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Welcome to the learning4housing blog. I will be posting my thoughts and opinions on a range of issues facing the social housing sector. You are more than welcome to post your comments, whether you agree or disagree on the points. The aim here is to stimulate some debate on these issues, whether they are about current government policy or about best practice in housing management or strategy.

is an independent training provider for the social housing sector. We cover a wide range of subject areas, including anti-social behaviour, homelessness, resident involvement, void control, choice-based lettings, and complaints management, as well as personal skills development around communication, negotiation, assertiveness, influencing, managing people, etc. Please visit the main website for more information at

Please call David on 07986 246406 to discuss your training needs and how we can help, or email at

Monday, November 22

Security of Tenure and some questions for Mr Shapps...

When Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979, council tenants had no security of tenure. If local authorities wished, they could serve a notice to quit on their tenants and they would have to go. The previous Labour government had a draft housing bill which included a 'tenants' charter' which would have granted security of tenure for tenants. Parts of this bill became the 1980 Housing Act, which included security as well as the right to buy. Thatcher and her Tory cabinet believed - albeit for political reasons - that council tenants deserved a better deal than they had had before. Security of tenure was undoubtedly a step forward for individual tenants as well as the collective tenant movement, which had campaigned on the issue for several years. This level of security, which has meant that tenants have a right to stay in their home for the rest of their lives as long as they keep to the terms of their tenancy agreements. Eviction could only be carried out if a court order was granted by a county court judge, and this was usually on the grounds of persisent non-payment of rent or engagement in serious anti-social behaviour. One of the additional rights that the 1980 Act bestowed was the right - under certain circumstances - to pass their tenancy on to a surviving family member.

These rights to security and to succession have been established as cornerstones of council and housing association tenancies ever since. However, since the election of the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition government, there has been a persistent attack upon these rights, as well as other attempts to effectively change the role of social housing within the overall provison of housing in the country. 

During the summer, Cameron floated the idea that the days of the 'lifetime tenancy' may be numbered - with speculation that 5 to 10 years may be more appropriate. Now we are hearing some more definite proposals from the housing minister, Grant Shapps - and the news is that tenancies may not be restricted to 5 or 10 years in length, but only 2 years! It appears that councils would be able to assess the financial circumstances of tenants after this two-year period, to decide whether they have 'improved' themselves and therefore no longer in need of a social tenancy. Some have argued that the real assessment here is whether the tenant has progressed from being 'undeserving' to 'deserving'.

One of the other developments in council housing has been the removal of subjective judgements by local authority officers and councillors in terms of the allocation of housing. Previously, housing visitors used to inspect prospective tenants' homes and make reports as to their 'standard' and 'suitability' for council housing - all irrespective of housing need. Legisaltion has put paid to this ultra-paternalistic approach, but this is now under threat from the current plans.

There are several practical issues related to the proposals. Here are two of them. First, how are councils going to assess the finances of tenants? Who will have the power to check back accounts? What criteria will be used to make these assessments? What guidance will councils be given, or will there be a general power under the guise of localism, to make decisions on where people are allowed to live? Secondly,could the policy become a disincentive to gaining decent employment, as tenants who do secure a relatively well paid job could be at risk of losing their home. Is there evidence of joined-up thinking across departments here?

The 1996 Housing Act, passed by the the Major government, reduced the duty to provide housing to the homeless to a two-year period rather than a lifetime tenancy. Did this work? No, indeed it did not. There were serious problems which led to a 'revolving door' for tenants - when the two years were up they had to rely on usually unsuitable private rented accommodation under an insecure assured shorthold tenancy, which often lasted six to twelve months. Then they were forced to approach the council again as homeless...etc. etc. The result here, apart from the unsettling nature of the system, led to families - and children in particular - not being able to access essential services, including health provision and settled schooling. Is this the intention of the coalition government? Perhaps Mr Shapps needs to read and consider some of the research that was conducted at the time on this subject.

