An East of the M60 Exclusive Report

Fleet Street, Ashton-under-Lyne
Photograph by Gene Hunt (Creative Commons Attribution License)

The Tameside area has a wide range of former council housing stock and properties owned by housing associations. Much of it was inherited from the pre-1974 Borough, Rural and Urban District Councils. In the borough, its two main players are New Charter Housing Trust and Ashton Pioneer Homes, whom inherited Tameside MBC’s housing in 1999.

From the 1960s onwards, private builders such as Prenwain Developments, Wimpey and Barratt ushered in a shift towards homeownership. In 1980, the Conservative Government gave council tenants The Right to Buy. It was hoped that further council housing would be built; furthermore, the Act also included the right to secure tenancy for vulnerable persons. Though the latter applied, the opposite happened with the former. Therefore, this put tenants against homeowners, and private tenants against council tenants, giving rise to the phrase ‘sink estates’. Whereas the relatively well off were able to add UPVC double glazing and loft conversions, poorer tenants still had council issue doors and were, in effect, trapped. The wealthier would be able to sell their houses and capitalise in the ensuing property boom.

From then on, housing became a commodity instead of a means for one to set up home in the area and participate in the wider community. Besides rising house prices, homes in less salubrious areas would become a goldmine for private buy-to-let landlords, some of which offering less than secure tenancies. The population would be more transient and less likely to participate in civic functions, some not even staying long enough to join the Electoral Roll.

Though shrunken owing to rise of home ownership, there are still letting agents enabling people to rent their homes. Estate agencies also offer rented properties, but the market in the last three decades has made homeownership a cheaper option.

This also prices out people unable to get a mortgage, either by credit history or occupation. It also favours employed people, leaving unemployed and underemployed citizens at the mercy of housing association waiting lists or unscrupulous landlords. Thanks to Government reforms on Housing Benefit, even employed persons on minimum wage jobs will lose out. Though this has been met with great concern among residents in London and the South East, this is equally true with Greater Manchester and prosperous parts of Cheshire.

It is also true in parts of Tameside. After looking at 278 houses and apartments from a leading property website, East of the M60 can reveal today, by electoral ward, which private rented properties are within the Housing Benefit caps.

Part One: Changes to Housing Benefit:

Since the start of this year, the following changes have been introduced:

  • Caps to weekly rates;
  • The abolition of the five bedroom rate;
  • The extension of the shared room/bedsit rate to cover single persons under 35, from under 25 years of age;
  • The abolition of the £15 weekly excess (where claimants can keep up to £15 above rent payments per week);
  • Rates set at the 30th percentile of rents in area: 30% will be under and 70% over.

Therefore, the maximum payments per week, set by the Department for Work and Pensions are as follows:

  • One Bedroom House/Apartment: £250;
  • Two Bedroom House/Apartment: £290;
  • Three Bedroom House/Apartment: £340;
  • Four Bedroom House/Apartment: £400.

Tameside is covered by four rating areas for Local Housing Allowance. Mossley comes under the same zone as Saddleworth and Oldham, Droylsden comes under the Central Manchester zone, whereas Denton comes under the South Manchester zone. The remainder fall into the Tameside and Glossop zone. Therefore, the maximum rates are as follows:

Tameside and Glossop

Number of Rooms Category Weekly Amount Monthly Amount
Shared Room Rate A £57.69 £249.99
One Bedroom B £86.54 £375.01
Two Bedroom C £103.85 £450.02
Three Bedroom D £125.00 £541.67
Four Bedroom E £150.00 £650.00

Central Greater Manchester

Number of Rooms Category Weekly Amount Monthly Amount
Shared Room Rate A £64.62 £280.02
One Bedroom B £95.00 £411.67
Two Bedroom C £113.08 £490.01
Three Bedroom D £126.92 £549.98
Four Bedroom E £186.46 £794.99

South Greater Manchester

Number of Rooms Category Weekly Amount Monthly Amount
Shared Room Rate A £59.08 £256.01
One Bedroom B £98.08 £425.01
Two Bedroom C £126.92 £549.99
Three Bedroom D £137.31 £595.01
Four Bedroom E £196.15 £849.98

Mossley, Saddleworth, Oldham and Rochdale

Number of Rooms Category Weekly Amount Monthly Amount
Shared Room Rate A £57.69 £248.69
One Bedroom B £83.08 £360.01
Two Bedroom C £98.08 £425.01
Three Bedroom D £114.23 £495.00
Four Bedroom E £150.00 £650.00

*                              *                              *

Part Two: Properties within the Housing Benefit Range

Whilst in the midst of sifting through 278 properties, East of the M60 found:

  • A considerable number of two and three bedroom properties priced slightly above Housing Benefit caps;
  • A two bedroom terraced house in Hollingworth slightly over the Housing Benefit cap, though the letting agent would consider tenants in receipt of the benefit;
  • That a great majority of properties within or below the cap were situated on busy roads, thus less attractive for young families;
  • Some properties priced 1p or 2p below the Housing Benefit cap (which, in future rent rises, may be over the HB cap, resulting in the tenant losing out or even being homeless).

Thankfully for potential renters and first time buyers, the borough’s abundant stock of terraced houses, and its proximity to the centre of Manchester makes it a popular area for commuters.

