Get some help to stay warm


The Durham County Council “Warm Homes” campaign is committed to providing help, advice and support to enable County Durham Residents to stay warm despite rising fuel prices and difficult financial circumstances.

For some people this means insulation and improved heating equipment at no cost – but that is of course means tested and will not apply to many readers.

And yet there are potential savings for ALL residents, as there’s a scheme to provide discounted home loft and cavity wall insulation for just £99, significantly less than you would pay a private contractor you approached direct.

And for ALL residents aged over 70, regardless of capital or income, there is the chance to get FREE cavity wall and loft Insulation.

The team can also give advice and help on choosing an energy supplier and advice on the best energy tariff.

If you think any of this could benefit you, ring 0191 527 0501. You will talk to a county council employee in the first instance, so there will be no “hard sell”. I have to say, the team are really keen to make the scheme work for residents and to date County Durham residents have benefited to the tune of £2.5 million through their efforts.

Please be aware, however, that funding is limited so the sooner you take action, the greater your chance of benefiting.

New housing development

Not everyone welcomes new housing developments locally, but I hope that everyone will welcome this one now that it is coming to fruition. 

Durham Aged Miners Housing Association (DAHMA) are planning to build 24 two bedroomed bungalows for elderly people on the Steel Street site, part of which was formerly allotments and the rest rough ground.

Today’s Planning Committee gave a unanimous go-ahead to the scheme which will fill a much needed role in providing homes for the elderly close to the town centre. Anyone who has seen the DAHMA scheme behind the swimming baths, Harvey Court, will know what an attractive scheme that is and be confident of the quality of this new development.

The proposal hasn’t been without its problems and delays as a number of allotment holders have lost their allotments to their great sadness. New allotments will be provided at Blackfyne, although the disturbance will have been most unwelcome for them.

Landlords Initiatives Team

I learned today of a new county council service in the area, the Landlords Initiatives Team.

As I understand it the team is primarily in place to provide an advisory service to private landlords, with the intention of enabling them to provide better management of their properties and relationships with tenants.

At the same time I understand that they will also respond to queries from tenants of private landlords.

It’s easy to forget how many people are living as tenants of private landlords and how important this sector of housing provision is. In some areas it is the main source of housing, and the wellbeing of individual tenants and whole communities can rest in the hands of private landlords.

The contact number for the team, which is based at Green Lane, Spennymoor, is 01388 816166.

Bad news on repossessions

The tone of the news on radio and TV when reporting repossession rates rising has tended to suggest that things are not quite a bad as people feared. Unfortunately that’s not the case in County Durham.

The government has named 34 repossession “hot-spots” across England, and of those 5 are former “district council” areas in County Durham: Chester-le-Street, Derwentside, Easington, Sedgefield, Wear Valley. Only two of the former districts, Durham and Teesdale, escape.

It’s a depressing picture, but more important than ever that people across the county are aware that the county has a team dedicated to helping people with mortgage problems. They can be contacted on 0191 3872058.

Mortgage Rescue

In this recession, many people have real mortgage problems as a result of losing their job, suffering a pay cut, or short term working.

Not everyone knows that the County Council can help in these circumstances, help which can range from small loans or one off payments to help prevent eviction, to negotiating with lenders to help people stay in their homes.

If you live in Derwentside and find yourself in that position ring 0191 3872058 and ask for Michelle Cooke or Karen McClarence. They can’t work miracles, but it can feel like it just to have someone on your side when everything else seems to be against you.

A shameful statistic

I wanted to ask a question at cabinet today but fell foul of the rules whereby they decide which questions councillors are allowed to ask.

I had seen some figures from our area which I found really disturbing. Last year Derwentside saw more houses built than any other district, 427 in all. The bad news is that NOT ONE of them fitted the definition of an “affordable home”.

That’s simply not acceptable. If no new rented homes (what used to be council houses) or starter homes are built in Derwentside we’ll end up with huge problems and even bigger waiting lists.

It’s an important issue -one that cabinet needs to address. I’d have been more confident that they were likely to address it if I had been allowed to ask the question.

Common Lettings Policy

durham-key-options.jpgAs part of the reorganisation of local government, Co Durham is going to get a “common lettings policy”.

Essentially this means that across the whole county, housing applicants will be able to “bid” for any individual participating social housing property which is vacant, with their applications then being dealt with according to their priority ranking, ranging from A-E according to the assessment of their needs.

The system is being trialled in Easington District, under the marketing style of Durham Key Options, and if you’re interested in exploring how it is intended to work it’s worth looking at their website, Currently only “East Durham Homes” are participating in this trial.

The argument goes – and it makes sense – that people who have positively bid for a specific house are much more likely to be happy long-term tenants than people who are pushed into a tenancy.

There are some controversial elements too, like the fact that category A (the people at the top of the pecking order) will include anyone willing to move out of an “easy-to-let home”. So someone with a four bedroom family house to let in a sought after area, for instance, could get equal ranking with someone with an urgent medical need for a bungalow, or someone being forced out of their home for regeneration. The intention is to encourage people out of some of the most sought after properties. It might entice, for example, a couple whose family has grown up to vacate a four bedroom family house and so free up resources. Others might say, it could simply perpetuate privilege for people who are lucky enough to live in the most desirable homes.

Other questions were asked about the fact that people judged to be homeless would get a three month period to bid for houses of their choice with priority assured. One councillor thought that would allow people adjudged homeless to “cherry pick”, whereas they ought to be grateful to be offered any suitable home.

From my point of view the system looks a good idea, so long as the process of “bidding” for a home is easy for all (i.e. not heavily biased towards people with the internet, people living near a local housing office, or people who are confident on the phone) and is constantly monitored to check that the rules are being applied fairly and transparently. We are all too aware of past claims of failure in terms of fairness and transparency.

As usual, I’d be pleased to hear any views. I’m pleased to say that some people do email me their thoughts, even when they don’t want to comment on the website where everyone could read their thoughts.