York Council publishes list of sinners

Scam busters Jan 2016
Click for list

The York Council has published a list of individuals that it has had to take legal action against between 1st April and 30th September.

A report explains what action was taken and explains why cautions were issued in some cases.

The list includes

  • 6 cases where cafes breached Food safety and hygiene regulations and were prosecuted plus another 6 cases where cautions were issued
  • 3 cases under trading standards legislation
  • 3 more serious fraud cases
  • 134 cases where Council house tenants were prosecuted for breaches of tenancy conditions (mainly anti-social behaviour with costs awarded varying up to £357 per tenant)
  • 108 cases where evictions form Council properties was sought because of rent arrears.
  • 6 other cases where possession of a council house was sought including a case of non occupation

Perhaps surprisingly no mention is made of any Fixed Penalties Notices issued to dog owners who did not clean up after their pets. 

The report will be discussed on 19th January

270 social housing tenants in York face big rent hike under “Pay to Stay” legislation

‘Pay to stay’ law would force social tenants to declare income

The York Council has revealed that 270 tenants with high earning may be required to pay the market rent for their homes from 2017.

Rent levels in York

Rent levels in York

Announced in the Budget, the ‘pay to stay’ policy means social housing tenants with household incomes over £30,000, or over £40,000 in London, would have to pay a market or near market level of rent. The measure would come into effect in April 2017.

The government had previously said that  it might introduce legislation requiring tenants to declare their incomes in future but said all income raised would be available for investment in affordable housing.

The Budget document said while Housing Associations will keep the extra money to fund development, Councils must hand it to the Treasury.

We think this will be ‘pay to go’: people will decide to exercise their “right to buy”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates the policy would affect 10% of social housing tenants.

Councils fear collecting the data would be expensive and difficult, particularly for existing tenants and when tenants’ earnings change.

Legislation will be included on a Housing Bill, which is also set to introduce the extension of the right-to-buy (discounts) to housing association tenants

Housing and benefits advice service collapses in Acomb

Change to rent payments imminent

When Labour closed the Council’s local branch office in Acomb in February 2013, residents were promised that replacement advice services would continue to be provided.Whatever happened to land behind Acomb library

To avoid a long trip to the new Council HQ in the City centre, the intention had been to provide a small extension at the Acomb Library where housing and neighbourhood workers would be permanently located. The Council had by 2010 purchased land to allow the extension to take place.

The land (left), which is located between the library and the bowling club, still lies derelict and unused 5 years later.

The Housing Departments promise of improved advice services have proved to be derelict. The West Office reception area is often very busy and the time taken to answer telephone calls can sometimes be excessive.

Services at local community centres have also faded away.

  • There have been no housing advice sessions at Gateway since January
  • Chapelfields has also been cancelled.
  • Space 217 in Holgate has not been used for advice sessions on a regular basis.
  • None are taking place in Dringhouses.

This leaves only Foxwood operating but with little publicity.

Kingsway abandoned noticeboard

Kingsway abandoned noticeboard

The Council web site does show Foxwood and Acomb Explore Library as functioning (but offering only a telephone contact) There is little local publicity  with the phantom public notice boards in the Kingsway area remaining unused and continuing to display  information which is two years out of date.

While many enquiries will be dealt with by phone, a substantial increase in calls is likely to be generated by the move to the Universal Credit (UC) system in a few weeks time.

UC is paid monthly to the tenant and can be on any day of the month.

No account will be taken of the 48 week rent year in UC. Some may find it difficult to budget on this basis and there is a great risk that rent arrears will rise.

The UC pilots around the country have seen a big increase in rent arrears and tenants have struggled to cope with monthly payments made direct to themselves.

Housing Department consults on move to 52 week rent payment system

In a note to Tenants Associations the Council says,

“City of York Council tenants (Secure and Introductory) currently get charged rent over 48 weeks rather than over the full financial year of 52 weeks. There are 4 rent free weeks, 2 over Christmas and 2 at the end of March.

5894 of 7749 tenants are of working age. 63.49% of tenants claim full or partial Housing Benefit (HB), many while earning a wage, paid direct to the rent account. This is automatically adjusted by the HB department to account for the 48 week rent year.

Working age tenants will be paid housing costs (formerly HB) via Universal Credit (UC) in the near future.

This is a risk for Council and it’s tenants as this money pays for services

It is also a risk for individual tenants who could be at risk of losing their home if they fall in to rent arrears. We can help tenants budget by removing the rent free weeks and giving them good advice.

Direct Debit payers currently pay in 12 instalments over the year, and their account goes in to arrears because of the rent free weeks.

