spf-forum-minutes-29-05-13 - Southwark Pensioners Centre

Southwark Pensioners Forum
The Future of Housing in Southwark
Inspire Centre, Liverpool Grove, Southwark 29th May 2013,
82 people were present including Councillors, Council officers, SPC staff, SPC
trustees, speakers and volunteers: (the full sign in sheet has been filed at SPC).
Feedback forms: 42 forms were completed (filed at SPC)
Southwark Pensioners staff present: Verusca Calabria (Southwark Pensioners
Forum Officer).
Southwark Pensioners Centre volunteers: Nafisa Mirza (SPC volunteer),
Madeleine Kekwick (SPC volunteer).
Southwark Pensioners Centre committee: Denise Nichols (SPF chair), Kurban
Haji, Tom White, Jacky Bourke-White (Age UK, Southwark and Lewisham), Tony
Southwark Council: Ian Wingfield (Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet
Member for Housing Management), Alice Orr-Ewing (Resident Involvement
Coordinator), Lynne Ottaway-Reid (Resident Involvement Officer), Ambrose Omoma
(Resident Involvement Officer).
Independent Speakers: Sarah Pearce (Southwark Law Centre Solicitor), Ian Ritchie
(Southwark Group Tenants), Henry Mott (Defend Council Housing).
Other Councillors present: Councilor David Noakes, Lorraine Lauder, Poddy
Neil White (SPC director), Ian Adams (SPF committee), Cllr Catherine McDonald
(Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Cllr for Livesey Ward), Cllr Toby
Eckersley, Cllr Peter John, Cllr Veronica Ward, Cllr Anood Al-Samarai.
Morning Session
Elizabeth Rylance Watson was formally received as a new committee member of the
Southwark Pensioners Forum.
The Chair (Denise Nicholls) began the meeting with an introductory note on the
history of social housing in Britain, recalling a time of optimism when the welfare
state was formed in post war Britain. She stated the universal right everyone has to a
decent home, She pointed out the damaging effects of selling social housing in the
1970s which has resulted in present lack of housing stock.
Alice Orr-Ewing (Southwark Council Resident Involvement Coordinator)
introduced the current housing consultation that the Resident involvement section of
the council has been carried out. In summary, the council is looking at the long term
issues of housing in the borough with a 30 years strategy in mind. An independent
housing commission has been appointed, tasked with the job of putting forward a
plan for the future of housing in Southwark. The evidenced based results of the
consultation will be reported back to the cabinet. The consultation with Southwark
residents covers the following questions:
Who council housing should be for and for how long
How much council housing should there be and to what standard of quality
How council housing should be managed
The consultation is the first step in developing the council’s long term plan, which will
hopefully start a bigger conservation about council housing, a relevant issue to
everybody in Southwark. So far 75 consultation events have taken place all over the
The council is particularly keen to know what Southwark residents think about shelter
housing including the minimum age for application; this aspect of the consultation is
covered under the section ‘who is council housing for’. All participants to the event
were encouraged to fill in the consultation questionnaire and make their voice heard
on the future of housing. Alice ended her presentation to explain to the audience that
if nothing is done regarding the shortage of social housing in Southwark, the property
stock will go down to 30000 homes.
Cllr Ian Wingfield, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for
Housing Management reassured the audience that the current council
administration takes the issue of housing very seriously. The current housing service
was formed 3 years ago as a direct response to the previous lack of qualified
individuals working on housing issues. Now there are a number of good services
available for residents who need repairs; there is a half a billion pound’s gap for
major repair work in the borough; 8000 council units were lost in the previous
administration. Cllr Ian Wingfield emphasized that the major repair services were put
in place through his parliamentary committee which include the introduction of
monthly reports holding to account the contractors in charge of the Housing repair
call centre.
The council’s resident involvement team is working to consult with Southwark
residents to provide home improvements through the ‘dry and safe programme’; the
programme was a direct response to a local fire tragedy. The council is investing 50
million pound in housing by bringing the current social housing stock to good
standards. An example of the council’s commitment to improve the current housing
stock is the addition of sprinkler systems in all council housing which is costing 60
million pounds in order to provide housing safety; however the scheme is facing
issues from lease holders who can refuse to have that work installed in their which
creates a problem. Resident safety has to be put at the fore front of all decisions.
