Memorandum submitted by London Councils (H&R 6)

 

Introduction

 

London Councils is the voice of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. We are committed to fighting for more resources for London and getting the best possible deal for London's 33 councils. We develop policy, lobby government and others, and also run a range of services designed to make life better for Londoners.

 

London Councils is eager to make you aware of our position on all the issues below and in particular our concerns about proposals for:

 

Homes and Communities Agency (HCA)

Office for Tenants and Social Landlords (Oftenant)

Clause 164 - Disposal of RSL stock.

Clause 181 - Inspection

Clause 195 - Enforcement Notices

Clause 258 - management agreements with tenant management organisations

Clause 259 - Tenant-led stock options

Clause 263 - Review of determination of value

Clause 265 - Service charge loans for leaseholders

 

We set out below the key facts on each of these issues.

 

In many cases we are seeking changes to the Bill, and are therefore keen to have these points brought forward to the Committee.

 

 

 

Introduction

London Councils believes that it is important that all social housing tenants should have an equal service from their social housing providers, and there is an opportunity for doing this through the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and Oftenant.

 

Bringing together various housing investment streams into HCA will result in better links across funding streams so providing better outcomes for communities. It will also improve the process set out for stakeholders including local authorities, who will liaise with one organisation with one set of objectives rather than several organisations with different priorities.

 

However, both HCA and Oftenant will need to recognise the important place-shaping role that local authorities play, and the Housing and Regeneration Bill as it currently stands does not go far enough in being inclusive of the local authority role.

 

The new regulatory framework proposals being proposed in the Bill seems to be inconsistent with the stated intention of Government to lighten the regulatory burden on local authorities. At present there is no clear model setting out how the various bodies will work together and allowing too much opportunity for these bodies to duplicate or even contradict each other's work i.e. the scrutiny of local authority housing and planning; the Audit Commission via the Comprehensive Area Assessment; Oftenant; and, in London the Mayors targets for housing management services via the [Draft] Housing Strategy.

 

Positive Proposals

The Housing and Regeneration Bill introduces a number of positive proposals including:

 

The Role of the HCA (in part)

The HCA will improve the supply of housing and bring together various funding streams from different organisations thus enabling the facilitation of a more joined-up and coherent approach.

HRA exclusions

Proposals for local authorities to exclude properties from the HRA with Secretary of State approval.

Tenant Voice (in part)

The proposals to give tenants more say in the provision of their housing, however London Councils is disappointed to see that RSL tenants are still excluded from the Right to Manage. This option has been available to Local Authority tenants for many years and the Bill should extend this to RSLs.

Schedule 7 - Amendments of enactments: LGPIH Act

London Councils strongly advocated the inclusion of the HCA as a named partner authority while the Local Government & and Public Involvement in Health Bill was making progress through Parliament. We are pleased to see this provision in the Housing and Regeneration Bill. We believe it will help to ensure that the HCA is fully engaged in delivering local strategic priorities, which is a key objective for London Councils.

 

Concerns

 

Local Authority Strategic Role

Government has been supporting the need to strengthen the local authority strategic role. However, we are concerned that recent government announcements on setting up Oftenant and the 198 national performance indicator set do not reinforce this adequately. The housing indicators in the national set apply to local authorities only and not RSLs, which weakens the sense of CAA as a "whole area" assessment. Local authorities need powers to ensure that RSLs perform in their areas.

 

Registered Social Landlords

Local Authorities have excellent partnership arrangements with many RSLs. Levers are needed where these relationships are weaker. Local authorities need appropriate powers to ensure that all social landlords in their areas perform against agreed local priorities and targets identified by the local authority and set by the Local Strategic Partnership.

 

In particular there are two key omissions to the Bill that should be addressed in Committee. London Councils did prepare amendments to this effect during the passage of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill while it was in the House of Lords. In rejecting them, the minister did accept that this issue would return in the new legislative year once the Cave Review had been completed. We are keen to ensure that:

Local authorities have powers to ensure that social housing providers are accountable to the communities they serve, and act in conformity with local strategies.

Secondly, give local authorities the power to serve notices on RSLs that are performing poorly in their area, and require that RSLs respond to the local authority. The local authorities' should be able to make recommendations on action to be taken by either the RSL or Oftenant.

