Vauxhall MP highlights social housing problems in her constituency

April 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm Leave a comment

By Val Oliveira

The MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, has demanded the government to play a better role in housing in her constituency.

In an adjournment debate at the Commons yesterday, Mrs. Hoey told the House that her constituency, which covers North Lambeth, was named by the 2007 index of multiple deprivation places as the fifth most deprived borough in London and the 19th most deprived in England.

Ms Hoey said that despite improvements that have since taken place in the area, the borough is still faced with long-term issues such as unemployment, a high teenage pregnancy rate and crime and said past and current council administrations have been negligent.

“I emphasise that this is not a strictly party political issue. It has been a fact, regardless who has been nominally in control. There has been a culture of incompetence, arrogance and—I choose my words
carefully—outright corruption among too many in the structures of the housing department, many of whom have now left.

“I could spend all the time available to me today chronicling the many mess-ups that there have been. I shall however refer to just a few.

“During the past few years we have seen a fraudster from within theb housing department steal £2.9 million, which was eventually retrieved through insurance; a £11 million budget for homeless accommodation overspent by £6 million, because the council had leased too much property for a declining number of homeless people; and an all-party report by councillors finding that the authority ignored Government homelessness funding cuts, branding the officers reckless.”

Ms Hoey said the local council has failed to supervise contractors, penalise sloppy work and discipline financial mismanagement as well as failing to ensure that daily management on the estates was taking place.

“The department is often unresponsive, dismissive and hostile. Repairs have not been done and many of my constituents are in despair at the service they receive.”

She told the house that 50% of residents in Vauxhall are council tenants, “who have suffered terribly poor service from their housing department. The department is often unresponsive, dismissive and hostile.

“Repairs have not been done and many of my constituents are in despair at the service that they receive.”

Ms Hoey said proposed rent increases would “hit many tenants hard” and are “by far the largest proposed anywhere in London and indeed in the country.”

“The reason for the proposed rent increases is to plug the deficit in Lambeth’s housing revenue account, which is projected to be £9 million over the next 18 months, and to meet the forecast need to bring the account back into surplus in the medium term.”

Ms Hoey said she had come to Parliament to ask for help.

“There is a solution and I know that my right hon. Friend wants to help if she can. Lambeth’s administration had expectations of receiving funds through the rent constraint allowance (RCA), which was paid out in 2006–07 and 2007–08 to authorities that were able to hold down rents.

“Lambeth was not entitled to receive RCA until the incoming Labour administration de-pooled its rents from its service charges for 2007–08. However, it was considered that that was too late, because by the time the RCA ended at the end of that period, Lambeth had not established a two-year base of data.

“The council has calculated that the difference in RCA entitlement before and after de-pooling is a subsidy loss of £11 million—enough to plug the deficit in the housing revenue account.

“My plea today to the Minister is to look favourably on that. If the Secretary of State would use her discretionary powers to issue a special housing subsidy determination to grant Lambeth an amount equivalent to that which due to the time lag was lost in the RCA calculations, the HRA would be immediately restored to balance.”

Margaret Beckett, the Housing Minister, did not make any specific commitments.

“The rental constraint allowance was introduced for a limited period only, between 2006–07 and 2007–8,” she said.

“The purpose of that introduction was to meet a specific Government aim of enabling councils to keep their actual rent increases down to 5 per cent. in those years.

“Although I recognise the argument that Lambeth is putting, I understand that there was never any intention that the rental constraint allowance itself should be a means of encouraging local housing authorities to separate service charges from rents—de-pooling—in the way that some authorities, although not Lambeth, did at the time.

“Any benefits that authorities might have derived from de-pooling during the relevant period when the allowance was in place were coincidental.

“That suggests that Lambeth has not been treated differently from other local authorities.

“I know that my hon. Friend will recognise, however reluctantly, the problems that would be caused if Lambeth were treated differently.

“We are already providing sector-led support through the Government office for London to help Lambeth to take forward the progress that it has made and build on its achievements so far.

“I know that it will be disappointing to my hon. Friend that I cannot say today that we have found a way forward through the path that she identified, but I assure her that I will continue to examine these issues very carefully with officers, representatives of the local authority and my parliamentary colleagues.

“We will reply quickly to Lambeth’s response to our subsidy consultation, and I will continue to explore whether there are ways in which, without breaching the normal methods of handling problems that arise in local authorities, we can alleviate the real problems for Lambeth’s tenants that she so eloquently identified.”

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