Jul 032014
 

It’s taken about eight months, but I finally got the information I requested on the Social Housing Grant (SHG). Though let me make it clear that I attach no blame to the Housing and Regeneration section of the ‘Welsh’ Government or the Housing Directorate (which, despite being in Wales is, I believe, an outpost of the UK / England Department for Communities and Local Government); for both have been very helpful. It seems that in the first instance I was asking for too much information, which exceeded the obligations placed on government departments by the Freedom of Information Act, with the delay extenuated by me seSocial Housing Grantnding e-mails to someone who’d left his job but whose e-mail account was still open and accepting incoming e-mails!

As you might have guessed, I’m talking about housing associations, and more especially, how much they receive from the ‘Welsh’ Government through the SHG (click on panel to enlarge). In other words, public funding, money that could – with different priorities – be spent on other things. Between 2008 and 2013 housing associations in Wales were given £692,541,022.51. (I can give you the figure to the exact penny because that’s how it was given to me.) However you look at it, 692 million is a lot of moolah. It could have built a few hospitals, 12 Newtown bypasses, covered most the M4 upgrading, re-opened the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth railway line, or funded a lot of other projects around the country. And remember, that’s just the money received from one funding scheme over six years. There is also the funding prior to 2008 to be considered, funding from other sources, plus the loans that housing associations are allowed to negotiate. Putting it all together makes it clear that social housing is big business, and accounts for a lot of money in a small country like Wales.

Before looking more closely at some of the individual recipients of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s largesse, maybe I should give some background and explain what kind of beast we are dealing with. Anyone over the age of forty-five will remember that social housing used to be the responsibility of the local council; in other words, council houses. Housing associations were usually small organisations supplementing the work of local councils in catering for specific groups, be they disabled ex-servicemen, Jewish widows or distressed gentlefolk. Then came the hammer-blow of Right to Buy legislation (Housing Act 1980) coupled with the inability of councils to use the funding raised to build replacement dwellings. Housing associations were then encouraged into a cannibalistic feeding frenzy that left us with fewer, but bigger organisations while – in Wales at least – they were also stopped from buying existing properties. This seemed to serve a number of purposes: keeping up the stock of social housing, providing work for private builders (as opposed to councils’ own workforces) and, in rural and coastal areas of Wales, ensuring that no cottages or houses that might prove attractive to English buyers became social housing. I believe that my suspicions about the purpose and activities of housing associations began around this time.

The housing associations we see today are either the result of one merger after another of the old units, or else shiny new organisations resulting from councils selling off their housing stocks. All tend to be ‘not for profit’ Industrial and Provident Societies registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, which makes it rather more difficult, and expensive, to get information on them than if they were registered with the Charity Commission or Companies House. (Though there are usually abbreviated accounts on their websites.) In addition, they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, even though councils’ housing departments are! Odd, really, that it’s so difficult to get information on bodies receiving so much public funding.

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The breakdown, by housing association, can be found below (in PNG format, click to enlarge); or here in Spreadsheet format, with links to each HA website available by clicking on the HA name in the left-hand column. I would suggest opening either file in another window to better follow what I’m going to say. Or just use it to check up on your local housing association. (Right click on the panel, then click on ‘Open link in new window’ or however your browser words it.)

Social Housing full

A quick scan reveals that Wales & West Housing Association got the largest amount in the period covered by the table, no less than £63 million. I had cause to mention Wales and West not long ago, when I learnt that it will Wales & West Housingborrow up to £25m from the UK government, through the Affordable Housing Guarantees, “to build 251 homes in Wales”. (Left, click to enlarge.) Why is the UK government loaning money to a Welsh housing association to build homes in Wales? It doesn’t make sense. The other big gainers are all familiar to me, though some of the smaller ones are eyebrow-raisers, and I always get suspicious when I see ‘Wales’ in the name of any organisation, for it often means an English outfit with a Welsh presence that may be nothing more than a post-box.

