Over 50 representatives from Tenants and Residents Associations in the two Huddersfield neighbourhoods turned up for this event. As well as time to catch up and talk to other volunteers, KFTRA arranged for Michael Gelling Chair of TAROE (Tenants and Residents of England) to attend the meeting. Michael gave an interesting talk on a new campaign being organised by TAROE to find out what tenants actually want and what the important issues are that affect social housing tenants. Some of the issues raised were;
No rent increase above inflation
Abolish the bedroom tax
Tenants should have a huge political influence
One in five people in England live in the social housing sector, thats 10.6 million people living in 4.2 million properties.
TAROE aim to ask as many of their membership as possible to identify their concerns and priorities and these will be presented to the main political parties with the demand that the voice of 20% of the population is listened to and their concerns are met.
If you would like to take part in this important survey and add your voice to the tenant movement, then please click the link below.
At a well attended KFTRA Delegates meeting held this month at Cleckheaton Town Hall, tenants took the opportunity to raise their questions and concerns with KNH Senior Managers, Simon Rogers and Paul Buckley.
Please note that The next KFTRA Delegates meeting will be held in Huddersfield Town Hall on Wednesday 12th December from 10.00am – 2.00pm. Lunch will be provided.
Below is a summary of the Questions asked and the replies that were given.
BELOW IS A SUMMARY OF THE QUESTIONS ASKED AND THE REPLIES THAT WERE GIVEN.
1. Do you think it’s about time the Police worked with the housing officers to let them know of troublesome gangs hanging around on KNH property?
Paul replied that neighbourhood teams and the Police have very good relationships, and meet at Neighbourhood Management Groups with other agencies to discuss problems on the estates and their joint response. Issues do sometimes arise when communication breaks down.
2. With the introduction of Universal Credit, what guarantees can the senior management team give that OAPs and full-time working council tenants on mid incomes will not suffer?
Simon responded that Universal Credit will be phased in from October 2013 until 2017. KNH will be working with tenants to keep them well informed, to make them aware of benefits advice and how to manage and maximise their finances. Pensioners will not be affected by these changes, although there may be an impact. This is Government legislation, and KNH can’t give any guarantees, as it is not within their power.
3. Welfare Reform – what steps are KNH taking to help soften the blow to tenants, and to keep them informed?
Simon said the first phase will impact in April 2013 when those who ‘underoccupy’ and claim Housing Benefit, will lose a percentage of that benefit. 2422 tenants, that is 10% of all KNH tenants will be affected. KNH are visiting to offer advice, and are running an information pilot in Dalton, to see how best to involve tenants. Around 1500 will be affected by the non-dependant charge. By October 2013, Universal Credit will be introduced, and again, it is about keeping tenants well informed. However, it is a changing picture, and new information keeps coming to light.
4. Is it true that when Universal Credit comes in, all council tenants will have to set up a direct debit to pay their rent? What about people who don’t have a bank account, or who are refused a bank account?
This is true, said Paul. Direct debit will be mandatory for all tenants, it is much the most effective way to collect rent, and if rent is not collected, services will be affected.
Currently £76 million comes through Housing Benefit or is paid directly to KNH. There is around £33 million in jeopardy, if money is paid directly to tenants and not to KNH. While he believes the majority will pay, there will be a small minority who don’t.
The other side of this is that to receive Universal Credit, residents will need a bank account. The Government is talking to Banks about offering a basic bank account, and there will only be a small minority who cannot have that account, because of bankruptcy etc.
One tenant complained he liked to pay his rent in cash at the Post Office, and liked that freedom. Cora replied that we have the freedom to live in council homes, and as tenants we need that money paid. Cora suggested as this was Government legislation, if people didn’t like it, they should complain to their MP.
5. One of the changes to Choose n Move is that if someone refuses three ‘reasonable offers’ in a 12 month period than their application to the housing register will be cancelled. Who decides what constitutes a ‘reasonable offer’?
