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Local decisions: a fairer future for social housing

Department for Communities and Local Government

November 22, 2010

The Department for Communities and Local Government has invited consultation on its plans to reform the provision and regulation of social housing in England and Wales.

The Government has published a consultation paper containing wide-ranging proposals affecting social housing. The consultation paper may be found on the DCLG website, here.

Regulation
The Tenants Services Authority will be abolished and its economic regulation and consumer regulation functions will be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency. In London decisions over housing investment will be devolved to the Mayor of London.

A new regulatory regime will be restricted to setting clear service standards and focus on principles, rather than detailed prescription, which will be set out within a Tenancy Standard. The regulator will only investigate and address serious failures against those standards.

The new Tenancy Standard will provide for significantly increased freedom to all social landlords enabling them to choose which form of tenancy they grant and to whom.
The role of proactively monitoring landlords’ compliance with service standards and scrutinising landlord’s performance will be delivered locally by requiring landlords to provide their tenants with the means by which they can be held to account and improve service delivery. There will also be an enhanced role for MPs, local councillors and tenant panels to ensure compliance.

Security of tenure
The consultation document has proposed that social landlords be given the power to grant fixed term tenancies.

Affordable rent tenancies
From April 2011, it is proposed that housing associations will be given the power to grant Affordable Rent tenancies. Such tenancies will be for a fixed term of not less than two years at rents higher than currently provided in social housing but no higher than 80% of the market rate and provide the same rights as assured shorthold tenancies. Initially, housing associations will only be able to grant such tenancies for empty properties but in due course will be able to do so in respect of new stock as well.

Should a landlord be minded not to continue the tenancy after the fixed term, it will be required toserve notice on the tenant of that fact six months in advance of the tenancy coming to an end. Should a landlord fail to do so, a court will not be able to make a possession order within six months of the tenant receiving the notice.

In the longer term, housing associations will also be given powers to grant periodic tenancies at higher rents.

Flexible tenancies
Local authorities will be given the power to grant tenancies for a range of fixed periods but with a minimum period of two years. Such tenants will have the following statutory rights:

 the right to buy;
 one minimum statutory succession to the spouse or partner (local authorities  will have the power to grant further successions should they wish to do so);
 a right to exchange;
 a right to take in lodgers and (with the landlord’s consent) to sub-let part of  the property;
 rights to have repairs carried out; and
 rights to consultation and information.

During the fixed term the landlord may seek possession in the same way as for secure tenancies, e.g. on grounds of anti-social behaviour or rent arrears.

If an authority are not minded to reissue the tenancy, they must serve notice not less than six months before it comes to an end giving reasons for their decision. The tenant will be given an opportunity to ask for an internal review of the decision. An appeal will lie to the county court on the basis that the local authority has made an error of law or material error of fact.

Authorities may operate an introductory tenancy regime in relation to flexible tenancies and may also demote such tenancies.

Who will the new proposals apply to?
Authorities will be required to publish a strategic tenancy policy consistent with their homeless strategy and allocation scheme. This would set out broad objectives for social landlords to take into account when deciding whether to grant or reissue fixed term tenancies so that communities will be able to understand how social landlords are responding to local needs.

Social landlords will also be required to set out when they will grant life-time tenancies or fixed term tenancies and such policies must be in accordance with the local authority’s strategic tenancy policy and the Tenancy Standard. Such considerations should include the tenant’s continuing need, work incentives and local pressures for social housing.

Landlords will be expected to provide longer fixed term tenancies to tenants with children to safeguard against disruptive changes. Landlords will also be expected to grant lifetime tenancies to those tenants with a disability, long-term illness or who are elderly or to anyone whose needs will remain broadly constant in the long term.

Existing tenants
None of the proposed changes will affect the rights of introductory, demoted, secure or assured tenants.

Homelessness
Where a social landlord chooses not to renew a fixed term tenancy, the tenant will not be considered to have become homeless intentionally (unless the reason for the non-renewal is on the grounds of anti-social behaviour). The TenancyStandard will require all landlords to give advice and assistance to tenants whose tenancies will not be renewed.

Local authorities will be able to bring their duty under Pt 7, Housing Act 1996, to an end by making an offer of suitable accommodation in the private sector where the grant of a tenancy is for a minimum period of 12 months. The main homeless duty will, however, recur if the applicant becomes homeless again within a two-year period through no fault of his own. It will be at the authority’s discretion to decide whether an applicant should be made an offer of private accommodation or be provided with temporary accommodation under Pt 7.

The changes will not affect those presently owed a duty under Pt 7.

Empty homes
£100m will be provided to housing associations to refurbish and to manage 3,000 empty properties through the use of Affordable Rent tenancies for a period of ten years.

Allocation schemes
Local authorities will be given far greater discretion to determine which categories of applicants should qualify for an allocation of accommodation in accordance with the particular needs of the local area. Allocations schemes must, however, continue to give a reasonable preference to those owed a reasonable preference under Pt 6, Housing Act 1996, and must also have regard to authorities’ wider equality duties.

The allocation scheme will no longer apply to existing assured or secure tenants who wish to move, but who are no longer owed a reasonable preference. A Home Swap Scheme will be introduced, which will enable tenants seeking a mutual exchange to enter their details onto a national website and to see the details of all other potential swap properties. It is hoped that this will make it easier for those who are currently under-occupying social housing to swap with families in overcrowded properties.

Secure or assured tenants will be incentivised to move by providing that any new grant of tenancy will continue to be secure or assured, rather than a new flexible tenancy.

Council housing finance
In April 2012, the Housing Revenue Account will be abolished and replaced with a self-financing arrangement that devolves power to local authorities. This will end the centralised subsidy system and ensure that rents are kept and used locally to maintain homes for tenants.

Consultation period
The closing date for observations is 17 January 2011.

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