This is the Wandsworth-based letting agency that took £5.5million in housing benefit from a charity which housed the homeless. £2.1m of that was paid by Wandsworth council. Crisis, the housing charity, described the arrangement as “a new low”.
Several of their properties – used to house vulnerable people – were unsuitable, due to lack of heating and hot water, rats and damp. The BBC reports the company earned £11,568 profit per year from one property alone. Continue reading →
(Speech from Oct 16, 2013 – starts at 12 mins in the above video)
I think housing is the biggest challenge that faces this council.
It’s an issue that affects every one of us.
Young renters moving through a series of expensive, short-term flats. Parents struggling to fund their children – from the ‘Bank of Mom & Dad’. The homeless families with their lives in ruins.
Local house prices are now 13 times local salaries. Private rents up 14pc in a year. Wandsworth is living through a housing crisis.
As councillor Thomas skilfully outlined, a series of welfare reforms are hitting our poorest residents. And this impact is about to get worse.
Housing is important.
That’s why Wandsworth’s Housing department is important.
It does some fantastic work. Tenant satisfaction levels are extraordinary, officers have created hundreds of Hidden Homes, the graffiti removal service is excellent there are hugely popular open days to encourage home ownership and affordable housing.
The £100m regeneration of our most deprived estates is possible thanks to the long-term strength of the rents account – the Housing Revenue account – which has a £1.8bn projected surplus.
And it can’t be said often enough in this debate – housing is funded by those people who live in council housing. There is a legal ring-fence around the money collected in rent – more than £100m a year.
Unlike other debates about cuts to services, this is not about the money we receive from government and this is not about the council tax we collect from residents.
The first thing to say about these proposals for 45 job cuts is that they were pushed through to evade scrutiny. The plans were fully formed at the time of the last housing committee but were hidden from councillors. This is not fair dealing.
Homelessness is on the rise and the Bedroom Tax is hurting hundreds of local families – you can read how it has affected one mother on the Shaftesbury Estate here.
The council should be working round the clock to help people move up the housing ladder. Instead they have decided to cut 45 roles from the housing department.
These job losses are not necessary. Wandsworth’s housing finances are in excellent shape and its officers widely respected.
Housing services are not paid for from Council Tax – they are paid for by people who live in council housing. Wandsworth charges the highest council rents in the country so its housing department is very well off. These cuts aim to save money from a rents account that has a predicted £1,800m surplus!
Wandsworth has a dreadful record on homeless families left in unsuitable B&B accommodation, yet it is proposed to reduce the size of the relevant team and add to its duties. Continue reading →
This council created modern Latchmere, the ward I represent, and we got it wrong. We built streets in the sky where neighbours fear to stop and talk. Designed estates with few shops and no jobs – in some cases literally with walls around them.
We had a tenancy policy that – coupled with a misguided Right To Buy scheme – has concentrated the borough’s most troubled families in the same places.
As I told this chamber in my maiden speech, I joined the council to change Latchmere, not keep it the same.
Since I made that speech in 2010, on the Winstanley and York Road Estates, six young men have been shot and one stabbed to death.
New research shows Wandsworth sets rent increases at less than half the government guideline in the year before local elections and more than double the guideline in the first year after local elections.
This shocking finding came from analysis I commissioned of rent data from the past 20 years – and follows the council’s decision to increase rents by 2.7% in 2013/14. Wandsworth council already charges the highest rents in Britain and by the end of this year benefit cuts will seriously affect many families in social housing.
Data reveals that year before an election Wandsworth charges 44% of the government’s suggested guideline rent rise; but the year after each election rents leap by 246% of the guideline.
The figures can be revealed after a political row in the most recent Town Hall Housing Committee. At the January 23 meeting, Labour councillor Tony Belton produced a list of rent increases for the past 20 years and stated that rents were clearly set to match political priorities, not financial ones. Continue reading →
Speech on Government Welfare Reforms to Wandsworth Council, 5 December 2012
Thank you Mr Mayor, this motion relates to a series of government measures that affect people who need support to afford to live in Wandsworth.
So the debate is about the sort of place we want to live.
We could start with the views of two residents – neither one a known Socialist: the Director of Housing and the Director of Finance.
