Housing associations could take over council services

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Media captionHousing associations have been praised taking on some responsibilities typically provided by councils

Housing associations are being encouraged to take over services local councils can no longer afford to run.

Communities Minister Lesley Griffiths said they could help prevent "blanket cuts" to services.

The group representing the associations warned their scope to run community projects depends on income from tenants which may be hit by welfare reform.

The UK government has denied any plans to reduce funding to help people affected by benefit changes.

It comes as a report for Community Housing Cymru suggests Welsh housing associations maintained their spending on community regeneration projects in 2013/14, with 80% of their £1bn budgets spent directly in Wales.

Ms Griffiths said: "It would be great if we could see more collaboration between housing associations and local government.

"I understand local governments have had a difficult financial settlement - we don't want to see front line services being blanket cut - so the non-statutory services that local government are having to provide, it would be great if housing associations could help in some way."

She added: "Housing associations do a lot more than just build houses, they do a lot more work than that and it's really encouraging to see that."

Housing association projects

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Image caption The Go Girls are honoured at the British Embassy in Minsk, Belarus
  • Go Girls - young women from Torfaen have raised funds to go to Belarus and "make over" an orphanage run by women
  • The Lighthouse Project in Newport helps vulnerable people leaving the Royal Gwent Hospital return home
  • Energy Wardens - Gwynedd tenants advising others on how to cut their fuel bills
  • Improving Parc Peulwys in Colwyn Bay, including better roads and paths and nature projects with schools

Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, which represents housing associations, said members were showing "great leadership" in supporting communities.

But he warned that any future welfare reforms could reduce the income they receive from tenants, and the scope to spend it on community services.

"If local government is under pressure there is sometimes an expectation that housing associations will step in when the council walks away, but our members are thinking very carefully about what they take on," he said.

"Compared to councils some housing associations are comparatively well resourced, but we can't do that in every circumstance."

However, a UK government spokesperson rejected arguments that welfare reform would mean cuts to housing tenants' income.

"We must be very clear that we are not planning to end support - and we are consulting on next year's funding," said a spokesperson.

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