Merton Liberal Democrat Councillors convinced Labour council bosses to set up a Tenants' Champion scheme to give local renters more information and support.
Merton Liberal Democrats have condemned the Conservative Government’s plans to remove planning controls on speculative developments at the same time as local Tories are campaigning against affordable homes in Wimbledon.
Local Lib Dems believe the Conservative Government's decision to allow landlords of purpose built flats to add two extra storeys without planning permission will have a disastrous effect on parts of Wimbledon, provide a windfall for speculative developers and do nothing to address the shortage of affordable homes across the borough.
Nationally the Lib Dems are calling for “an urgent house building programme”, with proposals to build 100,000 social homes for rent every year. That is why Merton Lib Dems, in the face of Conservative opposition, are supporting the YMCA's proposal to build 110 affordable homes on their Broadway site. The YMCA bowed to Lib Dem pressure to reduce the height of their original proposal from 15 storeys to 9.
Wimbledon's Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson Cllr Paul Kohler said:
"Across Merton, 10,215 families are stuck on the housing waiting list. This is unacceptable.
"I am saddened that Merton Conservatives are cynically campaigning against the YMCA building 110 affordable homes in Wimbledon, in a development of comparable height to their current building. Meanwhile the Tory government has railroaded proposals through Parliament that will allow speculators to make a fast buck adding two extra storeys without the planning permission process that improved the YMCA proposal.
"Wimbledon's skyline will be permanently blighted by these extra storeys but all the local Conservatives want to do is campaign against affordable housing."
After years of fighting for renters' rights, Lib Dem peer Olly Grender succeeded in securing major concession from the government - and drastically cutting the fees that landlords can impose on tenants in England.
Lib Dems campaigned to:
- significantly limit the fees that could be charged to a tenant by their landlord or lettings agent,
- require a greater amount of transparency when deciding not to refund a holding deposit, and
limit the maximum security deposit a landlord can require to five weeks rent.
These changes will save tenants hundreds of pounds a year.
Baroness Olly Grender said:
"Many of the provisions in the Tenant Fees Bill were proposed in my Rights of Renters Private Members Bill in the last parliamentary session, and I am glad that the Government has been persuaded of the arguments in that bill."
"It is the vulnerable in our society who are most affected by the extortionate fees imposed by unscrupulous landlords and lettings agencies. The inability to pay these fees upfront can even lead to terrible debts and at worst, homelessness."
"While I welcomed the Government bringing forward this Bill, there were a number of loopholes that could have had severe consequences for low income tenants or tenants on benefits in the private rented sector."
"There is still more work to be done to get tenants a fairer deal, but I am delighted that the Government have listened and improved this Bill. The task now is to get this change for tenants through this dysfunctional Parliament as quickly as possible before it implodes altogether!"
"I am grateful for the support of Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent who have worked so hard to get this Bill in the right place."
"If you want to know more about the bill, Shelter has also covered the success here."
Liberal Democrat Councillors have condemned Labour and Conservative councillors for blocking an inquiry into how the Council could help renters in the borough.
Councillor Anthony Fairclough, Leader of the Lib Dem group on Merton Council said:
"There are around 20,000 privately rented homes in Merton and while most landlords are fine, some are not.
"We pushed for a thorough investigation into the issues faced by private renters in the area, by the Council's 'Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel' - a cross-party group of councillors who examine issues, such as housing.
"Labour councillors on the Panel said that there was nothing that the Council could do to support renters - and felt that an investigation would just get people's hopes up that action would be taken. Conservative councillors on the Panel were not willing to take up the issue either.
"We feel that the Council adminstration's record on housing and supporting renters is a poor one - this is why we wanted a cross-party investigation to suggest some real action that could enable the Council to move forward".
The Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel met on 21 June to decide the list of topics it would cover during the next year.
Housing campaigner John Tippett-Cooper said:
"It's clear that Labour Council bosses are failing renters. There's so much more they could do. By challenging them with difficult questions at Council meetings, we have uncovered that they:
1. Haven't even looked at the idea of a licensing scheme for landlords
2. Failed to prosecute any rogue landlords for providing unsafe accommodation in the last few years (see article in the Wimbledon Guardian)
3. Only secured about 10% 'affordable' homes in new developments in the last year - despite their own target of 40% - making it more difficult for people to get on the housing ladder.
"We're calling for a new "renters' charter", to help protect tenants and give landlords more help and advice - and for the new house-building company set up by the Council to build 50% affordable homes, to help people put down roots in our area."
Merton' Labour administration has released details of their proposal to set up a housing development company, which will be discussed Wednesday's Council meeting.
Despite the desperate need for cheaper housing in the borough, and Merton's stated 40% target for affordable housing, the Council are not proposing to meet their own target with their own housing company. Merton’s social housing stock is already amongst the lowest in London at around 14% of all homes in the borough and there are nearly 9,000 households currently on the housing waiting list.
Instead, the proposals for the first 4 development sites list only 26% of them will be affordable. This is because Merton Council are trying to maximise income, and so are proposing to lend money to the housing company at 3-4.5% more than their own borrowing costs – making the Council a profit but cutting the new company’s ability to build affordable homes.
The Conservatives have quietly published legislation that will scrap housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.
This income is a critical lifeline for thousands of young people and protects them from homelessness or situations of physical and emotional abuse. Without it, many will be put at risk. That's why the Liberal Democrats are calling on Damian Green to scrap these disgraceful plans.
Add your name to our petition today:
Housing, to buy or rent by those on modest incomes, is becoming increasingly scarce across London.
But without a safe, secure and affordable home, how can anyone build a life?
A 2015 council report on the availability of housing in the borough noted that there were over 8000 people on Merton’s housing register, and that housing prices had risen by 42% and that private rents risen by 22% in the three years to 2015. That report recommended Merton set up a “housing development company” - to build more affordable homes and create extra income for the Council, to fund local services.
I realise it takes time to set up a housing company, but if Labour Party bosses are really serious about tackling the housing crisis why is there still no money allocated to get this project up and running 2 years after it was first proposed? That is why Merton Lib Dems' Cllr Jeanes proposed an amendment to Merton Council’s budget on 1 March to use a small amount of the Council’s reserves to do just that and get the ball rolling.
However, because no other councillors – Conservative, Labour or Residents Association – formally seconded this, it couldn’t even be debated. We know from speaking to local residents that they want action now and I urge local Labour party bosses to follow the recommendations of their own councillors, and give this project the support it needs as soon as possible. People in Merton can't live in an idea, they need affordable homes now.
Carl Quilliam, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson, Wimbledon
Let's Talk Merton is our monthly informal political discussion, which takes place on the 2nd Monday of the month.
In February, the theme was the housing crisis - you can read a summary of the discussion here.
Merton is massively letting down private renters by failing to help them deal with their landlords, according to figures revealed in a report by London Assembly Liberal Democrats.
There are around 25,000 households in private rented accommodation in the borough, yet shockingly Merton Council did not prosecute a single landlord for providing unsafe accommodation in 2014/15, and barely took any other form of enforcement action against rogue landlords.