Westminster Council faces High Court challenge over crisis payment conditions

According to ‘Inside Housing';

“The High Court has given the go-ahead to a legal challenge that could prevent councils forcing people to join a work programme or move home as conditions of receiving housing crisis payment awards.

Anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust has been given permission to pursue a judicial review against Westminster Council for making receipt of discretionary housing payments (DHP) conditional on seeking work and searching for more affordable properties.

DHPs are time-limited payments to help people who are struggling to meet their housing costs.

In a legal document setting out the grounds of the challenge, seen by Inside Housing this week, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust says Westminster Council’s policy on deciding DHP claims for tenants affected by the £26,000-a-year total household benefit cap is unlawful.

In the legal document Westminster Council set out its policy: ‘Conditionality will be linked to the claimant being able to show engagement with work programmes and/or action to find alternative accommodation.’

The challenge was given permission to be heard in court in July, with a hearing likely in February.

The document stated that some DHP claimants had been expected to attend all interviews arranged by Jobcentre Plus.

Zacchaeus 2000 Trust alleges Westminster Council does not have any lawful power under the housing benefit regulations to impose these conditions on awards of DHP, or to require a DHP recipient to agree to conditions as a pre-condition of DHP.

It is not known how many other councils are imposing these conditions

Giles Peaker, partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors, said: ‘Councils are creatures of statute, so if there isn’t something which says “you can do this at your complete discretion”, then they can’t really do it. I think it’s a viable case.’

In January a disabled couple were given permission to bring a judicial review against Sandwell Council for taking disability living allowance into account when deciding how much DHP to give out.

Inside Housing reported in August last year that Edinburgh Council was denying DHP to bedroom tax tenants if they were deemed to spend too much on alcohol or cigarettes.”

Posted in Advice services, Discretionary Housing Payments, Housing, Housing Benefit, Jobs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

20mph is plenty on Fernhead Road

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Labour Councillors have organised a petition calling for a 20mph speed limit on Fernhead Road after receiving this information, the latest in a regular call for reduced traffic speeds in the area;

“I live in Fernhead Road between Carlton Vale and Shirland Road junctions and I have witnessed daily over recent years the increasing breaking of the 30mph speed limit. The speed indicator alerting motorists to when they are over 30mph travelling towards Shirland Road is obscured by a tree for traffic towards Shirland Road. It is clear from SLOW markings on road and notice about traffic calmed area at Carlton Vale junction that 30mph should be limit. However I have frequently observed light warning sign being repeatedly triggered. I would support 20mph limit in Westminster as this would dovetail with surrounding boroughs, however it needs enforcing, as even with 30mph limit drivers completely and deliberately ignore. I look forward to your response and any useful information for me as a resident of this stretch of primarily domestic road with a nursery one end and a school the other. Its great having buses here, and I understand emergency vehicles need clear route, but ordinary traffic needs to be safer.”

You can sign the petition here http://petitions.westminster.gov.uk/fernhead20mph/

Posted in 20mph speed limit, Harrow Road, Labour Councillors, Queen's Park, Road Safety, Westminster North | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

West End Conservative Councillor advertises for ‘executive assistant’ to answer questions from the public

The ‘West End Extra’ reports;

“A CONSERVATIVE councillor has come under fire for trying to employ an “executive assistant” to help carry out his duties at City Hall, including responding to questions from “the general public”.

Jonathan Glanz, who was elected to represent residents of the West End, is advertising for the full-time role on a recruitment website which is usually reserved for those working in the Houses of Parliament.

His assistant’s duties will include “responding to emails and letters” and “dealing with all correspondence in a sensitive and confidential manner,” according to the listing on not-for-profit site http://www.w4mp jobs.org.

Cllr Glanz, who is the director of property company 45West, is also employed as a consultant to advise the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) on the best way to sell former Met buildings, including the recent sale of dozens of axed police stations.

The job advertisement explained that the successful applicant would help Cllr Glanz with his “wide ranging political interests” and would need to “liaise with relevant groups / personnel both for Westminster City Council and MOPAC commitments, including liaison with outside organisations and the general public.”

One Westminster resident who spotted the advert wrote (see Letters) to the West End Extra: “Maybe I am old-fashioned but if I write to my local councillor I want a response from the person I elected not somebody hired to generate stock responses to me.” She asked: “Are we entering a culture where councillors no longer deign to undertake the work they were elected to do?”