Paul said the office where the allocation would decide along the lines of suitability and reasonableness of offer. An appeal can go to the Housing Manager, and there is an appeal process in place.
6. When discussing the Tenant-Led Budget in Area Forums, Tenant Committees etc, why do we so frequently hear from KNH officers, that a proposal from a tenant is not allowed? Is it really a Tenant-Led budget?
KNH are trying to widen the number of people who can put forward ideas, and Paul said they are always willing to listen to anyone with ideas for the tenant-led budget. There isn’t a huge amount of money, so then it comes down to prioritising at Tenant Committees.
7. If you were the Housing Minister, how would you solve the current housing crisis?
Simon said in Europe, spending on social housing does not count as public borrowing, whereas in Britain, councils are restricted on their borrowing and that constrains new build.
There is a debate about changing the rules so councils and public organisations can borrow to build.
Kirklees Council estimates it needs 1,500 new affordable homes every year, not just council homes, but those at a reasonable rent, or shared ownership. Last year only 250 were built, so Kirklees if falling further and further behind.
If Simon was the Housing Minister, he would need to convince the Treasury, increasing the supply of new affordable homes could stimulate the economy.
Paul added if he was Minister, he would instruct the Banks in public ownership, to pay their bankers’ bonuses into investing in building homes.
8. What has happened to the ‘In Living’ mobile phone game?
Simon explained this was a mobile phone game to help young tenants settled into their new homes. KNH sold around £36,000 of the games which they invested into housing services.
Unfortunately, the company who developed the game, have gone bust. The technology is now outdated, and smart phone ‘apps’ are now the new way forward. KNH are investigating whether they should spend money reinvigorating the game as an application for a smart phone.
9. How many people have got sustainable employment through the KNH educational outreach team? How do KNH monitor value for money from this team?
Between January and August 2012, the team have seen 1100 people, Simon explained. As a result, 79 have gone into training, and 14 into permanent work, there could be others, that KNH are not aware of. In the days of Universal Credit, Simon believes the best thing they can do, is to help residents back into work. They also receive funding from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), so it isn’t just rent money. It also helps KNH to reach parts of the community they perhaps wouldn’t do otherwise. It is not easy, helping people into work, but they have had positive outcomes, and have offered opportunities, that otherwise would not have been available.
10. Could EMOs keep in touch with TRAs more often? Some TRAs say their EMO has not been in contact with them for up to three months.
Without specific examples, this is difficult to follow up. Paul reminded Delegates that if their Housing Officer did not respond, they should complain to their Area Housing Manager. In turn that could be escalated to the NOM ( Neighbourhood Operations Manager), and if no joy, to Christine Gummerson.
Christine had given a detailed presentation to Delegates on how to complain , and Paul urged TRA reps to follow that procedure.
Cora said within South Kirklees, Housing Officers and TRAs, had drawn up an agreement on how often they would like to be contacted, and in what format.
11. KNH tell us we cannot put doormats or furnishings in communal areas, which are not part of our homes. Why then do we have to pay for these areas to be cleaned?
This question was reiterated by Steve Potter of Soothill, who is a member of the Living in Flats working group. He asked why tenants should pay for something ( ie cleaning charge) that is not theirs ( ie communal area).
Paul said this was a contentious issue. KNH encourage residents to look after their communal area, and they are required to look after the communal area as part of their tenancy agreement.
Some don’t look after it, and then KNH have to employ a cleaning service to keep it tidy. Residents have a right to a clean and safe communal area.
As for doormats, they are fine as long as they are not a trip hazard.
Tenants can have certain items in the communal areas, depending upon whether it is a low rise or high rise building.
There is an option to opt out of the cleaning service, and tenants would need to talk to their Housing Officer, in the first instance.