Having mentioned mergers earlier, Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd and Cymdeithas Tai Eryri have recently merged to form Grŵp Cynefin which, by happy chance, I wrote about quite recently. The episode in Tywyn tells us quite a lot about how housing associations really operate. In my experience they are devious, if not dishonest; promoting themselves as the answer to society’s ills while operating as ruthless and almost secretive commercial entities. Not only is it difficult to get informaTai Cantreftion about housing associations but what they do put out is often misleading, sometimes deliberately so. Take this sentence, highlighted on page 12 of the 2013 – 14 annual report of Cymdeithas Tai Cantref, which operates out of Castell Newydd Emlyn and covers an area from Machynlleth to just south of Fishguard, and inland as far as Llandovery. Note the use of the deliberately misleading term ‘people living locally’ in the hope that anyone reading it will think it means locals. It does not.

Go down to page 16 and you will read this: “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. An interesting passage in a number of ways. For it identifies yet another income stream from the ‘Welsh’ Government, given as funding for what is clearly not social housing. Or to put it another way, the almost inevitable coming together of two ways in which Welsh public funding is used for the benefit of England, social housing and higher education.

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Soon after starting on this post I bought the latest issue of our weekly rag, the Cambrian News, where I came across this story, involving an outfit to which I just introduced you, Grŵp Cynefin. This time the project is in Harlech, a place close to my heart from having spent a couple of years there, in good company, in good pubs, Cambrian News, Harlech homeswearing flares and hair over my shoulders . . . I even made it to the Coleg once or twice. (I also met the missus there, but we don’t want to spoil a happy memory, do we.) Anyway, click to enlarge and read it for yourself.

Warms the cockles of your heart, no? What callous brute could possibly object to sheltered housing for adults with learning difficulties? Well, me, for one, if there is no local demand for such housing. Because when I read that story I reminded myself that certain agencies in England would pay handsomely to relocate their clients to Wales. If that’s what will happen in Harlech then it will make this development little more than a housing association irresponsibly increasing the load on the Welsh NHS.

The problem here is obvious, it extends across the social housing sector. There is too much knee-jerk reaction on the part of politicos at all levels to requests for funding – with no thought to the bigger picture and the wider implications – when those making the requests exert emotional blackmail by pressing certain buttons. The biggest ‘button’ is social housing itself, beneath which can be found an array of secondary controls that include ‘sheltered housing for adults with learning difficulties’, ‘victims of domestic violence’, alien abductees, etc. (Go on, make up your own, I guarantee nobody will challenge it! It’s money for old rope.) All such requests for funding or planning should be answered by a simple question from our politicians: ‘Is there a demand from within the established local community for these properties?’ If no such demand exists, then funding, planning permission, and all other help should be refused.

Had this rule been followed, in tandem with a locals-only allocation policy, it would have saved lives and avoided many other tragedies, such as that which unfolded in Kidwelly not long ago, in properties owned by the Gwalia Group (£30 million raked in in the period covered). Gwalia housed Colin Batley and his paedophile gang; an appalling episode that reminds us of a darker side to social housing that the touchy-feely, politically correct, social conscience burdened hypocrites running our housing associations would rather not discuss; namely, providing accommodation for known criminals and undesirables from over the border, inflicting them on Welsh communities. Where does this leave the sanctimonious piffle about ‘being committed to serving our communities’? Yet more bollocks from housing associations.

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The social housing sector is an unsustainable drain on the Welsh public purse. It soaks up vast amounts of money, providing more dwellings than are needed in many (usually rural) areas and often not enough in other (usually urban) areas. It is made up of semi-secret organisations that are – despite the public funding – private companies in all but name. Too often contracts are given to firms from outside the area of the contract or even from outside Wales, which results a) in a loss of income and jobs to local economies, b) projects taking longer than needed to complete, due to workers having to travel long distances, c) lives put at risk as workers pile into vans for the mad rush home around the time children are leaving school. And all this being done while operating an allocations system that prioritises those who have never set foot in Wales over native-born Welsh. A monster encouraged for 15 years by a political party that is ideologically and emotionally hostile to commercial enterprise and initiative, instead funding its cronies to run housing associations and other third sector chimerae in the hope that the faffings of these charlatans might be mistaken for an economy at work. The truth is, a well-regulated private sector could meet most of Wales’ indigenous social housing Wales needs at a fraction of the cost of housing associations. Housing associations are a drain on the Welsh economy for no discernible return – get rid of them!

