Homeless in Honiton: Housing chief speaks out

HOW can East Devon District Council stop the government from claiming back �5.8 million this year?

HOW can East Devon District Council stop the government from claiming back �5.8 million this year?Councillor Jill Elson, who is the council's portfolio holder for communities, which includes responsibility for housing, isn't 100 per cent sure, but is doing everything she can to stop what she calls "daylight robbery"."We collect �14.5 million a year in rents from our housing stock of 4,298 properties," she said."Of that, the government claims back �5.8 million. We are sending that money to the treasury while we have a shortage of housing and when providing affordable housing is our top priority."Councillor Elson says the cash the government is raking in amounts to a tax on council house tenants of �1,200 each a year."If we had that �5.8 million ring-fenced for more affordable homes, we could provide 97 new homes a year," she said."As a good local authority, we feel we should be allowed to provide homes for local people from the rents we collect."The all-party House of Commons Council Housing Group, led by Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell, agreed when councillors and tenants from East Devon lobbied it last year. However, the Government has not taken up the recommendation."That �5.8 million is a sum of money we should keep. I think it is daylight robbery," said Councillor Elson.Developers can avoid having to provide affordable homes by building fewer units.If they build more than 15, at least 40 per cent of the properties must be 'affordable'.Councillor Elson says that's why there has been an increase in the number of applications for just 14 units. Some developers stop building when they get to the affordable element of a scheme.The council is facing opposition to new-build schemes in many of its towns, with residents saying they don't want any more developments."I am worried about the message this is sending young people at Honiton Community College," said Councillor Elson. "It is a very serious issue that the community has to consider."I can't say to 1,200 students 'Sorry, you can't live in Honiton when you are a bit older'."Where are we going to house people? It is a debate for the public and I am happy to go anywhere to talk about this and to listen to people's ideas."On the topic of council housing stock being depleted by tenants' right to buy, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, Councillor Elson said: "I am a Conservative, and I think the right to buy has improved our estates. People have taken ownership and pride in their properties."Some of those people have been in their homes for 40 years, so the properties weren't going to become available. They were long-term tenants, with secure tenancies."Today, we only sell about five or six homes a year. But, the Government takes 75 per cent of that capital revenue as well!"Councillor Elson said it is a credit to the council, whose properties all meet the Decent Homes Standard, that tenants prefer to stay with EDDC rather than see their homes taken over by a housing association.l East Devon District Council's Community Overview Committee will debate the issue of being forced to part with �5.8 million of its housing revenue account at a meeting tonight (Wednesday).l The council has no duty to house those deemed intentionally homeless, including those who have been evicted for non-payment of rent.n Visit the Midweek Herald's website to comment.