Mr Jones: […] We want housing association landlords and tenants to reap the benefits from shorter-term tenancies as well. However, we clearly need to consider any changes to housing associations in the light of the recent decision of the Office for National Statistics on classification. We are working through the ONS reclassification decision and considering the options but, given the complexity of the matter, careful consideration is needed. We will continue to work closely with the housing association sector, the social housing regulator and other stakeholders to finalise the deregulatory package, and we will consider any changes to lifetime tenancies in the context of that work. (Housing and Planning Bill committee 10 December 2015)
Brandon Lewis, housing minister, today announced the Pay to Stay policy would be made “voluntary” as part of a deregulation package to help reverse the Office for National Statistics (ONS) decision to reclassify housing associations as public. (Inside Housing 15 December 2015. CLG select committee hearing transcript not available yet.)
And just like that, the tiny withered fig leaf of principle was blown off the unmentionable parts of the Housing and Planning Bill.
A housing policy turned into a bedroom farce, as the Ministers, caught with Housing Association debt in the wrong bedroom, tried to explain why it was all a perfectly reasonable approach while looking for their trousers and hoping the incriminating debt didn’t fall out of the wardrobe in its underwear.
Social tenancies should be subject to fixed terms because ‘it may prompt people who may otherwise not have thought about purchasing their own home to do so where they feel they are able to’ (yes an actual ministerial quote). Except for housing association tenants, unless the HA wants to have fixed terms, up to them really.
Housing Association tenants will have the right to buy. Assuming that the HA agrees that they might have the right in a purely voluntary way. I assume that the patrolling of HA RTB by the HCA will now be dropped from the Housing and Planning Bill.
Social tenants must pay market rents over a certain household income level (£40K pa in London, £30K pa outside). This is only fair because, um, other people have to pay market rents in the PRS and why should they be the only ones (Seriously, this was given as a justification. It is about fairness). Except Housing Association tenants, when it will be up to the HA to charge whatever it likes.
How can these policies be justified as necessary for local authorities and their tenants while at the very same time being wholly voluntary for housing associations to implement? Either they are necessary for the social housing sector as a whole (which of course they aren’t, in any way, shape or form, but let’s go along with the pretence for the moment), or, well they aren’t. They can’t be necessary impositions on one part of social housing and ‘a bit of an idea that you might want to take up, if you feel like it, no pressure’ for another part of social housing.
And of course, one wonders about the brains involved in that ‘voluntary deal’ on HA RTB arranged by the NHF, supposedly to avoid the ONS reclassifying HA debt as public debt. Not only did that happen anyway (regardless of RTB), but the Government is so desperate to get the debt off the public debt that it is throwing all sorts of deregulation at the sector, and very definitely not imposing any further regulation like pay to stay or fixed term tenancies. If only the HA sector had waited for the ONS announcement first! Then they could have had a pony and the moon on a stick for free, without having to agree to anything in return.
I was tempted to also throw in the atrocious drafting of key parts of the Housing and Planning bill – are there any housing lawyers left at DCLG? – but I’m not going to go into detail. Not least because some of the drafting means that certain key bits of the Bill won’t actually work. It will be far too entertaining to watch that playing out for me to want to provide free hints to the Minister. That said, some of us did provide at least one free hint to the minister via the Bill committee and he gave every sign of having not understood it.
There is perhaps quite some competition for the title of ‘worst housing bill ever’, but the Housing and Planning Bill (rogue landlord provisions apart, which are actually sensible) is well on course to be the most damaging and ridiculous at the same time.
I wonder if this would be a good time for councils to set up housing associations to which to transfer their stock…