 

Part 1 - Homes and Communities Agency (HCA)

 

Role of the HCA

London Councils has concerns regarding the proposed local planning authority powers set out for the HCA. These powers extend the powers held by English Partnerships. London Councils is developing evidence on this proposed function of the HCA.

 

Engaging with Local Authorities:

It is imperative that HCA works closely with local authorities so that the various investment streams can be targeted towards meeting the needs of local communities and targets set out in local housing strategies. One of the core functions of HCA should be to support local strategic partnerships and local authorities in promoting well-being and improving the quality of life and life opportunities for all residents, especially the most vulnerable in all communities. The Bill does not set out in detail how the HCA will work closely with local authorities, and we will wish to ensure that this is adequately developed.

 

Schedule 1 - HCA Membership:

There is need for there to be a close relationship between HCA and local authorities. The HCA Board should include representation from local authorities. In London;

Clarity is required on how the HCA will work given the unique regional arrangements which prevail with the GLA in place.

The need to ensure that local interests do not get subsumed into the regional agenda.

 

Part 2 - Office for Tenants and Social Landlords (Oftenant)

 

Engaging with Local Authorities:

London Councils would like to volunteer its expertise for the advisory panel. A CLG press release in October stated that this panel would investigate how a domain-wide regulator will work, and the timing for extending the Oftenant role to include local authority housing.

 

Clause 164 - Disposal of RSL stock.

Local Authorities should be specified on the list of bodies that Oftenant will consult with regarding the disposal of RSL stock.

 

Clause 181 - Inspection

Local authorities have an interest in the performance of RSLs working in their local area, and should allow be able to access RSL inspection reports and related information prepared by OfTenant relating specifically to their area. The quality of RSL services impacts on all residents, not just their tenants, and information highlighting either good or poor practice is a valuable resource for any local authority in working towards achieving and maintaining sustainable communities.

 

Clause 195 - Enforcement Notices

Currently Local Authorities are not included on bodies that can issue notices. The Housing Regeneration Bill should allow local authorities to issue these same notices.

 

Problems with poor performing RSLs may be particularly evident where RSLs have few units in a particular area. Their focus tends to be on the management of those where they have more stock.

 

RSLs currently are not accountable to local authority housing strategies or meeting local priorities, and consulting and engaging with the community. In order for RSLs to deliver a service consistent with local services and local priorities, they need to be aware of the local standards and areas where their service delivery is not meeting that standard. It is therefore essential that RSLs should work in conformity with local strategies if they are to meet these standards and local priorities.

 

Part 3 - Other Provisions

 

Clause 258 - management agreements with tenant management organisations

It is disappointing that this clause does not go further to introduce some of the proposals in the Tenant Empowerment consultation on simplifying the process for Right to Manage (RtM). In particular, London Councils would emphasise that we would like further discussions on:

o The Right to Manage should be extended to tenants of RSLs.

o Simplification of the RtM process

o That the current process of having two ballots for RtM should be retained, to raise awareness of the TMO proposals and the implications for tenants, as well as a test of opinion

 

Clause 259 - Tenant-led stock options

We are concerned that there are other issues, additional to the financial impact on the HRA, which are very important in the decision to go ahead with the stock transfer - these relate to the council's strategic place-shaping role and vision for the area.

 

The local authority should be able to refuse a stock transfer on these grounds. In addition, when the proposal for stock transfer is referred to the Secretary of State, they need to take all these issues into account in consenting to transfer.

 

London Councils would be seeking an amendment along these lines to this Clause.

 

Clause 263 - Review of determination of value

We would propose that the time limit on the ability to review the valuation should be "after the end of the period of 42 days or completion of RTB, whichever is the earlier." We seek changes to the Bill in this respect.

 

Clause 265 - Service charge loans for leaseholders

The October 2007 consultation paper proposed an additional provision for local authorities to be able to buy equity shares in ex-RTB properties, in order to assist leaseholders facing high service charge bills. This provision is not currently in the Bill, although we are assured by CLG officials that this is due to lack of drafting time and they will be bringing forward provisions via amendments at a future stage. London Councils wants to ensure that this provision is introduced.

 

December 2007