Javid: HRA borrowing cap can be lifted for fire safety

Communities secretary, Sajid Javid, has confirmed that local authorities will be able to have “flexibility” to improve fire safety.


Local authorities will be able to make changes to their Housing Revenue Accounts (HRA) if fire safety work is “essential”.

Speaking to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Javid said there are “flexibilities” available to authorities.

He said: “It is essential work that authorities should be focused on. Whatever they decide is essential, they should determine that.

“We have spoken to six in detail, whether it is a one off payment from the general funds e.g. general reserve into the HRA or lifting the borrowing cap on their HRA account.

“We want to be able to give them financial flexibility.”

However, Labour MP Helen Hayes hit back at Javid, saying that didn’t marry up with correspondence she has seen from the minister and Nottingham City Council.

Nottingham were rejected funding help as the work was deemed “not essential” despite local authorities apparently being able to choose what is and what isn’t.

Javid responded: “They will need to be taking expert advice, the local fire service for example.

“Local authorities are thinking about work is essential and not essential. Our position is that they should be carrying out essential work and if they need it, they can have financial assistant and flexibility.

“Local authorities need to prioritise their spending. It could have a knock on effect in some cases and LAs are free to raise that with us. They will have to reprioritise work.”

Javid confirmed “there will be no grants” for the work, just the ability to borrow or move money.

He added: “By increasing the HRA cap gives them the ability to borrow to fund the work. This is not grant funding, this is about giving them the flexibility to access those funds.

“In some cases they may not need to borrow if a one off transfer. It is working with local authorities that if they need to borrow and there is a cap we can help.”

When quizzed on whether sprinklers were essential, which has been the cause of some debate, the communities secretary said: “If the local authority believes that sprinklers are essential then they can have them.”

Javid was also quizzed on rehousing and the current developments around that.

He said that the process was down to the council but that government were “working closely” in a ministerial task force group.

The Bromsgrove MP said “only 10 families had been moved into a permanent home”.

He said: “Our priorities were all those affected, from the tower itself to Grenfell Walk, where the homes were permanently damaged.

“First thing to say 151 homes permanently lost in tower and walk. Now 203 households that need to be rehoused. Many after the fire, and this number is still rising, where they want to split into two or three households.

“This has been the absolute number one focus for us, making sure people get rehoused. We have listened very carefully to families about what they want and move at their pace. We have had times where families do not know exactly what they want. No one is being pushed into reaching a decision.

“There are still some families not ready to make that decision and engage in the process. Quite a number are happy to stay in hotels at the moment.”

In latest figures provided to the committtee, it was announced Kensington and Chelsea Council have “acquired 167 new permanent homes” with a target of 300 by Christmas.

When quizzed on whether he was confident the council would reach that target, Javid said he was as the council are “moving at a rapid pace.”

He added: “We set out a target of three weeks that all families would be offered temporary accommodation. There were many that didn’t engage with it.

“The council set out that within a year, everyone affected would be rehoused permanently. They are working towards that now, with little steps.

“Our understanding of those plans is that they will be able to meet the number of properties needed available. There are a number of acceptances where people haven’t moved in.

“The reason for this is that the family is given the opportunity to have the property redecorated or modified for their needs.”

In terms of a permanent solution, Javid told the committee: “It depends on the need of the families and the pace they want to move at. I have a weekly meeting, including a number of government departments and the council leaders.

“Their aim is that by Christmas they want to see a situation where no one is in hotels unless that is their preference.

“The council is making sure that once a property becomes available, there is equal opportunity for families to get them. There is a priority system that has been agreed with victim groups such as Grenfell United.

“Every family has a housing officer. Apart from two or three, every family has met with one of these officers to talk through their needs.”

“The properties are matched. You will only be shown a property that meets your needs.”

The committee raised concerns over what would happen to a family that repeatedly turns down offers of accommodation.

Javid, said: “It is not a case of one offer and that is it. If the family turns the offer down, work will continue with that family to find them something suitable.

“The length of time is not a decision for me but the council. But my view is that is has to continue as it is now. There are many families with bereavement and children.

“This is outside the usual remits of rehousing and for that reason they will continue to work with compassion and with those families to find suitable accommodation.

“Council has the thought that they need to keep building up the pool of new properties as there is need, not just for Grenfell but for the rest of the borough.

“Few weeks after Christmas, the council want to get to 400 homes and go well above the homes they need. They can then use this as housing for other needs.”

Javid also provided an update for the committee on how many blocks have been deemed unsafe.

He said: “In England, 272 residential and public buildings has been found to have unsafe cladding. When I say unsafe, it means the cladding failed the limited combustibility test.

“Of those 272, 260 of them also failed the large scale system test. Those are the latest set of numbers that I have. 165 are social housing buildings.”

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