Cllr Glanz said the assistant would be paid “significantly more” than the basic £9,000 a year allowance given to councillors, adding: “This is basically someone who is my assistant in my business, who will help to make my life do-able.

“Given that I devote a huge proportion of my time to public service in return for a very modest emolument, I am paying this out of my money.”

Asked if residents could expect a response from him personally, Cllr Glanz said: “They connect with me, whether I physically have the opportunity to put in the strokes on the keyboard, or whether somebody mechanics that on my behalf. They would only ever be dealing with me, because that’s my role. I don’t think it’s my role necessarily to tie myself to a computer screen and keyboard 24/7.”

He said: “Like everybody else I only have 24 hours in a day and people want, and now demand, a very prompt response. The councillors’ code of conduct gives you 10 working days to respond to a constituent query. I can tell you that in these days of email, constituents expect a response within 10 minutes. I think people have to be realistic as to how that can be achieved, given that people have other things that they are obliged to do.”

Westminster Council Labour group leader Paul Dimoldenberg said: “If Councillor Glanz is unable to do the job he should stand down and allow West End residents to chose someone else who is committed to putting residents first.”

Cllr Glanz was forced to resign as housing chief last year after comparing council tenants to champagne-swilling characters from the TV show Made in Chelsea.

http://www.westendextra.com/news/2014/oct/residents-can-still-connect-me-says-tory-councillor-advertising-%E2%80%98executive-assistant%E2%80%99-

Posted in West End, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Paddington Council flat left vacant for over 5 years – £30,000 lost in rent and rates

Westminster Council has lost over £30,000 in rent and rates after a one bed room Council flat in Bravington Road, north Paddington was left vacant for over 5 years. The flat, at 6A Bravington Road, became vacant in July 2009 and has not been occupied since because the freeholder failed to do necessary repair works.
According to the Council;

“6 Bravington Road comprises two properties 6A and 6B. 6B Bravington is a privately owned unit and the owner of this property also owns the freehold of 6 Bravington, having purchased this from the Council in February 1995. The council have retained a leasehold interest in 6A and this flat became vacant in July 2009. At this time it was identified that significant damp proofing works were required to the property to bring it into habitable condition. These works are the responsibility of the freeholder and despite our best efforts we have been unable to resolve this matter with the freeholder. More recently, in February 2014, the decision was taken to dispose of this one bedroom property, the sale has now been agreed and is progressing.”

Councillor Patricia McAllister, Labour Councillor for Queen’s Park Ward, said;

“It is a scandal that this property has been vacant for over 5 years when it could have been providing a home for someone and generating income for the Council. The Council has clearly failed to require the freeholder to maintain the property that was sold to them and this has cost the Council over £30,000 in lost rent and rates. This is an appalling situation for which Westminster Conservatives should be thoroughly ashamed.”

Posted in Council finances, Empty Property, Housing, Housing Repairs, Labour Councillors, Paddington, Queen's Park | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New report shows Westminster failing to secure healthy and sustainable food for its residents

Westminster City Council is failing to secure a healthy and sustainable food future for its residents, according to the ‘Good Food for London’ report backed by the Greater London Authority.

The report, which ranks the 33 London boroughs by their initiatives and progress in encouraging residents to eat healthy and sustainable food, has named Westminster as the 21st borough in London, giving it just 4 points out of a possible 11.

The figures reveal that Westminster is failing to make any significant progress in providing healthy meals for children in schools, supporting a living wage so residents can afford to eat a well-balanced diet or in supporting fair trade food throughout the borough. Westminster is also falling behind in animal welfare, food partnerships and sustainable food growing.

In response to the report Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour group said:

“The residents of Westminster are being failed by a council that refuses to implement initiatives to encourage healthy and sustainable eating. The council’s poor performance is made all the more significant with 39% of children in the borough living in poverty. Nobody should have to choose between providing a healthy meal or paying their rent, however the Council seems to have disregard for the parents on low wages who are having to make this choice every day.

On top of this the council is failing in its duty to provide well balanced meals for school children. With 25% of children starting high school in the borough classified as obese, it is important that Westminster City Council sorts out its school meals programme and provides children with a healthy lunch.

