Council hits the road to give tenants housing options

Winchester City Council housing chiefs are taking to the road over the summer months to consult with nearly 6,000 households about possible changes to the way council housing is managed.

Following recent government proposals ministers want tenants and leaseholders to consider alternatives to traditional management options - which could mean a different type of landlord.

There is nothing to stop tenants saying they prefer the current arrangements, where the Council directly manages homes and estates.  However, tenants are also being asked to consider three new proposals which could see responsibility for certain aspects of housing such as major works, repairs and rents being managed by an arms length management organisation, transferring to a housing association, or accessing private finance.

"The government requires all councils to set out their plans for improving tenants' homes to a national Decent Homes Standard by 2010. As part of this process, councils must consider whether different models of ownership and management might be better at raising the money for this work," says Cllr Dominic Hiscock, Portfolio Holder for Housing.

"Whilst staying as we are is an option, the government has made it clear that additional money, if needed, will only be available through three other options.

"In addition to meeting the basic Decent Homes Standard, we need to identify what tenants want as well as ensuring that the housing service works towards the Council's priorities for all residents of the district, particularly the need for new homes for rent," he added.

Decent Homes is very much a basic standard and it is important that through discussion with tenants, the Council develops a clear standard for the whole district, taking account of tenants' aspirations and the needs of other stakeholders, like waiting list applicants, staff, etc.

This could be significantly more than the basic standard, and if tenants believe that a higher standard should be set, the Council will need to identify how this would be funded. This is being called the Decent Homes PLUS Standard.

"The government believes that in some districts with a large number of properties in poor repair, new arrangements are necessary to fund these works," says Bob Merrett, Director of Health & Housing,

"Winchester's position is looking good for the future with all our homes on course to meet the decent homes standard by 2010. However, demand for new affordable housing is extremely high - over 700 homes a year of which we can only afford to fund around 100. We must consider how best to provide for families currently on the waiting list, as well as providing good quality housing in a pleasant environment for existing tenants.

"These are not decisions that can be made overnight and our job now is to put all the information in front of tenants and leaseholders so that they can weigh up the different options," he added.

The Council's Housing Options consultation programme will visit 29 sheltered housing schemes and 15 other venues around the district from the end of July to the beginning of September to talk about the options available to tenants. The Council, together with tenants, will make a decision on the way ahead by the end of the year, which will then be submitted to government for approval.

For further information, please contact Richard Botham, Health and Housing Head of Business Services, on 01962 848421.