Social housing providers have been involved in dramatically changing their role over the past 20 years or so. Instead of being mere landlords and concentrating on the 'bricks and mortar' of housing - they have widened their remit to become providers and facilitators of services for some of the most vulnerable people in society. Support for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities have been provided. Services for people with addictions and people leaving the armed forces have also been delivered. Councils and housing associations have been at the forefront of the development of communties where people want to live and want to continue to live. Communities which are safe and secure, where tenants can develop skills and confidence and a pride of place, and put down roots to bridge gaps between generations and beliefs. Does the housing minister believe that the current proposals will assist in this vital work? Does he think that this work has not been worthwhile? 

Yes, there is a long waiting list for the nation's social housing. Cuts to the investment in new social housing is to be slashed.  Is this two-pronged policy the real solution to the 'problems' around social housing? Perhaps there is another route, but will the housing minister reconsider? Perhaps there needs to be a concerted campaign, like the one that brought about security of tenure in the first place.

Thursday, November 18

New Training Courses

Here at learning4housing we pride ourselves in keeping our training courses up to date. With new initiatives and policies being announced almost on a daily basis, this can be something of a challenge. However, we are pleased to announce some new training opportunities for social housing providers. As ever, all training can be tailored to your specific requirements and individual training needs.

The new courses that are being developed developed include the following:

  • Resident-led self regulation and developing the tenant scrutiny role 
    • How can your tenants become genuinely involved within the regulation and scrutiny of housing providers?
    • What practical steps do you need to take?
    • What are the barriers and potential problems?
    • What about leadership and strategy?
  • Tenancy management and law
    • What will the new 'fixed term' tenancy mean for you and your tenants?
    • How will you manage these new tenancies?
    • How will transfer applicants be treated?
    • What extra demands will be placed on front-line staff?
    • What about other rights of secure and assured tenants?
  • Developing 'generic' skills for more effective working
    • How can you become more effective by improving your skills of:
      • assertiveness
      • negotiation
      • influencing
      • communication
      • listening

For further information on learning4housing, please visit our new website at

For an informal discussion about your particular training needs in connection with the above, or regarding our wide range of housing courses, please call David on 07986 246406 or email at 

Wednesday, November 17

Mr. Shapps, Decent Homes, and Hoops

The housing minister Grant Shapps announced the other day that extra funding for decent homes may no longer be restricted to ALMOs who have acheived a two-star rating. Under proposals published by the HCA, councils who have opted to retain their housing management under direct control would also be allowed to bid for extra money. The consultation paper can be found here:

This plan has prompted responses along the lines of "Unfair! How dare you change the rules when all those ALMOs have 'jumped through all those hoops' to get their 2 stars  in order to get their hands on the dosh". Well perhaps we need to step back and think about this a bit. Maybe Mr Shapps is actually doing something positive for once. Amongst the many negative things that he has done so far - and there have been many - he could be about to change a deeply flawed policy that Blair and Brown would not be shifted on. Blair's government set the decent homes standard, which has to be seen as a positive policy due the history of underinvestment in the council housing stock by successive governments. But then came the catch - only councils who were willing to jump those 'hoops' were able to access the money to enable them to reach the decent homes standard. And despite successive Labour Party conferences voting in favour - the so-called 'fourth option' of investing in 'traditional' council housing under a democratically elected local authority - was steadfastly ignored by the Labour leadership. Only those councils who agreed to transfer their stock to a housing association or to set up an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO), were able to obtain additional funds to reach the minimum decency standard. On top of that, New Labour said that only those ALMOs which reached the Audit Commission's 2 star (good) rating would qualify. Hence the 'hoop jumping' complaints.

Whilst I can fully understand the feelings of these ALMOs (and their 'parent' councils) who believe that they have had to implement considerable changes in order to meet government targets. But, was the original Labour policy 'fair'? Complaints by several local housing authorities who, for a variety of reasons, chose not to become a housing association or an ALMO, were that they too could have achieved - and many did - a 2 star or even a 3 star rating, but that there was no opportunity to access extra resources. This clearly led to a belief that the policy was more about who owns and manages the housing stock rather than about the actual need for investment. The challenge now for the council/ALMO sector is to resist accusations of unfairness and try to work within a policy framework which although is not perfect, may just be an improvement on what was there before.

