Forgive the slight delay, but DCLG published their summary of responses to their Consultation on Local Decisions: A Fairer Future for Social Housing (which we discussed here) on 28 Feb. The outcome of the consultation appears to be, um, full steam ahead on the Localism Bill. I have to say that any reader of Inside Housing would be surprised by the results. I seem to have got regular updates from IH that social landlords (of whatever political hue) weren’t going to touch the new flexible/affordable tenancy regime with a bargepole. Well, I was wrong. Surprisingly significant proportions of respondents wanted the new flexibilities: two-thirds said they “expected to take advantage” of the flexible tenancy regime with a fifth undecided (para 3.2); 78 per cent of respondents would use the new “flexibility” about discharging Part 7 duties through the private rented sector (para 6.3); less surprisingly, perhaps, two-thirds of LAs welcomed the proposed allocations flexibility or indicated that they would consider setting restrictive qualification criteria including local connection (para 4.3). Forgive the extreme use of the “F” word here, but it is used 50 times in the document.
If you get bored by stats, there are some choice bits. For example, the government has clearly been stung by the criticism of its HB changes. In response to concerns about the impact of these changes on the “new flexibilities” around homelessness discharge, DCLG says:
6.6 In fact, in the vast majority of areas, people will see a reduction of £15 per week or less in the Local Housing Allowance. We expect that some people will be able to make up the shortfall themselves and other tenants will be able to renegotiate rents with their landlords.
6.7 In some of the more expensive areas in the country there may be less affordable property available so some tenants may need to move to find cheaper accommodation. Even so, nearly a third of properties will still be affordable to Housing Benefit customers in London. Government is making £190m of additional funding available to help local authorities to provide support where it is needed.
Whether you buy into that or not, the empirical evidence to follow of the evaluation of these changes will prove interesting (DWP were trying to get an evaluation commissioned within a timescale so tight that some people didn’t bother putting in).
There’s also criticism of some respondents failing to appreciate that separating transfer applicants from newbies won’t be a requirement, just an option.
But the really crucial bits of this document are in Section 8. Here, DCLG begins to outline its thinking on what the tenancy and mobility standards might look like (and, on which they are going to consult again): paras 8.10-12 and 8.24 are required reading. I don’t repeat them here as they are long but scroll down to page 48-9 and 51-2. The latter is a little dull – internet-based mobility search engines but note the final bullet on p 52, which follows some of the responses that many tenants just don’t have internet access.
There’s more choice bits in Section 8:
- the length of the flexible tenancy: despite “a large majority” of respondents believing that two years isn’t long enough (para 3.24), the two year period remains “though we would expect … the vast majority of tenancies to be provided on longer terms, particularly for vulnerable households or those with children” (para 8.6);
- the length of the flexible tenancy (again): despite “a majority of respondents” believing that there should be a longer minimum term for some groups (eg those fleeing domestic violence or with children in full time education) (paras 3.29-30), this hasn’t found its way into the proposals (or at least I couldn’t find it, presumably because of the prospect of legal challenge);
- allocations: apparently, the additional flexibility achieved by taking transfers out of the equation (if so desired) will lead to “less risk of challenge from those on the waiting list in housing need” (para 8.16);
- allocations (again): this is really for the afficionado, who’s aware of priority schemes for “good tenants” (like operates in Irwell Valley), but the government appears to back allocations schemes which “rewards tenants with a good track record” (para 8.17), which might make for an interesting series of challenges.
My sense is that, perhaps counterintuitively given the “local” nature that there will be plenty of opportunities for lawyers to muscle in on the local love-in – consultation on changes; increased use of internal reviews/appeals/complaints (see bullet points 4 and 6 in para 8.11); definition of “vulnerable households” (see bullet point 7 in para 8.11); issues over tenancy renewals, etc. There are lots of unfortunate traps here and, one notable absence from this summary (which was presumably raised by at least the lawyer respondents, who don’t get mentioned [!]): Pinnock.