13 January 2014

£65 million council housing boost

Thousands of Brighton & Hove tenants will see improved homes under a £65 million investment plan that includes the biggest council housing scheme proposed for years.

Under the plans more than £37 million is earmarked in 2014/15 for managing, maintaining and improving the city’s 12,000 council homes.

A further £28 million is planned for investment in estate regeneration, new lifts and windows, fire safety improvements, a major rewiring programme, energy efficiency and solar panels, upgrading older sheltered housing and a new programme of council house building.

The spending plans for the year will be presented to the Housing Committee on 15 January and go for approval by the Policy and Resources Committee on 13 February.

The lion’s share - £58.48 million - of the investment will be funded by tenants’ rents, service charges and commercial and garage rents. This money is ring-fenced by the Government to ensure the reinvestment meets tenants’ priorities.  £1.3 million of the proposed spend is savings made in the 2013/14 budget.

Councillor Bill Randall, Chair of Housing for Brighton & Hove City Council, said: “This investment will improve tenants’ lives and their health and wellbeing. It will help reduce energy bills and it will tackle inequality and the effects of welfare reform through social and financial inclusion work. Our plans for the year include starting work on 45 extra-care flats for older people with supported housing needs. It will be the biggest council housing scheme built in our city for many years.”

Service charge changes
In response to requests from sheltered housing residents for an intensive management service, it is proposed that their service charges be increased for the first time since 2003 by £2.21 a week in 2014/15 and £2.43 a week in each of the following two years. Housing Benefit would cover the increase for all but 73 of the 855 tenants affected.
 
The proposed average sheltered housing weekly charge of £98.55 for rent and services is below the average charge set by housing associations in the city and by most other local authorities.
 
The service charge proposals were discussed with the residents’ Sheltered Housing Action Group this week. If approved, they will be a central part of the planned reorganisation of the council’s sheltered housing. Residents agreed to discuss a programme for change at their next meeting.
 
“Brighton and Hove is one of the few councils in England still providing site-based managers at sheltered housing schemes,” said Councillor Randall, “It is a service highly valued by residents and is central to our aim to keep older people independent for as long as possible, allow them to lead fulfilled lives and take pressure off the health and other services.”
 
New charges are proposed to cover the cost of lift maintenance (85p a week) and communal lighting (an average of £1 a week) in non-sheltered flats. In the past the cost of providing these services has been spread across all council rents in the city. Under the proposals they would be met only by those people who use them.
 
“It is a fairer way of meeting these costs,” said Councillor Randall, “and Housing Benefit would cover the increase for all but 1,467 of the 5,410 tenants affected. The financial inclusion team will work with all residents paying the new charges and sheltered housing residents paying the higher charges to ensure they claim all their benefit entitlement and to identify ways they can save money on energy and other bills. We believe some of those residents would move into Housing Benefit as a result of the changes.”

The Housing Revenue Account Budget 2014/15 and the Capital Programme aim to balance the priorities of both the council and housing residents within the context of the City Corporate Plan and reflect the council’s four key priorities:

  • Tackling inequality
  • Creating a more sustainable city
  • Engaging people who live and work in the city
  • Modernising the council