Thursday, September 26, 2013

Peter Black's Park Homes Act

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Peter Black saw his Private Members Bill to protect mobile home residents passed into law in Cardiff yesterday.

The new law will not apply to holiday sites - only to sites where people have permanent homes.

"Under the current law there is little protection for residents from unscrupulous park homes site owners, a minority of whom may exploit their position for personal gain," Mr Black said, "Many of Wales's 96 park homes sites are run well but there is little legal help when disputes arise.

"Problems can include poor site management and vetoing or deterring legitimate sales.

"My bill will stop this unfairness. Wales will have a new system that will protect people by bringing in fair, easy-to-use processes and clear rights for both residents and site owners."

'Fit and proper'

Mr Black said there would be a "fit and proper" persons test for site owners, and a licensing system to give home owners confidence that the site they live on is effectively managed.

There is more in BBC News.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Under-occupancy penalties

This afternoon, Federal Conference in Glasgow passed the following:

Conference accepts there is under-occupancy of social housing, and all tenants, including pensioners, should be encouraged to live in homes that meet their housing needs.

Conference is concerned that the Government’s extension of Labour’s policy of reducing housing benefit entitlements for private rented sector tenants considered to have spare bedrooms to the social housing sector is discriminating against the most vulnerable in society.

Conference also believes that:
I. The majority of rural and urban areas outside large cities such as London have insufficiently large, diverse and dynamic social housing markets to make moving into a smaller property locally a viable option
II. There is lack of appreciation of the housing requirements of children and adults with disabilities and care needs
III. Insufficient funds are allocated to Discretionary Housing Payment Funds of Local Authorities to meet demand and there is insufficient support for tenants to apply and to challenge decisions
IV. In many areas it is more important to free up family homes with three or more bedrooms than two bedroom homes.
V. The implementation of policy paper 104, Decent Homes for All (2012), should be a priority for

Conference welcomes:
i) Scottish Liberal Democrats passing a motion against the policy.
ii) Actions taken by councils to mitigate the harmful effects of this policy on the most vulnerable, including reducing the dangers of eviction caused by arrears.
iii) The work of many, including voluntary organisations, in supporting those applying for discretionary payments and highlighting the injustices caused by this policy.
iv) The changes successfully demanded by Liberal Democrats in Government to protect some of the
most vulnerable, including exempting foster carers and families of members of the Armed Forces.
v) The increase in the Discretionary Housing Payment fund from £60m in 2012/13 to £155m in 2013/14
vi) The success of the Liberal Democrats in Government in securing an additional £35m fund to help claimants affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy who need extra support - this funding consists of £5m for rural areas with very isolated communities, £10m for all local authorities and £20m as a bidding fund for local authorities who can demonstrate that they have or are developing a robust policy to distribute discretionary housing payments and who have an additional need for funding achieved by Liberal Democrats in Government.

Conference calls for further action by Government, including:
1. An immediate evaluation of the impact of the policy, establishing the extent to which larger homes are freed up, money saved, costs of implementation, the impact on vulnerable tenants, and the impact on the private rented sector.
2. A redrafting of clear housing needs guidelines in association with those representing vulnerable groups including the disabled, elderly and children that are responsive to local circumstances.
3. Acceptance that some Councils and Housing Associations have calculated rent by reference to bed spaces (not bedrooms) as some rooms can and should only house one person: this should be reflected in the DWP calculation of housing benefit.
4. A review of the amount allocated to Local Authorities for the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund and guidelines on the use of these funds and appeal processes.
5. The development of practical strategies to encourage pensioners to downsize where a single person or couple lives in a three or more bedroom home.
6. In the context of new guidelines an assessment of the current and future demand for social housing and the use of this at local level to facilitate planning to get the right homes in the right place.
7. Until any new guidelines are in place:
a) No withdrawal of housing benefit to those who are on the waiting list for social housing which fits the current guidelines within their local area.
b) No reduction in housing benefit from their projected housing need for those who, for a period of less than six months, temporarily have a smaller housing need due to a change in their circumstances, but whose need will predictably return to a higher level (e.g. whose children will pass the age limits for separate rooms within that period).

[as amended]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Autumn Conference

Federal Conference begins in Glasgow tomorrow. There will be coverage on BBC-Parliament, and on Liberal Democrat Voice which will provide background information and comment.

Peter Black AM will represent Swansea and the South Wales West region at conference.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spare Room Subsidy

Mike German clears some of the myths on Liberal Democrat Voice:

Like many people reading the front page of the Guardian this morning, I was worried by the headline on the pronouncements by the UN special rapporteur on the removal of the spare room subsidy. But it is important to look behind the headline to see that these comments were based on a very brief visit from this adviser, who did not have the time for a detailed discussion with the Department for Work and Pensions to understand the policy. 

