Proposals for balanced housing budget for 2018-19 approved by Leader of the Council

News release from 31 January 2018, 12:17pm

A COMMITMENT to provide more housing for people in need is the top priority for Cambridge City Council, as set out in its Housing Revenue Account Budget Setting Report (HRA BSR), which was approved by Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of the Council, today.

The report describes how the council will invest in housing services in the coming year, targeting resources on those people who are in greatest need.

The decision on whether to approve the HRA BSR was referred to Cllr Herbert after members of Housing Scrutiny Committee supported amendments to it on 17 January, which the executive councillor for housing did not approve.

These amendments related to reducing rents for people in newly built three or four bed homes, increasing support for tenants in adapting to Universal Credit in addition to existing support, surveying estates to identify external and communal spaces in need of repair and reviewing repairs to vulnerable tenants.

The matter was subsequently referred to the Leader of the Council for a decision.

Cllr Herbert said: “Our priorities for housing are very clear - we are focused on providing more housing for people in need - and that is what we intend to deliver.

“Cambridge faces huge pressure on its housing that means it is increasingly unaffordable to middle and low income earners. That is why our plans for more housing remain central to helping and supporting people who need it most.”

Commenting specifically on the HRA BSR, Cllr Herbert said: “We value the challenge of the committee and there are several learning points from the discussion and views put forward, but I have concluded that there is greater merit in the original proposals.

“I therefore support the original report’s recommendations on rent policy, Universal Credit advice, work to improve housing estates and repairs services for vulnerable people.

“Now, we need to show greater urgency in making external improvements to housing areas. We will commission consultants to survey all of our housing land in the summer if we have not been able to recruit further surveyor staff to do it ourselves.

“We know that some areas need improving and the committee has rightly emphasised this. If any council tenant or leaseholder has a suggested improvement to an external area they should raise it with their local housing officer and local councillors too.

“We have an annual budget of £800,000 and we want to see this funding spent each year in addition to the £200,000 budget specifically for fencing.

“Funding for Universal Credit advice will be kept under review for our tenants and everyone else being put on Universal Credit by the government from October, and we will consult tenant representatives before the planned report on repairs services for our more vulnerable tenants goes to committee later this year.”

The council has delivered 278 new homes in Cambridge since 2015, of which 242 are new council homes and plans for a further 221 homes across 17 sites are in the pipeline.

Some 500 new council homes will be built using £70 million secured as part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal. Right to Buy receipts from council house sales will also be put back into building more homes.

The HRA BSR report sets out how the council proposes to make savings against a target of £250,000 from its housing service for 2018-2019 to ensure it can continue to provide services to tenants, taking account of changes to government policy and the continued requirement to reduce rents.

Two years ago, the government instructed councils to cut social housing rents by 1% annually for four years and 2018-19 will be the third year of reductions, subject to any revised instructions from government.

The effect of this, over the four years, will be to reduce income to the council from its 7,000 tenancies by over £6 million per year by 2019-20.

Other legislative changes are expected to put pressure on the housing budget such as the proposed sale of high value assets, although the detail for this national policy is still awaited.

Efficiency measures already made include bringing the housing team together in one area office and reducing the turnaround time to let a standard council home to a new tenant.

A review of management and staff levels has already achieved savings in the current year, alongside changes to the planned maintenance programme to council homes.

The council is working on further initiatives to refocus the services it provides, and to clarify which repairs tenants are responsible for. It is also exploring options for sharing some housing services with other councils.

Councillors will consider the capital elements of the HRA BSR at Full Council on 22 February.