Armed forces personnel, both serving and retired, can now access extra support through their social landlords, thanks to an outreach project in County Durham.
The Armed Forces Outreach Service (AFOS) is a local authority partnership which Durham County Council has been a part of since 2017. It was created to support servicemen and women, reservists, veterans and their families with issues such as housing, benefits, employment, finances and health and well-being.
Thanks to initial funding from the Armed Forces Community Covenant the council has now committed to continue to host two outreach workers to be based between the authority’s housing solutions team and the partners of Durham Key Options, which includes housing providers such as believe housing, Karbon Homes, Livin and North Star, until April 2020.
The outreach workers, who are ex-service personnel, work closely with clients to help them get access to the services they need. They carry out various duties, including conducting assessments and arranging meetings, all with the aim of helping individuals and families find support for many issues, such as financial concerns, health problems, and housing.
RAF veteran, Jeffery Davidson, served in the forces for 23 years. When his partner passed away a few years ago he was referred into the outreach service. The 61-year-old, from Brandon, said: “I have been in a very dark place since the death of my fiancé four years ago. However, with the help of AFOS giving me something to focus on and a belief in life, I now feel there is a life worth living, if just for my kids.”
Fifty-two-year-old Keith Hopkins, from Easington Village, spent 10 years serving in the Royal Artillery. He was feeling uneasy in a privately rented home due to some incidents of anti-social behaviour in the area.
Keith said: “I was referred to the Armed Forces Outreach Service by a housing provider. Steve of the Armed Forces Outreach Service and Janice of believe housing quickly found me a suitable property and I had moved in a fortnight later.
“I am now settled in a nice property in Easington Village and would like to thank all staff involved for their help.”
Cllr Kevin Shaw, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “No member of the armed forces community should ever face disadvantage and we have a good understanding of some of the barriers that the armed forces personnel and their families could face when trying to secure a home.
“We would like to encourage people to get in contact with our outreach service to find out more about what support is on offer.”
In the last 12 months, the service has helped over 100 former service personnel and their families in County Durham.
Referrals can be made either through a tenant’s social landlord (if with Karbon Homes, believe housing, Livin or North Star) and via Durham County Council’s housing advice line on 03000 268 000 or by emailing email@example.com
For more information visit https://www.durham.gov.uk/armedforces
People living in private rented property are being reminded of new legal protection measures.
The introduction of the Tenant Fees Act 2019 from Saturday 1 June will protect those who have an assured shorthold tenancy, who rent student accommodation and who have a licence to occupy housing.
Our trading standards team is raising awareness among members of the public who rent property as to their rights, whilst reiterating the legal obligations of landlords and property agents to their tenants.
Any new agreements entered into cannot require a tenant, or anyone acting on their behalf or guaranteeing their rent, to make certain payments in connection with the tenancy.
From Monday 1 June 2020, the requirements will apply to all pre-existing agreements.
Landlords and property agents cannot require tenants to enter into a contract with a third party or make a loan connected to the tenancy. A financial cap is also imposed in respect of some payments.
From Saturday 1 June 2019, for any new agreements entered into, the only payments that a tenant can be required to pay are:
A refundable tenancy deposit capped at no more than five weeks' rent where the annual rent is below £50,000 or six weeks where above this.
A refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than one week's rent. Multiple deposits cannot be held from a prospective tenant for the same property at one time.
Where a tenant requests a change to their tenancy agreement, for example a change of person sharing, the landlord or agent can charge up to £50 in fees to amend the agreement, or a higher fee if this can be justified as being a reasonable cost incurred.
Payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV licence or council tax.
A default fee for late payment of rent or replacement of a lost key/security device where required under a tenancy agreement.
If the fee does not appear on the above list, then it is a prohibited payment, which is outlawed by the ban.
Joanne Waller, our head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: "This new legislation seeks to ensure transparency for private rented sector housing tenants of the costs and fees they are liable to pay. The controls also set caps on deposits and certain other payments that landlords and letting agents can charge.
"We will initially raise awareness with landlords and letting agents as to their legal responsibilities, with further monitoring to ensure compliance with the law.
"We will investigate complaints, and should we find any non-compliances it could lead to financial penalties of up to £5,000. Further breaches can lead to criminal prosecution and banning orders from acting as a landlord or letting agent. An option also exists for a higher scale financial penalty of up to £30,000 instead of prosecution."
Other measures to protect consumers and business were also brought in earlier this year. Since 1 April, property agents who hold client money are required to be a member of an approved client money protection scheme.
