“24,000 homeless families ‘sent miles from local area’ “

“The number of homeless families forced to move away from their communities is at its highest for 20 years, as councils struggle to find accommodation for the growing numbers of people in need.

According to official government figures, there were 23,640 families in temporary accommodation outside their local area in the second quarter of this year, the highest level in 20 years and more than double that recorded over the same period just five years ago.

The new data has emerged amid rising anger over homelessness, with recent research showing that deaths among homeless people in England and Wales have increased by 24% in five years. Deaths have risen every year since 2013, from 475 in 2014 to 597 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Several factors are being blamed for the rise in homeless families being relocated. A freeze on benefits and a cap on payments have led to a rise in demand for temporary accommodation. Meanwhile, the stock of council-owned housing has been run down and rents are rising, making affordable private rented accommodation harder to find.

Melanie Onn, the shadow housing minister who uncovered the figures, said they revealed the “human cost of the housing crisis”.

“Eight years of Tory failure on housing means that more and more families are being forced to move away from their communities, schools and jobs,” she said. Labour blamed cuts to housing benefit and an 80% fall in the number of homes for social rent being built.

Greg Beales, director of campaigns at Shelter, said his charity had witnessed the damage caused “when homeless families are forced to uproot their lives and move miles away to temporary accommodation in another area, abandoning jobs, schools and support networks. To put an end to the devastating cycle of homelessness, the government needs to commit to a bold new vision for social housing.

“Only then will families have a fighting chance of a safe and secure home in their local area.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said the number of families being asked to relocate had become unacceptable: “As local councils struggle to find housing for people, the only option for many is to rent privately, but with renting costs now sky high and housing benefit falling short of rents, this is not a viable option for most,” he said.

“As a result many have no option but to leave any semblance of community and support behind, often moving to areas where they have no connections, leaving them trapped in a cycle of desperation.

“The government’s decision to start reinvesting in social housing is welcome, but it doesn’t go far enough. ” …

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/23/24000-homeless-families-sent-miles-from-local-area

“Yvette Cooper: It’s time to boost Brit towns and not lock cash funds in cities”

“… Research done for the Labour Towns group of MPs and councillors found that overall job growth in towns since the last recession has only been half the rate of growth in cities.

The economic divide between cities and towns is growing and the Tory Government is making it worse. …

Austerity has hit towns and smaller cities hard, so it isn’t just retailers who have been leaving.

Often the libraries, police stations, council offices, magistrates courts, swimming pools, community centres, A&E or the maternity services have been closed, forcing people to travel to nearby cities instead. Lottery and arts funding is higher in cities too.

Manufacturing jobs in towns are being squeezed while new service or creative opportunities are concentrated in cities.

Meanwhile most of the transport money goes to London or other major hubs. Buses have been cut.

… It’s time to support Britain’s towns. Instead of making everyone travel to cities for public services, we need more in towns.

Instead of rolling out new broadband or 5G infrastructure in cities first, why not start in nearby towns? Instead of always using all the transport money on overruns for big city projects like HS2 or Crossrail, why not start by improving local trains and buses?

The Government seems to think if you only support cities, everything will just trickle down and out to the towns, but it hasn’t worked. Let’s have a fair deal to boost our towns and cities together. … “

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/yvette-cooper-its-time-boost-13768773

“Grenfell warning over creation of ‘a new generation of slums’ “

“The lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire risk being ignored because developers can convert office blocks into homes without full local authority checks, a former housing minister has warned.

Nick Raynsford said that “a new generation of slums” was being created in Britain because developers did not have to submit a planning application when converting old commercial properties into flats. The policy leaves councils with limited power to ensure that the buildings adhere to national standards.

Mr Raynsford said that “permitted development” rules were designed to minimise bureaucracy when making “modest adaptations” to existing properties, but developers were using them to create thousands of new homes in old commercial buildings.

