Extortionate charges for temporary accommodation for the homeless.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Dumfries and Galloway Council,

In a response to a previous FOI requt you stated that charges for temporary accommodation were set out as follows:

1 bedroom property £100.96 per week
2 Bedroom property £122.36 per week
3 Bedroom property £135.33 per week
4 Bedroom property £141.96 per week

Please provide information on the level of these charges:

1) How are the rents calculated?

2) Are they based on the rates for social housing, market rents, or what precisely?

3) Prima facie the level of the rents is way above the market rate in many cases. For example the rent of a one bedroom flat in some areas is no more than £350 per month. The council is charging the equivalent of £437 per month. This is way in excess of the market rent for a one bedroom flat anywhere in the region. What council policy is in operation to charge extortionate amounts of rent for these properties? This appears to defraud the Exchequer by virtue of the excessive amounts of Housing Benefit etc being paid to the council. Have any concerns been received in respect of this fact?

4) Has anyone contacted the council to express their outrage over this?

Yours faithfully,

Richard Page

Dumfries and Galloway Council

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (SCOTLAND) ACT 2002

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 15/01/2019 which we are dealing with in terms of the above legislation. We have given your request the unique reference 383340 and we would appreciate it if you could quote this on all correspondence to us.

Under the terms of the legislation, we have an obligation to respond to your request within 20 working days from the day after your request was received. We will therefore aim to respond to your request by 12/02/2019.

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Kind Regards

FOI Unit
Dumfries and Galloway Council

Any email message sent or received by the Council may require to be disclosed by the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Dumfries and Galloway Council

Please find below the Council's response to your request 383340 which was received on 15/01/2019.

Details of request: Dear Dumfries and Galloway Council,

In a response to a previous FOI requt you stated that charges for temporary accommodation were set out as follows:

1 bedroom property £100.96 per week
2 Bedroom property £122.36 per week
3 Bedroom property £135.33 per week
4 Bedroom property £141.96 per week

Please provide information on the level of these charges:

1) How are the rents calculated?

2) Are they based on the rates for social housing, market rents, or what precisely?

3) Prima facie the level of the rents is way above the market rate in many cases. For example the rent of a one bedroom flat in some areas is no more than £350 per month. The council is charging the equivalent of £437 per month. This is way in excess of the market rent for a one bedroom flat anywhere in the region. What council policy is in operation to charge extortionate amounts of rent for these properties? This appears to defraud the Exchequer by virtue of the excessive amounts of Housing Benefit etc being paid to the council. Have any concerns been received in respect of this fact?

4) Has anyone contacted the council to express their outrage over this?

Response:

Q1) Rent levels are set in accordance with the Local Housing Allowance, plus a 25% management fee (a reduction in the % applied was made for a 4 bed property as the new charge would have exceeded the previous charge if applied i.e. pre 1st October 2018 rent charge) and reviewed on an annual basis. The management fee seeks to recover a proportion of the costs of administering and maintaining temporary accommodation.

Q2) As per Q1.

Q3) There have been no formal complaints lodged with our Service with regard to our current rent charges. The Temporary Accommodation Rent Setting Policy sets out how rents are set and reviewed and the Arrears and Debt Management Policy sets out how rents due are collected, what other charges may be levied and the Council position in recovering these charges. Both policies are currently in draft form and therefore unavailable for release under this Freedom of Information request.

Q4) As per Q3, we have not had any clients expressing outrage over our current rent charges. A detailed explanation of our rent charges is provided to all prospective tenants prior to booking them in to furnished temporary accommodation. This discussion includes the setting up payment plans, applying for Housing Benefit / Discretionary Housing Benefit (dependent on income) where required, on behalf of the client.

Please be aware that the Council holds the copyright, where applicable, for the information provided and it may be reproduced free of charge in any format or media without requiring specific permission. This is subject to the material not being used in a misleading context. The source of the material must be acknowledged as Dumfries and Galloway Council and the title of the document must be included when being reproduced as part of another publication or service.

If you require any further clarification, please contact us. However, if you are not satisfied with the way in which your request has been dealt with, you can request us to carry out an internal review of the decision by emailing [email address] or writing to us within 40 working days of receiving this response.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the review, you have the right to apply to the Scottish Information Commissioner for a decision. Appeals to the Commissioner can be made online at www.itspublicknowledge.info/Appeal or in writing to: The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9DS.

Kind Regards

FOI Unit
Dumfries and Galloway Council

Any email message sent or received by the Council may require to be disclosed by the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Dear Dumfries and Galloway Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Dumfries and Galloway Council's handling of my FOI request 'Extortionate charges for temporary accommodation for the homeless.'.

The response doesn't indicate the basis for the rent levels being in excess of market rents for similar properties. You state that a "management fee of 25%" is added to rents charged. How was this figure arrived at? Who decided to levy this charge and was it on a commercial basis? Prima facie, it is substantially higher than agents would charge for a let property in the commercial sector, so how can the council justify this level of additional charge to the rent? Has this been included in claims for Housing Benefit? Does it qualify for Housing Benefit given the apparently excessive amount?

I can assure you that at least one person has expressed outrage at the level of the rents charged for temporary accommodation. I put it to you that no "detailed explanation of our rents charges is provided to prospective tenants prior to booking them into temporary acommodation". Please supply a copy of the "detailed explanation" for the level of rent on a one bed property in Eastriggs, charged at £101.96 a week, (£437 a month) when a similar property is available to rent in the private sector for £350 a month.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/e...

