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This is a local town for local people …

By Dave

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.


  1. Robert Latham

    Housing Associations will always follow the money.

    That is why we see such a lack of democratic accountability in the provision of social housing.

    We can expect larger, less accountable, inceasingly unresponsive bureaucracies ever more in hock to the bankers whose bonuses will be seen as a benchmark for the remuneration for their Chief Exdecutives.

  2. Michael Read

    Is this the same Robert Latham who leads the housing and homelessness team at Doughty Street?

    Wow. I didn’t expect to find a lawyer to come to the same conclusion I have. So everyone knows what’s been going on?

    Just a civilian writes.

  3. dave

    Forgive this lengthy, rambling intrusion into your love-in, but, while bankers’ bonuses are one outcome of the post-1985ish settlement of social housing, the key issue remains how those bonuses are funded. I don’t particularly blame PRPs for following the money and professionalising, innovating, and entrepreneurialising as a result. The distinct irony, of course, is that they were the chosen vehicles for developing “social” housing over and above local authorities partly because PRPs were smaller, mores specialised, more local units (just like the local, mostly pub/male-based origins of building societies) which could take private money and remain private for the purposes of the then PSBR; now of course, PRPs are anything but, and there has been massive agglommerations etc, so that the larger PRPs have the opportunity to dictate the regulatory settlement (the G15 group has clear, largely untapped regulatory potential); as I suggested previously, while the discursive practices of central government are about privileging the local, the valorisation of VfM privileges the large, national PRPs with their management and group structures. The point of all of this, though, is (again, as I’ve suggested before) that we are participating in a significant shift of thought and practice about the funding of social housing development. Yes, private lending is a key (as it has been since the mid-1980s), but it is being sustained by an apparent, and paradoxical (given the concerns about public funding), willingness to allow housing benefit to be used to service the loans. In short, bankers bonuses, in my view, are one of the products of this shift, to be sure, but there are other outputs/inputs which are equally, if not more, significant. Two excellent recent books on this subject (by Pawson/Mullins on LSVT/ALMO and Mcdermont on the recent history of PRPs) really beautifully demonstrate the history of the present.

    There are huge assumptions in the government’s so-called radical reforms to social housing – which, of course, go beyond the financial crisis discourse, although they are nominally justified in those terms. The real issue, though, remains whether HB will sustain the government’s vision or whether there will be yet further conflict between CLG and DWP as the shift to universal credit takes shape. The law of unintended consequences – or, as we academics like to describe that same problem, the problems of implementation – is likely to challenge those assumptions both specifically and more generally. There are also uncertainties both within law (eg Pinnock/Frisby) and outside (eg effect on PRP/LA relations).

    Despite the tenant-centred discourse, it is clear who will be negatively affected by these changes. This is where I agree with your sentiment – the bankers are always insulated.

  4. Michael Read

    Forgive me. I get the bit about PRPs assuming a bigger, oligopolistic position than that originally envisaged through, almost inevitably, the advantages of the economies of scale.

    I also get the bit about HB being used to service the loans. Rent rises can driven through by authorities of whatever political hue ‘cos someone else, not us, is paying for it.

    Where do bankers’ bonuses fit into this? Surely, mortgage lending is the dumb, low-margin end of the banking business with predictable rates of return and many potential providers.

    Securitisation provided a momentary injection of Viagra into the business but that expensive dalliance is now over. It’s back to basics.

    For a banker, you are not going to get double-digit rates of return – and therefore bonuses – parcelling up mortgages.

  5. Natalia

    Hi Dave,
    I’m currently writing a dissertation on the social housing reforms in Localism Bill, and how they will impact on the government’s overall policy aims… but I haven’t got that much legal background knowledge. You mentioned in an earlier post that the allocation reforms could lead to Equalities Act/DDA challenges – please could you expand on this / point me in the right direction as to what sections I’m looking at! Am at absolute breaking point and never want to write a dissertation again.
    ANY help would be GREATLY appreciated!
    Kind regards,

    • dave

      As much as I’d like to help, we have a general policy here of not doing so particularly because one of us might end up examining your work and, as you may be aware, today is a strike day for USS members (as is Thursday – forgive the gratuitous, spam-like mention). What I’m happy to say is that I absolutely empathise with your feelings about writing dissertations (feelings which can be expanded to cover all manner of written interventions, except of course writing this blog which I rather enjoy).
      Sorry but good luck with it – there are insufficient housing researchers out there, so stick with it.

  6. Natalia

    Hi Dave,
    I totally understand! I think I was having a bit of a temporary panic – crisis averted and I’ve now found some useful information. Good luck with the strike tomorrow!



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