“The council doesn’t have the power [to force developers] to comply with minimum standards on space, lighting, children’s play facilities, or fire safety,” said Mr Raynsford, who was a housing minister under Tony Blair.

A studio in Newbury House, a former office block in Ilford, east London, was planned with 13 sq m of space. The minimum standard is 37 sq m. Windowless flats have been marketed in a former office block in Brixton, south London, illuminated only by light wells that channel light from flats above.

More than 100,000 homes have been built under permitted development since 2013, accounting for up to 40 per cent of new homes in some areas. The Local Government Association found that 92 per cent of councils were “moderately or very concerned” about the quality of these homes, with 59 per cent worried about safety.

Many standards, including on space, are not compulsory and only apply to plans that go via the planning system.

Julia Park, of Levitt Bernstein architects, said such developments “tend to be occupied by vulnerable people” and were often used as temporary housing.

Mr Raynsford said: “There should be early engagement by planning authorities with the fire and rescue authority when an application for a high-rise residential development is submitted. That runs counter to the whole ‘permitted development’ approach, where obligations on developers are minimal and the council does not have the resources to explore the implications, to ensure fire engines can access the site, for example.”

The government is consulting on whether to extend the rules.

Mr Raynsford referred to evidence emerging from the Grenfell inquiry, after the fire in June last year in which 72 people died. “It seems to be extraordinary that one arm of government is pushing in a direction that’s very different to the conclusions emerging from the public inquiry in which failings, in terms of preparations for coping with serious problems, have been highlighted,” he said.

Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association said the conditions in some developments were “Dickensian”, and added: “It is some of the most appalling slum housing this country has seen in the post-war era.”

Kit Malthouse, the housing minister, said: “All developments, including offices converted into homes, remain subject to strict fire safety rules.”

It is understood the government will look at permitted development when considering recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt’s Grenfell report. …”

Source: Times, pay wall

That Knowle table … sold for £50?

Oh, er – been kicking off on Facebook page!

22 foot mahogany table with 8 foot extension (not sure if included in 22 foot or makes it 30 foot, but probably the latter). Rumour is it was “valued” and was sold for a winning bid of £50 (fifty pounds).

Most councils have a policy on this. Anyone seen East Devon”s?

“Ex-Persimmon chief fails to set up charity after anger over £75m bonus”

Owl says: a charity for the homeless would seem appropriate …!

“Jeff Fairburn, the former chief executive of the housebuilder Persimmon, has failed to set up a charity almost a year after pledging to do so in an attempt to assuage public and political anger at his “obscene” £75m bonus.

Fairburn has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up, 10 months after he said he would donate a “substantial proportion” of his bonus to a charitable trust. Fairburn declined to comment.

He was ousted last month after the company said his mammoth pay deal had become a “distraction”. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/21/persimmons-former-ceo-jeff-fairburn-fails-to-set-up-charity-after-pledging-portion-of-75-million-bonus

Plundering of Knowle assets by councillors? Best value?

It appears that councillors and officers have been given first dibs of Knowle assets, in advance of the move to Honiton and one of them has rather jumped the gun on claiming his prize.

Is this best value or equitable, Owl ponders? As does at least one independent councillor.

Note: Neither of these emails were marked private and/or confidential when acquired by Owl.

From a well-known Conservative councillor:

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

Dear Members and SMT,

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

You will all be aware there has been an auction of council furniture, chattels etc of which I bid for a few bits and pieces.

I bid on behalf of my partner for the very large table in the members area along with the 20 green chairs that we all sit around.

I have been told that I have been successful in my bid so the table along with the 8’ extension is heading back to Exmouth to sit in (address of councillor), Exmouth in its rightful Town (some may say).

The relevance of my informing yourselves is that the rightful date of removal is end of January/ beginning of February when we finally ‘pull out of the Knowle.

I would apologise for the short notice but we have 22 family members to Christmas dinner and would like to pick the table up tomorrow as it appears it is the last day of our offices being open, which of course would mean I couldn’t collect it on Monday, 24th, as we will be closed.

