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News

ARG has retired and is now off-line; thanks for your loyal support over the decade.

The Have Your Say and News pages will remain accessible as an archive for a short time.

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Give communities back the right to decide where houses are built
Government responded:

Local communities are not forced to accept large housing developments. Communities are consulted throughout the Local Plan process and on individual planning applications.

The National Planning Policy Framework strongly encourages all local planning authorities to get up-to-date Local Plans in place as soon as possible, in consultation with the local community. Up-to-date Local Plans ensure that communities get the right development, in the right place, at the right time, reflecting the principles of sustainable development. Through the White Paper we are ensuring that every part of the country produces, maintains and implements an up-to-date plan, yet with the flexibility for local areas to decide how to plan in a way that best meets their needs.

A wide section of the community should be proactively engaged so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made.

The Framework recognises the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside. That is why our proposals are focussed on development in built up areas.

We are also absolutely clear that Green Belt must be protected and that there are other areas that local authorities must pursue first, such as brownfield land and taking steps to increase density on urban sites. The Government is committed to maximising the use of brownfield land and has already embarked on an ambitious programme to bring brownfield land back into use.

We believe that developers should mitigate the impacts of development. This is vital to make it acceptable to the local community and to addresses the cumulative impact of development in an area. Both the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 agreements can be used by local planning authorities to help fund supporting infrastructure and address the cumulative demand that development places on infrastructure. Through the White Paper, the Government announced that it will examine the options for reforming the existing system of developer contributions to see how this can be simplified, with further announcements at Autumn Budget 2017.

The £2.3billion Housing Infrastructure Fund will deliver up to 100,000 new homes by putting in the right infrastructure, in the right place, at the right time. We expect the fund to be able to deliver a variety of types of infrastructure necessary to unlock housing growth in high demand areas.

There is nothing automatic about grants of planning permission where there is not yet an up-to-date Local Plan. It is still up to local decision-makers to interpret and apply national policy to local circumstances, alongside the views of the local community. Applications should not be approved if the adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits; or if specific policies in the Framework indicate that development should be restricted.

Communities are also able to make representations on individual planning applications and in response to most appeals by the applicant against a local authority decision. Interested parties can raise all the issues that concern them during the planning process, in the knowledge that the decision maker will take their views into account, along with other material considerations, in reaching a decision.

We therefore do not believe a right of appeal against the grant of planning permission for communities is necessary. It is considered that communities already have plenty of opportunity to have their say on local planning issues, and it would be wrong for them to be able to delay a development at the last minute, through a community right of appeal, when any issues they would raise at that point could have been raised and should have been considered during the earlier planning application process.

Department for Communities and Local Government
Report 732 by ARG Committee on Tue 28 Feb 2017, 07:48.

The banana republic of Surrey: local council funding is broken
The algebra is simple. The NHS is having another terrible winter. It does not collapse, but “spills demand” on to the next line of defence, local government welfare. But while the NHS gets more money annually from the Treasury, local government gets less, some 30% less since 2011. It cannot cope with the new pressure.

The equation resolves itself into rationing, by quantity and quality: fewer care places, fewer home visits and fewer district nurses leads to more bed-blocking, fewer operations, longer trolley waits.

Tory Surrey is a responsible supplier of post-hospital care. Like all councils, it is allowed by the Treasury to increase its council tax by 5%, specifically to boost its care budget and thus ease pressure on the NHS – which the Treasury is responsible for funding. Surrey county council regarded this as nothing like enough. It therefore activated its statutory right to hold a referendum on a 15% increase.

Far from showing delight at a wealthy council accepting this burden, the Tory government was appalled. Tories do not increase taxes. The chancellor (and Surrey MP) Philip Hammond duly did what Jeremy Corbyn called a secret deal. If Surrey abandoned its referendum and the 15% hike, it could retain revenue from a different tax – the local business rate, which normally went to the Treasury. That is, the Treasury would in effect spend more on health and care in Surrey, but secretly and, so far, just for Surrey.