If she had done she would have been able to understand that this policy brings the rules for the social housing sector into line with those which Labour already introduced for private rented accommodation. Perhaps then she may have recognised that the policy is designed to tackle long council waiting lists and help those families stuck in overcrowded one bedroom flats – to find somewhere decent to live.

Most importantly, the rapporteur ignored the achievements of the Lib Dems in the coalition in arguing for extra Discretionary Housing Payments to ensure vulnerable people do not have to face extra costs. Because everyone’s situation is so different it is right that we have given local councils control over how this funding is best spent. We have also successfully argued for exemptions for groups such as foster carers. Finally, we have ensured that local authorities in particular need, can bid for extra funding over the course of this year. I will also be making sure that the Coalition sticks to its promise of monitoring the impact of this policy carefully over the coming months.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sarah Teather MP to stand down at next general election

This is the text released to her constituents by the Brent (Greater London) constituency office:

In just over a week's time, I shall reach the tenth anniversary of my election to Parliament in the Brent East by-election. I took some time off this summer and found myself reflecting a great deal on the last ten years.
It has been an enormous privilege to serve as an MP in Brent. Indeed, for me personally, so much of the last decade has been both rich and surprising. I am not sure that I would ever have expected to be elected so young, and I certainly never expected that I would have had the opportunity to serve in Government.
The greatest privilege of my work both as a constituency MP and as a Minister has been the gift of being able to share in the private joys and struggles of so many people's lives - many different from one another and very different from my own. I shall always be inspired by the profound courage and dignity I have witnessed in people I have worked with, often in the face of the most extraordinary difficulties.
Of all my parliamentary work, the campaign I remain most proud of is the campaign to get my constituent released from Guantanamo Bay. I shall always count the moment my constituent walked back in through his own front door and picked up his five year-old daughter for the first time in her life as one of the most precious of my life.
In Government, the moment I count as my proudest is the one where I listened to Nick Clegg announce our intention to end the routine detention of children in the immigration system - something I worked hard to deliver, in what, at times, felt an almost insurmountable battle with the Home Office. I feel humbled too to have been able to play my part in delivering the pupil premium to schools and to extend free early education to two year olds, and perhaps the work dearest to my heart, that of reforming the system of support for children with special educational needs.
There have been so many rewards to this work -- too many to list here. But having taken the summer to reflect on the future, I feel now that at the General Election, the right time will be right for me to step aside. I wanted to explain why I have decided not to seek re-election in 2015.
I first joined the party almost exactly twenty years ago, during fresher's week at university. It was then -- and still is now - absolutely inconceivable that I could ever join any other political party. As with most party members, there have always been a few issues where I have disagreed with party policy. But over the last three years, what has been difficult is that policy has moved in some of the issues that ground my own personal sense of political vocation - that of working with and serving the most vulnerable members of society. I have disagreed with both Government and official party lines on a whole range of welfare and immigration policies, and those differences have been getting larger rather than smaller. Disagreements with the party on other areas of policy I have always felt could be managed, but these things are just core to my own sense of calling to politics. I have tried hard to balance my own desire to truthfully fight for what I believe on these issues with the very real loyalty and friendship I feel to party colleagues, but that has created intense pressure, and at times left me very tired. I don't think it is sustainable for me personally to continue to try and do that in the long term.
I want to reassure people in Brent that I shall continue to work very hard to represent them over the next 18 months until the next General Election. My constituency office will remain open five days a week, just as it has always been. I shall be out campaigning for the local elections with my local LibDem team over the forthcoming months and will campaign to get my Liberal Democrat successor elected to Parliament in the General Election. In Parliament I shall continue with my work as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and will carry on making the case for a fair and humane immigration system as Parliament considers a new immigration bill in the coming months.
I hope that I have been able to support and represent the people of Brent well as their MP, but I feel rich beyond measure to have been able to do this work here. I shall always count myself indebted to those who gave me this opportunity to serve - to the thousands of constituents who voted for me and to the many Liberal Democrat supporters and members who campaigned and walked the streets for me over three elections. I hope that, over the last 10 years, I have at least gone some way in repaying the faith that so many have shown in me.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

LibDem Eastleigh promotes green growth

Keith House, leader of Liberal-Democrat-controlled Eastleigh Borough Council, writes of his council's commitment to green policies: "The evidence is that the market alone will not deliver change. It could need a nudge but, more likely, it requires a strong prod with financial inducement.

"Take energy. Eastleigh’s approach is to use policy to promote change. Hence the unusual practice of not charging planning application fees for renewable energy schemes."

Now there's an idea for councils in the Swansea Bay area.