Monday, 24 November 2008

Mortgage misery as hundreds more face eviction in Leeds

Published Date: 22 November 2008

NEARLY 400 more homeowners in Leeds found themselves under threat of eviction for failing to meet mortgage payments between July and September, disturbing new figures have revealed.

The 392 mortgage repossession orders slapped on struggling homeowners over the summer marked a 30 per cent increase on the third quarter of last year. A mortgage repossession order is granted by a court and entitles the claimant – usually a lender to apply to have the occupier evicted.

Not all orders result in the properties actually being repossessed because homeowners and lenders can still negotiate a compromise to prevent eviction.

The number of orders made between January and September now stands at 997, which is 26 per cent higher than last year. The number of mortgage repossession claims – the earlier first stage of the repossession process – has also increased in Leeds by 26 per cent, with 469 claims made in the third quarter of this year.

Similarly, the number of claims jumped by 18 per cent in Pontefract, 47 per cent in Dewsbury and two per cent in Wakefield between July and September, compared with the third quarter in 2007. Housing Minister Margaret Beckett said: "The Government is taking action to protect the most vulnerable families from repossession, including a new court protocol to make sure lenders are exploring all avenues before making a claim in the courts, a £200m mortgage rescue scheme, more free legal representation in county courts and more free debt advice.
"Lenders need to do everything they can to help families facing difficulties."

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Hynes Family Wins First Round in Legal Fight to Save Home

Yesterday we received the fantastic news that the Hynes Family in Gipton had won the right take Leeds City Council to the High Court over the Council's decision to start Compulsory Purchase proceedings against their home. The Hynes Family live in the Oak Tree area of Gipton, one of 8 sites earmarked for new housing development under the Council's regeneration scheme with Bellway Homes. Back in 2003, the family were promised that they could stay in their home, even though the surrounding homes were to be demolished. Then in 2005, the Council said they had changed their mind. Hands Off Our Homes has been supporting the family since 2007 with advice and help, and is backing them all the way.

Here is an article from the Yorkshire Post:

Couple win first round in court battle to save home

Published Date:
19 November 2008

A MARRIED couple won the first round of a High Court battle yesterday to stop a council knocking down their family home of 25 years. John and Elisa Hynes continued living in their home at Oak Tree Mount, Gipton, even after Leeds City Council demolished most of the rest of their street in 2005.

But the council now says their house must be demolished and has taken steps to obtainan order forcing Mr and Mrs Hynes to sell up and move on. The couple began a legal challenge and were granted permission by Mr Justice Cranston to mount a full judicial review challenge to the decision at the High Court.

The couple claim they have a "legitimate expectation" that the council will honour a promise made in 2003 to allow their home, which they own, to remain standing, despite other demolitions. In papers put before the court the couple's lawyers told how they had relied on the council's "Option 4" promise that they could remain in their home while the housing estate around them was knocked down.

They had been given three other options of what to do when the work began, including being bought out or moved to a council property, but opted to stay in the family home. They then carried out "significant repairs and improvements" to their home before suffering "significant noise, dust, dirt, inconvenience and minor property damage" as surrounding homes were knocked down.

The couple were able to cope with the nuisance and distress in the knowledge that their long-term future in their home was secure. In April, the council decided to obtain a compulsory purchase order for a piece of land and property which includes the Hynes' home.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Mr Justice Cranston granted permission for a full hearing to decide whether the council should be made to rethink its decision. No date has been set for the full hearing, which is expected to last one day.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Council homes for life ‘to be scrapped’

People living in council houses will no longer be entitled to a subsidised tenancy for life under Whitehall proposals to address waiting lists.

New tenants would have fixed-term contracts under the plans, with regular reviews every few years, The Times has learnt. If a tenant’s financial position improved he or she would be encouraged to take an equity share or to move to the private sector. If they refused they could face higher rents. The right to a council home is also likely to be tied to a requirement to have or be actively looking for a job.

The measures are being considered by Margaret Beckett, the new Housing Minister, in the most radical shake-up of the social housing system for decades to ensure that those who deserve council homes get them.

At the moment anyone allocated a council home can usually stay for life, irrespective of circumstances. People in council homes paying subsidised rents can end up relatively wealthy, and in some cases they can bequeath the tenancy to their children. Frank Dobson became a Cabinet Minister while living in a council flat in his London constituency.

However, with nearly four million people, or 1.6 million households, on waiting lists for social housing, and only 170,000 coming available each year, the Government wants to ensure help for the most needy. In many poor areas, one in five people is waiting to be housed. The problem will worsen in the next few months as families fall into negative equity and their homes are repossessed.

Caroline Flint, the previous housing minister, drew up a Blairite set of reforms. These included the contentious plan to link council homes to a requirement to have or to be seeking a job, which The Times understands is still on the agenda.

The Green Paper on social housing was expected to be published this month but Mrs Beckett, who replaced Ms Flint in September, has delayed it until early next year to give her time to look at the options. Although she will be uncomfortable with any punitive proposals, Mrs Beckett is under pressure to produce reforms before the next general election.