This is the stuff of a banana republic. If Britain wants to spend more on health and elderly care, it should raise it and spend it honestly. Instead, the Treasury is running around its fiscal A&E department, staunching the flow of political blood by slamming on plasters wherever a patient screams or twists an arm.

Some might argue that an NHS free at the point of delivery has had its day. New disciplines and incentives, through fees or insurance or more prevention, must constrain marginal demand. But for the time being, it makes no sense to squeeze the NHS at the top – where politicians are exposed – and dump its problems on to local government and different funding streams at the bottom. It wastes money and distorts priorities. It is illiterate public finance.

If Surrey is harbinger of a new health and care service, and business taxes are to relieve an ever-burgeoning NHS, so be it. But few places are as rich as Surrey. Revenue will have to be redistributed from rich to poor areas. In other words, it is not just the NHS that needs rethinking, but the whole murky world of local government finance.

Article by Simon Jenkins for the Guardian.
Report 731 by ARG Committee on Fri 10 Feb 2017, 13:16.

Goodbye to All That
The Anstey Residents' Group (ARG) and its companion website are calling it a day and will be putting up the shutters for the final time at the end of February.

We were founded in August 2009 in reaction to the Anstey Road sports ground coming under threat from development from owners Coors (later to morph into Molson Coors), who wanted to build a supermarket there and relocate the football club into the middle of Anstey Park. A small group of energetic residents grew rapidly into a movement as we all got together to fight the proposal... and very soon we began to notch-up successes.

The next seven years saw serial skirmishes with Molson Coors, EHDC planners and the town council; in spite of ARG's early success the sports ground has been sold for development and the site will be covered with 85 dwellings, ironically one for every year of the covenant that was supposed to protect it.

ARG, with the innovative use of its website and mass emailing facility, did much to change the nature of single-issue protest in the town and pioneered a new breed of pressure group with an active website as its nucleus. Endowed with such a powerful way of reaching the electorate, it was only natural that we should spread our net to encompass more things Altonian.

Consequently, our sphere of interest expanded to include wider scrutiny of the actions of our town council and our 'Have Your Say' blog became the place to go to find out what was happening in the town and post reaction to it. ARG always sought to articulate an independent view on the various shenanigans of our elected representatives and attempt to hold them to account. At its peak, the HYS page attracted well over six thousand visits a month and it has continued with a monthly average of around three thousand 'log-ins'.

Did we change anything..? That's not for us to judge but we'd like to think that we nurtured a greater public engagement in local matters and that we gave a voice and a soapbox to those Altonians who felt that they had something to say. But now that bulldozers have started on turning the sports ground into just another mediocre housing estate, our ability to change the outcome is done.

Seven years on we have many more residents' groups in the town and a more savvy electorate, particularly in the area of planning. Facebook, which was in its infancy when we started, has become a snappy and ubiquitous way of reaching and communicating with a large audience and has done much to engender a sense of 'community'; its future as a conduit for social commentary is bright.

In contrast we've always thought that there is room for a forum promoting a more measured and expansive debate and examination of the facts which is what ARG has strived to provide. As we slip away into retirement, there are other organisations which have evolved in our wake which will pick up the baton: Alton Eastbrooke & Wooteys Residents Association (AEWRA) will absorb responsibility for monitoring the sports ground development while Alton & District Residents' Associations (ADRA), the Alton Society and Love Alton are all dedicated to making Alton a better place to live and are worthy of support.