In paper 12-689 they conclude these measures will affect thousands of residents and will lead to an increase in arrears, evictions and homelessness, and the reforms will cost the council more than £7m a year in unpaid rent.
So it’s an important debate – and I hope a reasoned one. Residents deserve more than ‘no cuts at all’ versus ‘something must be done’.
So while I think this policy is badly intentioned and will have awful consequences, I’m happy to begin with three straight statements:
Housing Benefit has got out of control; I agree with the principle of a benefit cap; and I think there is too much fraud in the current system.
To take these in turn:
1. Housing Benefit is out of control
It is sinful that £20bn a year is paid to landlords, money that could be much better spent building homes.
Remember that Housing Benefit itself was a short-term sticking plaster for lack of affordable home-building under governments of both parties.
So now we have ripped off that sticking plaster. More than 500 3- and 4-bedroom houses are left exposed. The landlords of these properties, not being charities, will over time most likely return them to market rents or sell up. This will force people from our community, and crucially dozens of family-sized properties will be taken out of the affordable stock forever.
So what steps has the council taken to negotiate with these landlords? Are we reaching out to residents, or simply waiting for them to come to us?
2. The benefits cap
I don’t think one family should consistently live a better life on benefits than the neighbouring family that works every hour God sends.
But any cap set nationally needs a serious London weighting.
A search in Battersea for 2-bed flats under the new Housing Benefit cap of £290 a week today turned up no properties.
The Universal Credit cap of £500 a week for a family including housing costs is reasonable in Plymouth, but not Putney.
The most obvious impact of caps at these levels are to exclude low-income families from certain parts of London. Why not set the caps at Wandsworth averages?
3. There is too much fraud in the system
There is, I’m co-operating with the Housing dept on a case at present.
But this paper contained no anti-fraud measures at all. This is a policy that targets legitimately claimed benefits – in the depths of the recession.
These reforms will end the situation where the children who live in a Housing Association home in my road can grow up chatting to the doctor and the accountants who live in the neighbouring properties.
We want to make social housing truly something people aspire to, not qualify for, but these reforms will only intensify poverty on our estates.
Government should move housing subsidy from landlords towards bricks and mortar and we should focus relentlessly on housing delivery and training and job opportunities for local people. A housing stimulus is a good way out of recession, and a good job is the only way out of poverty.
However you vote tonight, I would encourage all members to investigate these issues in their own wards. There are people out there who will need your support and protection. Thank you.
Here is what your local councillors, Tony Belton, Wendy Speck and I, have achieved in 2012 with the help of volunteers and local residents:
1 Helped to save York Gardens Library, again
Local Labour councillors are proud to have led the community campaign that saved York Gardens Library last year. But to keep the library open we now need to:
Raise £70,000 in room hire each year – please book a room if you have a birthday party or special occasion
Make sure local children use the computers, the free homework club and GCSE Success tutoring
I was very impressed on recent visits to the library to see dozens of children from the local estates benefit from the free Maths and English tutoring supplied by GCSE Success. One local mother I invited to the House of Commons had a chance to explain how these volunteer tutors had given her daughter the chance to following her dream of becoming a lawyer.
IN 2013 WE WILL work with parents and the council to ensure a top-class new playground for York Gardens is in place for the spring.
2 Worked hard on the £60m estate regeneration for Winstanley and York Road
The Kinghan report into last summer’s riots concluded that the Winstanley Estate is in the worst 1 per cent of places in the country to grow up as a child. We are pleased that Wandsworth has agreed to make a huge investment to regenerate the York Road and Winstanley Estates. We stood for election in 2010 on a promise to improve our estates and we will stand again in 2014 on the same promise. Labour will ensure residents’ interests are put first in the regeneration, meaning:
Full consultation with the community
Construction jobs for local people
All social housing to be replaced, with residents guaranteed a chance to return
Estates should be given mix of housing types and tenures
No overall loss of play space or parks
IN 2013 WE WILL continue this work and link it to the £1m Big Lottery Funding that will help renew our community as well as the buildings we live in.
IN 2013 WE WILL dig deep to help the brand new Kambala garden come into bloom. Contact green-fingered councillor Wendy Speck (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get involved.