Three questions regarding leaseholders:
12 I have two leaseholders in the blocks of flats where I live. A light bulb went out and the leaseholders were charged £9 each to replace it. This works out at a cost of £36 ( for the block) for replacing one light bulb. Can we please have an explanation as to why these costs are charged and a breakdown of them?
There is a banding scheme for charges to leaseholders. Any cost between 1p and £105, is charged to leaseholders at a rate of £36 and this covers labour, materials and overheads.
13 The floor covering in the communal areas has developed some bubbling, two patches 41” x 35” and 39” x 31”. The leaseholders were charged £73 each for the flooring to be put down in the four flats. This equates to a total of £292.
The worker was only there for four hours. This charge appears to be excessive, and could we have a breakdown.`
Paul said the amount was charged in error, and has now been refunded. Diane asked if when people became leaseholders, all these costs were made clear to them. Paul replied that all the costs and responsibilities were made clear, and none of it should come as a shock.
14 As a leaseholder, if I want to have any work done to the external fabric of the building: ie, a Sky dish, a TV arial, outside light, removal of about 20m of privet hedge, and the removal of concrete posts which define the boundary of the property, plus any particular type of work to the inside of the building, I must get permission in writing from KNH, before I begin.
This does not seem to apply to tenants. How is it they are not governed by the same rules? Why do you run a two tiered service? Why two sets of rules?
Cora replied that this rules DID apply to tenants in exactly the same way.
15 When homes become vacant and locks are changed, what happens to those locks and keys?
Simon said if they are in good condition, they are recycled. They are not thrown away.
16 Tenant-led budgets and car parks. Why is the TLB funding going to be stopped for extending car parks. Most tenants pay rent, so the most valuable and treasured item to them is the car. They need to be comfortable in the knowledge that they have somewhere to park their car safely.
Again this is a contentious issue, said Paul. KNH recognise that car parking is not always Value for Money. It is very expensive, for what few spaces are created, plus there is the long-term maintenance costs.
KNH are currently consulting and will return to Tenant Committees to report back.
Cora said in years gone by, tenants had not been allowed spending on car parking, as it was felt, as ratepayers, Highways should be providing this.
Chris Jenkinson said Highways wouldn’t listen to tenants, whereas KNH will. Even if it means just two spaces at a time, he thinks it is worth while. Their estate has 22 car parking spaces and 105 properties.
Paul said tenants are saying parking is a number one priority, and therefore KNH are prepared to listen.
Diane suggested that if dropping the kerb came in at a cheaper cost, this would be more effective at getting cars off the road, than providing parking. Kevin wondered if tenants could have a dropped kerb, and pay for the cost in with their weekly rent payment.
Simon reminded Delegates that all KNH expenditure comes under scrutiny, so they had to be confident they were making the best of limited resources in each case.
Terry suggested tenants should attend Area Committees and plead their case for dropped kerb funding.
17 It was said that you would not sell bungalows under the Right To Buy, as you needed them for the elderly and disabled due to the stock reducing and people getting older. But now you may be putting them on the market for open age! Plus the flats!
The people who attended the last Delegates meeting when this was debated, probably half of them live in houses. The people who should be voting on these issues are the people who live in bungalows and flats.
Properties designated for older people are generally exempt from the Right To Buy, particularly bungalows which are in high demand, explained Simon. There is a consultation at the moment, but he doesn’t expect much change.
Diane pointed out that if a downstairs flat, for example, was designated ‘open age’ rather than restricted to older folk, it would then be subject to the Right to Buy. Simon agreed this was a problem, but said that is why everything is being carefully looked at.
18 When I have been visiting friends who live in KNH property in different areas of Kirklees, I see that services are run differently in North Kirklees and South Kirklees. In our area ( South Kirklees) tenants complain but rarely get feedback.
Again, without specific examples it is hard to be sure what services are different. Simon said there should be the same quality of service across Kirklees, and there is no intention to provide different services. He asked the author of the question to get back to him with examples.
19 Some tenants have been told that if their children are studying away at college, they will not be able to claim for them, living in a KNH property.