One particular topic that has exercised us, and which has resonated with residents, is the poor quality of our representation at town and county level. The assault on the town by developers has been largely enabled by a bullish approach from EHDC planning officers determined to force through a 'build at all costs' agenda, aided by what is perceived as limp acquiescence from our District Councillors. The Neighbourhood Plan, which offered hope of some protection from the worst excesses of developers, was conceived and implemented far too late to have any meaningful impact on outline planning permissions already approved: the town council must bear much of the responsibility for this lack of foresight. This apparent perversion of the true essence of 'localism' by planners has manifested itself in the electorate's near total despair and a perception that ordinary residents can have absolutely no influence on a planning 'process' that does not aspire to embrace their desires and ambitions. We continually hear people say: ''what's the point of getting involved and having a view when nobody takes any notice of what we are saying?'' Thus voter apathy is born.

It's difficult to be optimistic about the future under the present local party political system. There is a view, gathering momentum, that the current system does much to further a moribund ideology but little to serve its electorate. The motivation for change requires engagement and energy, particularly from our younger citizens, but the cynicism and apathy that is apparent in the town does not encourage optimism for the future.

We've done our bit and it's now time to depart the stage and let someone else have a go. Thanks to those Altonians (..and beyond) who have supported and encouraged us over the years; we'll be around making waves for a short while longer... and then it's adieu.

Tony Souter
Chair ARG
Report 730 by ARG Committee on Fri 3 Feb 2017, 09:55.

North Hants CCG update
Q. Are there any active plans to reshape the model of General Practice locally to conform with the 'Gosport' model? If so, which practices and when?

A. An initial meeting of Boundaries/Bentley/Wilson and Chawton Park took place in Jan and a follow up to support the primary care collaboration project is planned for February supported by CCG primary care team. This is a long way from the Gosport model but is the first steps on a local primary care joint working journey that we hope will prioritise and develop primary care services for Alton residents.

Q. Are there any plans to increase the use of inpatient beds at ACH to relieve pressure on acute beds at Basingstoke/Winchester? If not, why not?

A. The Alton beds are primarily used by Basingstoke and Winchester for step down although the IP beds also serve EOL. A system wide review of IP bed capacity is in progress. Alton takes all that they can right now; any future bed capacity in any of the community hospitals depends on relative staffing capacity and capability of the system; North Hampshire have just commissioned an extended enhanced recovery at home offer and social and health care teams are developing integrated recovery/re-ablement/rehabilitation support that all sits alongside the hsopitals in our area.

Q. What plans are there to upgrade and expand the diagnostic facilities at ACH?

A. Hampshire Hospitals are very supportive of offering more diagnostics capacity and are working through options with commissioners currently. Focus is again on trained staff rather than equipment which has utilisation capacity.

Q. What specific plans are there to strengthen services for the mentally ill in Alton, particularly in terms of rapid response and ongoing support?

A. Mental Health services crisis management are commissioned Hampshire-wide. The Alton review did not flag a specific local need for crisis support but did identify the need for better early support, wellbeing centres and better signposting for help. This is being tackled under the work-stream of community health and wellbeing.

Report 729 by ARG Committee on Tue 24 Jan 2017, 21:01.

CCG Review Update
The review was triggered by concerns around future threats to service provision alongside the recognition that there was significant growth planned in the area and the review could engage local people in identifying choices for future service provision. This review is not in isolation; there is some significant redesign work happening within commissioning teams in Hampshire and findings from Alton have been aligned with that work.

The communications update for stakeholders in November summarised the key areas of service development determined as a result of both joint needs assessment with local authority partners and public.

I understand that there is keen interest in progress to date and I have therefore summarised below additional progress since that was issued..

Frail elderly – there was a recognition that in order to cater for the growing elderly population, greater level of community services to keep people independent for as long as possible were required; this would also reduce unnecessary hospital admissions for those with long illness. These community services have been increased as a part of a North Hampshire-wide project which recruited additional staff in November 2016 and is operational now as winter has set in.

The second stage of this project is a frailty assessment unit where proactive care planning can be undertaken; the hub will be in Basingstoke. No date set yet, but investment is in budget 2017-18. Alton has been proposed as a spoke of the model with a small outreach facility potentially based in the hospital. This will be confirmed when the business case for the frailty hub is signed off.