A further point is maybe there are some ALMOs who have successfully jumped their hoops and are now delivering improved services for their tenants and have carried out major investment works to their stock - have perhaps made a jump in the right direction?

Monday, November 15

New learning4housing website launch!!

I am pleased to announce that the NEW learning4housing website is now live and kicking!! The site contains details of the most popular courses that L4H can provide, including a wide range of housing management subjects. In addition, courses on management skills and personal development skills are also available - and all can be tailored to your specific needs. Please take a moment to have a look and feel free to let me know what you think. You can find us at the same address:

Sunday, November 14

Coalition Housing Policies

There was a post to the Inside Housing discussion boards the other day that I thought posed some interesting points on the current housing poilicies that are being followed by the coalition government. I thought that it might be worth re-posting this in an attempt to stimulate some debate on the issues that have been raised. Please let us have your opinions, thoughts, responses to this post. I am sure that some will agree and some will disagree - but debate is healthy...

"There is no realistic parliamentary opposition to the Coalition. The Coalition is simply the continuation of New Labour which in turn was the next step down from the Thatcher/Major period. For example, James Purnell has already boasted that Ian Duncan Smith's mandatory 'community' work for the unemployed simply builds on his own plans to force the unemployed to work for nothing. Flint was the first to suggest making tenancies conditional on work. It was Labour who restricted support for owneroccupiers who have lost their jobs to two years. All Labour have had to say about the new housing policies so far is that cuts to benefits should be introduced a little more slowly. Not a meaningful word about increasing the supply of homes, of helping first time buyers get mortgages for themselves rather than pay the mortgages of their greedy, parasitic private landlords, of the unaffordability of the new 'affordable rent', of the effective demise of national planning policy. Lectures to China on their supposedlack of democracy is hypocritical. We have the same concept, a single political framework and ideology, but available in a choice of colours.

And before people start accusing me of supporting 'scroungers', the 'workshy', 'feckless tenants' can I simply again reiterate that we have just 450,000 vacancies available at the moment. Yes, there is churn but the fact remains - 450,000 jobs, 1,5 million on JSA anda further 3 million on other out of work benefits with another 1.5 million predicted by a number of reputable sources to join them in the next year or so - if every job was filled, even allowing for churn, at any given time between 1 and 4 million people would be without work. The one thing missing from the welfare and benefit reforms is the subject of Beveridge's 1944 report on full employment - that commitment by government to maintain full employment, defined as 97% of the working age population. And I think Beveridge meant with living wages not slave labour rates.

Housing is unaffordable for so many people, not because they are idle, feckless, scroungers but because since 1979 we simply haven't built enough to allow supply to keep pace with demand. Nothing has replaced the municipal sector that was there 1945 through 1979, not for fun, not to create idle feckless people, but because the government recognised that the capitalist system simply could not afford to or was unable to provide homes for everyone. So it filled the gap to maintain a sense of decency for us all. And to keep the workers well housed and fit for work.

Government - and by that I mean ConDems and Labour - no longer govern for the people or indeed the country. They have become so detached from the society they purport to represent that they simply can no longer conceive of anpolicy, practice or initiative that doesn't come out of a think-tank bubble, that doesn't pander to upper class and privileged prejudices"

Is this a bit of a simplistic view of the situation, or are there some grains of truth here? Let's have your views and opinions on where housing policy is likely to take us in the next few years.

Tuesday, November 9

Housing Benefit debate

The House of Commons debate on the proposed housing benefit reforms is to take place this afternoon. The debate outside Parliament has led to some very emotive remarks, with Polly Toynbee of the Guardian even referring to the policy as a 'final solution' (for which she later apologised as being inappropriate). Organisations such as Shelter, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, and even Boris Johnson, have also waded in, with predictions of chaos and of hundreds or thousands of people being displaced from more expensive areas, leading to 'ghettos' of rich and poor being created. The Labour Party, who have called this debate, are clearly hoping to either embarass the Lib Dems, or to get them to vote against the coalition. Be sure to listen or watch this afternoon, for what should prove to be a very interesting debate.