From Swindon Tenants Campaign Group 

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group believes that the housing crisis which the town and the country faces, ought to be a prominent part of the debate around the General Election. As a means of trying to promote a discussion we are therefore asking the candidates some questions on the the housing crisis and how they think it should be resolved.  We will post the answers we receive.

  1. According to Swindon Council’s statistics each and every year in the town there are 800 too few “affordables homes” built than we need. In other words the housing situation is getting worse with each year. We have what MP Rob Buckland has described as “an acute social housing shortage”.

What do you think should be done to tackle the “acute social housing shortage” locally and nationally?

  1. In the last two years Swindon Council has lost 107 Council homes to ‘right to buy’. The Council’s building programme, under the coalition government’s “affordable homes programme” will only provide 67 additional homes over three years (100 new homes minus 33 at Sussex Square which have beena demolished), insufficient to replace those lost to ‘right to buy’. In addition Swindon Council was only able to keep around a quarter of the receipts for those homes sold under RTB. Nationally only one in seven homes sold under RTB is being replaced.

Do you support the ‘right to buy’ policy, if so why?, or do you think it’s time to end the policy?

  1. Swindon Council is supporting the coalition government’s policy of converting some Council homes to “affordable rent” (AR). The 100 new homes they build with grant from the “Affordable Homes Programme” will charge AR, with rents higher than Council rents. In addition because the government grant is so low (less than 12% of the cost of each new home) the Council is proposing to convert 142 existing Council homes to AR when they become ‘void’ (the tenant leaves, or dies) to help pay for them. Including the demolished homes we will lose 175 homes charging Council rent.

Do you support “affordable rent”, if so why?, or do you think we need more ‘social rent’ homes? 

  1. There are 104,000 less Council homes in England since 2010. The decline in the number of Council homes available makes it more difficult to house people who are on the waiting list.

Do you support a new Council house building programme? If so, how will it be paid for? 

  1. Before the last General Election the Conservative Party said that it had no plans to change the tenure of Council tenants, either existing or future ones. On coming to power they did just that introducing ‘flexible tenancies’ which mean that new tenants will have time-limited tenancies. At the end of the tenancy, even if it is renewed, they will be forced to move if their family composition changes and they have ‘too many’ bedrooms. The Council will have to devert resources into reviewing each ‘flexible tenancy’ at the end of its term.

Do you think that this policy is sensible? or do you believe that all tenants should have ‘secure tenancies’?

  1. The shortage of ‘social housing’ in Swindon has led to a massive growth of private rented homes, including a large component of ‘buy to let’. Private rents can be up to double the level of Council rents. According to the English Housing Survey one third of private rented homes fail the Decent Homes Standard. Last year we had the unfortunate example of a private tenant dying because of the absence of a smoke alarm. Yet there are few controls over the quality of the PRS.

Do you think the current situation in the PRS is acceptable or do you think that the sector needs reforming? If the latter what reforms should be introduced? 

  1. Swindon Council has only three enforcement officers within its Residential Services Team responsible for probably 16,000 plus PRS homes. They are responsible for monitoring landlords when tenants complain, for licensing and monitoring Houses in Multiple Occupation, and tackling breaches of the law including safety. 

Are you in favour of the Council devoting more resources so that they can carry out their legal responsibilities and strive to improve the quality of accommodation in the PRS? 

  1. Swindon Council has begun to convert some ‘sheltered housing’ to ‘general needs’ in order to tackle the shortage of housing for those on the waiting list. This is unpopular with sheltered tenants and has created ‘cultural’ conflicts. In addition any flats converted to ‘general needs’ become subject to ‘right to buy’ and hence the potential loss of Council stock.

Do you think that ‘sheltered accommodation’ should be used for ‘general needs’ or maintained for over 50’s and retired tenants?