This requirement exists where they hold money on behalf of a landlord or tenant before the payment becomes due.
Failure to do so could lead to a financial penalty of £30,000 being imposed.
Information as to the membership of an approved scheme requires display of the membership certificate at office premises and on websites of the property business.
Further advice for tenants is available from the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06
Landlords and letting agents seeking further advice can contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the north east’s largest providers of affordable homes today revealed its new identity and vision for the future of social housing in the region.
County Durham Housing Group, which provides low-cost homes for more than 18,000 families in the region, becomes ‘believe housing’ today. The rebrand does not have any impact on arrangements for existing tenants but marks a shift in the aspirations of the four-year-old organisation.
The new name comes at the same time as a change in structure. Following consultation with tenants and stakeholders, the four individual landlords that formed County Durham Housing Group since inception have been brought together as a single housing provider for the first time. This means that Dale & Valley Homes, Durham City Homes and East Durham Homes that make up the group will also disappear from today.
The group’s existing £54m new-build programme, which is delivering 545 homes, and £138m improvement programme to existing properties will continue under believe housing. Existing community investment programmes, which have supported more than 100 local groups over the last two years, will continue as well.
Chief Executive of believe housing, Bill Fullen, said: “Since the group was formed four years ago we’ve come a long way, and probably quicker than we could have hoped for".
“The launch of believe housing is an important step in our aims to transform the provision of affordable homes in the region and help our tenants meet their aspirations".
“When considering our new identity, the answer was right in front of us. We’re remaining true to our existing vision – we believe in life without barriers – because after all, anything is possible if you believe".
“Our new, stronger organisation is ideally placed to expand on what we’ve already achieved. We’ll be able to deliver the same high standards across the county and our new simpler structure will be far easier for tenants or stakeholders to understand".
“We believe that affordable housing should be the catalyst for communities to flourish and our new identity is designed to reflect that. We’re determined to challenge many of the preconceptions around social housing and show that it can be a force for good; not just with our new branding but in everything we do”.
believe housing, which will retain headquarters in Seaham plus offices in Bishop Auckland, Durham and Peterlee, employs more than 450 people. That figure is set to grow as property repairs in the east Durham area will be brought in-house this summer. Repairs across the rest of the area are already carried out in-house.
To contact believe housing:
Residents in County Durham are being urged to join the fight against fraud as part of Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week.
Each year, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of pounds are taken unlawfully from Durham County Council through fraud. This includes council tax and tenancy fraud, as well as false claims for direct payments for social care and support, insurance and blue badges for disabled parking.
Now the council is encouraging anyone who knows of someone committing such fraud, to report it.
Fraud steals money away from vital frontline services and fighting this crime helps us not only protect these services but ensure taxpayers' hard-earned money is not wasted. But we can’t do this alone, so we are asking anyone who is aware of it or has concerns to let us know.
“We investigate all reports we receive and will not hesitate to prosecute offenders to ensure we protect the public purse.”
Over the last three years the council has recovered or intercepted more than £3million pounds from fraudulent activity.
As well as investigating reports from the public, the council carries out regional and national data matching, as well as working closely with neighbouring local authorities, police and law enforcement agencies.
To report fraud:
Text: 07797 870 192, start your message with the word ‘fraud’
Call 03000 266 745
The group signed up to the Stop Loan Sharks charter in Peterlee on Monday, 28 January.
The charter commits the group to encourage customers to report loan sharks, increase awareness of the risks associated with using illegal money lenders, and help tenants understand legal and affordable alternatives.
The initiative from the England Illegal Money Lending Team is being supported right across County Durham.
County Durham Housing Group has joined forces with the England Illegal Money Lending Team and organisations including Durham County Council, East Durham College and NE First Credit Union to stage a week of action in the Peterlee and Shotton area.
County Durham Housing Group’s Operational Transformation Project Director, Mick Doyle, said: “Loan sharks prey on people who are desperate and cause untold misery in our communities. People need to know that there are much more affordable alternatives where people are not exploited by unscrupulous lenders. In particular, credit unions are community-based and a great way for people to save and borrow.
“I would urge anyone who is aware of loan sharks operating in our communities to report them.”
The charter signing took place as part of a week of action in Peterlee and Shotton to ‘bite back’ at loan sharks.
Hundreds of families were provided with information on avoiding or reporting loan sharks; and local volunteers were trained to help people who have fallen prey to an illegal money lender.
Common signs that a lender could be a loan shark include:
More help and support on tackling loan sharks is available at www.stoploansharks.co.uk or by calling 0300 555 2222 safely and anonymously.