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Welsh Government to help people pay rent arrears caused by pandemic

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Minister for Climate Change Julie James is urging anyone who has fallen behind in paying rent because of the pandemic to contact their local authority to find out if they can receive financial help to avoid eviction.

The call is in a bid to keep people in their homes and close to their social networks to avoid the devastating impact that homelessness can wreak on physical, mental and social wellbeing.

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First announced in July last year, new changes to the £10m Tenancy Hardship Grant announced today mean that anyone facing arrears due to covid-related reasons from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 right up until December 2021, can apply.

This means that tenants in rent arrears because they lost their jobs following the removal of the Furlough scheme in September, or who suffered a significant decrease in income when the Universal Credit uplift was removed by UK Government, may now be eligible under the new criteria.

Other examples of rent arrears as a direct result of the pandemic include a loss of income due to lockdowns or because of becoming ill with Covid-19.

Also now able to apply are tenants in social housing who are not in receipt of housing-related benefits. Tenants in private rented accommodation are still encouraged to apply.

Adrian from Rhondda Cynon Taf, aged 50, works in his local restaurant and was earning between £1100 – 1300 before the pandemic. Because he had only been with his company for nine months, his payments dropped to around £700 a month under the furlough scheme. 

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Adrian said: “I was very conscious that my biggest bill was my rent, so I called my landlord when I began struggling to keep up with payments. As the pandemic wore on, this put me under great stress and I worried I was going to lose my house. By the time the country started opening up and I was back in work, I owed nearly £5000 in rent. This felt an insurmountable amount of money to pay during a time when all of my bills had been racking up. I have always paid my rent on time so it was really stressful for me to find myself in this situation. 

“I heard about the grant on the radio so got in contact with the council to see if I could apply for it. Finding out I was eligible felt like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, I was ecstatic. Suddenly I could talk to my landlord again and be on an even keel, knowing that I wasn’t in debt with them anymore and that I wasn’t going to lose my home. The relief was enormous. I feel like I can just get on with my life now, positively. I feel like I have been listened to and helped in a time of crisis.” 

“The extension of the grant will make all the difference and do exactly what it says on the tin, which is to help people like me stay on my feet.” 

Minister for Climate Change Julie James said: “I am urging anyone who is facing eviction or who has fallen behind on their rent because of the pandemic to contact their local authority today to find out what help is available to them.

“Our £10m Tenancy Hardship Grant will help prevent eviction and support tenants to remain in their homes. The impact of being made homeless on people and families is huge – including support networks being lost, children having to move school, and families’ mental health and well-being suffering. We want to do all we can to help avoid that situation.

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“The grant should provide significant cost savings to each local authority in preventing homelessness and supporting people to remain in their homes and maintain their tenancies.”

Ruth Power, CEO of Shelter Cymru said: “We welcome the changes to the Tenancy Hardship Grant announced today. Widening the eligibility criteria will mean more people, who are struggling during the pandemic to pay their rent, are able to access support to keep their homes. Our advisors are working with people across Wales whose incomes have been seriously affected by the pandemic and who are really worried about the future. Getting money quickly to people in need will prevent families becoming homeless.”

Applications are now open, with the final date for rent support being December 31st 2021.

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Construction

Foundation works start at major new Kingsway office scheme

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Foundations are now being laid for a landmark new net-zero office development that will provide space for 600 jobs at the former Oceana nightclub site in Swansea city centre.

The work will help pave the way for the start of constructing the building’s concrete frame in the coming months as The Kingsway’s transformation takes another step forward.

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Swansea Council is leading on the scheme, with Bouygues UK as main contractor.

Due for completion in the summer of 2023, the five-storey scheme will be carbon zero in operation and worth £32.6 million a year to Swansea’s economy when finished. It will include 114,000 square feet of commercial floor space with flexible co-working and office opportunities for businesses in sectors like tech, digital and the creative industries.