Community services are often invisible when working well – but although not seen, we will be monitoring increase in activity across the area along with analysing the number of people whom have a better choice of care as a result.

Primary Care – NHS nationally is keen for GP practices to work more collaboratively to deliver extended hours and greater same day access. The four local practices in Alton are meeting in January supported by the lead of our local integrated care project – Better Local Care. We all recognise that the primary care in Alton is very good and there are no immediate concerns...however, as demand increases, the shortage of GP workforce in Hampshire along with constraints in social care and other services mean that GPs recognise the need to work on the best way to work together for the population of Alton. This is a medium term project which will develop and be shared over the next few months.

Community Health and Wellbeing Hub: I believe you or at least some ADRA members may have attended the facilitated session to develop proposals for this. It is very much a community-healthcare joint venture. I am meeting officers of EHDC in late January to discuss the health-community collaboration further.

Whilst there are other areas in the scope of the review....these are the ones where commissioners are actively progressing or commissioning services to meet identified need. As I have said on many occasions, there is no big bang health offer because the needs are subtly changing with time and many of the services that are being re-developed across North Hampshire will address this changing need. However we are keen to ensure that local needs are met and that local NHS estate is used to best effect as services are developed or amended. We are also liaising with commissioners responsible for the Whitehills and Borden healthy town project and West Hampshire commissioners whose boundary reaches up into Four Marks to ensure we have a coordinated geographic approach.

Head of Communications and Engagement at the
NHS North Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group
Report 728 by ARG Committee on Sat 21 Jan 2017, 08:56.

Homeless people aren’t subhuman...one day that might be you
Whenever I see a homeless person begging on the street, my first thought is: “That could be me.” Former Tory MP Sir George Young, however was infamously claimed to have described the homeless as “people you step over when you come out of the opera”. Do you feel his pain? How irritating to have a night of high culture so hindered.

But the thwarted entertainment need not be grand. Labour MP Simon Danczuk recently tweeted his vexation after encountering “beggars” close to a pub: “Begging – counted 4 beggars between Rochdale Exchange & Wheatsheaf entrances last Tuesday. Should at very least be moved on.”

Annoyance at finding your way blocked by people some regard as subhuman underpins the mental gymnastics required for those who believe that homeless people are outliers and that being without a roof to sleep under could never happen to them. In the UK the biggest single cause of homelessness is a short-term tenancy ending, with no need for tenants to be at fault. Live under an assured shorthold tenancy? You could be served two months’ no-fault notice. Anyone defaulting on mortgage payments faces losing their home in a similarly short timescale. If your landlord insists on turfing you out and you have no guarantor while on low/no pay, the dreaded sofa-surfing will seem like a blessing.

If you are unable find another place to rent (or to buy? Please …) previously understanding friends soon tire of your downbeat presence in their spare room, imagining that you have control over your life and aren’t trying hard enough, when in fact even the prospect of life on the streets undermines even the bravest person’s ability to cope with ordinary everyday challenges. Add to this another myth: that emergency housing such as hostels (memorably described by a friend who had worked in one as “the closest thing to a Turkish prison”) are in truth positively luxurious, and if you avoid their charms you must be a fusspot.

Tenants are especially vulnerable if their relationship has broken down, after moving to another city while on low pay, or if they are ill (especially mentally ill, due to both prejudice and perhaps concomitant chaotic lifestyle). There exists a notion that some wonderful massive magic giant angel hand gathers homeless people to comfort them before making everything better. And so another wrong-headed idea arises: that it’s possible to “go to the council” who will supply a lovely home. Dream on. Right to buy has devastated council housing stock, and those lacking guarantors or steady incomes hurtle back under the dastardly threadbare cloak of the private rented sector, a situation heightened for those without deposits or rent in advance, and further worsened by even a faintly tainted credit reference.

