Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Paul Hodge (HPB 68)

Housing and Planning Bill

1.0 Purpose of this submission

1.1 This submission is put forward as an individual member/tenant to support the exemption of all housing co-operatives from Right to Buy and Pay to Stay and in so doing offer, I believe, some very fair and reasoned personal thoughts to evidence this submission.

2.0 Summary

2.1 1. Opposed to the Right to Buy but very strongly opposed to Pay to Stay

2. If implemented, the threshold of £40,000 must be amended to a realistic figure

3. Protection for all tenants but must safeguard key workers and the vulnerable

4. Remove the huge stress and uncertainty for tenants affected by this Bill

5. The incentive to work is NOT for Pay to Stay tenants but a disincentive

6. To help the Govt to achieve one its goals: fairness

3.0 Background and Personal Thoughts

3.1 I belong to a co-operative in SE1 and have done so for 17 years after marrying and moving to London from Bristol. My wife has been a member/tenant for 29 years. We both have voluntary roles; chair and maintenance officer. Our co-op has been running for 35 years and is extremely well managed and in full compliance with the ethos of co-ops.

3.2 My wife has been involved in education as a teacher in Southwark for over 35 years and has therefore committed, and is still committing, her working life for the benefit and prosperity of children and young people in London. She currently runs her own small school in SE15 which has recently passed Ofsted. Having now reached 65, it is her intention to retire in a few years, or at the very least 'scale down' to coincide with my 70th in 2017, but the school, which she founded with her daughter, should be able to continue and flourish.

3.3 I am a retired police sergeant with 30 years' service. I joined Bristol Constabulary in 1966 at the age of 19 and in 1974 transferred to Avon and Somerset Constabulary when the local forces amalgamated. During my career I was a traffic sergeant, operational sergeant, custody sergeant, force and regional driving school sergeant and more, but as a road safety sergeant I visited 80/123 schools within my area to speak to nearly 20,000 schoolchildren about their safety and future welfare in society. I have also conducted 1341 advanced driving tests for the IAM. I am a Prince Michael of Kent Road Safety Award winner.

3.4 After marrying my wife (second marriage/house sold in 80s), it was a natural career progression to move into education, so I got a job as a school security officer for one year before transferring to another senior school as a learning support assistant, minibus driver, videographer and 'general helper'; both schools being in Southwark. On behalf of the school, I was involved in the very successful Make Space Breakfast Club and After School Club initiative which was sponsored by business and fully supported by the Government. Indeed, one meeting involving one of our students, who was elected to be part of the national Make Space committee, was held in one of the MPs' offices in the House of Commons. I ran both clubs for 5 years and, in relation to the former, I recorded over 78,000 visits to the club which was open, of course, before the school day started.

3.5 Having retired from the police in Bristol in 1997, and after marrying the same year, I moved to SE1 and into the house where I currently live with my wife. Now, at the age of 68 and planning to celebrate my 70th in October 2017 with my family, including my daughter, her husband and my 4 grandchildren, and my wife's family, including 2 more grandchildren, plus other relatives and friends, I find myself in the totally unexpected position of having to 'fight for the right to stay in 'our' home' ( and indeed it IS a home ) due to the proposed implementation of this Bill if the stated threshold amendment is not approved.

3.6 When accepting the tenancy offered, I agreed to the rules and legal processes in place and duly paid my £1 to become a member of the co-op which owns the properties. I considered this to be a totally binding contract and 'got involved', as deemed most appropriate and in accordance with the ethos and model of the co-operative movement; a model which had been running locally, and nationally as I understood it to be the case, for many years before my membership became part of the cycle of my life. I did not at the time, and most reasonably, ever believe that in football terms: 'the goalposts would be moved'.

3.7 I regularly attended monthly meetings, and in the last 5 years have progressed from recording all the work done by local contractors for the tenants to being the maintenance officer; a post which I still hold and perform most willingly as a volunteer. I have always stated that the associated records are fully available for inspection by any interested party, adding that they are fully up-to-date and ensuring that all our properties are well maintained and that they are good homes for our tenants.