The document is expected to set out new criteria for Britain’s stock of four million socially rented homes run by councils and housing associations, but changes will apply only to new tenants. At the moment councils are required to house immediately people who are both homeless and judged a priority, such as pregnant women, families with dependent children, youngsters aged 16 to 17, young people aged 18-21 who are leaving care or those who are leaving the Armed Forces.

These groups will now be under tighter scrutiny to stamp out abuse. Officials claim that there is anecdotal evidence of parents falsely claiming irretrievable family breakdown to help their children to get a council house.

Ministers are also keen to ensure that more of those with low-paid jobs are able to get council homes.

Whitehall officials said that ministers were looking at proposals from the Chartered Institute for Housing, which represents housing officials. It has proposed fixed-term tenancies in which anyone granted a council home would have it initially for three or four years before a review. Those whose circumstances had improved would no longer be able to remain on subsidised rents. A spokesman for the institute said that no one would be evicted under its plan, but that they could face higher rents. At present, social housing rents rise each year by the retail price index plus half a per cent. Under the new plan higher-tax payers could pay nearer the market rate.

Housing charities urged ministers to reject the proposals. Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter, said: “At a time when unemployment is rising sharply it would be perverse of government to mount an attack on social housing. While better services and independent advice about their options could help improve some tenants’ circumstances, threatening rent increases will create more problems than it will solve.”

A spokesman for the Communities Department said that no decisions had been made. He said: “Margaret Beckett is considering all the evidence and arguments in favour of changes to the current system. We expect be in a position to signal how we intend to take this forward in the new year.”

Grant Shapps, the Shadow Housing Minister, said: “The Government have created their own crisis by failing to build enough affordable housing over more than a decade. The Conservative Party built an average 40,000 affordable homes a year when in office, but under Labour this dropped to 22,000 a year. The Green Paper should not be just a panic response to high waiting lists.”

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Tuesday, 11 November 2008

81,000 Leeds homes fail to meet decent standard

Yorkshire Evening Post
Published Date: 11 November 2008
By David Marsh

More than 81,000 private homes in Leeds – including many of the city's distinctive back to backs – fail to meet modern living standards, new surveys have found. The cost of bringing properties up to the official "decent homes standard" is put at £250m and now council chiefs are working on a multi-million pound strategy they hope will win Government cash to carry out essential work.

There are 247,840 privately-owned homes in Leeds and, according to the condition survey, 81,800 – one-third of the stock – fail the decency standard because of poor insulation, inefficient heating, fire safety hazards and an increased risk of falls because of steep stairs.

Poorest quality housing is in Burmantofts, Richmond Hill, East End Park, Holbeck, Beeston Hill and Harehills. Many of the problems are centred on the 19,500 back to backs – with 73 per cent of them falling short of the decency standard.Back to backs are part of the city's heritage. They were mostly built before 1919 although some were still being constructed in 1937, despite being made illegal in 1909.

A report to the council's Executive Board said back to back houses did not exist outside West Yorkshire, apart from a handful in Birmingham now owned by the National Trust. It said many had been bought by speculative investors and private landlords but suggested there could be a demand for them as starter homes, if they were in better condition and environmental improvements were carried out to make the neighbourhoods more attractive.

The council intends to use the findings of the survey to draw up a comprehensive improvement plan for the city's private sector housing. Talks will be held with the new Government-backed Homes and Communities Agency to try to win cash backing for the plan. The report said back to backs were "a special case" and could "contribute significantly to meeting housing growth targets".

Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent to bring the city's council homes up to the decency standard and while some grant-aided schemes have been carried out to improve private housing, much has still to be done.

Coun Les Carter, executive member for housing, said: "This administration has put a lot of effort into delivering the decent homes programme in the social rented sector, we will now look to find ways of levering money into improve housing in the private sector."

Back-to-backs in Leeds reached a peak of 108,000 in 1920 – 70 per cent of the housing stock at the time. They were originally built to provide low cost houses for the mushrooming workforce employed in the Leeds mills and factories, the first appearing in 1785, most prominently the cluster of streets on the north side of present-day Kirkgate Market known as Union Street, Ebenezer Street, George Street and Nelson Street. The 1909 Housing and Town Planning Act outlawed the building of back-to-backs, declaring them unfit for habitation. However, the rush for approvals before the Act was passed meant "modern" back-to-backs continued to be built in Leeds until 1937.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Social housing waiting list "may double"

Leon Walker,, 5 November 2008

The waiting list for social housing could double to five million people by 2010, a local authority umbrella group has warned today.

Home repossessions have risen by 70 per cent since last year and this will accelerate the rate at which citizens join waiting lists, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

Currently 90,000 people join social housing waiting lists every year, but the LGA expects this figure to rise. Chairman of the LGA environment board Councillor Paul Bettison said: "With the banks overstretching their credit facilities, it could well be the case that in the coming months councils will have to help pick up the pieces as people end up on social housing waiting lists."