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11/12/2008

On the naughty step

Please welcome to the naughty step the head of housing for Norwich City Council, Kristine Reeves, along with other council officers. Why? Some pernicious housing policy or dodgy choice based letting scheme? No. Ms Reeves took a rather more personal interest in housing allocation

Greyhound Opening was a sheltered housing scheme from the post-war years, situated in the city centre. Featuring 25 small adapted homes around a green, with tree shaded gardens, this very heaven for John Betjamin was designated for redevelopment into 100 flats and houses, on the recommendation of, well, Kristine Reeves. The occupants, hitherto paying £69 per week rent and living alone by requirement of the tenancy agreements, were decanted into old people’s accommodation around the city several months ago.

And then? Demolition? Securing of the properties? No.

A couple of months ago Ms Reeves, together with other council officers – half of them from the housing department, moved into the properties. Yes, Ms Reeves, who owns a house and earns c.£52K a year, is paying £47 per week rent for one of the properties.

The properties were advertised on the Council intranet, apparently without approval by Councillors. Not only the rent has changed. Ms Reeves reportedly shares the property with Graham Ross, whose role in the housing department is to increase private sector tenancies, and other officers reportedly co-habit, despite the previous sole occupancy requirement (and the single beds).

Ms Reeves, door-stepped (or should that be entry-ramped) by the Times, had a novel defence.

This approach ‘continued the rent roll’, she claimed, gliding over the reduced rate. In passing, market rents in Norwich city centre apparently run at £350-£750 per month. Naturally, the officers living there saved on security costs. And of course, this wasn’t much of a perk

From here, this looks like a nice scheme. It looks a bit Toytownish but these are not fit-for-purpose units at all. The bedroom doesn’t accommodate a double bed. It’s not well insulated — I can tell you they are really very cold. You couldn’t swing a cat in it.

Poor Kristine, having to live in such substandard accommodation. Oh, wait a minute.

And, of course, the properties couldn’t have been used for homeless accommodation because “it wouldn’t be permanent housing”. Naturally, Norwich is stuffed with disability-adapted temporary accommodation.

Apparently Norwich Council are examining the way the property was allocated to Ms Reeves and chums. One might suggest that, should a suitable interested party present themselves, the Administrative Court might also examine the allocation. Anyone?

[Edit: And coming soon on the step – Beresfords. Once I have calmed down.]

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

18 Comments

  1. dave

    This puts a new spin on additional preference and “choice-based” lettings!

    Reply
  2. house

    Grrr is all I can say.

    Reply
  3. chief

    Norwich City Council should be ashamed of themselves – two senior housing officers having to share a flat with only a single bed!
    I am also starting a campaign to get that dreaded phrase “fit for purpose” expunged from daily use.

    Reply
  4. James

    I saw this at the weekend, and on the face of it this is a disgrace, although a bit more detail might be helpful.
    It is commonplace in regeneration projects to gradually decant secure tenants and replace them with homeless households on non-secure licences. So, what is the role of the government’s target to halve households in temporary accommodation by 2010 here? At the last count Norwich had 20 households in TA, so offering 25 homeless households a place would hardly be helpful to Norwich hitting that target would it? I may be wrong, what power does a local authority have to accommodate people outside of a Part VI or Part VII allocation?
    If it is the case, then some of the flack should be directed at the government for creating a culture where targets come ahead of meeting housing need.
    Even if it isn’t the case, households in need of housing will quite rightly be furious at this.

    Reply
    • Legal Eagle

      As you say a bit more detail might help. Nothing to do with TA target. Norwich had to halve their temporary accommodation from 624 to 312 to meet target. They have 20 in TA now so have achieved target and could easily afford to put another 25 in but this is nothing to do with homelessness, Councils can house who they like on non secure tenancies.

      Reply
      • NL

        I don’t think there is an issue per se with the decant and development of the site, not without more info. But LA officers letting to themselves at 50 per cent of market rent? Lawfully? Hmmm.

        Reply
  5. chief

    It seems Ms Reeves has been suspended (on full pay, naturally). Plenty of time to get some Christmas shopping done for her.

    Reply
    • NL

      As long as she can still pay the rent…

      Reply
      • chief

        Hopefully the good people of Norwich will do the decent thing and organise a whipround. Nice job on the nested comments BTW.

        Reply
        • NL

          It’s a behind the scenes lash up on the nested comment and still needs some ironing out. Bear with me.

  6. Simon

    Anyone else find it funny, in an immature kind of way, that they called the street ‘Greyhound Opening’ in the first place? It must be an area ripe for an order under the Clean Neighbourhoods Act!

    Reply
  7. Norwich resident

    So is what Norwich City Council’s doing illegal or just dodgy? Our local press has run with it and found lots more detail in the last two weeks: see http://www.edp24.co.uk or http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk. Apparently the Council thinks it’s OK to house relocating staff, e.g. one coming from New Zealand, under the Housing Act 1985. But it transpires they’re housing more than just that category of staff – they offered a place to a councillor too! Any views from any contributor very welcome, although I’m aware of the limits of legal-views-by-blog…

    Reply
    • NL

      Illegal? I couldn’t say. Unlawful, in the sense of outside its powers or in contravention of its own policy on housing allocation? That seems pretty likely to me.

      Reply
  8. M

    Its just made the ten o’clock news on BBC1.

    Reply
  9. cait

    The news item said that residents (ie the council staff) have to move out by ‘the end of the month’

    It did somewhat exercise my mind …
    What kind of tenure do they have?
    Are they really licensees? If not, how can they be evicted without proper notice and a court order?

    Reply
  10. house

    Everyone will surely rejoice at the fact that poor Ms Reeves has been given 41k for the way in which she was dismissed.

    arg!

    Reply

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