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This is News in Brief - a weekly round up of the latest news and events affecting the housing industry and communities in the Wakefield district and beyond.

The Conservative-led coalition has revealed that it will slash the amount it contributes to Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) by £40 million for 2015/2016. Nearly half of the £125 million that will be available will be earmarked to help victims of the bedroom tax.

The 2015/2016 DHP fund is designed to offer support in four areas: £60 million to cover the removal of the spare room subsidy (bedroom tax); £25 million for local housing allowance reforms; £25 million to assist households affected by the benefit cap; and £15 million in core funding.

Kathleen Kelly, Assistant Director for Policy and Research at the National Housing Federation (NHF), said: “Local authority resources are already spread too thin and cutting funding for DHP by £40 million will make it even harder to support residents affected by cuts and prevent homelessness.”

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WDH says: Reducing DHP funds nationally in 2015/2016 by £40 million will have drastic effects on our communities.  The impact of this proposed measure in Wakefield will be significant - the Wakefield district will see a reduction of nearly £120,000 in 2015/2016.
This means many people, who are already affected by various welfare reforms, will be left with limited assistance.  To put this into perspective, over 4,000 of our tenants were affected by the bedroom tax in December 2014, while
50 tenants were affected by the Housing Benefit cap, leaving many in rent arrears.
Consequently, we invest substantial resources in helping tenants to clear these debts. Recent figures show that each week there is a Housing Benefit shortfall of around £60,000 for our tenants due to the bedroom tax - money that tenants would otherwise spend in the local economy.  Failure to collect this shortfall could lead to a negative impact on our core services.

However, if the bedroom tax was either repealed or reformed, as well as reducing tenants reliance on DHPs, this could be good news in expanding core services and supporting tenants to develop their own skills, undertake training and to get back into work, as well as having a positive impact on their health and wellbeing generally.

Energy bills could be much lower - Which?

Recent cuts in consumer energy bills could have been much bigger and made much earlier, research from consumer body Which? has found.
It said energy suppliers had failed to keep standard variable energy tariffs in line with falling wholesale prices over the past two years.  As a result, households on standard energy tariffs were £145 worse off last year, or a total of £2.9 billion.
Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd said: "Our analysis places a massive question mark over how suppliers have been setting prices over the last two years. They now need to explain to their customers why bills don't fall further in response to dropping wholesale prices."
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WDH says: According to uSwitch, the annual price for gas and electric increased by 151% between 2004 and 2012, easily outstripping any other household essential. This is astonishing, as energy is an essential requirement. 
Many consumers are not aware that energy providers do not pass on wholesale energy price cuts on to their energy bills.  Although all big six energy firms have announced they will cut energy prices between 1.3% and 5.1%, it is not in line with the fall in wholesale prices, as energy bills should be reduced by around 10%.
Because of this, many of the 13,000 people affected by fuel poverty in the Wakefield district will not feel as much of a benefit as they should and need.  
To give them the chance to meet the minimum standard of living, it is critical for energy providers to pass their savings down to consumers – something they have not done for at least two years. We also need to see improvements in the energy infrastructure otherwise alternative energy sources lose credibility. There is so much more that can be done to provide cheap energy but the monopoly of the energy companies needs to be explored.
Double shared ownership output to fight housing crisis, urges report

A new study by social landlord Orbit Group and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has urged the housing sector, government and funders to double the supply of shared ownership homes to 30,000 a year to help address the growing affordability crisis.
The Shared Ownership 2.0 report sets out the potential to expand shared ownership into a fourth mainstream tenure, alongside homeownership and social and private renting.  Evidence shows that people increasingly want to own their own home, but homeownership is getting gradually out of reach for many, due to wages lagging behind rising house prices.  Current demand for shared ownership outstrips supply by as much as 10:1 and only 0.8% of people live in a shared ownership home.
CIH’s Deputy Chief Executive, Gavin Smart, said: “We need real ambition if we are going to solve our national housing crisis within a generation.  Doubling the supply of shared ownership homes would make a big contribution, helping thousands of people who have been priced out of a decent place to call their own.”
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WDH says: Although the number of first time buyers increased last year, it does not compare with the number of homeowners in 1991 - almost two thirds (65%) of 25 to 34 year olds achieved the dream of owning their own home, while in 2012 only 45% managed to become homeowners.
Prospective homeowners interested in our shared ownership properties are recognising the fact that the shared ownership scheme can often be similar on price compared to renting privately.  Therefore, to keep up with demand, the scheme is forming an integral part of our housing plans going forward.
The ‘housing crisis’ is affecting people from all walks of life and all parts of the country.  Shared ownership offers real potential to help alleviate this and give families much needed assistance.  In the run up to the general election, we are supporting the NHF's ‘Homes for Britain’ campaign to get housing to the forefront of the political agenda, and ensure that all political parties commit to ending the 'housing crisis' within a generation.
Copyright © 2015 WDH, All rights reserved.

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