A roof terrace, a new link between The Kingsway and Oxford Street, public access and balconies overlooking the city centre and Swansea Bay will also feature.

The development is part of the Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District project being part-funded by the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal. It is also supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

To enable the arrival of concrete on site, traffic management will be in place on part of The Kingsway for the next fortnight or so. This will not impact on any of the environmental enhancements introduced there in recent years as part of a major improvement project.

Artist’s impression of the new office building (Image; Swansea Council)

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said: “This work shows yet another artist’s impression in Swansea will soon be transformed into reality, following-on from a major improvement of The Kingsway that’s created a greener, more pleasant area for business and investment.

“Despite Covid and the trend towards more home working it’s led to, we know there’s still a major demand for high-quality office space of this kind in Swansea – a working environment that’s fit for modern times by combining co-working opportunities and flexibility with the kind of digital connectivity businesses need to thrive.

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“We also know businesses in sectors like digital and tech have had to leave Swansea in the past to find the office space they need, so this development will help address that in future while also creating more footfall and spending for our city centre businesses.”

An online event was also held last month, giving local businesses the opportunity to find out more about work packages forming part of the development in areas like tiling, flooring, masonry, landscaping and specialist joinery.

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism, said: “As well as further improving the city centre and retaining business talent, this new office development will also boost the local economy through benefits for supply chain businesses in the local area.

“As building work gathers pace, construction workers on site will also benefit the city centre because of the money they’ll be spending in our shops, restaurants, pubs and other businesses, with this development also acting as a catalyst for further investment, jobs and opportunities for local people.”

John Boughton, Regional Managing Director of Bouygues UK, said: “We are thrilled to be working alongside Swansea Council in the construction of Kingsway.

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“This innovative, landmark and sustainable building aligns so closely to our climate ambitions with its bold ambition to be net-zero in operation. In addition it gives us the opportunity to engage with the local community and offer social value initiatives to help regenerate Swansea city centre.

“We are so excited to be laying the foundations of what promises to be an extremely valuable addition to the city.”

Access to businesses nearby will be maintained throughout the construction works. Temporary surfacing has been deliberately laid in front of the development site, with permanent paving to be installed there once main construction work has finished.

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Property

New study shows Swansea is the best city in the UK for students looking to rent

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Research by Admiral has shown that Swansea is the most student-friendly city in the UK for renters, with 87.3 rentals per 100 available to renters looking for a student-friendly household.

Glasgow and Bristol are the least student-friendly cities in the UK, with only 22.7 and 36.6 available rooms per 100.

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Students looking for student-friendly households have to pay £20 more per month to rent than the average renter in the UK. Wales has the lowest difference with £6 per month, whilst Scotland has the most significant difference with £141 per month.

Top 10 friendliest UK cities to rent for students

RankingLocationMost rentals per 100
1Swansea87.3
2Newcastle83.8
3Sheffield81.7
4Nottingham78.9
5Leicester77.4
6Exeter77.2
7Coventry76.6
8York75.2
9Birmingham74.2
10Liverpool73.4

*The number of rentals available for each demographic was found using search filters on popular online room rental sites in the UK.

Top 10 least student-friendly UK cities to rent 

RankinglocationMost rentals per 100
1Glasgow22.7
2Bristol36.6
3Aberdeen37.2
4Chelmsford38.9
5Wakefield39.4
6Peterborough41.8
7Edinburgh43.2
8Derby50.6
9Gloucester53.1
10Portsmouth53.4

How much more does it cost to rent student-friendly accommodation?

We’ve discovered that in the UK, students looking for student-friendly households have to pay £20 more per month to rent than the average renter. Scotland has the most significant difference, where renters have to pay £141 more. 

LocationAverage rental price per demographicAverage rental price in the locationPrice Difference
Scotland£653£512£141
England£570£553£17
Wales£440£434£6
UK£569£549£20

Tips for renters

Admiral have some top tips for renters to help you find and negotiate for the perfect place.

