Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum by Defend Council Housing (DEC 40(a))

  These are more examples from around the country of the blackmail, bullying and threats that council tenants face. We want real choice—the choice of staying as council tenants in decent, affordable, secure and accountable housing.


  Here in Stroud we are all a bit stunned by the result [Stroud tenants last week voted No to stock transfer]. Now the council are talking about a re-ballot in six months, but also possibly ALMO. Please tell the ODPM select committee that tenants are not making knee-jerk choices, they are voting to stay with councils who they want as their landlords because they trust them and value the relationship. If this is a democracy, the government needs to listen and to allow those councils whose tenants vote to stay with them to operate under the same conditions as other social landlords. If they level the funding conditions so that councils aren't penalised as landlords we might see a reversal in the catastrophic decline in new build in social housing.

Alison Hustwitt, Stroud tenant

Repairs or decent homes?

  Birmingham is a very damning case for government policy on council housing and decent homes. In the largest council in Britain, tenants voted by 2 to 1 last year to reject stock transfer. This should have been the cue to invest in a modernised, first class housing service, using all the funds available including those offered by government to subsidise the stock transfer. But instead democracy is ignored, and the council brings in "experts" such as Anne Power to advise on splitting Birmingham tenants into "bite size chunks" (as Council leader Albert Bore called it), with local stock transfers and ALMOs. How is this "tenants" choice'?

  Meanwhile, the Audit Commission has demanded action on the shocking repairs backlog, the result of underinvestment, neglect and siphoning off of our money.

  Birmingham Council is to pay for the clearance of its repairs backlog with money originally allocated to meeting the decent homes standard and demolishing unsustainable stock.

  The routine repairs budget will be increased from £12 million to £23.7 million to fulfil the council's promise to clear the backlog of 49,000 repairs by the end of March. The promise was made after the council was awarded no stars for its repairs and maintenance service by the housing inspectorate (Inside Housing, 19 September).

  Additional funding of £6.4 million had already been identified in the summer, but the new figure includes taking £3.7 million from the total that would have been spent this financial year on work to bring homes up to the decency standard.

  A further £1.6 million will come from funds allocated for stock clearance before April. The council has also negotiated cheaper rates with repairs contractors because of the efficiency savings from the volume of work to be done.'

[from Inside Housing 11.12.03]

  This is evidence that the decent homes target contributes to neglect of tenants' homes!

  Birmingham Council is still aiming to pull down a whole area (Newtown North) of housing less than 30 years old. The area has been deliberately neglected and now the council wants to pull it down and sell off the (very valuable) land, despite the high housing waiting lists.

  They will have to spend £3 million on home loss payments alone, on top of costs for demolition and all the other upheaval affecting schools, doctors, shops etc.

  We said NO to stock transfer—and here they are doing it anyway by the back door.

  Where is Birmingham tenants' choice? We want decent council housing—why should we have to choose between "decent" and "council'? We are proud to be council tenants. We would ask the ODPM select committee to publicly challenge the government to honour our right to choose to stay as council tenants and get our homes repaired and modernised.

Frank Chance, Birmingham council tenant


  "Here are the potential options that the Council will consider, should there be a "No" vote.

  In the Short Term (1 to 2 Years) . . . An immediate reduction in the number of capital improvements . . . disabled persons adaptations may need to be reduced . . . certain repairs may not be carried out . . . charges for services could be increased, such as Care Link, caretaker services, lifts and elderly persons services . . .

  In the Medium Term (3 to 5 Years) . . . Homes will fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard . . . The Improvement Programme could be reduced even further, which may mean less jobs for local people . . . Properties may be left empty, increasing the potential for vandalism and destruction . . . It is for tenants to decide . . . '

 [from Wakefield Council website 15.12.03]

    "If transfer does not go ahead . . . this would mean looking at: closure of local area offices, reduced spending on repairs, reduced staffing within housing, reduction of customer access points, reduction in overall levels of services . . . staying with they Council would not mean that things would stay the same, they would get worse."

[draft for North East Lincoinshire housing newsletter 10.12.03]


  In the first two neighbourhood CONmissions in Sheffield a few tenants' reps were asked to decide for EVERY tenant what their "preferred option" was. Then when the select few (6 or 7) have made that decision—which is invariably ALMO—the poor tenants get "Hobsons choice" of yes or no to ALMO?

  We on Shirecliffe did a 100% survey of tenants giving them all 3 choices plus a fourth: "I do not have enough information to make a choice" and were initially refused the cash we paid for the ballot. That is until the rest of our commission backed us . . . the draft ALMO bid for where I live claims demand for council housing is "low"—though figures show waiting lists for all areas, and around 6,000 homeless in Sheffield.

  Hardly a case of council housing readily available!!

Brian Wilson, tenant


  In the London borough of Southwark, there are more examples of tenants who have rejected stock transfer and stated their priorities, which are being ignored in the drive to privatise.

  On the Aylesbury estate, regardless of a massive ie 73% NO vote on a 76% response rate just two years ago, the Aylesbury New Deal for Communities (ANDC) is pushing through an ALMO, regardless of the evidence which tenants have gathered that we do not need their elaborate "improvements". The tenants specify regular maintenance and painting of exteriors as a priority in contrast to the ANDC proposals to demolish walkways (which children play on without risk of road traffic accidents), built unnecessary roads which will become rat runs through the estate and a penthouse on top of a block which was originally scheduled fordemolition. The dishonesty of these proposals is the ALMO which is being described as improvements not mentioning the changes in tenancy. All planned to begin in 2004 and no ballot.

