Cold Homes

Out and about at this time of year I expect to be chilly. However, I don’t expect anyone to be going home to live in a cold house. Each year the Winter Wellness Partnership works hard to ensure that people living in cold homes get the help and support they need to stay warm and well during the winter.

This year, 7,500 homes in Cornwall identified as potentially having people living in fuel poverty are being sent in the post, a Thermocard. Each card enables the householder to test the warmth of their home and if it is below the acceptable level of warmth, asks them to seek help. The Thermocard provides contact details for that help, including a free post address. Households have been identified by using data recently made freely available by the government to Public Health and Cornwall Council, to combine with additional household data, so that people living in the least energy efficient homes on low incomes are made aware of the available support. Help includes energy saving measures as well as access to financial assistance.

This activity is just one part of a significant “devolution deal” being undertaken in Cornwall that sees energy company SSE working with Public Health, Cornwall Council, the NHS and award winning local charities such as Community Energy Plus and Cornwall Rural Community Charity as well as local social housing providers and the broad partnership of local voluntary groups and charities that make up the Winter Wellness Partnership.

For eligible households in private rented homes as well as socially rented homes, there is funding this year for 1,100 new central heating systems. There is funding for insulation too. I think the provision of caseworkers that will visit people’s home to provide personal advice and support to switch energy suppliers, apply for relevant benefits and signpost to health and work services is really important. From my experience, I know that it is often the people who would benefit the most that are the least likely to seek support that is available to them. Working with community groups, I very much hope the individual caseworkers will be able to change this, so no one is cold at home this winter.

Each year as a contribution to the Winter Wellness Campaign, Cornwall Community Foundation runs a winter appeal asking people to donate to their Surviving Winter Appeal. This money is then allocated to Winter Wellness partners so that local people who need financial help to stay warm get it. You can be sure that donations get to people that need it and in addition to this emergency help, people are signposted to additional support to find longer term solutions. Solutions include help to reduce heating bills and increasing their household incomes through benefits or employment. So far this winter 206 people have been helped in this way. If you feel you can make a donation, please do so now as there are more people who could benefit.

First published in the West Briton on 15/02/18

Advertisements

Homelessness

We cannot accept rough sleeping as a stubborn problem that will always be with us. That’s why we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting those who are homeless and rough sleeping and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

Tackling homelessness is complex, but no one should ever have to sleep rough. I have spent most of my adult life volunteering with organisations supporting homeless people and very much support St Petroc’s campaign to end homelessness in Cornwall.

I am pleased that this newspaper has done so much to raise awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people. Local residents have kindly provided a huge amount of help.

Using the additional Government funding that I helped secure for Cornwall Council, work started last summer with multiple publicly funded agencies, charities and housing providers from across the county joining forces on the Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy, to help stop homelessness in the first place, help get rough sleepers into housing and provide support to keep rough sleepers off the streets permanently.

As a result of much improved team work there are fewer people rough sleeping in Cornwall than last year. Out of all of the local authority areas in the country, Cornwall showed the biggest reduction in rough sleepers. In November 2016 there were reported to be 99 people sleeping on the streets and by November 2017 that figure had been cut to 68.

There is still so much more that needs to be done. I am pleased that leading experts from homelessness charities, housing and local government met for the first time last week as part of the government’s new rough sleeping advisory panel and committed to work together to help eliminate rough sleeping within a decade.

The new panel chaired by Homelessness Minister, Heather Wheeler, will help develop the national rough sleeping strategy to halve rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

Made up of experts, charities and local government, including from Cornwall Housing, the panel will draw on their considerable experience and individual successes to support the Ministerial Taskforce. This will bring together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness.

The government’s determined, more holistic and joined up approach, as well as new investment is making a positive difference that will end this stubborn problem.

First published in the West Briton 08/02/18

Housing in Falmouth

There is no doubt that Falmouth is a great place to work, study and live. However, the fact also remains that too many people who have grown up here can now not afford to live here. Since being elected I have worked hard to enable decisions and actions to be taken locally to tackle these serious problems. Ensuring people have a genuinely affordable and decent home remains a top priority for me.