Weekly rent would be reduced as the rent is spread over more weeks:

If your current rent is £81.25 per week and is collected over 48 weeks you will pay £3900 per year.

When you move over to 52 weeks your rent will be £75.00 per week which is £3900 per year.

For tenants that want to retain the rent free weeks we could look at ways of taking payments say through standing order or direct debit that mean they get a rent free period…or simply work out the weekly amount for you.

Most housing organisations have already changed to a 52 week rent year”.

Coupled with failure to provide estate improvements in some areas – where officials have decided that the absence of a formal residents association means no budget can be allocated – the latest revelations are likely to increase pressure on Councillors to undertake a root and branch review of the effectiveness of social housing management in the City

York housing estates – more evidence of neglect

Not surprisingly many tenants are bemused as rents continue to rise while maintenance standards on estates fall.

Fly tipping on Green Lane Acomb garage forecourt

Fly tipping on Green Lane (Acomb) garage forecourt today

Council tenants have faced a 28% increase in rent levels over the last 5 years.

The York Council is expected to have a £15 million surplus balance on its housing account at the end of this year.

Yet little has been invested in improvements and communal areas are too often targets for graffiti and dumping.

Weeks elapse before clean ups are arranged

York Council Housing rents and balances. Click to enlarge

York Council Housing rents and balances. Click to enlarge

Strangely the York Council housing  department is the only part of the local authority which has seen no cuts at all in funding during the last 4 years yet service standards are declining.

There is little evidence that the Labour Councillors who are responsible for Council housing ever routinely visit estates to ensure that service standards are acceptable.

Time for a change of approach we think!

£13 million surplus on York Council Housing account leads to “peer review”

One improvement, which we understand has now got the go ahead, will be aimed at dealing with parking problems on Hammerton Close

One improvement, which we understand has now got the go ahead, will be aimed at dealing with parking problems on Hammerton Close

A review of the, York Councils, Housing Business Plan is being put off until July.

The new plan was to have been revealed at a “Cabinet” meeting scheduled to take place next month.

Instead, apparently the Darlington Borough Council are to be involved in a “peer review” of Council Housing management in York. Darlington is also a Labour controlled local authority.

The delay will come as little surprise to many tenants  who have complained about lack of progress with much needed  estate improvements.  There is a long list of outstanding work including many requests for improved car parking, better security, renewal of fencing and upgrades to communal areas.

It appears that, despite the backlog of work, this years (2013/14) estate improvement budget  may not be fully utilised.

The Councils decision, not to use some of its £13 million surplus to buy additional Council homes on the open market, should be scrutinised.

NB The Council have again put off considering a report on how to deal with parking enforcement problems on Council estates.

The issue was first scheduled for consideration last autumn, but is now unclear when – or even if – the matter will be debated.

LibDems taking action in Lowfields area

Damaged verges. W're asking he Council to s[end some of its £13 million housing profit on verge cross overs and/or lay bys

Damaged verges. We’re asking the Council to spend some of its £13 million housing profit on verge cross overs and/or lay bys

Litter drift on Lowfields amenity area reported. The fence-line of the Acomb Car park has accumulated large amounts of litter over the last 3 months.

Litter drift on Lowfields amenity area reported. The fence-line of the Acomb Car park has accumulated large amounts of litter over the last 3 months.

The Council should ensure that garage areas are kept clear of rubbish and weeds. Too many of them never get any maintenance attention despite high rent levels.

The Council should ensure that garage areas are kept clear of rubbish and weeds. Too many of them never get any maintenance attention despite high rent levels.

The Council is being asked to intervene following fears expressed by some residents about the safety of large trees in the area. Large branches fell off during recent high winds.

The Council is being asked to intervene following fears expressed by some residents about the safety of large trees in the area. Large branches fell off during recent high winds.

York Council house rents up 5% despite record surplus

Despite having a record high £13 million surplus on the housing account, Labour plan to increase rent levels by 5%.in April.

Bramham Road flats

The Council have stubbornly refused to use the surplus to buy additional homes on the open market.

Meanwhile new figures released by the Council confirm that most of the 2333 people registered on the housing waiting list are single and are seeking one bedroomed accommodation.

856 of these are aged under 30.

£16 million owed to York Council

The Council has published a list of the outstanding amounts owed to it in each of the last 3 years.
Uncollected debts
The size of the debt shows an upward trend which could lead to cash flow problems if not reversed.

Although many of the debts will eventually be recovered, some will not.

There have been significant increases in the amounts owed on business rates, former tenant arrears and sundry debts.

In total the amounts owed have increased from £12 million to £16 million over a 3 year period.