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18 Comments on "Housing Associations, Time To End The Madness"

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neiljmcevoyNeil McEvoy
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Housing Association CEOs seem to be on 6 figure packages. Labour has created a new parasitic aristocracy. A very revealing article. Well done and thank you.

Glynchaplin@yahoo.co.uk Chaplin
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Glynchaplin@yahoo.co.uk Chaplin

Where did you get your facts about allocations from?

adarynefoedd
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Slightly unfair Jac, HAs have done a good job providing places for people with learning disability who need this accommodation as their parents get older, also some good practice for people with disabilities, care leavers and extra care accommodation for older people. The real problem in Wales and England is the move from the old style of allocation by status to the needs based system in 1976 added to the problems of the right to buy. I supported the move to the needs based system, unfortunately the shortage of council houses led to the respectable working poor being sidelined in favour of the homeless. We have to remember that prior to needs allocation, homeless families ended up in b and b or in many rural areas in former workhouses.( see Cathy Come Home). The history of public housing is that it was provided for the respectable working poor, and not chaotic families. Decent houses have largely been sold and turn up often as part of someone’s BTL empire. They are then on the whole poorly maintained and degrade their surroundings (see Sandfields Estate in Port Talbot as a good example).

There is a strong argument for ditching needs based allocation, it undoubtedly has resulted in ghettoes and respectable working families being completely unable to gain access to social housing unless they are very lucky. There are some rural examples of locals only allocation which appear to be working. The unintended consequence is that estates end up full of people with problems. The difficulty in scrapping needs based allocation is that vulnerable groups will no longer get priority and will end up back in b and bs and quasi workhouses.

One small step would be to allocate 50% of voids to those on the waiting list. Another would be for public bodies eg community councils to try and and buy back some of the former council houses when they come on the market and allocate them to local people. They would need to be able to access capital to do this as well as being able to manage the tenancies, perhaps this would be an excellent use of the lottery?

You have written a lot about UKIP, one of the things that fuels UKIP and others is the frustration of white working class people with the lack of availability of housing. In my area, 25 years ago there was plenty of housing, those on average wage could buy a basic house or rent from the council. All gone with the availability of reasonably well paid semi skilled work. House prices are completely ridiculous, anything reasonable at the bottom of the market is snapped up by BTLers often rich farmers. No wonder people feel fed up and frustrated, as a Labour supporter I feel that we have completely lost any sense of our core supporters who in turn feel nobody represents their problems.

Gruff
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England has a minimum two year local residency rule for social housing. Some areas of England even opt for a 5 year rule. It’s worth contacting your Assembly member and asking that they offer the same rule to be included in the forthcoming Housing (Wales) Bill. On top of that there’s no reason why the majority of new homes built couldn’t follow a similar scheme as well as being fairly priced to match average local wages. Find your Assembly member in the link and start demanding that the buggers stop prattling on about sustainable development and do something useful:

http://www.senedd.assemblywales.org/mgFindMember.aspx

A Black
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I see one missing from your table , NPT Homes, they were set up after a vote by the former council tenets. At the time a group was set up to campaign for a NO vote , there were 5 non labour councillors who actively supported it, none of the labour members who agreed with its aims had the balls to stand up and speak out.
The NO campaign then asked the council for a list of address of council properties so they could deliver leaflets stating thier side of the debate, only fair as Neath Port Talbot Council were spending over £200k on a yes vote.
To cut a long story short, the bunch of shits , sorry the professional officers of the council never released them, after a damming report by the Information commissioner, finding against the council on some 14 points the address were given to the NO campaign, 8 months after the vote.
This was covered by the media at the time.
Now some 4 years on NPT Homes have moved into a new purpose built offices at Baglan Bay, the housing section of the council managed on one floor previous, despite much disquiet over the composition of the board, and the amount paid to senior managers, over 100k, nothing has appeared anywhere, a good story for the Post?
I cant find out much about this lot anywhere, not even in your table.

ceri
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They would only get SHG to develop new homes, if they have not developed homes during the period shown, they will not have had SHG. HA’s don’t “qualify” for SHG, developments do

Anonymous
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First a confession… I work for a social housing organisation, though i shan’t tell you which one. So, now I’ve got that off my chest, where to begin.