The Coalition Government from 2010 – 2015 returned decisions about planning and homes from Westminster to Cornwall Council. I also championed neighbourhood planning, enabling local people to help shape the future of our communities.

As a champion of returning power from Westminster to local people and communities it is very disappointing to see the leadership of Cornwall Council persistently not using these powers for the benefit of local people. Cornwall Council was amongst the last planning authorities to agree a Local Plan. It only submitted Cornwall’s housing allocations to the Planning Inspector in October. The Planning Inspector’s role is to ensure the planning process is being undertaken properly, fairly and that it meets local needs.

Sadly, despite the hard work of those involved, we still don’t have an agreed Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan.

So as a result of the delayed Cornwall Plan, the yet to be agreed Cornwall housing allocations or Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan, we are left without a proper plan for the growth of Falmouth. This is particularly worrying as Cornwall Council supports the lifting of the cap on the number of students in our universities while not actively addressing the pressure on local housing and services that inevitably follows.

The impact of this is clearly being felt. I read the letter from the Planning Inspector who approved the application to build new student accommodation on the site of the The Ocean Bowl. He acknowledged the strength of local feeling against the development and drew attention to the lack of an effective reason not to grant permission. Cornwall Council should and could have done more to prevent Falmouth being in this situation. Of course Cornwall Councillor Geoffrey Evans has worked tirelessly for his division, making the case against this application. Following this planning decision, subsequent recent decisions were based on the same considerations.

Since being elected, I have been clear. I support the universities and welcome the students and staff to Falmouth and Penryn, but Cornwall Council must plan for the inevitable growing pains. Since 2010, I have advocated for more purpose built accommodation on and near the campus. More student accommodation could be built in Truro too. There are good public transport links between Falmouth and Truro. Providing more student accommodation must be accompanied by investment in good quality, genuinely affordable and social housing in Falmouth and Penryn as well as tackling the minority of “rogue” landlords.

Building on tough new penalties for “rogue” landlords brought in last year, the government recently announced plans that will enable Cornwall Council to take further action to crack down on “rogue” landlords who rent sub-standard and overcrowded homes.

There has been a rapid expansion of student HMOs in Falmouth and Penryn due to the rapid expansion of Falmouth and Exeter universities. Of course HMOs can provide cheaper accommodation for people with limited housing options and are often occupied by the most vulnerable in our society.

While many HMOs are managed to good standards, too often we see examples of bad practice from rogue landlords who are happy to rake in profits but care less about issues like overcrowding, health and safety, waste storage and anti-social behaviour.

The government’s plans to extend compulsory licensing of HMOs will help to create a level playing field between landlords and make life better for tenants and local communities.

The information local authorities collect as they license HMOs could be very valuable and, if shared with relevant partners, could bring a number of wider benefits. For example, Cornwall Council could use this information to calculate the loss of council tax from student accommodation and seek compensation through business rate retention, which is an important source of council funding.

As Falmouth grows its essential that the needs of the community are met. There is Government funding available to invest in our NHS and local schools in areas where new homes are built, but Cornwall Council has to start with a plan that works for local people.

First published in the Falmouth Wave February 2018

HMOs

Houses in Multiple Occupation often provide cheaper accommodation for people whose housing options are limited. Some of the occupiers of HMOs are the most vulnerable people in our society so regulation of this type of housing is essential. Mandatory licensing of HMOs came into force in 2006 and applies to those properties of three storeys or more.

In the decade since mandatory licensing was introduced the number of HMO’s has expanded significantly with flats and single and two storey houses, originally designed for families, let as HMOs. While many are managed to good standards by reputable landlords, unfortunately this is not always the case. The increased demand for HMOs has been exploited by opportunist rogue landlords, who feel the business risks for poorly managing their accommodation are outweighed by the financial rewards.

Typical poor practices include: overcrowding, failure to meet the required health and safety standards, housing of illegal migrants and intimidation of tenants when legitimate complaints are made. Tenants are sometimes exploited and local communities blighted through, for example, rubbish not being properly stored, excessive noise or anti-social behaviour.

Although only a minority of landlords, the impacts of their practices are disproportionate, putting safety and welfare of tenants at risk and adversely affecting local communities. They cause much reputational harm and it is often pot luck whether a vulnerable tenant ends up renting from a rogue or a good landlord. We want to remove that uncertainty by creating a level playing field between landlords, so the rogues cease to be able to operate substandard accommodation for maximum profit.

