is often gap of several weeks between the date of the Hearing for Possession and the date of the actual eviction. I take your point about the mandatory grounds, but the landlord still has to prove to the Court that he has at some time used the property as his main home or that the house is needed for use as his or his spouse's main home.
On the local connection point, if an applicant is unintentionally homeless, or threatened with homelessness, and in priority need, the local authority will consider whether they have a local connection, defined as;having residence in the area for six out of the last 12 months or three out of the last five years, immediate family members resident in the area for the last five years or employment in the area – full or part time.On the face of it your client may have a case to argue as she may be able to argue a local connection on residence, and also a family connection in the area.
Posted in: management move
There are no specific rules about a management move that apply to all landlords. The term a 'management move' normally applies when a landlord offers alternative accommodation, either permanently or temporarily, in order to solve a management problem of some kind. In this case it sounds like a neighbour dispute. Other examples might be moving to allow major building works to take place in your flat.
It seems like your landlord has agreed to move you and you may have specified that you will accept a 3 bed with a garden. These homes may only become available infrequently and it's also possible that other people could have higher priority for this ground floor accommodation. Is this the only type of accommodation you want to move to? Are there other types you might consider and would these mean you would be waiting less?I would suggest seeing your Housing Officer and asking him/her about realistic timescales.