Margot, angry tenant of 20 yrs (writing in private capacity but I am secretary of my local T&RA so I am not a passive complainer)

  On Southwark's East Dulwich Estate it is planned that 15% of the estate, 107 homes, will be demolished in favour primarily of luxury private flats. There is insufficient local authority housing stock remaining on the estate, so secure tenants will be forced, in many cases against their will, to accept assured tenancies from an RSL. We are told that if necessary the council will seek to strip us of our tenancies through the courts.

  According to a survey commissioned by Southwark last year not one of the blocks on the estate was in need of any major works. It concluded that "unfortunately" the surveys do not point to any of the blocks being in such a structural condition to warrant demolition. The London County Council built the estate, constructed between 1933-1936, to an exceptional standard. It requires only a relatively small amount of money to bring it all up to the "decent homes" standard.

  A recent ballot of residents conducted by the Electoral Reform Society clearly indicated by a ratio of over 2:1 that residents are opposed to the council plans for the estate. A result that the leader of the council has stated that he will ignore.

  The East Dulwich Estate is not a run down and neglected estate that tenants are desperate to leave. We have a sustainable community. We enjoy comfortable and secure homes. Crime on the estate is extremely low. The estate is well served by public transport and amenities such as schools and leisure facilities. The estate provides affordable homes in an otherwise unaffordable area.

  We have looked in every direction for protection against the Southwark's plans to take our homes. To date no one who can help will help. We have therefore been forced into drastic action. A complaint has been made to the District Auditor that the council is acting unlawfully. We have been told that we must accept demolitions on the estate in order to comply with Capital Finance Regulations. However when closely inspected the regulation used clearly states that our properties must be vacant or unused or underused or ineffectively used or contaminated or derelict.

  Southwark plans to evict existing tenants from their homes and then claim the properties are vacant. We believe that this is unlawful. The District Auditor has referred the complaint to the Audit Commission. If our complaint is upheld, many, many thousands of tenants across the borough may have been unlawfully evicted from their homes.

  We are also poised to begin judicial review proceedings in the High Court. There are likely to be a number of multi-party actions again Southwark in relation to the demolition and land sales, the consultation, which we believe has been neither full nor open, and breaches of Article 8 rights.

  We also intend to test the right of Southwark to involuntarily remove secure tenancies, referred to in the Tenants' Charter as "a home for life".

Steve Hedger Chair, East Duiwich Estate Tenants & Residents Association


  In Cherwell DC the tenants and Councillors were told that the Council did not have enough resources to meet the decent homes standard. It was only after this was challenged by UNISON that the officers admitted that the standard could be met from Council resources. Then the propaganda changed to meeting a "good standard" but the damage was done. The tenant adviser also repeated this lie.

  Another big lie was that the Council would build 600 new affordable homes by 2006 with the proceeds of the LSVT. This was a complete fantasy as the local plan does not provide for this in land terms. The officers who had stated this then had to say that that was their "target"—but they still went on repeating it in the propaganda. The tenants and the workforce were threatened by the Council that if there was a no vote housing management would be outsourced (the innuendo was that it would be to a hated local housing association—the subject of an earlier partial LSVT) and that a trickle transfer would take place.

  The Council's Chief Executive was quite open about how the motivation was to get the capital receipt to bale out the Council's finances and it was made a top priority for Council staff as the only way to avoid redundancies.


  Luton is at the moment going for stock options survey.

  Difficulties for tenants that Head of Housing wants to try and run it for the council and select the tenants friend. Also where councils are looking for more long term maintenance programmes the day to day repairs are failing through lack of money, which means this could push the tenants to agree on LSVT.

  If the government really wants tenants to be empowered then let's have it in legislation. Government says this in all its paperwork i.e. empowerment, yet officers will continue to walk all over tenants if this is not cast in stone.

Linda Mitchell, Luton Tenants Consultative Committee

  Government Office North East and the Community Housing Task Force failed to ensure the rights of North Tyneside tenants were protected. We complained that both these agencies ignore the requirements for a proper tenant empowered strategy and a mechanism for consultation . . . ODMP . . . are there to sell the Government's Policy and even though you have support of MPs and tenants are saying No, ultimately Prescott is forcing Councils through financial constraints to opt for stock disposal.

Terry Harding, North Tyneside Tenant


  In Swindon, which is supposedly one of the richest places outside of the big cities, house prices are way outside the range of ordinary people. Yet effectively there is a ban on council house building. That is why the council house waiting list is still climbing—now over 5,700.

  There is a housing crisis in the town. The proposed changes to the Wiltshire and Swindon Plan up to 2016 seek to impose 26,000 new houses on the town, but with no prospect of any "affordable ones" (save 50 a year!).

  The unions need to demand an end to it and the provision of money to build on a large scale. I know, realistically, this government is not going to provide this, but the argument in relation to a council house building programme to address the housing crisis does not appear to be pushed onto the front of the agenda. It needs to be.

Martin Wicks, Secretary Swindon TUC

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