I have on two occasions been moments away from actual, roofless homelessness, once when I was evicted without proper notice. Everyone I knew believed that since I have a chronic health condition I would be swiftly housed by the local authority. I knew better, but still applied. A kindly council officer jumped through logistical hoops to record me as vulnerable, but I was insufficiently ill, apparently. (Mercifully in Scotland, where I now live, being homeless is in itself considered vulnerable).

It is also necessary to demonstrate a “local connection”. Consequently, anyone who has, for example, moved recently to a new area to find short-term work could slip through fraying safety nets to find themselves sleeping outside. Add to this the fact that applicants must navigate councils who “gatekeep” – in other words, try their best to avoid responsibility for housing them because they have nowhere to place applicants, not even basic emergency accommodation. If you are poor and in arrears, you will be considered to have caused your own homelessness, which permits authorities to escape responsibility.

I was once homeless after a landlord sold my rented flat. Friends (including some who had enjoyed my hospitality prior to moving into the homes they were buying) grew intolerant of my frazzled presence in their spare room. I explained that I was struggling, but nobody grasped that my situation was serious, that the council wouldn’t house me and doubted my insistence that the private rental sector was closing its doors. Desperate and with nowhere else to go, eventually I found a cheap hotel, which devoured my dwindling resources. Just days from the pavement, I found a flat. I was saved, but it was a near miss. Otherwise you might have been stepping over me.

People such as Danczuk are misguided when they openly disdain the poor beggars enduring a cascade of problems of which homelessness is only the beginning. When you step over someone on the way to the pub, opera, shops or your own home, think about this for a while: there but for fate go all of us.

Article by Penny Anderson.
Report 727 by ARG Committee on Thu 19 Jan 2017, 09:22.

The inconvenient truth: the NHS cannot carry on as it is (part 1)
Jim Callaghan may not have actually said “Crisis? What crisis?” in 1979, but the then prime minister’s words have gone down in history as the clearest example of a politician not in touch with the severity of the issues facing the country. Last week has seen a similar debate about the state of our accident and emergency services.

Seen from the position of chair of King’s College Hospital, there is no question that the pressures are real and serious. Constant and relentless effort is required to keep essential services running. That we have managed to do so is down to the extraordinary efforts of senior and frontline staff. Even with this, the picture is one of enormous fragility, not just at my trust but across the whole of the NHS.

The story at King’s is reflected in the grim national figures on A&E waiting times, trolley waits and “black alerts” released last week. Of course, the picture varies from area to area. But the underlying story is of a service under more pressure than it has been for a decade.

It is hard to think of anything that matters more to people than the health and wellbeing of themselves and their family. Given this, can we really be happy with our health and care services staggering from year to year, wondering whether they will manage to make it safely through the winter?

The reasons for our current predicament are well understood. This is a “crisis” that was not only predictable but was predicted. The hard bit here is not knowing what to do, but having the will to do it.

First and foremost of the issues we need to tackle is funding. The NHS is not a “bottomless pit” as some have suggested, but increasing demand and continuing advances in healthcare mean that it needs additional funding year on year of around 4% above inflation. Whenever it has not had this for any sustained period of time, it has run into trouble.

The funding problems of social care are, if anything, more severe. Half of local government funding goes on adult and children’s care. Local authorities have done remarkably well in delivering spending reductions while preserving services in recent years, but it is inevitable that they will have to take money out of their care budgets in order to balance their overall budgets. In the end we all want clean streets and good leisure services as well.

There is, of course, scope to improve the way services are delivered. As the work of Lord Carter has shown, some hospitals are more efficient than others. We know at King’s that there is room for improvement. But sustained progress will only come if we can stabilise the financial position. It is very hard to improve your swimming technique if you are struggling to keep your head above water.

Additional funding now, together with a concerted move to eliminate the deficits that NHS trusts are currently carrying, is essential. This would stop the incessant tug of war that currently goes on between different parts of the NHS as they desperately try to balance their own part of the system. The energy and focus could then go on delivering real improvements in productivity and more consistent service quality.

