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Housing Green Paper briefing and initial reaction 16/08/2018 Labelled as Legislation, Tenants

First announced in September 2017 by former Secretary of State Sajid Javid and initially promised by the spring of 2018 and then before the Parliamentary Recess on 24 July, the long awaited Social Housing Green Paper was finally published on 14 August.


When first announced, Sajid Javid promised that it "would be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation" based on "a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector" but in many respects the Green Paper poses more questions than answers - 48 questions to be precise.


Billed as a "new deal" for social housing, the Green Paper sets out five principles which, it says, will underpin a new, fairer deal for social housing residents:


  • A safe and decent home which is fundamental to a sense of security and our ability to get on in life;
  • Improving and speeding up how complaints are resolved;
  • Empowering residents and ensuring their voices are heard so that landlords are held to account;
  • Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities, challenging the stereotypes that exist about residents and their communities, and
  • Building the social homes that we need and ensuring that those homes can act as a springboard to home ownership.


Some of the highlights in the Green Paper include:


  • An announcement that the Government does not intend to implement the Higher Value Assets Levy and forced sale of higher value council housing proposed under the Housing & Planning Act 2016 and a promise to repeal the relevant legislation when Parliamentary time allows.
  • An announcement that the Government do not propose to implement the mandatory fixed-term tenancies provisions of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 "at this time"; but this wording suggests that they may not be repealed.
  • A strengthening of the role of the Social Housing Regulator and proposals for a set of performance indicators which would be reported to the Social Housing Regulator, who would publish them in a set of league tables.
  • The canvassing of views on several proposals for reform of arrangements for handling residents' complaints, including statutory requirements on local authority complaints schemes, scrapping or shortening the waiting period before a complaint can be referred to the Housing Ombudsman, training for "designated persons", and raising residents' awareness of how to make and escalate complaints.
  • A commitment to tackling the stigma attached to social housing, and proposals for a "best neighbourhood" competition and steps to improve the customer service and neighbourhood management provided by all social landlords.
  • The potential re-introduction of stock transfer for council housing to "community led" housing associations, reform of the Right to Manage arrangements, or other measures, in giving tenants more choice and control over the services they receive.
  • A question as to whether the Decent Homes Standard needs to be revised or updated in the light of Grenfell and other developments since 2006?
  • The potential introduction of debt funding and longer term "strategic partnerships" to help housing associations develop affordable housing.
  • The further promotion of shared ownership by allowing tenants to purchase as little as 1% share in their home.


Conspicuous by its absence is any proposal for further lifting of Housing Revenue Account debt caps, to allow councils to borrow prudentially against their assets and future rental income streams, to fund further investment in the existing stock of council housing and the building of new council housing. Although the publication alongside the Green Paper of a consultation paper on potential greater flexibilities in the use of Right to Buy receipts is to be welcomed.   


There is however an opportunity for local authorities to make the case for the further lifting of HRA debt caps in that the Green Paper poses the question: "Recognising the need for fiscal responsibility, this Green Paper seeks views on whether the Government's current arrangements strike the right balance between providing grant funding for housing associations and Housing Revenue Account borrowing for local authorities?."


The Social Housing Green Paper includes a set of 48 specific questions on the themes covered in the Green Paper and invites responses to be submitted by 6 November 2018. 


Copies of the Social Housing Green Paper are available to download from the Government website and the ARCH Executive Board will be considering the Green Paper at its next Board meeting on 10 September and will be preparing a formal response to the Green Paper in due course.


In the meantime ARCH Policy Adviser Matthew Warburton has produced a detailed ARCH briefing paper for ARCH members and ARCH member councils are invited to submit any initial comments and responses to the Green Paper to ARCH Chief Executive John Bibby at .


We are also delighted to advise that Jane Everton, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the lead official on the Housing Green Paper has accepted an invitation to speak at the ARCH Tenants Conference on 18 September 2018.


Responding to the publication of the Social Housing Green Paper, ARCH Chief Executive John Bibby commented:


"ARCHwelcomes the general thrust of the Social Housing Green Paper but we feel the Government could and should have gone further in committing resources to substantially increase the supply of social rented housing by recognising the significant role that the provision of new council housing could play in increasing supply.


A strengthening of the social housing regulators role is what most tenants would expect to see following the Grenfell tragedy and it is right and proper that landlords should account to their tenants for their performance, but we have some concerns that "league tables" may oversimplify matters and not give the full picture and look forward to further dialogue with the Housing Ministry on the performance measures proposed.


We very much welcome the decision to abandon the proposed High Value Asset Levy and the forced sale of higher value social housing and think it is right that the introduction of fixed term tenancies should continue to be a matter for local discretion - these are matters we have been campaigning on for some time.


Longer term partnerships and debt guarantees for housing associations are mooted in the Green Paper, but we are disappointed that the Government has missed the opportunity to underpin the promise of "a new generation of council housing" by proposing a general raising of housing revenue account debt caps and recommitting to the principles of the HRA self-financing settlement. 


We welcome the consultation on greater flexibilities in the use of RTB receipts, which was first announced on 29 March this year, but even with maximum flexibilities it must be recognised that with the huge RTB discounts on offer, most councils will be hard pressed to do any more than deliver one for one replacement of council housing sold under the Right to Buy.


We are also surprised and concerned that council housing appears to have been singled out for a potential new stock transfer programme to new "community led" housing associations. If community ownership and management is to form part of the answer, then the opportunity should be open to tenants of all social landlords, including private registered providers.


Nevertheless, the Social Housing Green Paper provides an opportunity for ARCH to make the case for council housing and we look forward to contributing to the debate about the future of social housing and to continuing the dialogue we have established with the Housing Ministry and responding to the Green Paper in due course"

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