Paul said Revenue and Benefits had confirmed that families with children at college will not be penalised. For benefit purposes they will be treated as though the children remain at home, otherwise it gets too complicated, taking into account holidays and weekends.
20 Are there different ways of having Area Forums carried out, in light of the new tenant involvement legislation. It seems to me they are too officer-led, and tenants need support to challenge. When I challenge, I feel I am kept out of the loop and I don’t receive paperwork.
If your Area Forum is not working for you, we need a conversation, Simon said. Some Area Forums work extremely well, and it is a case of learning what makes them successful. We are committed to make them work.
21 We used to be able to call KNH Senior Managers directly, as a Chair of a TRA. Now our emails are not answered.
Simon said he was puzzled by this question. Unfortunately the author was not present at the meeting to ask for clarity. Simon felt they tried to be as accountable and transparent as possible, and that was one of the reasons they were attending Delegates. He felt that it was important to have the conversations and to keep the dialogue going.
22 Do KNH think the Scrutiny Panel worked well, as it was only for a trial period?
Paul said it had worked well, and they were trying to find the funding and resources to keep it going. Diane pointed out scrutiny was a Government requirement, and so funding must be found. Paul said they would be reviewing how much energy and resources they put into scrutiny, with diminishing resources. Chris Jenkinson, who sat on one of the scrutiny panels said scrutiny didn’t necessarily have to be organised in the way the pilot project had been, however, it should be tenant-led.
23 Why have so many Excel panels been cancelled ( since staff left), and why was there no consultation when support grant amounts were changed?
When there are no agenda items, and no applications for a grant, meetings are cancelled, so as not to waste volunteer panel members’ time. A consultation on the support grant did happen.
24 Do KNH want to close town centre offices since more staff are working from home. How is this trial going? Are there plans to limit how many times a housing officer can visit an estate each month?
Paul responded they were trying to reduce back office staff from town centre offices, and get them located elsewhere. Diane said there was a rumour that New Street, Huddersfield was to close. Paul explained that there was an option to use Civic Centre 3, and be part of a multi agency team, which would be a one-stop shop for information. Diane felt this was ironic, since originally when it was set up, the ALMO wanted to keep a distance from the Council.
The trial to allow staff to work more flexibly, whether from home, or using another partners’ office, was working well. By using new technology to access information, officers could go into tenants’ homes and give advice there and then.
We are talking to KFTRA about how we use our resources, and how some estates need more support than others. I know this may upset some people, but there is an issue of limited resources, and having to use them as efficiently as possible.
Chris Harrison said he found that his Housing Officer could reply to his calls after she had put her children to bed, and this suited both parties. Simon said flexible arrangements were to offer a better service, rather than to suit staff needs, however, it was helpful, when it did both.
25 Do KNH Managers have the time to keep up with all the new Government guidelines?
Simon said they couldn’t afford to let things slip through the net, and different officers had different specialisms, and looked out for particular information, such as Dave Bennett, specialising in Welfare reform.
26 Do we know if the Armed Forces will be allowed a home after doing their service?
Members of the Armed Forces do get priority, and would go into Band A. A query about whether the family of a solder killed in action, would get housing priority, came from the floor. Paul said he didn’t know, but would get back with an answer.
27 How much has poor communication delayed the completion of Windybank Community Centre?
The project to refurbish the Community Centre was led by the Council, assisted by KNH. The refurbishment took longer than anticipated and Robert Scott, the Neighbourhood Operations manager for the area, offered his apologies, and said he was happy to meet the TRA.
Kevin Hirst, chair of Windybank TRA, said it had taken one year for the refurb. Asbestos had been discovered at six months, and the TRA had advised about securing the building to prevent vandalism, but their advice had not been followed. This resulted in further delays, when the premises were vandalised. Paul said they couldn’t turn the clock back, but they could learn from what had gone wrong.