Monday, 01 September 2014

Consultation launched on powers to force councils to co-operate with tenants

New laws could see homes transferred to residents

Councils could be forced to help tenants’ groups form housing associations to take over the ownership and management of their estates, under government plans.

In a move likely to initiate a new wave of stock transfers, ministers will next month launch a consultation on regulations that require authorities to co-operate with tenants seeking ownership of their estates.

Legal powers compelling authorities to take such requests seriously were created by the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 but were never introduced. The consultation was revealed in a letter to Inside Housing alongside papers released under the Freedom of Information Act.

‘This [the consultation] will seek views on draft regulations and associated statutory guidance that would provide powers to local authority tenants and require their landlord to co-operate with them,’ the letter stated.

The FOI papers revealed the frustration suffered by tenant organisations wanting to assume ownership of their homes.

A bid by Friday Hill Tenant Management Organisation, in Chingford, London, to take over 1,000 homes was halted by Waltham Forest Council over uncertainties about council house funding, a letter to the CLG last July reveals. In another dated August last year, lawyers acting for West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates Tenants’ and Residents’ Association described Hammersmith & Fulham Council as ‘unwilling to devolve ownership to local people’. The west London authority said it was looking at redeveloping the estates.

Tony Bird, an independent housing consultant, said: ‘This is a great idea but tenant-led stock transfers are only likely to work where gap funding is provided.’

Robin Tebbutt, associate at consultancy Housing Quality Network, said: ‘The financial implications of partial stock transfers are complex and viability issues must be taken into account.’

The new regulations would effectively reinstate the tenants’ choice policy, which gave tenants the right to transfer their homes to a landlord other than the local council. The policy was abolished in 1996.

What the regulations will force councils to do

  • Provide help or financial support
  • Arrange a feasibility study to examine tenants’ proposals
  • Provide information to tenants
  • Co-operate with tenants
  • Arrange ballots
  • Agree to dispose of properties

Readers' comments (21)

  • Rick Campbell

    Erm, a jolly wheeze worthy of Mr Pickles ... I can imagine various attempts getting LA tenants in a neighbourhood to band together for a common purpose.

    I can also see the great and the good interfering like there was no tomorrow.

    Might spark a good debate though -- consultation period of 24 hours perhaps?

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  • Under S34A, the regulations will require the local authority “to provide, or finance the provision of, such office accommodation and facilities, and such training, as the tenant group reasonably requires for the purpose of pursuing the proposal; to arrange for … feasibility studies … [and] to provide the tenant group with … information.”

    The Government has yet to decide whether to re-activate funding for tenant groups through the Tenant Empowerment Programme, currently managed by the TSA.

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  • Sidney Webb

    Can we have the estimated costs Mr Pickles, as I remember this was why the last Tory Government ditched the plans as breaking up the housing stock into micro units caused such high multiples of management costs as to make the rent levels required to fund the plans exceed market rates.

    Yes, lets have proper a fair tenant choice - but make it completely open for tenants to chose any landlord not just the prescribed favourites of the centralist dictator Pickles.

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  • Sidney Webb

    Can we have the estimated costs Mr Pickles, as I remember this was why the last Tory Government ditched the plans as breaking up the housing stock into micro units caused such high multiples of management costs as to make the rent levels required to fund the plans exceed market rates.

    Yes, lets have proper a fair tenant choice - but make it completely open for tenants to chose any landlord not just the prescribed favourites of the centralist dictator Pickles.

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  • gordon thompson

    I think this government (unelected by the way) is off its rocker. This will never work on a big scale - and where it does I am not convinced it is sustainable. Its all very well for tenants to beleive its easy to run an association - but its simply not so. The world has gone mad. I suspect that the government see this as a nother cheap alternative to doing things properly. Stop the world, I want to get off.

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  • Alpha One

    Somewhere in this is a good and nobel idea, but it's hard to see it through the fug of regulation.

    Personally tenant empowerment is a great idea, allowing people to manage their own estates will ultimately lead to better estates (though I can see problems where estates include problem families and the new HA's not wanting to keep them), as the tenants themselves will create the community they live in, and maintain it.

    I've never thought that Councils are the best place to manage housing, and I think that large HA's often suffer from not knowing what's going on on the ground. If small estates can manage their own affairs then they should do this, ultimately it will save us all money as these mini-HA's can take over the maintenance of their own open spaces, maybe even the roads, and perhaps could even take over responsibility for negotiating refuse collection contracts etc, thereby meaning our Council Tax bills can fall as there is no need for Council's to provide all of these services at the tax payers expense.

    Cue the derision....

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  • Rick Campbell

    Bit of a worrying thought or two entering my head:-

    a) I think a bit (but not 100%) like Alpha One on this

    b) The Tenant Empowerment Programme has not exactly been to the fore in recent years by facilitating such "transfers"

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  • Sidney Webb

    Alpha - if derision follows it is not deserved

    What you describe is the restoration of the Parish. There is merit. I myself believe that co-operative communities are a way forward, and co-operative management is the fairest way of achieving meaningful local accountable control. Both of these can be achieved through a mechanism resembling the parish. Generally these are termed communities.

    However, the parish staple of government fell as society became more complex. The need for a consistent standard of road, for instance, was recognised as crucial to business and so responsibility was centralised. Likewise aspect after aspect of society. Most key was the alleviation of poverty, under the strain of which the parish model collapsed following the introduction of Capitalism and industrialisation.

    The local concept can work so long as national commonwealth principles are applied, and true local freedom and accountability enabled. There is even a name for such an arrangement (which is even more likely to cause derision as the tabloid educated understand the term to mean something else) which is Socialism.

    Welcome to the fold Alpha, I knew you'd join us one day.

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  • Matt Murdock

    First off this won't lead to a massive transfer programme. By and large there isn't the desire to take on ownership on a large scale. However, what this legislation will (hopefully) do is remove the ability of local authorities to block those groups, such as Friday Hill, from doing so.

    It has been successfully achieved (see WATMOS in Walsall) as a completly stand alone model and also where the new RSL becomes part of a group structure, although I'm not sure this is really what residents want.

    in this respect I'd disagree with Gordon above although I do agree that this isn't an easy option.

    WATMOS developed because the council was undertaking a stock transfer and the 8 TMOs didn't want to be a part of it so developed their own model. Similarly, in Lambeth, the LATMOS project has developed because the council slashed TMO funding (unfairly).

    I believe Friday Hill TMO see it as a logical extension of their development and also to protect the level of local control that has been developed.

    Essentially, this is only likely to happen where local residents feel that they have little or no alternative to protect local structures or to oppose having major council decisions forced on them.

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  • Will housing association tenants be given the same right to set up their own tenant controlled landlord? There should be consistency across the rented sector although I suspect that Pickles move is just another the many nails he intends to bang into the coffin of local government, local accountability and local democracy. The LSVT programme was everything to do with effectively privatising social housing and nothing to do with improving standards and accountability. He and the Tories have form here!

    Many of the larger housing associations are about as far removed from tenant and community accountability as it is possible to be. Their is often a contemptuous attitude to tenants, unmitigated by accountability via the ballot box and now unlikely to be exposed in any meaningful way to external scrutiny following the abolition of the Audit Commission and the TSA.

    I wonder if Ladbrokes has opened a book yet on which association will be the first to 'demutualise' and 'float' on the stock market?

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