Posted by: Tom Lloyd11/01/2012
It started with the bins, but now seems to be spreading to housing policy.
Just weeks after announcing the coalition government would let councils do what they wanted communities secretary Eric Pickles was on the warpath, making it clear such freedoms did not include the power to have fortnightly rubbish collections.
And now the centralisation of localism seems to have spread to the allocation of social housing.
Last week’s ‘consultation’ on ‘guidance’ for local housing authorities in England on the allocation of accommodation reads more like an instruction manual.
Normally government consultations ask the public what they think of ideas. This one instead asks what housing providers are doing, and makes it pretty clear whether the government is likely to approve of their actions.
‘Does your allocation scheme already provide for some priority to be given to people who are in work, seeking work, or otherwise contributing to the community?’ asks one of the fifteen questions.
It might as well add: ‘If not, why not – do you want a visit from Pickles?’
The guidance outlines the various existing ‘reasonable preference’ categories that housing authorities are legally obliged to have regard to, before going on to make the government’s view clear on what should be done with any leftover homes.
Authorities are ‘strongly encouraged’ to favour members or ex-members of the armed forces, and ‘urged to consider’ how they can use allocation policies to encourage people into work.
The paper also spells out that plans in the Welfare Reform Bill will penalise working-age tenants on housing benefit who under occupy homes, and suggests authorities should ‘explore the implications of this’.
You could argue these are perfectly reasonable aims (you could also argue the opposite, but that is one for another day), but the whole point of localism was that local authorities are in the best position to make decisions about what is best for their area.
Issuing them with tightly worded guidance making it clear exactly what the government wants them to do not only undermines localism, but also casts doubt on the whole way policy is formulated. If central government wants to tell local authorities how to operate it might as well just get on with it and ditch the pretence.
From House work
Examining the latest news on allocations, evictions, rents, anti-social behaviour, and a host of other day to day housing management issues