I sympathise with your argument for local lettings, but at the end if the day we mostly accept nominations from the local council, they own the waiting lists, they send us the people, we show them around and if they like the place they take it.

There is a real housing shortage in Wales, we need to build new houses to meet this demand – the grants help us build more! The new houses we build are good quality homes with reasonably low running costs and affordable rents. Without the grants we wouldn’t be able to build so many, which would mean more people in b&bs.

We also refurbish our existing properties to a high standard, far higher than the private sector. Fuel poverty is a massive issue for the UK, but believe it or not, less so in social housing than in the private rented sector. Facts are if you live in social housing your house is likely to be more comfortable and warmer than if you live in the private rented sector.

We are regulated by Welsh Government, and overseen by a non executive board of directors and far from hiding the facts as you purport, i find the level of reporting to be pretty good. Bad Corporate governance is under the limelight of late – think Local Authorities like Carmarthenshire County Council, Pembs council, Anglesey, charities like Aweema, Mewn… None of which will be winning any awards for corporate governance any time soon. I think housing associations are doing ok!

Your concluding paragraph!! wtf?? Would you disband all H.A.s and put up the housing stock for auction? Who would by them? Rich English folk i suspect!!

Check out the accounts of just about every H.A. going in Wales, look at how much money is being invested to improve their housing stock. The bigger ones are pumping tens of millions every year into upgrading their existing stock to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard, while private sector landlords -who btw are exempt from this standard – wait for the other boot to drop which will compel them to improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock.

“… No discernible return…” Get a grip!

treforus
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In my working lifetime, Housing Associations have become very big business indeed. I recall one which I had dealings with 30 years ago which was still run by volunteers who did not even claim travelling expenses and gave up a great deal of their free time to the cause. Ultimately they were forced to give up to more “professional” organisations which ticked more boxes on the then Housing Corporation checklist. Many of the organisations on your list are mergers of many small local associations who used to serve properly a local need but have had to subsumed into the vast “third sector” organisations (they are hardly enterprises) that you list. As you say (and I was staggered once to be told) ,the salaries paid to those at the top of them are massive, they are paid by us but have effectively no accountability to us at all.

They are making a fortune from new “affordable housing”. Every time a builder lays out a site, he has to provide a proportion of affordable housing which means in effect gifting those plots to a housing association and then building the houses for them at a reduced cost. In effect this is another subsidy by the rest of us as it is in lieu of the old Development Land Tax that took a levy to the taxpayers from the builder instead.

Red Flag
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There is a need for affordable rented housing and always will be and as our workforce will need to become more mobile in order to respond faster to local ‘boom and bust’ that demand will increase. There isn’t a cats chance in hell we will ever compete globally with a largely static workforce – it must be able to respond and relocate in within weeks to prevailing conditions..

The private sector cannot provide affordable rented housing – all that will happen is the HB/LHA budget will go through the roof. If you want to do away with social housing then you have to bring in rent controls and guarenteed legal rights for tenants far above what they are now. The only answer to this is a massive house building plan for a decade, at least treble the current planned rate. Creating that much housing brings down the price of houses and thus brings down the price of private rents. It’s availability of housing and mortgages that drives house prices and thus private rents. A shortage of either creates unsustainable prices/rents.

The German housing market – both rented and purchase, is a model we should adopt. If people could see the standard of houses you can rent in the German private sector for less than €400 a month they would be hanging BTL landlords from lamp posts over here alongside property speculators and estate agents.

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