The council is committed to building 1000 homes before 2020 and that the policy of
right to buy is starting up again; the council received 23 ‘right to buy’ applications last
year compared to 850 to 900 applications this year. Cllr Wingfield explained that the
council has had to face an income loss of 3.5 million pounds. The issue of affordable
housing for all remains open and Cllr Wingfield is committed to create investment
and businesses to get local economy going and provide opportunities for young
people, particularly in response to the riots.
Sarah Pearce, Housing Solicitor, Southwark Legal Centre addressed the issues
tenants face when renting in the private sector which has become common due to
the lack of social housing availability. Private rented housing sector is unregulated;
only until 1989 the Rent Act provided similar security new private tenancies are short
hold tenancies, which means there are no control of rents in the private sector. There
is the additional problem of securing accommodation as only a small percentage of
private housing is available to people on benefits. There is very little security of
tenures as all lets are short-hold tenancies; landlord can issue possession orders.
The maximum length of tenancies is 12 months. Additionally, rents are unregulated,
there are no rent controls and no officers to support tenants. Housing benefit
claimants will be limited by the housing limit allowance, known as the ‘bedroom tax’;
housing benefit will only pay a fixed amount, very small amounts that do not cover
the current housing market costs. Southwark is a relatively expensive area; it is
extremely difficult to find affordable housing in private sector in this area; however it
is important to remember that universal credit will not be affecting pensioners.
Private rented housing requires a deposit, which in turn must be protected otherwise
a landlord’s 2 months’ notice doesn’t hold; Sarah explained there are lots of onerous
provisions; landlords are under obligation to carry out repairs. Sarah reiterated the
inherent lack of security of renting in the private sector and that the situation is being
made worse with the cuts to legal aid. Sarah concluded her presentation by stating
that finding affordable housing is going to be very difficult for people on benefits, both
because of the lack of affordable homes and the prohibitive costs of privately rented
Questions and comments
Information was requested on sheltered housing: Cllr Wingfield confirmed there are
650 units at the moment; the current age of application is 70 years old; the question
is whether it should be kept to this age or changed. All participants were encouraged
to express their views on the matter in the consultation questionnaire. The council is
looking to build more units
Information was requested on how this consultation would be used – how much
notice is the council going to take on what older people say as no one every hears
what happens to the information received.: Alice Orr-Ewing reassured the audience
that the Council has a new approach to community engagement that includes
feeding back to the residents. Charlie Cherril responded by saying that in his
experience the residents’ feedback does not seem to affect the policies as he has not
seen result of that feedback. Ian Wingfield hopes that the cabinet will decide from the
issues drawn from the consultation that there may need to be more consultation and
more community involvement.
Information was requested about how many people are waiting for sheltered housing
and the number of older people living in tower blocks who are likely to need sheltered
housing in the near future. It was stated that there were current rumours that
sheltered housing going to be demolished or sold off, but the council team answered
that there are currently 250 people on a waiting list; new units are being built and will
be ready in 2 years’ time; Council recognises the poor conditions of existing
sheltered housing; but there is no intention of selling these, The council needs to
have a strategy to renovate the current stock. Cllr Lorraine Lauder added that
tenants associations can support residents’ views and that everyone should join their
local tenants association to gain a voice.
A question was asked about the availability of affordable homes by 2020 apart from
the 1000 units being built. The Council will be building 100 council properties by 2020.
On top of that there will be other types of council housing such as affordable
schemes. However, a number of new builds will be sold through the right to buy
schemes; as previously mentioned; these applications have more than doubled.
A question was asked about what is happening with the empty Heygate estate. A
detailed account was given by Cllr Wingfield of the problems the council has faced
over the last ten years. It was confirmed that the estate will be owned and managed
privately with only a small number of affordable units.
a question was asked about whether private rents were going to subside the council
rents. There was a suggestion that the council should look into alternative ways to
provide homes like using prefabricated homes.
A question was asked about how many people are leaving the borough because of
prohibitive costs. Most properties are out of the price range – must move out of
London but this is pushing rent prices up; the council is favoring Croydon as a
location for re-housing. The cost of renting has become prohibitive – with rent prices
averaging £1000 per month for a 2 bedroom property. There are currently 20,000
people on the council waiting list.
Another comment was made about stopping the selling of the land in Southwark. The
general feedback from the council was that the lack of council housing is a London
wide problem.
