The government intends to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations. Readers of this blog will know how, over the years, I have questioned the wisdom of the existing Right to Buy arrangements. I recently blogged: Can anyone tell me why the Right to Buy is morally justifiable, economically sensible, or politically acceptable?
Yesterday (24/09/15), the National Housing Federation announced at its annual conference that it has reached an agreement with the Government to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations through a voluntary agreement. On the surface that sounds fine. It will be voluntary. Actually, no. The deal is: agree voluntarily to this scheme or we will legislate to force you. The outcome will be the same – the loss of social housing.
The promised one for one replacement hasn’t happened in Right to Buy in the local authority sector. The government should get its current policy working before extending it to another sector.
But today it is not the government that I am unhappy with. I do think it is the wrong policy, but at least the government has been honest and upfront about it, in its manifesto and since the election.
It is the National Housing Federation that I think has been underhand and devious in how this matter is being managed. I have long been an admirer of David Orr, its chief executive, but I think he has allowed himself to be pushed about too much by the larger housing associations. I expected a bit more openness and, yes, integrity from an organisation led by David.
Housing associations were written to yesterday. (By an oversight, technical glitch, or another reason, I did not receive the email until I chased it today). In it we were told that housing association boards must respond to the proposal agreed between the NHF and the government by next Friday!
The time scale within which we have to respond is ludicrous. We have just six working days to consider this change, and one must question whether it is legally possible. It certainly flies in the face of the NHF’s own Code of Governance, requiring Boards to “operate in an open and transparent manner, having dialogue with and accountability to tenants and other key stakeholders”.
I understand that even yesterday certain housing association groups has signed up to the agreement. Did they reflect on their constitution, charity law, Companies Act, etc. as they have committed to do by signing up to the NHF Code of Governance?
“Boards must act effectively, making clear decisions based on timely and accurate information.” In six working days? Right!
When I spoke to a colleague at the NHF today, he said that the NHF was trying to establish a new, positive relationship with Government. In the spirit of this new and positive relationship, the Government has imposed this unrealistic deadline, and the NHF has rolled over and played dead.
These changes will affect millions of people, not least the 1.8 million on housing waiting lists.
Boards are required to make a decision by next Friday, opening them up to claims that they have not been properly briefed, that they have not give the proposals proper scrutiny, and that they have not undertaken even the most basic consultation or due diligence.
How can Boards be advised on any legal ramifications, or their obligations as trustees (where applicable)? It is not possible to evaluate how the proposed new ‘voluntary’ code might fit in with articles or covenants. We don’t know what the implications might be if we don’t sign up to this ‘voluntary’ code.
I do not regard that the two options presented to us in the email from the NHFare balanced. The options read:
- voluntarily extending “Right to Buy discounts to our relevant tenants” or
- The Government will bring forward primary legislation “to compel you to sell your properties”.
(The threatened legislation would not “compel us to sell our properties”, but would extend the Right to Buy).
As it happens the extension of Right to Buy will have a minimal impact on BHT. Given the nature of the organisation and who we choose to house, 83% of our tenants are on benefit (in spite of the opportunities which we provide for volunteering, training and employment which massively out-perform the Work Programme). Many others are on very low incomes. It is very unlikely that they would be able to get a mortgage, even at the discounted rate proposed.
Voting will be ‘weighted’. We are informed that the Government “will require a high proportion of housing associations (by stock) to agree” to this deal.
No one has said what will happen to those associations who do not agree. How will they be compelled to agree to this voluntary arrangement? There are too many unanswered questions, and too many questions that are yet to be asked!
I am concerned that the timescale does not allow our Board to fulfil its legal obligations nor time to consult with those that matter, our tenants and future tenants
The National Housing Federation should be ashamed of agreeing to work to such timescales and imposing this momentous decision on the future direction of housing on its members.