Yours faithfully,

Richard Page

Dumfries and Galloway Council

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (SCOTLAND) ACT 2002

Thank you for your request for a formal review which was received on 11/02/2019 and is being dealt with. We will respond within 20 working days from the day after the request was received. A response to your request will be sent promptly, and in any event not later than 11/03/2019.

If you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact [email address].

Any email message sent or received by the Council may require to be disclosed by the Council under the provisions of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

FOI, Dumfries and Galloway Council

Dear Mr Page

Response:

Thank you for your email dated 11 February, attached, requesting an internal review, the response to which is stated below.

Q1. The response doesn't indicate the basis for the rent levels being in excess of market rents for similar properties. You state that a "management fee of 25%" is added to rents charged.
How was this figure arrived at? Who decided to levy this charge and was it on a commercial basis?

Rents for temporary accommodation are set by the Council. The charges set are based on the Local Housing Allowance plus an addition for the costs of running and maintaining temporary accommodation. The additional costs are aggregated across the provision of all temporary accommodation and includes the provision of furniture, void periods, cleaning and repairs and staff and management costs. Due to the nature of temporary accommodation the costs associated with the provision and maintenance of this are significantly higher than in the normal commercial market. As part of an ongoing review of temporary accommodation the service reduced the level of rents in October 2018 to make them more affordable. Across Scotland the rents for temporary accommodation is significantly higher than market rents and Dumfries and Galloways reduction in their rents has meant we are now lower than a number of other Scottish authorities.

Q2. Prima facie, it is substantially higher than agents would charge for a let property in the commercial sector, so how can the council justify this level of additional charge to the rent?

Please see answer above

Q3. Has this been included in claims for Housing Benefit? Does it qualify for Housing Benefit given the apparently excessive amount?

Temporary accommodation rents are eligible for Housing Benefit, subject to the occupants financial assessment. There are no restrictions on the level of Housing Benefit paid to temporary accommodation.

Q4. Please supply a copy of the "detailed explanation" for the level of rent on a one bed property in Eastriggs, charged at £101.96 a week, (£437 a month) when a similar property is available to rent in the private sector for £350 a month.

The answer to the first question provides an explanation of how rents are set for temporary accommodation properties.

The following text contains statements and no questions have been asked. However, should someone feels they had not received the service they expected they should approach the Service directly regarding the matter

S1. I can assure you that at least one person has expressed outrage at the level of the rents charged for temporary accommodation.

S2. I put it to you that no "detailed explanation of our rents charges is provided to prospective tenants prior to booking them into temporary accommodation"

If you require any further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me, however if you are not satisfied with the way in which your request has been dealt with you may contact The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner at Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9DS, Telephone: 01334 464 610.

If you are unhappy with a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner, you may be able to take the matter to the courts or complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Kind Regards

FOI Unit
Dumfries and Galloway Council

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Dear FOI,

Thank you for your response dated 12 March 2019.

You state that the rents are calculated using Local Housing Allowance and an amount for the costs of using and maintaining temporary accommodation. This management charge is said to be based on an aggregated amount across temporary accommodation. Please provide a breakdown of the calculations showing how the costs you have described are equivalent to a charge of 25% of the rents. The example given in the FOI question was of a one bed flat in Eastriggs which can be found to let on the open market at £350 per month. The council charges £437 a month, so please corroborate the additional amount of £87 being a proportion of the costs aggregated over the temporary accommodation units as a whole.

It appears that the charge of 25% is in the nature of a round sum, or estimate, but you have stated it is a proportion of costs that have been computed. It should be verified this is the case. Are any adjustments made after the actual figures are known for a year?

The question asked who was responsible for the levy of a management charge and you have not responded to this point. Please do so now.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Page

Dear FOI,

You have failed to provide the information requested in my communication of 12 March 2019. Please rectify this without further delay.

In the event the information is still outstanding after 10 working days have elapsed, then further action will be taken to remedy this.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Page

FOI, Dumfries and Galloway Council

In response to the request for further information we would respond as follows:

The current temporary accommodation charges are based on the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate plus a 25% management fee addition, in the case of a one bedroom property this is £80.77 per week (£350 per month LHA) plus 25% £20.19 per week, giving a total of £100.96 per week (£437.50 per month). In arriving at the 25% addition the service took into account all costs in leasing and providing temporary accommodation as well as income received from letting accommodation. The current rent levels were set in October 2018 and were a reduction on previous charges. The levels set will be reviewed on an annual basis to assess demand and affordability within Council budgets.

Setting rent levels for temporary accommodation in the Council is the responsibility of the Service Manager of the Housing Options and Homeless Service.

FOI Unit
Dumfries and Galloway Council

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Richard Page left an annotation ()

The information provided in the latest response of 2 May 2019 more or less repeats the contents of their post of 12 March 2019. I think we can take it that the management charge of 25% added to the rent is in the nature of a round sum, or estimate. The council has declined the provide a breakdown of this as requested on 14 March 2019. It appears they are unable to do so.

Since the total amount of rent and management charge is the figure used for Housing Benefit claims, it gives cause for concern at the high level of the latter with no corroboration of the amount available.

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