Following my campaigning and a public consultation, the Government has decided that properties used as HMOs in England which house 5 people or more in two or more separate households should be licensed by local authorities. This will help ensure they are not overcrowded and do not pose risks to the health or safety of occupiers.

Mandatory conditions in licences will regulate the size and use of rooms as sleeping accommodation in licensed HMOs. They will also require the licence holder to comply with Cornwall Councils rules for the provision of facilities for the proper disposal and storage of refuse. Private providers of purpose built student housing will require a license and will have to pay the full price to the Council.

The new measures complement those in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which tackle rogue landlords. They will also operate within the new enforcement regime introduced last year that is enabling Cornwall Council to take action against rogue landlords, initially funded by a grant I helped secure.

It’s a shame that Cornwall Council has chosen not to voluntarily license/register more private rented property. But this mandatory licensing of HMOs is a significant step in the right direction to improve standards. Also, as a result of these changes it should be easier for Cornwall Council to calculate the loss of Council tax from student accommodation and seek compensation through business rate retention, an important source of Council funding.

First published in the West Briton 11/01/18

Reducing Poverty

Happy New Year! While we all expect it to be chilly outside at this time of the year I don’t expect anyone to be living in a cold home. Thousands of people across Cornwall will be lifted out of fuel poverty and live in warmer homes following an £8m funding investment over the next year.

Around 36,000 homes in Cornwall are in fuel poverty, with Cornwall in the top 10 of fuel poor areas in England. I am delighted to have helped secure this new funding to tackle a long standing problem in Cornwall. Having been a part of the Winter Wellness partnership for some time, I have seen first-hand how effective this partnership of public sector organisations, businesses, charities and community groups is in delivering positive change for people living on low incomes in Cornwall. Living in a warm home is a matter of social justice and this new programme and investment will help more local people.

The Winter Wellbeing Partnership, including 30 partners, from our local NHS to Cornwall CAB, the Fire Service and Cornwall Council has secured over £3.5m from National Grid’s Warm Homes Fund to work with thousands of people to stay warmer for less and be lifted out of fuel poverty.

The new fund – ‘Warm and Well Cornwall’ – targets residents who are in poor health or at risk of ill health, or with underlying health issues, or caring for a vulnerable person or worried about their home being cold or damp.

Warm and Well Cornwall will help 220 private homes, including owners, landlords or tenants and up to 800 social housing homes with first time central heating, such as renewable heating, mains gas, oil, or LPG, with many more to follow in future years.

Social housing partners Ocean, Coastline, Cornwall Housing, Guinness and DCH are investing around £2.5m to improve heating for their tenants with renewable heating and gas central heating.

Funding has also been secured from SSE Energy Solutions, Cornwall Council’s Energy Efficiency partner. SSE has ring-fenced Energy Company Obligation (ECO) eligible measures targeted at fuel poor and vulnerable households in Cornwall and is a key partner to delivering Warm and Well Cornwall. By January 2019 the programme is expected to have helped more than 1,000 homes out of fuel poverty, keeping people warm and well.

Private landlords with tenants can also apply for funding to upgrade their properties. From April 2018, private landlords cannot re-let existing rented properties rated EPC F or G, unless they have registered a valid exemption and from 2020 landlords won’t be able to let any (non-exempt) properties if they are rated F or G.

The WinterWellness Freephone 0800 9541956 is the place to get more information about the wide range of help and support available. It is run by the great Cornish charity called Community Energy Plus. There is cash available for emergency heating payments made available from the Cornwall Community Foundation surviving winter appeal.

Of course tackling fuel poverty is not just about bringing down the cost of heating a home and improving energy efficiency, it’s also about increasing household incomes. So Winter Wellness can provide access to impartial and expert information and advice over the phone or face to face with saving money as well as checking eligibility for cash benefits and discounts. Referrals can also be made to organisations that can help people increase their incomes and employment opportunities.

Helping people out of poverty and putting more money into the pockets of my constituents is a top priority for me in 2018.  I will be continuing to support local employers to protect and grow their enterprises so that more people have the opportunity of a good job. Increasing access to in work skills and training is really important to enable people to increase their wages too.