3.8 Personally, I am opposed to Right to Buy, but this is unlikely to be pertinent to our co-op due to the huge cost of London properties, but I am concerned about Pay to Stay. That said, with the announcement in the media by the Communities Secretary Greg Clark that there had been a "huge interest" in the scheme and that 5,200 housing association tenants had now registered their interest to buy, it also has to be said that, whilst this is arguably in favour of the Government's Right to Buy election promise, the percentage of those registering AND being in a position to financially able to buy their currently rented property may be a very small percentage of those registering an interest; indeed, a declared interest may be just that: an interest only but perhaps not achievable even with the huge discount offered by the Govt, and on properties not even owned by the proposer of the discount.

3.9 The proposed threshold of £40,000 is completely unrealistic and the repercussions from a very big increase in rent would have a huge impact on our household budget; indeed, there is no way whatsoever that my wife and I could find this increase after taking into account all the associated outgoings which have been allowed for over the time spent in our home. The unthinkable outcome would mean that we would have to leave our house; in my wife's case, after nearly 30 years and, in mine, after 17 years BUT with the inevitable question, and not one being addressed in any way by the Bill:

"Where exactly do we, and 1000s of others, physically go?"

This invites the further question:

"Is this what the Bill is intended to do ( surely not ) or has it made a huge mistake in the thought process about the REALITY of it all - to displace the very people ( seemingly being treated as commodities and not human beings ) who have entered into a contract to live in their home, who have complied with the very ethos and model of the Co-operative Movement, who have managed their affairs to pay their rent, who have been employed locally, who have integrated with the local communities and have shown themselves to be good and loyal citizens?"

4.0 The incentive to work is certainly NOT an option for anyone involved in Pay to Stay as it is completely at odds with one of the main aims of the Government.

4.1 When the incentive to work, and the threshold of £40,000, were mentioned to a new tenant ( December 2014 ) of another co-op, his immediate reply, and as an employed person in the area and most grateful to have a job and a place to 'call his own', was:

"So what's the point in working hard to earn more, then? I know I can never earn enough to buy my own home, let alone the huge deposit, and I love it where I am now. Close to work is just great. According to you then, and the 40 grand, if I earn £39,999.99p that means I'm OK - so where's my incentive to work because if I earn more, then I have to pay the full whack and that's completely bonkers. I can afford to live here, work here and be involved in things here. What's this all about then? I don't understand ... and I've got a degree!!!!"

4.2 This statement must equally apply to key workers, and never better evidenced than the tragic incident in Paris this past weekend. Security forces and the Met Commissioner have briefed Government on the seemingly inevitable loss of life attacks on the capital and, sooner rather than later, it is feared. Thus, and speaking as a retired police officer, London ( and nationally ) will NEED every one of its key workers to play their part to the full, so it is extremely worrying, and difficult to comprehend, why the Government is trying to pass a Bill which is a direct threat to the welfare and availability of these professional, highly trained and competent workers who should be safeguarded from leaving the capital by fully supporting the amendment requiring a more realistic threshold because many key workers live in the very homes which are being threatened by this Bill. That said, whilst supporting the key workers, other tenants, including the disabled with no alternative housing provision available, who are also occupying housing association and co-op homes, must be fairly protected, as well.

4.3 Finally, the increasing daily stress associated with the need to submit my personal thoughts at this time, is beginning to take its toll, particularly so with the uncertainty of 'what lies ahead'. If this is happening to me and, more worryingly to my wife, then I am quite sure that thousands of other tenants are experiencing the same stress and huge concerns, as evidenced by the personal stories now appearing on Facebook and in the national press. Quality of life will be improved, and the stress and concerns will be reduced considerably, by the very easily achievable proposed amendment to the Bill.

5.0 Amendments

5.1 1. All housing co-operatives should be exempt from Right to Buy, but more importantly from Pay to Stay legislation.

If the democratic decision goes against this amendment, then:

2. The threshold of £40,000 should be INCREASED CONSIDERABLY to a REALISTIC FIGURE which has been agreed by INDEPENDENT financial bodies to ensure fairness to all.

November 2015

Prepared 24th November 2015