We do have one or two meetings between the New Year and our final pull out but I feel it only right to ask members if indeed anybody felt offended if it was collected tomorrow on our last day.

I will fully respect any position any member may feel regarding it being removed earlier and would kindly request your thoughts.

If indeed it were removed earlier I have spoken to Simon Allchurch who feels we could put a few of the red tables on wheels in the place of the table and there is an array of chairs to use for members in the interim so it doesn’t look bare.

I must again apologise for the short notice but with the closing date being the 19th and all that goes with it at this time of year I would like to think you may grant me a little latitude (or not).

Best wishes and a Happy Xmas to one and all.”

And here is the response from an Independent councillor

“I feel I must reiterate my comment from when this started. Who authorised the ‘private sale’ of Council property to staff and members? Why are we not duty-bound to seek the best price at public auction? No-one answered my questions.

Will we ever know the proceeds of this internal sale for the public record?”

I strongly suspect that members of the public would be shocked to know that councillors have been able to buy items in this way. It is somehow appropriate that 22 family members will sit down to feast at this table, assuming the removal goes ahead.”

Disabled woman who paid rent on time for 12 years “evicted before Christmas … for highlighting the damp

What happened to us?

It is two weeks before Christmas and boxes are strewn across the living room of an apartment in Weybridge, an affluent town in the chancellor Philip Hammond’s leafy Surrey constituency.

Despite the time of year, this is not a festive gift-wrapping session. Instead, the packages contain the possessions of a 63-year-old woman, moving out of her home at a far from ideal time of year.

Wendy (not her real name) has little choice, however. She is being evicted by her landlord – a Malaysia-based investor and owner of numerous UK properties – who is throwing out his tenant despite her never having missed a rent payment.

“I am literally being sick,” Wendy said in the run-up to her move. “I am absolutely desperate and housing associations will not help; it is a nightmare.”

This tale of a Christmas eviction may seem Dickensian but it is current, commonplace and seemingly frequently tolerated by local authorities. In many cases – including Wendy’s – it is also perfectly legal.

Legal no-fault evictions – called “section 21” in the jargon – have existed since 1988. They are controversial and there is now a parliamentary move to change the law – partly because of the type of antics highlighted by campaigners such as the Labour MP Karen Buck, who told a Westminster Hall debate on section 21 earlier this month how an unidentified landlord had bragged on social media about timing his evictions at this time of year. The post read: “If a tenant has annoyed me I wait to pull the trigger in mid-November to screw up their Christmas.”

Wendy’s rent was paid in full during her 12-year tenancy, despite longstanding problems at the property, which she says included seven years of a leaking roof. She suspects that she was the victim of a “revenge eviction” – a punishment for her commencing legal proceedings because of conditions in the flat.

The complaint letter sent by Wendy’s lawyer to the landlord’s estate agent, Winkworth, in March of this year, stated: “You were notified [about conditions] verbally by our client on a number of occasions … The defects at the property are causing an exacerbation of our client’s health issues. Our client is disabled and the damp is causing our client to suffer significantly.”

Ten weeks later and Wendy, who describes herself as “slightly disabled [with] crippled fingers”, received a section 21 notice from her landlord Bazmore Enterprise, a UK-registered company owned by Bujang Bin Ahmad Zaidi.

When asked by the Guardian to explain the decision, Kim Karpeta, a director of Winkworth’s Weybridge franchise, said: “If she hadn’t got lawyers involved and tried to beat the landlord up with a stick, she’d have probably been fine.”

Karpeta later said he “used the wrong choice of words and … did not present the situation in the correct light”. Bazmore’s lawyers added that Karpeta was not authorised to comment on its behalf and denied the eviction was retaliatory.

Before Wendy left her home the leaking roof had been fixed but the smell of damp would hit you as soon as you entered the two-bedroom flat.

