Scottish Housing Minister Affirms Councils' Authority to Provide Support to Homeowners Affected by RAAC. By Wilson Chowdhry

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At the Aberdeen City Council's 'Communities Housing and Public Protection Meeting' on May 30th, 2024, Hannah Chowdhry, representing the UK RAAC Campaign Group, addressed the council to inquire about the assistance ACC could extend to homeowners. This inquiry stemmed from materials obtained by her father, Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the UKRCG, who received a response from Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP. In a letter to Ariane Burgess, Convener of the Local Government, Housing, and Planning Committee in December 2023, Somerville stated:

"In responding to the Committee’s request for an update on buying out homeowners living in ex-local authority or housing association homes containing RAAC, as the Committee will be aware, the Capital Budget is under considerable strain and remains overcommitted in this and future years. There are no available resources to put towards a national fund at this time and to do so would require further reprioritisation."

This implies that with sufficient advocacy from the council, there may be a potential reallocation of funds to support homeowners.

Later in the same letter, Ms. Somerville wrote:

"Homeowners are responsible for maintenance costs in their own homes and for their share of work on any common elements of a shared building. This will include any work required to repair unsafe RAAC in homes purchased from social landlords.

"However, local authorities do have existing powers to support homeowners to carry out repairs to their homes. It will be for them to determine what support is available in these circumstances."

During the meeting, Hannah Chowdhry raised the question: "I would like to know what existing powers she is referring to - could someone answer this today?"

Although Council officers and Councillors skirted around addressing Hannah's inquiries during the meeting, fortunately, she received a letter from the Scottish Housing Minister reaffirming that Scottish Councils are well-empowered to assist homeowners as they see fit. These powers are derived from the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 section 71. In a letter to Hannah Chowdhry, Paul McLennan MSP wrote:

"The long-term options available to homeowners will be thoroughly examined as part of the council’s ongoing appraisal for the site. This process will assess the optimal approach to address or remediate the identified high-risk RAAC. Concurrently, the Scottish Government will maintain close collaboration with Aberdeen City Council to ascertain associated costs.

Local authorities are mandated to establish a scheme of assistance statement outlining the support available to private homeowners. This assistance may be tailored as deemed suitable by the authority, within the framework outlined in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, Section 71. Ultimately, the determination of support for homeowners in these circumstances will rest with the local authority, factoring in local conditions and priorities."

After examining the legal aspect, it appears that there are no strict limitations on the support a Council can offer to residents. This may encompass various forms of assistance, including:

(a) Advice, training, or other helpful services. 

 

(b) Information about housing. 

 

(c) Access to council staff who can assist. 

 

(d) Assisting in guaranteeing payments on loans or interest. 

 

(e) Covering expenses related to setting up a maintenance account. 

 

(f) Managing and using land or buildings. 

 

(g) Providing financial grants. 

 

(h) Offering standard loans.

 

(i) Providing loans with reduced interest rates.

 

You can read section 71 of the Housing Act in full (here)

 

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the UK RAAC Campaign Group, emphasized:

"The response from Mr. McLennan clearly underscores Aberdeen City Council's authority as the decision-maker regarding the assistance available to local homeowners. Additionally, Ms. Somerville's acknowledgment of the potential for funds to be reprioritized within the Scottish Parliament offers hope.

Mr. McLennan's letter also highlights a concerning 9% decline in real-term funding from the UK Government due to lack of inflation-proofing. However, this is a matter for the Scottish Government to address, not homeowners.

RAAC-affected homeowners must persist in advocating to both their local councils and the Scottish Government. They must exert enough pressure to ensure that assistance is provided and their concerns are rightfully prioritized."

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the UK RAAC Campaign Group, further commented:

"In several meetings at various Scottish Local Authorities, councillors have falsely asserted that it is beyond their mandate to aid homeowners; this is an unfounded assertion.

"They must utilize every available resource to support the innocent homeowners, who hail from the most deprived communities in the country and are facing financial ruin.

"It's imperative to ensure that the current process isn't exploited by bureaucratic indifference to initiate a new form of Scottish clearance.

"Entering such realms would only exacerbate existing homelessness and is already significantly impacting mental health services in these areas.

"Homeowners must continue to push for their rights and demand that their concerns are addressed with urgency and compassion.

