Building affordable homes is the way to control the housing benefit bill

(This item was first published in the Brighton Argus on 23rd August 2016)

Housing benefit payments to tenants in the private rented sector have doubled in the last ten years, to £9.3 billion a year.

Successive governments have tried to reduce this by capping payments to the equivalent of the cheapest 30% of privately rented homes.

The Local Housing Allowance cap is now frozen, ignoring spiralling rents in the private rented sector. Very few homes in Brighton are now covered by the LHA which caps payments for a one bedroom flat at £153.02 per week. The average rent for such properties is £244.50.

For those under 35 it is much worse with LHA capped at £82.66, supposedly the cost of a room in a shared house.

Housing benefit has not gone up because tenants are exploiting the system. They are very much the victims of a housing market in crisis, central to which is the loss of social housing with truly affordable rents.

Plans to encourage first time buyers are ineffectual for people in high cost areas like Brighton. The much vaunted Help to Buy ISA, where savers can get from government a 25% bonus towards the cost of their first home, looks like a hollow promise as the bonus will be paid only after the home is bought. It might help the better off, but not ordinary people.

We need a new national housing strategy, where homes are where people live, not investment opportunities. A huge building programme of homes for rent by councils and housing associations should be the cornerstone of this strategy.

That way the housing benefit bill can be brought back under control.

BHT is recruiting for a Director of Housing and Property Services. Are you the person we are looking for?

BHT is recruiting to an exciting new very senior post, to be responsible for our housing and property services.

The Director of Housing and Property Services will lead on the design and delivery of housing and asset management services. We are looking for someone who can work with tenants and staff, and who will bring professional, innovative and effective management of BHT’s housing stock, leasing arrangements, customer service and housing development strategy, achieving continuous improvement and value for money.

We are looking for someone with a relevant professional qualification, with experience of managing a wide range of partnerships and have senior experience gained in a housing setting. This is a post with significant influence and impact so will suit someone who is collaborative and looking to make their mark. This fantastic opportunity to join a value driven organisation focused on its performance and people.

Please go to our website to download full details and an application pack.

For any additional information or for an informal discussion please contact our HR Manager, Gemma Baldwin, on 01273 645400

Closing Date: 12 noon, Monday 12th September 2016
Interview Date: Monday 26th September 2016
Gemma Baldwin, Housing, property management, asset management, recruitment

A rant about unsolicited sales emails!

One of my pet annoyances are unsolicited sales emails. I blog and name and shame the worst culprits – the ones who in spite of written requests to be removed from their mailing list, they pesist, sometimes for years. I have written about a couple, here and here.

If I was a litigious type, I am sure I would have justification to complain to the Information Commissioners Office or whoever is responsible for this type of behaviour. We need an Office for the Bloody Annoying. (Perhaps not, I am sure some colleagues would constantly be referring me to the OBA).

The latest point of irritation for me are the messages you receive AFTER you have unsubscribed. Here are some examples:

  • “It won’t be the same without you”. It was never the same before! It was never anything ever, during or after other than you wasting your money on mailing lists that are not going to bring you my business.
  • “We are sorry to see you go”. No you are not. You don’t know me. In fact, it is a bit of software that generates these replies and software is currently incapable of having regrets.
  • “Click here if you have unsubscribed by mistake”. No I haven’t made a mistake. The only mistake I could make is to engage with your rubbish business.

There are other aspects that annoy me (I am enjoying writing this rant, by the way).

I get annoyed by sites that make you work to unsubscribe: follow this or that link, select options for what list you wish to unsubscribe from, enter your details and not just your email address, and then ask you to complete a survey to justify to them why you want to unsubscribe.

The worst option offered for why you might want to unsubscribe is: “I no longer want to receive these mailings”. The reason is usually I never wanted to hear from you in the first place, I am not interested in refinancing my fleet, I have no interest in leasing a BMW, and my staff don’t have much call for fluorescent jackets or industrial boots. (A few of this week’s generous offers).

And finally, when the opening line of an email is a downright lie like one I received this morning (“We have spoken before about your SEO …” – no we haven’t), I am hardly going to do business with the that company.

I always feel so much better after getting things like this off my chest. Thank you for reading. If you subscribe to this blog, remember, you can always unsubscribe!

First Base Urgent Appeal for Towels

I don’t know about you but I love my early morning shower. It sets me up nicely for the day ahead. But imagine if you are street homeless and you wake up having slept in the clothes you wore the day before, and the night and day before that.