Westminster needs to learn from other boroughs in the city such as Islington, Lewisham and Haringey who are taking on initiatives including Living Wage programmes, support for new Mums and healthy eating workshops for local restaurants. All of these programmes are making a significant difference to the lives of residents and are desperately needed here in Westminster”

Speaking about ‘Good Food for London’ Rosie Boycott, Chair of the London Food Board and Ross Compton, London Food Link Coordinator said that if boroughs in London such as Westminster “took the simple, affordable and effective action outlined in the report, it would significantly improve the health of Londoners, the livelihoods of farmers and other food producers, and the sustainability of the food system on which we all depend.”

The report is available online at http://www.sustainweb.org/londonfoodlink/goodfoodforlondon2014/

Posted in Families, Food, Health, Labour Councillors, London Living Wage, Out of touch Conservatives, Poverty, Westminster Council waste | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Shocking figures for child poverty in Westminster as £20 million spent on ‘luxury promenade’ in Bond Street

Figures just released by ‘End Child Poverty’ show that Westminster has the 5th highest child poverty levels in the UK and the 4th highest in London. Westminster North has the 7th highest poverty levels of all parliamentary constituencies in the UK.

These figures come on the same day as the announcement of a £20 million refurbishment of Bond Street. According to the Independent;

“London’s richest street will undergo a £20 million overhaul to compete with the major luxury shopping districts of New York, Paris and Hong Kong. New and Old Bond Street will receive their biggest makeover in more than 30 years as part of the Bond Street Development Plan which is backed by landlords and tenants in the street as well as New West End Company, Westminster City Council and Transport for London. The investment will include the redesigning of the street to allow widening of the pavements by 50 per cent to create a “luxury promenade” for shoppers who currently have to navigate narrow and often obstructed pathways. It will also introduce two-way traffic on New Bond Street and Brook Street and the lanes on New Bond Street will be reduced from three to two”

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said;

“The figure of 39% of children living in poverty (after housing costs) shames wealthy Conservative Westminster Council. In Westminster North the figures for child poverty are worse at 43%. This is at a time when the Council proudly boasts that it underspent its budget last year by £4.9m. Yet, there are 2,390 families living in temporary accommodation many of them in the unregulated private rented sector where housing conditions are far from satisfactory.”

“No one denies that investment in the West End is needed, but both these sets of figures reveal the growing gulf between the haves and have-nots in today’s London. There seems to be little problem in lavishing £20 million on a high-profile West End project, but making life easier for the thousands of children living in poverty in the same borough is at the bottom of Westminster Council’s priorities”

See the figures for Westminster here
Percentage of children in Westminster in poverty

http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/why-end-child-poverty/poverty-in-your-area

Posted in Child poverty, Children, Poverty, West End, Westminster Conservatives, Westminster North | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

De-regulation of short lets – a disaster for Westminster residents

Labour Councillors, alongside Karen Buck MP, continue to oppose the government’s proposals to weaken the regulation of holiday and short term lets. Along with most of Westminster’s amenity societies, we fear this will pile yet more pressure onto areas like Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, Maida Vale, Marylebone, Soho, Pimlico and St John’s Wood since many owners can make far more from this kind of letting that from helping to maintain residential communities.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said;

“Local residents increasingly report problems associated with very high turnover – including noise nuisance, rubbish and anti-social behaviour. It is only necessary to go onto a website such as AirBnB to see how much short term accommodation (not including hotels) are available in the Westminster area. Westminster Council is already under pressure trying to enforce against illegal sub-lets. That task will become a great deal harder if this de-regulation goes ahead.”

As the Sunday Times reports;

“THEY were intended to allow travellers on a budget to see the world but Airbnb and similar websites that advertise spare rooms at cut-price rates are stirring up neighbourhood disputes.

The sites are being used to offer flats as all-night party venues and pop-up hotels, leaving neighbours facing sleepless nights and a procession of strangers walking past their front doors.

The problems come as Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, pushes ahead with deregulation that will allow Londoners to let their properties on a short lease without requiring a permit. Landlords across the rest of the country can already do so.”

Posted in Bayswater, Eric Pickles, Holiday Lets, Housing, Karen Buck MP, Marylebone, Out of touch Conservatives, Private rented housing, Short term lets | Tagged , , | Leave a comment