Today, Wilson Chowdhry will be reaching out to Ariane Burgess, Convener of the Local Government, Housing, and Planning Committee, and the UK Government, urging for assistance regarding the UK RAAC Crisis. Additionally, he will be corresponding with all Aberdeen City Council Councillors, urging them to fully support homeowners by leveraging the provisions outlined in Section 71 of the Scottish Housing Act.

I am Hannah Chowdhry, representing the UK RAAC Campaign Group. I am disappointed that I have had to return again, but judging by the tone of the agenda notes, it seems that the small gain residents secured through councillors at the last CHPPC meeting has been overshadowed by an acceptance that funding will not come from the Scottish Government.

There are around 150 homeowners who are relying on Aberdeen City Council to save them from financial crises and to either make their homes safe again or gain a home for a home. Councillors tasked three senior officers to seek avenues for funding for homeowners, and all three seem to have given up at the first hurdle. This is in stark contrast to West Lothian Council, which recently committed to holding a meeting with Housing Minister Paul McLennan and making a direct request for help.

Confirmation has been provided by Scotland's First Secretary, Alistair Jack, affirming that the nation has received unprecedented funding from the UK. However, the Scottish Government continues to state that they have 9% less funding. I don’t believe local residents affected by RAAC care who is right or wrong. They believe their Scottish Government should be stepping in to help the Scottish people affected. If they have to obtain that money from the UK Government, that is their task to obtain it. If it is not coming, we expect our government to be resourceful and find a way to fund it themselves.

Housing Minister Paul McLennan has previously stated he has not closed the door to helping homeowners. Moreover, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, in a letter to Ariane Burgess, Convener of the Local Government, Housing, and Planning Committee in December 2023, wrote:

"In responding to the Committee’s request for an update on buying out homeowners living in ex-local authority or housing association homes containing RAAC, as the Committee will be aware, the Capital Budget is under considerable strain and remains overcommitted in this and future years. There are no available resources to put towards a national fund at this time and to do so would require further reprioritisation."

This suggests that if the council pushes hard enough, there could be a reprioritisation.

Later in the same letter, she wrote:

"Homeowners are responsible for maintenance costs in their own homes and for their share of work on any common elements of a shared building. This will include any work required to repair unsafe RAAC in homes purchased from social landlords.

However, local authorities do have existing powers to support homeowners to carry out repairs to their homes. It will be for them to determine what support is available in these circumstances."

I would like to know what existing powers she is referring to. Could someone answer this today?

I am also concerned that the council is stonewalling local people when they seek clarity on matters relating to the RAAC crisis. My father was quizzed on the communications he had been having with ACC by councillors at the last CHPPC. He had already had an existing complaint upheld before the CHPPC, and then after the last deputation, an officer checked the records following the questions raised by councillors, acknowledged fault, and apologized by email for not having communicated to my father despite several attempts by him. My father has since sent several emails, one of them containing a letter. The replying officers continually ignored responding to the letter despite follow-ups. However, they have responded to the email, suggesting a very disturbing practice.

There are real lives that are affected by this crisis. Ignoring them only increases the pain and anger they feel. Many feel totally disillusioned as they view that the council is ignoring the fact that they sold these properties and stated at the time of sale that these homes would help give people equitable housing and a legacy for their future descendants. They feel the council and the government have failed.

I remind you of my submitted outcomes for this meeting:

1. Acknowledge that Aberdeen City Council (ACC) actively encouraged and guided homeowners to purchase properties in Balnagask under the Right to Buy scheme. Their officers presented this opportunity as a means to create a lasting legacy for descendants and achieve equitable homeownership.

 

2. Recognize the failure to meet the objectives of the Right to Buy scheme. Acknowledge joint responsibility with the Scottish Government for selling properties that have now become financial and safety liabilities.

 

3. Commit to implementing a similar process as West Lothian Council, which opened their buy-back system to RAAC homeowners. Additionally, pledge to arrange a meeting with Housing Minister Paul McLennan MSP to seek funding opportunities for affected homeowners. Continue to advocate for Scottish Government funding for homeowners.

 

4. Introduce rent pressure zones for newly built developments in the Balnagask area. This initiative ensures that prioritized council tenants, who are forced to relocate, can expect rental rates similar to their current payments upon return. 

 

5. Ensure the availability of relocation grants to cover return costs.

 

6.Increase the grants available to council tenants compelled to move. For instance, Basildon Council currently provides £8,860 in relocation grants, setting a precedent for appropriate financial support in similar circumstances.

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