Swindon Council must suspend their transfer proposal in the light of a fundamental change in the Housing Revenue system

Letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Following its review of Council Housing finance the government is bringing forward its proposals to fundamentally change the current system. In a statement by the Minister for Housing, John Healey, the government says it is bringing forward a consultation document before the summer recess (of Parliament) on reform of Council Housing finance. The government intends to “dismantle the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system” replacing it with “a devolved system of responsibility and funding”.

Whilst their proposals do not go as far as we would wish, it has acceded to the demand to end the “negative subsidy” whereby Councils are given a grant determined by the government. It proposes to allow them to keep all the income they receive in rent from their tenants. This constitutes a significant concession to the campaign waged by tenants, trades unions and Councils throughout the country.

In the case of Swindon this would mean that we would have £9 million a year more than currently (the government gives us less grant than we raise in rent). This completely undermines the rationale for transferring our housing to a Housing Association.

We will have to see the full detail of the government’s proposals. However, the proposal that we can keep all our rent, is alone sufficient reason for Swindon Council’s current move to ballot tenants for transfer, to be suspended, since their financial projections were based on the assumption that there would be no significant change to the current system.

David Renard has stated that if there was a change in the financing arrangements as a result of the Review then the Council would have to ‘go back over the figures’.  Clearly what the government is proposing constitutes a significant change. It would be crass indeed to push through a decision to ballot at the full Council meeting on July 16th, days before the government publishes the details of the changes.

Whilst there may be some “devil in the detail” of the government’s proposals (for instance the “one-off redistribution of housing debt”), they are sufficiently clear to justify the Council halting the process they have started and reassessing the finances when details are available, taking into account the fact that our ‘negative subsidy’ is now likely to end in the near future.

Martin Wicks

Secretary Swindon TUC


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