Town Electoral Ward 1 Bedroom 2 Bedroom 3 Bedroom
Ashton-under-Lyne Ashton St. Michael’s 0 5 1
St. Peter’s 0 2 0
Ashton Hurst 0 6 1
Ashton Waterloo 0 0 0
Audenshaw Audenshaw 0 1 0
Denton Denton South 1 3 0
Denton West 2 2 0
Droylsden Droylsden West 0 0 0
Droylsden East 0 0 0
Dukinfield Dukinfield 0 4 2
Dukinfield and Stalybridge 0 1 1
Hyde Hyde Godley 2 2 1
Hyde Newton 0 0 1
Hyde Werneth 0 4 0
Mossley Mossley 0 0 0
Mottram-in-Longdendale Longdendale 0 1 1
Stalybridge Stalybridge North 1 4 3
Stalybridge South 0 0 0

The majority of properties within the Housing Benefit cap ranges are situated in deprived parts of the borough. There are some grey areas where the Ashton Waterloo ward has no private rented properties within our parameters. The ward has a diverse mix of owner-occupied, private rented houses and a mix of ex-council housing and private development in Crowhill and Limehurst. The former is also true around Turner Lane, which is on the border of Ashton Hurst. This ward, though well represented by social housing in Hazelhurst, Smallshaw, Hurst and Higher Hurst, has a wide amount of Victorian and Edwardian privately owned terraced houses. Ashton St. Michaels, too has similar characteristics.

Though St. Peters only has two houses in our survey, the ward is dominated by Ashton Pioneer Homes’ social housing schemes, particularly off Katherine Street and in the West End.

The Dukinfield and Stalybridge North wards offer rich pickings, as most housing stock surveyed were Victorian and Edwardian two and three bedroom terraced houses. Both wards have great numbers of former council housing, with much of Dukinfield’s recent expansion due to housing schemes from the 1920s to the 1960s. Stalybridge North also covers the Ridge Hill and Hague Estates.

The bulk of Hyde Godley’s private letting stock in our survey includes ex-council houses, two of which former Manchester Corporation housing stock in Hattersley. Terraced housing again dominates, which is also true with the Hyde Werneth ward, around the northern part of Gee Cross. The one house in Hyde Newton was a former council property, a three bedroomed house.

Most of the Denton West and Denton South wards’ housing stock within our range were apartments, a short walk from the town centre. Owing to the amount of housing association stock, there was not a single private leasehold in Haughton Green.

Most of the houses surveyed were off busy roads, or a short distance from town centres. This, though attractive to non-car owning families, would also be a disadvantage should they wish to visit Snipe or Elk Mill retail parks. With most housing stock of the terraced variety, the lack of off-street parking would be a barrier to anyone wishing to drive. Furthermore, the HB caps are anathema to anyone wishing to move to a bigger house in Mossley or Stalybridge South, were no private properties within the caps exist.With the exception of former council housing in Carrbrook, Micklehurst, Brookbottom and Brushes Estate, little affordable housing is available.

The same is also true with Droylsden West and East wards. Though there is a fair variety of ex-council stock, particularly in Moorside, its proximity to Manchester city centre and the forthcoming Metrolink system has made the area popular among private landlords.

Divide and Conquer?

It was hoped that Housing Benefit reforms would force private landlords to lower their rents. Instead, rents are still rising. As seen from our survey, a fair number of available properties were either slightly above the Government’s Housing Benefit cap or slightly below. The latter trend is of great concern as the occupant will be anxious about future rent rises, thus meaning a short tenure and the family possibly moving from town to town to find the cheapest possible property. That would make for an administrative nightmare both on the family’s part (travel to and from work, changing details on the electoral roll, redirecting post to new addresses) and the Department for Work and Pensions staff. Furthermore, the abolition of a maximum £15 per week overpayment buffer zone will unsettle families, and have a negative impact on the attainment of their child’s academic prowess.

As seen from the Housing Benefit caps, some sort of gerrymandering among Local Housing Allowances seems to be in place. Though it is possible to rent a modest property below the cap in, for example, Derker or Hathershaw, the same cap prohibit anyone’s aspirations – whilst on the benefit – of moving to Saddleworth or Mossley (unless they join a housing association waiting list). Likewise with the Greater Manchester South and Greater Manchester Central rates for anyone wishing to move from Clayton to Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

The Housing Benefit cap will work fourfold, by means of:

  • Ensuring that the plebs are kept away from well to do areas like Uppermill, Diggle and West Didsbury;
  • Encouraging a more transient population – greater instability should families be forced to find the cheapest property or join housing association waiting lists – also triggered by labour market trends;
  • Incentivising some unscrupulous landlords to hold down rents by skimping on maintenance  and the welfare of its tenants (Rachmanism);
  • Forcing singletons under 35 years of age to live with mum and dad.

In time, Greater Manchester – and of course, our borough, Tameside will see greater polarisation between rich and poor households. Owing to the less generous nature of the in-work and out-of-work benefit, the borough’s already depressed income will be contracted further.

The most pernicious side of the Housing Benefit reforms affects persons 35 years of age or under. Between 18 years of age and 35 years of age, persons can only claim the shared room rate. This denies any single person a right to independence from mum and dad, especially if they’ve fled from a broken home. Circumventing this cut, they could do the Tories’ dirty work (of perpetuating the ‘she’s got a kid so she could have a flat’ stereotype) by finishing school at 16, having children by 18 and claiming Housing Benefit.

However, this could be scuppered in the next year. It is anticipated the ConDems will scrap Housing Benefit payments for under 25s, therefore denying any UK citizen under the age of 36 full entitlement to state benefits – should they be poorly paid or unemployed and otherwise unable to afford the rent. With little employment in the borough, local housing association waiting lists will be further stretched, and the ConDems will usher in a new generation of Timothy Lumsdens. The lack of a checkable work history and secure employment will hinder their ability to become first time buyers in the near future, and claim consumer credit – the latter also an issue if the claimant is off the electoral roll.

Before anyone says that the claimants will lose out, we mustn’t forget that the borough as a whole – and ultimately, Greater Manchester, will lose out as neighbourhoods either become enclaves for the rich, or ghettos for the poor or transient persons.

S.V., 15 October 2012.

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