Fears over reform to housing provision

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THE politician behind a move which could see the centralisation of public sector housing has denied it would be local government reform by the back door.

And Social Care Minister Chris Robertshaw has also tried to allay fears that a centralised housing list could see someone on the waiting list in one part of the island offered a house in a completely different area.

He said: ‘The view that we are “taking away local authorities’ responsibility” and giving it to central government is completely misrepresenting the spirit of intent. The housing review demonstrated that our existing structure is failing to meet the current and future housing needs of our communities and it will require all housing providers to work together to fix it.

‘Only then will we be able to secure a future for the sector, and build upon the significant investment made by the taxpayer in both the property and in the development of the housing service across the island. Working in partnership with the housing authorities I hope to develop a structure which enables local involvement, reflects our communities and is bespoke to our island needs.’

Asked by the Manx Independent about the implications of a centralised list for someone who may want to live in a particular area of the island, he said: ‘There is scope within any potential mechanism for allocation to include weighting for local connections, while also allowing access for those in acute need.’ He added those on the existing DoSC list could already access island wide stock depending on preference and need.

Mr Robertshaw stressed no decisions have yet been made.

However local authorities are worried.

Onchan Commissioners, for instance, have raised fears the housing review consultation document seems to indicate a preference for centralised management of the public sector housing stock.

In a letter to Peel Commissioners, Onchan Commissioners’ chief executive Malcolm Hulme wrote: ‘The possible removal of this function from local authorities or other managing boards is seen by Onchan Commissioners to represent a serious reduction in the service that tenants and applicants currently receive. It is also perceived to have very serious implications for those currently employed to provide this service, and the bodies who employ them.’

At present, 17 housing authorities deal with a total of 6,144 homes. They manage between two and 2,366 properties each.

Within that figure, there are 5,501 in the public sector stock and 643 sheltered homes. There are 1,543 people on the waiting list (encompassing both public sector and sheltered homes).

Last week the DoSC announced the next stage of the fundamental review of public sector housing. Following a good response to its consultation, the department is now set to work with local authorities to develop policy over the next month.

The focus will be on five areas: need, older people’s housing, procurement, affordable housing and discussion of options for a centralised housing provider.

Asked by the Manx Independent how a centralised public sector housing would provide a fairer system than the one we have now, Mr Robertshaw said: ‘Each housing authority has their own housing waiting list and local eligibility criteria, which gives rise to a “post code lottery” of housing allocation - whereby a property may be available to meet your needs but because you don’t qualify for the local area you can’t access this housing. As a consequence you may have to wait a considerably longer time for housing in the area for which you are eligible despite your urgent housing needs.’

He said a unified approached meant the ability to provide consistent services like maintenance and estate management.

When questioned about what would happen to local authority jobs in the event of centralisation and whether new jobs would be created in central government, he pointed out the review included the department’s own stock and therefore would include its staff.

He continued: ‘The current housing roles which exist within the housing authorities will differ depending on their stock numbers and structure and I cannot speculate on what the individual organisations or officers will choose to do in th response to any future outcomes.

‘As the process of the appraisal is only just commencing it is impossible to say what numbers are needed for any future service provision, however, given the service development needs there are likely to be sufficient employment opportunities in the affordable housing sector.’

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