In 2018 I will build on the progress of the recent Budget that increased the personal allowance, so more people keep more of the money they earn before they start paying taxes. I will also make the case for further increases in the Living Wage. I am pleased that thanks to the hard work and dedication of local employers, the number of people of all ages in work is much higher than 2010. Throughout 2018, I want to see the number of well paid good jobs grow here and people keep more of the money they earn.

First published in the Falmouth Wave January 2018

Planning in Falmouth

There is no doubt that Falmouth is a great place to work, study and live. However, the fact also remains that too many people who have grown up here can now not afford to live here. Since being elected I have worked hard to enable decisions and actions to be taken locally to tackle these serious problems. Ensuring people have a genuinely affordable and decent home remains a top priority for me.

The Coalition Government from 2010 – 2015 returned decisions about planning and homes from Westminster to Cornwall Council. I also championed neighbourhood planning, enabling local people to help shape the future of our communities.

As a champion of returning power from Westminster to local people and communities it is very disappointing to see the leadership of Cornwall Council persistently not using these powers for the benefit of local people. Cornwall Council was amongst the last planning authorities to agree a Local Plan. It only submitted Cornwall’s housing allocations to the Planning Inspector in October. The Inspector’s role is to ensure the planning process is being undertaken properly, fairly and that it meets local needs.

Sadly, despite the hard work of those involved, we still don’t have an agreed Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan.

So as a result of the delayed Cornwall Plan, the yet to be agreed Cornwall housing allocations or Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan, we are left without a proper plan for the growth of Falmouth. This is particularly worrying as Cornwall Council supports the lifting of the cap on the number of students in our universities while not actively addressing the pressure on local housing and services that inevitably follows.

The impact of this is clearly being felt. I read the letter from the Planning Inspector who approved the application to build new student accommodation on the site of the The Ocean Bowl. He acknowledged the strength of local feeling against the development and drew attention to the lack of an effective reason not to grant permission. Cornwall Council should and could have done more to prevent Falmouth being in this situation. Of course Cornwall Councillor Geoffrey Evans has worked tirelessly for his division, making the case against this application.

Since being elected, I have been clear. I support the universities and welcome the students and staff to Falmouth and Penryn, but Cornwall Council must plan for the inevitable growing pains. Since 2010, I have advocated for more purpose built accommodation on and near the campus. There is a developer ready, including a new “budget” hotel and community facilities. More student accommodation could be built in Truro too. There are good public transport links between Falmouth and Truro. Providing more student accommodation must be accompanied by investment in good quality, genuinely affordable and social housing in Falmouth and Penryn as well as tackling the minority of “rogue” landlords. There is Government funding available to invest in our NHS and local schools in areas where new homes are built, but Cornwall Council has to start with a plan that works for local people.

Fuel Poverty

We expect to be chilly outside at this time of the year but I don’t expect anyone to be cold inside their home. Fuel poverty is a long standing health issue: the impact of cold housing on health and the stresses brought on by living in fuel poverty have been recognised for decades by researchers, medical professionals and policy makers alike. At the same time, it is an issue that often gets dismissed as the ‘tough nature of things’ because our housing stock is old and cold housing is so widespread that many have come to regard it as a normal state of affairs. It should not be so. Cold housing and fuel poverty can be successfully tackled through interventions if there is a will to do so.

That is why every year I join the Winter Wellness campaign. Sadly it is often the people that most need help that are the least likely to access the help that is available. The Winter Wellness Programme has made a really positive difference to thousands of local people over the last few years. There are thirty organisations working in partnership, including local and national government, public services such as the NHS and many local charities and businesses, together offering help and support.

For advice and access to services provided by the programme’s 30 partner organisations, call Community Energy Plus on Freephone 0800 954 1956.

Services include Independent energy advice, including home visits and follow-up support and access to heating and insulation grants. Providing practical advice on understanding and reducing energy bills and combatting condensation and damp. Support for families with children if they have additional needs. Debt and benefits advice and Health information.

Please visit Fuelling Connections Cornwall Facebook Page, like and share so more local people keep warm and well this winter.

First published in the West Briton