Afternoon Session: Question Time Panel
The panel consisted of Henry Mott (Defend Council Housing) Ian Ritchie (Southwark
Group of Tenants Organizations). Sarah Pearce (Housing Solicitor) and Cllr Ian
Wingfield. C9omments were invited from the audience. The following is a summary
of the main points of the discussion.
The Chair introduced the panel and invited them to comment on some observations
made from a member of the audience during the break that there were too many
council houses and that people should be encouraged to stand on their own two feet
Henry Mott said he is a Labour party supporter and a socialist, he stated that council
housing is a whole mark of decent society. He referred to the Beveridge report,
housing was in dire state at the time and the state worked to change that.
Sarah Pearce said that a safe home so important. Council housing is the only real
Ian Wingfield stated there is a long tradition of providing council housing in this
country; economic revival must be based on capital investment, through housing
building. He Ian told the audience that having a decent home is part of an
infrastructure of a decent society and that a burgeoning number of housing privateers
are speculating on the roofs over our heads. The situation will get worse and we
need much more housing; the proposed 39000 homes are not enough; we are losing
115 council housing per year and there is a housing deficit even if being built. There
is a need of much more social housing in the borough.
Mary Phillips, secretary of East Dulwich estate of tenants association asked about
how to campaign to make sure we have enough housing, and whether it should be
done at a local, central government or EU levels.
Ian Ritchie responded by saying that we must campaign with all of these bodies –
housing is a local and national issue too. We must start thinking outside the box
when it comes to thinking about social housing as 1.5 million people in work cannot
afford housing, the issue is not only affecting people on benefit.
The Chair brought the panel back to the question of how can we take this campaign
forward. There is a need to engage with the government as the majority of people on
benefits are in work.
Sarah Pearce said that the problem in this country is how debate is framed; it has
become a crime to be poor.
Henry Mott advocates leaving the European Union. Kurban Haji urged everyone to
join their tenants association to get their voices heard.
Charlie Cherril said that the real power of the people is in the vote.
Another comment was made on the importance of learning how to influence
politicians at the European Union level.
Ian Ritchie said that there are 5 and a half million social council tenants in Britain,
there is the potential to get these votes but nothing is being done.
Another member of the audience commented that joint ventures between the council
and private companies could solve the problem. Denise Nicholls remembered that
the private finance initiative was a big disaster – the implications can be very difficult.
Tony Lynes asked what can be done to encourage under occupiers to share their
spaces with younger people. The council responded that there is an organization
doing this and information can be provided.
Henry Mott added that there are some safeguarding issues – sharing home with a
young lodger could cause safety problems.
Ian Ritchie said that the council circulated a letter about how to take in a lodger – if
you are on benefits the government will make an assumption that you will make an
income but this is nothing to do with solving the housing crisis.
Sarah Pearce added that there is the additional effect on people’s income and
benefits when making money from renting out social housing.
Ian Wingfield said that people should be encouraged to downsize; the council cannot
sustain single people living in 3 to 4 bedroom homes; there is pressure to resolve this
issue; the council is not forcing people to move but to make it easier to downsize.
The council tried to support lease holders who are equity rich but income poor – with
the help of schemes to deal with financial problems – i.e. paying their service
Another comment was that the meeting was very well attended and whether the
information will be disseminated.
The Chair assured the meeting that minutes will be circulated to all relevant
individuals and will be available via the Southwark Pensioners Centre website and
via prior request.
Lynne Ottaway-Reid added that the consultation finishes at the end of the month; the
consultation results will go to parliament in July and there will be feedback on the
council’s website;
Ian Wingfield will try to ensure that the information is broken down by area and that
the information is ready at least 2 weeks before the parliament meeting.
The chair wound up the discussion by asking the audience if they had any ideas
about who these minutes should go to; suggestions were the London Broadcasting
Corporation, the National Pensioners’ convention, the National Defend Council
Housing group.
The Pastor from St. George’s church encouraged the forum to engage with the local
faith leaders who can help with this debate.
Ian Ritchie added that Southwark council relies on the internet to find social homes
but 71% of social housing tenants in the borough do not have access to the internet.
The Chair thanked the panel. She thanked Verusca Calabria for her hard work and
announced the said news that this was Verusca’s last meeting as she had accepted
a full-time position. Everybody wished her well and appreciated how much she had
achieved in her short stay with SPC.