Agenda item

Motions Received (Agenda Item 11)

To consider the following Motion received under Standing Order No 6:


This Council recognises the significant impact that the spare room subsidy changes (commonly known as the 'bedroom tax') is having in the Breckland District. Council notes that figures obtained by the Eastern Daily Press show that 1,026 residents are being affected in this District with an average of £773.03 worth of support taken away from residents. This figure is the third highest out of fifteen neighbouring authorities in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Council calls upon registered social landlords operating in the District to do all that they can to ensure that there are suitable, smaller properties for people to move in to, so that the impact of these changes is reduced. Furthmore, Council pledges to do all that it can, within a very difficult financial situation, to support this aim being achieved.


The Chairman read out the Motion received from Councillor Canham.


Councillor Williams declared an interest as a member of a Social Housing Board.   However, Councillor Canham said she was a member of a Housing Association but felt that it was not necessary to declare an interest as it was a general motion, not specific to one Association.  Both Members remained in the room and took part in the discussions.


Councillor Canham said that she had lived in social housing her whole life and had worked to improve the lives of tenants for the last 20 years.  Her concern was that the new ‘bedroom tax’ was causing problems for many people because there was a shortage of one and two bedroom properties in the District.  Most of the old Breckland housing stock had been three bedroom houses.  Times had changed and the available properties did not match the need of local people.  She gave examples of people affected by the reduction in benefit.  They wanted to move into smaller accommodation but could not.  In another case a disabled tenant was classed as having two bedrooms, but due to the modifications to the property to meet disabled requirements there was only one bedroom.  House prices and rents were rising and so was unemployment, resulting in an increased demand for social housing.


The Executive Member for Planning, Building Control and Housing thanked Councillor Canham for her Motion as it highlighted what the Council was doing.  They were working closely with the Housing Associations, particularly Flagship Housing to get properties re-designated from two to one bedroom.  Flagship Housing actually had 38% of two bedroom properties; higher than other Housing Associations, but they were always being encouraged to produce more.  The problem was that they had planning permission, but they were not building.  There was money in the Portfolio budget for social housing and the Council was really trying to produce smaller properties.


Councillor Jermy was grateful for the Executive Member’s response.  He thought that the Housing Associations did want to build but were affected by funding cuts.  He had not realised what a problem the ‘bedroom tax’ would create initially, but he had been contacted by many people affected by it.  He gave the example of an older lady, employed on the minimum wage with health problems, living in a two bedroom property.  She had had to take on a lodger against her wishes.  That was not a one-off situation.  90% of affected people wanted to move into a smaller property.  He urged all Members to support the Motion to send a message to residents that the Council understood their problems.


Councillor Joel advised that in Old Buckenham there was a new development of social housing providing one, two and three bedroom accommodation which would be available for those with links to the village from June 2014.


Councillor Williams explained that it was up to the Registered Social Landlord to define how many bedrooms a property had and they should be challenged.  It was national policy, not a Council policy that was causing the problems.


The Executive Member for Planning, Building Control and Housing agreed that there were cases where two bedroom properties had been converted to one bedroom but were still designated as two bedroom and they were doing their best to sort that out with the Registered Social Landlords.


Councillor Canham confirmed that tenants were facing the same problem across the county.  She accepted that it was not the Council’s fault but said that a clear message should to be sent that help was needed.


Councillor Cowen noted that a Task & Finish Group of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission had looked at housing need.  The problems were mainly with the Housing Associations, particularly Flagship.  They would not build smaller properties because of the cost.  The Council had commissioned a survey and told the Registered Social Landlords what was needed but they would still not build smaller properties.  There was not a lot the Council could do except bring pressure to bear.


Councillor Goreham agreed that it was not the direct responsibility of the Council, but he pointed out that neither was Economic Development and yet the Council had achieved great things in that area.  It was not up to the Council to debate Government policy but it could deal with anomalies and inequalities for the people in its District.  The Motion was good because it sent out the simple message that the Council would do its best to provide the right size, type and mix of properties for its residents.


The Leader of the Council confirmed that the Council did care about all its residents.  He quoted a personal example of a disabled relation living in converted accommodation with one bedroom but still classified as having two.  Flagship had been very reluctant to re-categorise the dwelling due to financial viability.  Flexibility was needed from the Housing Associations.  The ARP worked hard to ensure that people were not disadvantaged in such cases.  He applauded the Motion and hoped that the Registered Social Landlords would take note of the comments made.


Councillor Askew agreed with all that had been said but thought that the Council should have more policies in place to provide one and two bedroom properties.  There were many suitable pieces of land in rural areas and those possibilities should be taken into consideration.


It was noted that the Local Plan Working Group would be considering new draft policies on the housing size and mix for the District.


The Chairman concluded the discussion by saying that it was lovely to hear the Council united as one on this matter.