Friday, 27 March 2015

Fed hits back at Shapps' FOI threats

A housing chief has hit back at threats made by Grant Shapps that landlords must become more transparent by saying the ministers demands lack clarity.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, wrote to the housing minister today saying that it was not up to the NHF or government to make housing associations become public bodies ‘by default’.

Mr Shapps had earlier written to Mr Orr saying that ‘time was running out’ for housing associations to open themselves up to scrutiny and he called for the NHF to encourage members to follow the lead of Home Group which has published expenditure over £500.

In a lengthy riposte, Mr Orr said housing associations had already put in place a number of measures to ensure they are transparent and accountable.

Mr Orr said: ‘I have explained all of this to you previously. At our meeting in July you asserted you were “not now interested in codes – we have to do something more than that”.

‘I asked you to be more explicit about what additional measures you thought were necessary.

‘It seemed to come down to a requirement to publish all expenditure over £500, with no explanation of why this would be helpful, or why it was a matter for government given our members are not public sector bodies.’

Mr Orr also attacked the housing minister’s concerns on transparency in the social housing sector are directly linked to Freedom of Information.

Mr Orr said: ‘My understanding is that this is not the case. We believe the first question will be whether or not housing associations carry out functions of a public nature.

‘If it is determined that they do, consideration will be given to whether under Section 5 of the Act, (as housing associations are not public bodies) it would be proportionate and helpful for FOI provisions to apply in respect only of those functions deemed to be of a public nature.

‘There is a third question as to whether the legal personality of ‘housing associations’ can be sufficiently described to be clear as to which organisations would in fact be affected. These are all clearly proper matters for consultation.

‘None of them is directly affected by the present performance of housing associations and none of them is affected in any way by the decision whether or not to publish expenditure over £500.’

He added: ‘We do not think it appropriate for the National Housing Federation, or the government, effectively to require housing associations to use measures that have been designed for government departments and local government.

‘Housing associations are not public bodies and do not wish to become so by default.’

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