Budget for what you can afford

  • The most important thing you need to think about before finding a property is how much you can afford to pay each month in rent. A popular rule of thumb is to allocate about 30% of your monthly salary to your monthly rent. This figure doesn’t include what you’ll pay for utilities.
  • The 30% rule means if you earn £1,300 a month (for example), you should look for a property that costs about £390pcm (per calendar month).
  • Set some money aside for your security deposit, which should be equivalent to up to six weeks’ worth of rent. It’s returned back to you at the end of your tenancy.
  • You’ll also need to think about your monthly costs for utilities. These include council tax, water, energy, internet, landline, your TV licence, and any property service fees. Energy costs will differ depending on your chosen energy company, the size of your property, and how much energy you use. Council tax will depend on the property’s tax band, which a letting agent or landlord should be able to tell you.
  • Don’t forget to budget for home and contents insurance, too. Both types of insurance will help to protect you financially in the case of something happening to the home (for example, a fire) or to your belongings (like a burglary).

Look for properties that will cater to your needs

  • If you have a car, find out whether the property has a driveway or a dedicated parking space you can use. If you don’t drive, it may be useful to check out the local transport links. Fully or half-furnished properties (meaning they contain all or some of the furniture you’ll need) are ideal if you don’t have much of your own furniture.
  • Pet-owners will need to make sure that the landlord is okay with you keeping your furry friend at the property. Though it may be tempting, it’s best not to sneak a pet into a house without clearing it with your landlord first and potentially have it written into your rental agreement.
  • Some properties don’t have a garden, so make sure to check this if it’s important to you to have access to an outdoor space. If you have kids, be sure to research the catchment areas of local schools.

Negotiate with your landlord before you sign a contract

  • Your landlord may be open to negotiation when it comes to particular aspects of your tenancy agreement. Always read it through before signing and make sure to highlight anything you’d like to discuss.
  • If a rental price is slightly out of your budget, it may be worth asking the landlord if the price is negotiable. Landlords are often more willing to accept a lower rental price if the property has been empty for a while and they are keen to get someone moved in.
  • Previous landlord references can be used to demonstrate to a prospective landlord how desirable of a tenant you are. Plus points include being able to move in quickly, having a history of paying your rent on time, and personal attributes like not being a smoker or having pets (as these have the potential to cause damage to the property).

(Lead image: Google Maps)

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Construction

Persimmon set to start work on new Aberavon Seafront homes as land acquired

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Work to build almost 140 houses on Aberavon seafront is set to start shortly.

Persimmon say they are breathing fresh life into the former Afan Lido Leisure Centre site by building 137-much needed new homes.

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The development, which is being marketed as Awel Afan, has reached another significant milestone after Persimmon completed the acquisition of the site.

Planning permission has already been granted by Neath Port Talbot Council and work is set to start in the coming weeks.

Sharon Bouhali, Sales Director at West Wales, said: “We’re pleased to have completed the purchase of this land. The acquisition takes another step forward to starting work on this development.”

“We have received enormous interest in this project, which is no surprise given its incredible location overlooking the seafront.”

“We expect to release the first homes for sale in early summer and I’m sure they will prove extremely popular.”

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Opened by the Queen in the 1970s, the Afan Lido was destroyed in a fire in 2009 and the site has been unused since.

Persimmon say the development will bring a massive boost to the local economy through the construction industry and its multiplier effect. According to figures from the House Builders Federation, for every £1 spent on housing, £3 goes back into the economy.

Each home built also creates 1.5 full-time direct jobs – and at least twice that number in the supply chain.

Cllr Annette Wingrave, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Sustainable Development, said: “This is a really exciting development in one of our most attractive locations.

“The development of the site for residential use will have the twin benefit of delivering much-needed new housing which will not only visually enhance this end of the seafront, it will also bring more people to live in the area, adding to its vitality and providing more footfall to existing businesses there.”

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Awel Afan will be made up of two, three and four-bedroom houses, as well as a range of two-bedroom apartments.

(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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