Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the National Housing Federation (L 74)

The National Housing Federation represents 1,200 independent, not-for-profit housing associations in England and is the voice of affordable housing. Our members provide two and a half million affordable homes for five million people.


The Localism Bill will change the way houses are planned, what kind of tenancies social homes are let on and how they are allocated to tenants. The National Housing Federation broadly welcomes the approach to planning in the Localism Bill, but would like to see a presumption in favour of sustainable development – on the face of the Bill – which should be defined in legislation to include housing need.

The Bill will also change the way that housing associations are regulated, giving the Secretary of S tate new powers to direct the regulator and transferring powers from the Tenants Services Authority (TSA) to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA ). It gives local authorities new powers and duties, including producing a tenancy strategy that housing associations must have regard to.


The National Housing Federation wants a simpler, quicker and more efficient planning system. The Localism Bill rightly allows local authorities and communities more control over the future of their areas but safeguards are needed to ensure that much needed affordable housing is delivered.

Local plans will give communities greater responsibility to ensure that present and future housing needs are met. This lies at the heart of successful sustainable development. The Federation believes that the presumption in favour of sustainable development needs to be a benchmark against which local development plans are tested. Plans should aim to meet housing needs; if they do not, they will not be securing sustainable communities.

We understand that the Government intends to include a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the National Planning Framework which is yet to be published. We believe that the intention is that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will operate if local plans are not in place within a specific period of time.

Indeed it states in the Conservative Party’s Open Source Planning document (pg 3)

"We will create a system of approvals which is much more open and responsive by establishing a presumption in favour of sustainable development: the presumption will be that individuals and businesses have the right to build homes and other local buildings provided that they conform to national environmental, architectural, economic and social standards, conform with the local plan, and pay a tariff that compensates the community for loss of amenity and costs of additional infrastructure."

We support this approach but believe that the timetable should be included in the Bill, making it clear that in the absence of relevant plans proposed development that meets the necessary standards will be permitted unless under exceptional circumstances. Given that local authorities have already had since 2004 to get local development plans in place, we believe that the presumption should start to operate from the end of 2012. This issue is too important to leave to regulations or guidance.

This also appears in Open Source Planning (Pg 9)

"We will legislate that if new local plans have not been completed within a prescribed period, then the presumption in favour of sustainable development will automatically apply. In other words, if a local planning authority does not get its local plan finalised in reasonable time, it will be deemed to have an entirely permissive planning approach, so all planning applications will be accepted automatically if they conform with national planning guidance."

We want a presumption in favour of sustainable development to be written into the Bill so that it forms the foundation on which all future plans are based. We also ask that a definition of sustainable development that includes housing need is on the face of the Bill.

One way to reduce the burden on local authorities and communities is to change the basis of local plans. At the moment they often concentrate on what cannot be done. It would be better if they instead outlined a positive vision of what councillors and communities want to see developed in the area. A proposal that was inconsistent with the adopted local vision would then have to be tested to see whether it would prejudice the delivery of the plan. The Bill could be used to simplify plan-making in this way.

Currently, the cost of making a planning application is too high, and the time taken to deal with proposals too long. We expect application fees to increase if the proposal to allow local authorities to set them is pursued.  

This makes it critical that the recommendations in the Killian Pretty and Penfold reviews, commissioned by the last Government to simplify the planning system and widely endorsed, are taken forward as soon as possible. The Bill needs to provide enabling provisions to allow this. These enabling provisions should be broad so that other opportunities to reduce application costs can be pursued as they arise.

Allocation of social housing

We welcome the measures being introduced to ensure that existing tenants do not have to compete with new tenants through the local authority allocation scheme when seeking to move, as currently too few existing tenants are able to move in this way. This proposal could help create opportunities for tenants to move more readily, including households who are chronically over-crowded, and at the same time free up properties that are in turn available to new applicants seeking social housing.

While this has only been a legal requirement for local authority tenants, it has been custom and practice for housing associations to follow the same model, and we therefore welcome the new flexibility. At the same time, we think that all existing tenants should be able to choose to seek to move via the local authority allocation scheme and would like the Government to confirm that this will be possible.

Local authorities will be able to decide which classes of people are, or are not, qualifying persons for housing via their allocation scheme. We believe there is a risk that some local authorities may seek to exclude certain vulnerable groups, who housing associations and others may wish to continue to house.The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to direct local authorities as to the use of these powers, and it would be helpful to hear the Government’s intentions here and how they envisage protecting access to social housing for vulnerable people and other groups in housing need.


The Federation is concerned about the ability of local authorities to secure suitable settled accommodation in the private rented sector to discharge their main homelessness duties given the planned changes to Housing Benefit. The proposed overall benefit cap (at £26,000 per year for a family) and the application of caps to housing benefit payments in the private rented sector and the plans to reduce payments by 10% after people have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance for a year, all bring into question the affordability and suitability of private rented sector accommodation as settled accommodation for homeless people. We are concerned that people will find themselves in accommodation they can’t afford, in a cycle of homelessness.

Tenancy Strategies

The Bill introduces a requirement on each local authority to produce a tenancy strategy which registered providers of social housing, including housing associations must have regard to. Some local authorities have already taken a political view that they wish to see universal lettings arrangements in their area for the shortest allowable fixed-term tenancies, while others are saying they wish to see registered providers only let on very long term tenancies irrespective of the impact on the long term ability of associations to provide housing .

We feel that any type of overly prescriptive view may be at odds with a common sense approach to who housing associations intend to house in a particular property or neighbourhood to achieve sustainable outcomes for individuals and communities. We also have concerns that as local authorities change political leadership that their strategies will also change. H ousing associations need to be able to determine their individual and local arrangements for letting properties to reflect the needs of the people and communities they serve, as well as their investment and business plans .

It would be helpful to hear from the Government as to how housing associations and other providers will have the flexibility to let properties in a way that best meets the people and communities they serve and supports the delivery of their investment plans.


We are concerned about the new rule that tenants’ complaints cannot be made directly to the Housing Ombudsman and must be referred through an MP, Councillor or designated tenant panel. We believe this is too prescriptive, adds an unnecessary additional level of bureaucracy for tenants to have to go through and could lead to genuine complaints not being heard.

Some tenants will be uncomfortable with disclosing sensitive personal information on the back of a complaint to these individuals or groups where they might not be in approaching an independent Ombudsman.

We would like the Bill to be amended to allow tenants to make direct complaints to the Housing Ombudsman as is currently the case.


The Federation believes it is essential that when the regulatory function is transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency it is housed in such a way that is legally and operationally distinct from its investment function. Otherwise the lines between investment and regulatory functions could be blurred, leading to pressure to fulfil Government investment plans at the cost of other objectives.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to direct the regulator regarding mutual exchanges and tenure. This goes beyond the current powers which only apply to matters of housing management. We believe that these additional powers coming under the remit of the Secretary of State are unnecessary and could be operated in a way that undermines the independence of housing associations to meet their social business objectives.

It is worth recalling the contribution of Housing Minister Grant Shapps during the debate on the 2008 Housing Bill:

‘The independence of the new Oftenant regulator is already under threat with the Bill affording powers to the Secretary of State to push through initiatives on any number of policy areas to such an extent that the National Housing Federation has said:

‘These proposed powers for the regulator could threaten the non-public status of Housing Associations by effectively making them subject to management direction by the State.’

We ask that t he Government looks again at the se measures in the B ill that could also lead to this conclusion.

February 2011