Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Camden Association of Street Properties (L 95)

As a recognized tenants’ organization, we wish to make the following points regarding proposed provisions of the Localism Bill.

FLEXIBLE TENANCIES – CLAUSES 130-131

   

We as a borough-wide tenants organization in Camden are completely opposed to the limitations of the length of new tenancies proposed by clauses 130-131.

When Secure Tenancies were first introduced in the Housing Act 1980, this was the first time that tenancies for council tenants were put on a statutory basis.

This gave tenants real rights and security of tenure, whereas before there had been absolutely none whatsoever.

These proposals are therefore a retrograde step and we would urge that these provisions be deleted from the Bill.

In addition, although the thinking behind these proposals is to free up tenancies for persons in housing need when the circumstances of the existing tenant may change, this would then raise the question of who this is to be competently assessed by a local authority.

In addition, the proposals are in our opinion in breach of article 8 of the E.C.H.R. as incorporated in schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

In our view, depriving someone of their home both engages and contravenes article 8 of the E.C.H.R in the circumstances that are proposed.

It would only be a matter of time before the provisions were held either to be incompatible with the E.C.H.R under the Human Rights Act 1998, or they were held to be a breach of human rights by the European Court at Strasbourg.

I would draw to the Committee’s attention the recent case in the Supreme Court of Manchester City Council v. Pinnock [2010] 3 W.L.R. 1441, copies enclosed, where the issue of compliance with article 8 and proportionality was considered. I understand that there are several other similar cases where judgment is imminent in the Supreme Court.

This provision was mentioned earlier this year as a possible proposal and has made its way into the Localism Bill without any prior consultation with tenants organizations or local authorities.

HOUSING COMPLAINTS – CLAUSE 153

Whilst we welcome the transfer of tenants housing complaints to a Housing Ombudsman, we are completely opposed to the proposed requirement that a housing complaint will be required to be referred to the Ombudsman by either an MP, a councillor, or appointed tenants organization.

At present, neither complaints to the Housing Ombudsman or the Local Government Ombudsman are required to be referred to them by any third party.

This has been the case since the Local Government Ombudsman was established in the Local Government Act 1974, although complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman have always been required to be referred by an MP.

Even in that case, there has been much disquiet at the referral requirements, by overburdening M.P.s’ constituency surgeries with requests for referrals.

We consider that this ill though out clause should be deleted, as the present arrangement for housing complaints are extremely contentious and in many cases acrimonious.

We don’t consider that either a busy MP or a local councilor would have the time or experience to be able to properly consider whether or not to refer a housing complaint to the Housing Ombudsman.

Both the Housing Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman have paid trained staff, that consider the complaints referred to them, and decide whether and how an investigation should proceed.

In addition, the impartiality of both MPs and local councillors regarding complaints against local authorities must be questioned, especially in the case of councillors who will have had many dealings with the Housing Department, and may know the officials concerned personally.

In addition, regarding the proposal that tenants organizations should also constitute a "designated person", this is wholly impracticable.

As a Chair of a busy borough wide organization, we get involved with campaigns relating to tenant issues generally, and very rarely do we get involved with individual tenant’s complaints against Camden Council.

We simply don’t have the recourses or the expertise to do so. We therefore wouldn’t be qualified to consider tenant’s complaints or whether or not they had merit.

In addition, we would be extremely concerned at the prospect of tenants who have been to see both their MPs and local councilors who have declined to refer their complaints, then coming to organizations like us with begging bowls.

There is also the prospect of subsequent harassment of Chairs and Committee members by disgruntled tenants who may consider that we may not have considered their complaints properly.

We consider that such organizations would then run the risk of being targeted by angry and disgruntled tenants when they failed to get their complaints, which may be perfectly legitimate, referred to the Ombudsman.

The same may also apply to MPs and certainly individual councillors, and we consider that they, like organizations such as ourselves, should not be put in such situations where we could be targeted both as individuals and as an organization.

We therefore feel that these proposals are an attempt to stifle tenants from making legitimate complaints concerning their housing problems and in order to control tenants by this gagging provision.

We also draw to the Committee’s attention that again, there has been no prior consultation with tenant led organizations or even local authorities regarding this ill conceived and badly thought out provision.

Certainly, Camden Council has not notified us about these proposals, and we would have thought that in the interests of overall transparency and democratic accountability that we as a borough-wide tenants’ organization should have been.

Our members are also extremely angry regarding both the proposals to introduce the restricted tenancies and the restriction on referrals of complaints to the Housing Ombudsman.

February 2011