4 Led the fight to save our local police stations
Earlier this year, Battersea Labour Party used a freedom of information request to uncover the disturbing fact that Lavender Hill Police station has “in principle approval for disposal in 2012/13”. Not only did Tory councillors refuse to join the campaign to save the police station, they accused us of ‘scaremongering’ (see video above).
By December, the Evening Standard reported that almost half of London’s police stations were to close to the public. Wandsworth’s top policeman recently predicted: “The front counters at Battersea, Tooting and Putney High Street [police stations] would close”.
Tony, Wendy and I know what a crucial role Lavender Hill Police station played in finally ending the riots at Clapham Junction last year and we will do everything we can to keep it open.
IN 2013 WE WILL ask every Wandsworth councillor to choose between supporting the police station cuts and supporting community campaigns to save our police stations.
5 Backed local businesses and job-seekers
2012 was a very tough year to run a business in Battersea – and unemployment continued to rise. We stood up for local businesses that were flooded and facing high business rates and worked to help stallholders set up in markets and employ local youths.
We strongly supported Wandsworth’s new jobs brokerage scheme that will match local candidates to the job opportunities coming up in Nine Elms. We also backed the W.O.W Enterprise Club which helps lone parents set up their own businesses.
Local businessman Neset Sabir (left): “Councillor Simon Hogg helped me when my basement flooded and when my mopeds were stolen. I trust him.”IN 2013 WE WILL continue to boost local entrepreneurs and help job seekers get the skills they need
6 Action on parking: Made bailiffs return a car to Clark Lawrence Court that had been wrongly towed away…
…secured the release of a clamped vehicle by challenging the council’s contractor and supported a council crack-down on Blue Badge fraud that has caught 441 cheats.
IN 2013 WE WILL support a freeze in the cost of a residents’ parking permit, as we did in 2012
7 Action on housing: Got the council to repair entryphones at Pennethorne House and Culvert Road, the pavement at Ashley Crescent, the map at McDermott Close…
…a leak in Holcroft House, a broken door in Dungeness House, negotiated a payment extension for Inkster House residents who faced a 200 per cent increase in service charges. We also pushed the council to agree empty homes should from now on pay fair Council Tax and spoke out on the housing crisis facing young people facing high rents and mortgage deposits.
IN 2013 WE WILL help constituents made homeless by the housing benefit cap and prepare for the effects of the next round of housing benefit cuts.
8 Celebrated the Overground arriving at Clapham Junction
Thanks to tireless work by former Battersea MP Martin Linton, local people can now take the Overground Line from the new Platform 2 at Clapham Junction to Clapham High St (8 mins), Peckham (15 mins), Surrey Quays (24 mins), Whitechapel (33 mins).
The wonderful new line that opened in December links up to Canada Water (for Jubilee line services to Canary Wharf and Stratford), Clapham High Street (for Northern Line services to the City and the West End), Highbury & Islington (for Victoria Line and National Rail services) and Shoreditch High Street (for the City).
IN 2013 WE WILL continue to lobby for improvements to Clapham Junction, surely the worst-designed major station in Britain.
9 Opposed over-development
Too often Wandsworth council puts the interests of property developers over the interests of residents. Another legacy of Martin Linton’s time as Battersea MP was stopping the construction of 42-storey towers at Clapham Junction and the Ram Brewery site.
This year Tony, Wendy and I met architects, planners and members of the public to:
Discuss the public benefit of developments on the Prince’s Head pub site on Falcon Road, the Peabody Estate and the Travis Perkins site on Battersea Park Road.
Stop developers behaving antisocially during construction: we were recently appalled by reports that concrete was being laid at 3am on the Battersea Reach site, with the council’s full knowledge! This Christmas morning I was woken at 7am by construction work from another site.
And a few of the other issues we tackled in 2012…
…Arson attacks in Fairchild Close… Planned extension for Falcon Road Mosque… Council cutting lollipop ladies… Big Local Lottery funding… Bed Bugs in Penge House… New windows for Sporle Court… Gun crime in York Gardens, Falcon Road and Pennethorne Square… Need for more CCTV on Maysoule Road… Lack of teenagers’ facilities on Battersea Fields Estate… Discussion with former Health Secretary Andy Burnham about the future shape of the NHS… Public appeal for PlayStation equipment at the STORM youth club…