Thursday, 11 November 2010

Power, the Butcher and the cruellest cuts….

So, the cold wind of austerity has claimed its first 11K victim. The Minister for Housing has revoked the licence of a 11K who has fallen on hard-times and has ordered him or her to vacate the Jersey up-market home.

Shall this family be debarred from joining the queue for social rented accommodation? Or can they make an application for G category “hardship” status and carry on living in the same dwelling or something smaller?

Similar decisions are made every day by many other people in Jersey. Not usually in the 11K super-rich class of course, but the harsh reality of living at the lower levels in this Island need to be much better understood and discussed.

The fact is that there is no obligation on Jersey government to house anybody and the Housing Law is designed to prevent people occupying accommodation rather than enjoying it. Since its introduction in 1949, the housing problems in Jersey – the “shortage” is just one aspect – have become worse. Yet, Deputy Power says that the law will stay in force because it is the main tool of “population control”- and States policy is based upon an annual growth of 150 new households per annum. There must be some logic there somewhere?

Of course, the housing department knows very little about the largest part of housing accommodation in Jersey – the private sector – because it has no need to interfere in this except insofar that it determines who shall or shall not have “quals.” Beyond that, the private sector is more or less left to manage itself under “market-forces” rules. Unfortunately, the old game of catch-up is still being played out between private and public housing costs. If private rents are increased (and many are linked to cost of living rates) then the public sector wants to follow-suit in case it is perceived as “subsidizing” tenants with public money.

Deputy Power’s limited knowledge is mostly based on the 4,500 publicly owned (States) flats and houses that his department administers out of 38,000 total households in the Island. Housing department properties are mostly one bedroom units and the majority of tenants are economically inactive.

Of the 4,500 States households (13,000 people), about 70% receive Income-Support (including reduced rents) and the other 30% pay full rents but it is not known how many can actually afford to do so, because most do not give details of their income etc to the housing department. This is where Graeme “the Duke of Cumberland” Butcher aka Assistant Minister comes in, because he has been tasked to find out.

It is not just out of curiosity either – because the Minister and “the Duke” are desperate to raise money in extra rents where possible and also to invite tenants to leave, if they can afford to rent “in the private sector.” Thus, they hope to free up some accommodation for the 1200 or so household believed to be “on the waiting list” – although nobody has really got a clue about the actual levels of housing need in Jersey because nobody asks the right questions of the right people

.This simple failure was fully exposed at the recent Draft Island Plan public examination but it does not seem to stimulate a more enlightened look at the whole question of housing provision in Jersey.

To his credit, Deputy Power would like to reduce housing “quals” to 5 years residence in parity with the employment laws of Jersey. But he knows full well that the 60 years of institutional discrimination and prejudice supported by the 1949 Housing Law cannot be shifted from the insular mentality. That over £30 millions in “rents” are paid by the “non quals” workers of Jersey each year into the pockets of lodgings landlords does not seem to be critically considered. Yet, that is virtually the same sum that is denied the housing department each and every year, preventing it from providing the social housing that the Island population – as a whole – desperately needs.

Quite how the broken 11K family came to Deputy Power’s knowledge is not clear. Presumably a little bee rather than a large Butcher discovered and disclosed the information upon which the Ministerial power was applied. Whether this family can, in fact, be forced to vacate their property would make an interesting challenge under Human Rights rules – as will the threats of expulsion for the 30% of States tenants who pay the full “fair rents.”

Deputy Power has a bag full of wish list reforms lined-up for the Housing Department which include its virtual scrapping or amalgamation with the Planning Department, the creation of a Housing Association (run on the lines of Jersey Post or Telecoms) and a separate Regulations body... He already favours a 5 – 7 years residence period in granting certain “G” category hardship consents, is against the granting of “J” category permissions to buy but favours 3 years “to lease” only deals, and he is against selling off any more housing stock (except for the 40 deals already agreed) and he has reduced his staffing levels in accordance with CSR cuts…..

Sadly, his plans to widen the criteria of people that can enjoy “social housing” are unlikely to be realised on the basis of post-war Jersey housing history. He acknowledges that there is no longer a category of “affordable housing” for people to buy and he is looking at reviving the States Loan scheme or breathing new life into “shared equity” (but not “shared ownership”) developments….

…..And he wants to be able to borrow money to finance his schemes because his department is sitting upon a £billion of assets yet is starved of funds to do virtually anything. Even if there was time to implement any of his ideas before next summer – as he proposes – the lack of money must surely scupper his and many other departments’ plans. The failed 11K household should be a lesson to us all.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.


Anonymous said...

Not sure that CSR ranks with Culloden or that the High-Rise clearances will equate with those for the Highlands but the points about in-equality are well made.
When shall the housing department take human rights issues seriously?
Next year's Census will bring everything to a standstill so no need to worry about Power's urgent timetable. He doesn't stand a chance.
Not only will the sheep in the assembly want the more certain information available from the Census before agreeing the Island Plan, but housing reforms will also be filed in the pending tray - at least until the autumn elections are safely passed.

Anonymous said...

Deputy Power said on radio ga ga the other day that there are 10,000 people with quals who don't even live in Jersey.

If only half that number turn-up expecting to be housed one tuesday afternon then he will have another thumping headache.

Does the housing dept have a cunning plan?

Anonymous said...

Strange thing is that hardship consents under "G" cannot be granted for reasons of financial hardship according to the housing regs.
Always wondered why this was so, and surely financial hardsip is just as real as any other?

Since the 1(i)K family were presumably granted their consent on the basis of their financial health, it would seem a bit odd if they could not ask for permission under financial hardship when they became poor.

Even once wealthy people are entitled to fairness and why should financial hardship be denied as a reason at all? Sounds like another human rights issue to me - can anybody out there offer any thoughts on this?

Deputy Montfort Tadier said...

Great blog, TeamVoice. Housing is one of the most critical questions facing the island today and we need to find imaginative ways forward, that may not be obvious. It is imperative that there is greater fairness and general humaneness when it comes to housing issues.

voiceforchildren said...


Thank-you for your comment. Have you got a comment on this?

Anonymous said...

Wonder how many people have been driven to suicide by the Jersey Housing Law since 1949?

Perhaps if the Jersey Medical Officer of Health could research the past 60 years statistics of known suicide reasons it might be illuminating?

Thankfully, most people driven to despair by this disgraceful bit of social engineering leave the island before they make a fateful decision. But successive generations of "non quals" have experienced just the same levals of discrimination, absurdly high rents for squalid rooms, no privacy and lack of security and the "no children or pets" rules. It is of course just another aspect of the famous "Jersey Way" but if we had the figures to show that more people are killed by the Housing Law than illegal drugs - well somebody might lose a night's sleep somewhere?