Last week was dominated by a debate between the prime minister and NHS England chief Simon Stevens over whether the NHS has in fact been given more money than it actually asked for. In reality, the funding agreed in the Five Year Forward View was the art of the politically possible at a time when big reductions were being agreed in other government departments.

It assumed efficiency savings of £22bn – higher than has ever been achieved by the NHS or indeed any other major health economy – and significantly underestimated the scale of the structural deficits that already existed in hospital trusts. Crucially, it was reliant on sustained funding of social care.

/cont....

Report 726 by ARG Committee on Tue 17 Jan 2017, 09:33.

The inconvenient truth: the NHS cannot carry on as it is (part 2)
Stevens was both right and courageous to set out the true picture as he saw it, even if it has been at some cost to his personal relationship with No 10. This is his job. It is clear to anyone who works in the NHS that we cannot carry on as we are. He has a duty to say so. The prime minister had to make some tough decisions to deliver savings when she was home secretary. So did Philip Hammond when he was at defence. It is, perhaps, not surprising that they believe standing firm now on NHS funding is the right approach. In my view this would be a profound mistake. The NHS is different, and needs to be recognised as such.

The debate on funding is not just a matter for the government or the NHS. As a country we need to make some hard choices. We can help ourselves by being fitter and more active, but in the end – if we want the security of having the best health and care services available to us – we will have to pay for them. A cross-party health and care commission could begin that debate with the public.

Beyond funding, we need to put back together a service that has been chronically fragmented by the reorganisations of successive governments. This does not need, God forbid, to be another top-down reorganisation, but a concerted move to allow health and care organisations to come together at local level. Combining hospitals, GPs and community services and moving away from the current artificial division between purchasers and providers would improve care and reduce costs. In some places this change has already started. It needs much more support.

A proper investment plan is needed in the buildings and equipment of the NHS. The private finance initiative brought substantial new investment, albeit at a very high cost. This has now gone, but nothing has been put forward to replace it. Much of the NHS estate urgently needs investment, and many of the buildings built under PFI will soon need refurbishing.

As well as investing in the infrastructure of the NHS, we also need to invest in the people who work for it. In all the different parts of the public sector that I have worked in, I have never come across people with such talent and dedication. People are passionate about what they do. And yet we have contrived to create a situation in crucial areas, such as nursing, where we struggle to recruit and retain the trained staff that we need.

These are the basic building blocks of an NHS recovery plan. There is no doubt much more that could and should be done, but without these essential steps we are unlikely to succeed.

The NHS has a lot that it can justly be proud about. At King’s, we achieve consistently good health outcomes and have seen major advances in areas such as trauma, haematology and neurosciences. We are confident that over time we can become both more efficient and deliver better services.

But like all other parts of the NHS we are now at a crossroads. Without a new approach, these advances will be put at risk. The hardest thing for governments to do is to listen and act on inconvenient advice. It is also the most important.

Article by Sir Bob Kerslake, chair of King’s College Hospital NHS foundation trust.
Report 725 by ARG Committee on Tue 17 Jan 2017, 09:29.

Miller Homes: Alton Society's letter to the Herald
Once again, Altonians feel badly let down by the planning process.

The Anstey Road Playing Field Reserved Matters application for what is seen in Alton as an obviously unsustainable over-development, was urged through by EHDC officers with, unbelievably, the support of Alton District Councillors. A number of legitimate and cogent concerns about the quality of the development and its local impact were simply brushed aside without any serious debate or resistance by Planning Committee members. What sort of democracy is this?

The historic setting of this site, next to Old Eggars School - one of the oldest and most respected buildings in the town – surely this alone should have given councillors something to fight for?