A dark mould clung to some ceilings and around the kitchen window, which remained moist to the touch. There was a coldness to the walls, stained by dripping water, while the ceiling lights would flicker on and off seemingly at a whim.

The property appeared, by most modern standards, a miserable place to live – an assessment pretty well agreed by all parties. However, each side has differing versions about why problems went unsolved – and why Wendy was evicted just before Christmas.

Bazmore and Winkworth said Wendy was an awkward tenant, who did not always allow workmen access to the property to make repairs. They also claimed that other tenants in the block had complained about her.

Wendy argued that despite years of complaints to the current and a previous landlord, Bazmore’s eviction proceedings only commenced after she started her legal claim in March.

If that was the trigger, she would hardly be alone. Nearly half of all tenants who make a formal complaint about their housing suffer a “revenge eviction” by private landlords, according to research by Citizens Advice. Rules protecting tenants from revenge evictions exist but they do not always work and did not apply in Wendy’s case.

So who can tenants complain to?

The obvious answer might be the local authority, although many are under financial pressure and the IFS, an economics thinktank, calculates that council housing budgets were down 53% in real terms from 2009-10 to 2017-18.

Also, Wendy resides in a borough with a statistically weak enforcement record.

Elmbridge was one of 53 councils in England and Wales that did not make a single prosecution under the Housing Act during 2015, 2016 or 2017, according to responses to freedom of information requests made as part of an earlier joint investigation into rogue landlords this autumn by the Guardian and ITV News.

Furthermore, Elmbridge failed to impose a single civil penalty on a landlord during 2017-18.

Dan Wilson Craw, a director of the private renters’ campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Relying on cash-strapped councils to give tenants protection from retaliatory eviction is too fiddly. We need a stronger fundamental right over our homes – and that starts with abolishing section 21.”

Elmbridge did serve an improvement notice on Wendy’s property in 2015, which supposedly compelled the then landlord – and future landlords – to act.

Russell Moffatt, a former enforcement officer with the London borough of Newham in east London and now co-founder of the property licensing software firm Metastreet, inspected Wendy’s property in November, at the request of the Guardian and ITV News.

He said: “Councils, I’m sure, want to do more, [but] they are hard-stretched at the moment. An improvement notice was served. Could it have been enforced and more done? Yes it could have.

“Breaches of an improvement notice are a criminal offence if the work is not properly carried out … It could have been done but wasn’t done here”.

A spokeswoman for Elmbridge said: “We did follow up on the improvement notice, in terms of reminding the then landlord of their responsibilities and strongly encouraging them to act … All things considered, we were broadly satisfied with the progress that was made.”

She added that the council preferred dealing with landlords using “an approach built on advice and guidance, backed up by the threat of enforcement action”.

A spokeswoman for Winkworth said: “We acted in good faith throughout [the] tenancy. At all times, correct landlord and tenant procedures, as prescribed by the industry codes of practice and relevant legislation, have been adhered to.”

Bazmore’s law firm said: “Our clients deny that they have failed in their obligations towards [Wendy] in respect of the property.”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/dec/20/disabled-woman-evicted-before-christmas-for-highlighting-the-damp

Claim mortgages being refused in developments with gypsy and traveller sites

Will this affect Cranbrook?

“The Council of Mortgage Lenders are REFUSING to grant mortgages to prospective house buyers if a new housing development includes gypsy and traveller pitches, it has been claimed.

The shock allegation was made at Tuesday’s Teignbridge District Council planning meeting when councillors were discussing creating additional pitches at a site in Teigngrace.

The pitches were due to be delivered as part of the strategic allocations at South West Exeter where nearly 2,000 new homes are to be built.

But Rosalyn Eastman, Business Manager for Strategic Place, said that gypsy and traveller pitches were required to be delivered off-site as the Council of Mortgage Lenders had told them they won’t provide mortgages to homes which have gypsy and travellers pitches within their allocation boundary. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/claims-lenders-refusing-offer-buyers-2349956