At First Base Day Centre we provide showers as well as toilets, and clean and dry clothes. People who use toilets need toilet paper. We are so grateful to Nadine Schofield and PMOD (Project Management on Demand) who are paying for all our toilet paper this year (£571).

imageWe go through a lot of towels at First Base. Each day we need around 200 freshly washed towels. Again, we are grateful to Rebecca Kimber and Create who are paying for all our washing powder this year (£400).

What we need now are towels, not necessarily new, but ones that homeless people at First Base can use.

My colleague, Deidre O’Halloran, the Deputy Manager at First Base, explains: “With the summer finally in full swing, our towel stocks are in need of replenishment. Being able to have daily shower at First Base, not only helps our clients stay hygienic and healthy, but makes a real difference in their ability to face the day ahead.

“If you have any spare towels lying around at home or wish to purchase some from our Amazon wish list or elsewhere, you will be making a difference to the lives of homeless people in Brighton. No donation is too small and all is very much appreciated.”

You can find details of the First Base Amazon Wish List by following this link.

Towels can be dropped off either at First Base itself at St. Stephen’s Hall, Montpelier Place, Brighton, BN1 3BF, or at our head office at 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH.

Thank you so much,

You can also make a regular donation to support our work by following this link.

The government should pull the plug on its Right to Buy policy as it fails to meet its pledge for a one for one replacement target

(This item first appeared in my Opinion column in the Brighton Argus on 10th August 2016)

When the government extended the subsidies available for tenants to buy their council homes, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised that all the homes sold as a result would be replaced within three years.

Analysis by the magazine Inside Housing has revealed that this pledge is almost certain to be missed.

Had discounts not been increased, expected sales for the period between 2012/13 and 2015/16 were 14,336. After the subsidies had been raised to £75,000 outside London and £100,000 in the capital, 41,755 were actually sold.

This meant that an additional 27,419 homes are needed to be built to meet the pledge. The actual number of new homes started in that period was just 6,526, a deficit of 20,893.

The Right to Buy makes no sense whatsoever from an economic or housing perspective. For a while it made electoral sense, as witnessed by the success of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but now it defies all logic as the housing crisis deepens.

The Right to Buy is great news for those who already are housed, but does nothing for those on waiting lists, in overcrowded or temporary accommodation, or those who are homeless.

Rather than proceeding with their plans to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations, Theresa May and her new housing minister Gavin Barwell should pull the plug on this ridiculous policy and invest Right to Buy subsidies into new social homes for rent, built by councils or housing associations.

Fancy singing some Christmas Carols and helping First Base this Christmas?

We are looking for people to sing carols at our Big Christmas Street Collection on Saturday 17th December between 1.30pm and 4.00pm.  All proceeds will go to First Base Day Centre which provides a range of services to support people who are sleeping rough or insecurely housed in Brighton and Hove.

Christmas Carol Singing for First Base - Christmas jumpers optional!

Christmas Carol Singing for First Base – Christmas jumpers optional!

My colleague, Shelley Reed, who is one of the organisers of the Christmas Collection said:

Shelley Reed

Shelley Reed

“Singers and collectors will be located at one of the 20 collection sites around Brighton and Hove. So far we have half a dozen choirs or groups of carol singers.

“You don’t have to be King’s College Choir, you just need to be able to sing vaguely in tune, make a lot of noise and show you are having fun!

“We are extremely grateful for the support we have received so far from local businesses including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, and Morrisons.”

If you would like to take part please contact Shelley Reed at BHT on 01273 645403 or by email.

Some of my photos from Brighton Pride 2016

Many thanks to Martin Harris for Brighton and Hove Buses for the invitation to be on the Brighton Argus / Brighton and Hove Buses float at Brighton Pride 2016

BHT's Senion Manager for Mental Health Services, Sharon Munnings

BHT’s Senion Manager for Mental Health Services, Sharon Munnings

BHT BOard member, Bill Randall with his granddaughter

BHT BOard member, Bill Randall with his granddaughter

With Sharon Munnings

With Sharon Munnings

With the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, Katy Bourne

With the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, Katy Bourne

With BHT Board member, Bill Randall

With BHT Board member, Bill Randall

With the head of Brighton Police, Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp

With the head of Brighton Police, Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp

The BHT Pride Open-top Bus

The BHT Pride Open-top Bus

On the Brighton Argus / Brighton and Hove Busess Float

On the Brighton Argus / Brighton and Hove Busess Float – me far right. (Not one of my photos, sorry, I can’t remember who to credit)