The legal technicalities associated with the Neighbourhood Plan dominated what debate there was, rather than the fundamental imperative to get the plans right. Why weren’t the officers’ assertions challenged? We were told that at the Outline Stage the Neighbourhood Plan carried insufficient weight, but that at this Reserved Matters stage it is now too late! Why wasn’t this “Catch 22” questioned? We are told all too often that the risk of costly appeals means that we must always follow officers’ advice. How important do the issues have to be for this advice not to be followed so slavishly? At the very least why was there no motion to defer the application, given the seriousness of the legal issues outlined in the Town Council’s submission?

As we ponder these questions, we earnestly hope that our Town Council is able to follow through with the prospect of legal challenge. The Council will surely have the whole town behind them in this, and will certainly have our support.

We also believe that Miller Homes are taking a very misguided, short-term view. Incoming residents will now know clearly that there are inherent defects which might affect the development’s appeal (and selling prices) in the short term; and longer-term values and reputations will surely be affected when residents realise that they are living in an overcrowded, car-choked enclave.

Alton deserves better.
Report 724 by ARG Committee on Mon 9 Jan 2017, 17:27.

Letting fees: the agents just got too greedy
The real shock about this week’s decision to ban letting fees to tenants is that it did not happen earlier. For more than a decade in Money we have highlighted the exploitative activity of some (but by no means all) letting agents. It evidently reached such absurd levels that in the end even a Tory government had to end the farce.

We have seen letting agents demand £800 in fees on a £650-a-month one-bed flat. Bills for £360 for running a standardised contract through the photocopier, and £90 for a credit check that costs the agent little more than a fiver. Tenants have had to go through the rigmarole of these sorts of bills every time they are forced to move, which in our case study on page X was every year between 2007 and 2015.

Back in May 2004 I wrote how some letting agents were “deceiving tenants out of huge amounts of cash with myriad charges and fees that verge on the criminal”. In 2009 I wrote “Letting agents: are they even worse than estate agents?” The same year I suggested we “let letting agents sweat”. Finally in June this year I wrote a column headlined “It’s time to end the great letting agency rip-off in England and Wales”.

Truth is, some agents got too greedy. Not that many will agree. When news of the ban emerged, Haart said it was “yet another unwelcome and haphazard government intervention ... yet another government blow for landlords.” LCP, a London agent, said it was a “further attack on beleaguered landlords”.

The victim mentality among some agents and landlords is comical. Official figures this week showed that over the past four years, average incomes have nudged ahead by 1.7% a year, while rents have gone up 2.2% and house prices have jumped 5.6%. In parts of the country, it has been a lot worse.

It is simply undeniable that the owners of property have won, and tenants have lost. Buy-to-let merchants have made gains of 1,400% since 1996, far better than any other investment. Yet it’s these winners who bleat loudest. If I were them I’d have kept my gob shut about just how much money I had been skimming off working people.

Some more perspicacious landlords saw it coming. David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com said: “Banning all tenant fees is a draconian step. However, the letting agency business, in particular, only has itself to blame. Too many agents charged rapacious levels of fees, frequently far in excess of the actual costs. Also, we are convinced too many engaged in hiding fees, only revealing them at the last minute when the tenant was committed.”

Letting agents will now have to try to pass the costs on to landlords, which is only right because they are the customer and are in a much better position to decide if the fee is acceptable, or if they wish to take their business elsewhere. Unfortunately, on forums such as Property118 some agents are trying to devise “workarounds” – one alleges that “larger agents are secretly discussing setting up referencing companies, and will only deal with prospective tenants who will use their company”.

I doubt such ruses will work. I’m more inclined to agree with an agent on the same forum who said that the ban on fees has been in Scotland for many years and “the sun is still rising in the morning and the rental market is alive and kicking. One thing I find strange is the view that landlords will have to put up rents to accommodate this.

“In my experience, the market sets the rent, not the landlord. Most landlords will take as much rent as they can get for a property in the prevailing market, so to challenge this on the basis that rents will rise seems a bit disingenuous.”

Article by Patrick Collinson.

Report 723 by ARG Committee on Sat 26 Nov 2016, 08:19.




 

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