Monthly Archives: October 2013

Ordinary folk; extraordinary meeting

A little piece of history was made on 24 October 2013 – the tenants of Bushbury Hill voted at an extra ordinary general meeting of their EMB, to serve their council landlord with notice that they wish to make use of the Right to Transfer Regulations.  They are one of the first, if not the first, tenant groups in the country to take this step.

Why was this necessary?

All the tenants in Bushbury Hill have ever wanted is the opportunity to explore the potential benefits of tenant led stock transfer.  This is a reasonable request, they have a 20 year history of effective tenant activism and 15 years very successfully managing their own homes.  They are experienced and knowledgable enough to make an informed decision, but sadly the council has refused to co-operate even with this initial investigation.  It has taken 10 years and primary legislation to get to this point.

The Proposal Notice

Whilst the decision to serve a Proposal Notice on the council is just the first step on a long journey, the RTT regulations surrounding it are quite exacting, but for good reason.  They are designed to prevent a small group of people, who might be unrepresentative, proposing a scheme that has no popular support or prospect of success.

To serve a Proposal Notice you must have a properly constituted Tenant Group with at least 20% of tenants as members and a majority must be secure tenants.  The decision to serve the notice must be taken at a general meeting of the group and all tenants, members or not must be notified of what is happening.

For the tenants of Bushbury Hill these requirements were no obstacle, it has excellent local support – over 80% of households have at least one member of the EMB.  It also has the trust and support of the tenants, in a continuation ballot this August there was a 95% vote in favour of keeping the EMB.

Tenant empowerment in action

It is the tenant led nature of the Right to Transfer process that makes it a powerful tool for community empowerment, by definition it comes from the bottom up.  RTT proposals can only be initiated by tenants acting together.  Rather than decisions being taken behind closed doors by the ruling party of local government administrations, they are taken by tenants in an open process.   Well informed tenants are more likely to get decisions about what is good for them and their communities right because they know better than anyone else what the key issues are.

I found it really inspiring to see so many tenants come out on an October evening (fortunately a mild and dry one) to find out more about the Right to Transfer (RTT) and express their view.

Informed decision making

Tenant led stock transfer is a pretty arcane subject, it’s a minority pursuit even in the housing sector.  Last night, people listened carefully to the case for serving the Proposal Notice and asked the pertinent questions including:

“Will my rent go up?”

“What happens if it all goes wrong with the new landlord?”

“What if the council refuses to co-operate?”

“Where does the money for investment come from?”

Those tenants understood the issues, this was no rubber stamp.  Some had arrived with a healthy skepticism about the whole thing but with open minds.  Once they heard the reasons for wanting to pursue RTT and that they were being asked to support serving the Proposal Notice and no more, the tenants voted overwhelmingly in favour.

So the tenants of Bushbury Hill have finally made it to the launch pad, the countdown has begun all they need now is for the RTT regulations to be laid in Parliament and the engines can finally be fired.

How did the Right to Transfer come about?

If as Gottfried Leibnitz postulated, we lived in the “best of all possible worlds” there would be no need for the Right to Transfer (RTT).  In this ideal world, the reasonable hopes and ambitions of tenants would be nurtured by enlightened local authority councillors and officers.

In some cases this happens for the mutual benefit of all partners and a number of tenant led stock (TLST) transfers, for example WATMOS in both Walsall and Lambeth, Beechwood Ballantyne in the Wirral and North Bransholme in Hull have proceeded with the support of the local authority.  Admittedly this has happened with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but it shows that TLST is perfectly viable.

Council non-cooperation

Sadly, not all local authorities believe in tenant empowerment, some tolerate tenant management only because the Right to Manage forces them to.  Some local authority administrations have an ideological objection to stock transfer in any form, often a dogmatic position that refuses to see any nuance.

Dogmatix

There are councils are politically opposed because they consider stock transfer as privatisation, without understanding that not all stock transfers are the same.  In some cases the analysis is even less sophisticated than this and it is nothing more than paternalism, the attitude that “they are our houses and we know best”.

Tenant Led Stock Options Appraisals

2004 Government initiated Tenant Led Stock Options appraisals, five Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) were grant funded by DCLG to carry this out.  The local authorities in the pilot areas all gave their support for the TMOs to do this work.  However after the tenants had spent a great deal of volunteer time and public money, some of the local authorities, Birmingham and Wolverhampton being examples, decided they didn’t like the outcome and rejected the findings of the options appraisal.

Understandably this was extraordinarily frustrating for tenants (and DCLG) as the co-operation of the councils with the options appraisals process had created a reasonable expectation that they would take forward the best option.

We won’t take no for an answer

Tenant activists were not going to take this injustice lying down, they lobbied DCLG to do something about this and this received a sympathetic hearing.  The then Labour Government were in favour of tenant empowerment, they were not in favour of local authorities blocking tenants on political grounds, and they did not like public money to be wasted on Tenant Led Stock Options appraisals that were ignored.  This resulted in the Right to Transfer being included as s296 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.

Because of the previous attitude of certain local authorities, the RTT Statutory Guidance makes it explicit (para. 70) that objection to RTT proposals on political grounds will not be entertained.

So here we are, the current Coalition Government are still in favour of tenant empowerment which fits well with their localism agenda.  Intransigent local authorities are still not amenable so the support is still there for RTT and tenants still need it to achieve the objectives of their communities.

Introducing the Right to Transfer

The Right to Transfer (RTT) for council tenants is brand new, never been used and as such is unknown territory.  This blog will chart its progress from theory to practice and hopefully be useful and informative to those with an interest in tenant empowerment generally.

Why do we need a Right to Transfer?

Imagine that you are part of a tenant group; perhaps you’ve been involved in running the estate as a volunteer.  You know the local issues inside out, the people personally, the stock intimately, the investment it needs, and your neighbours’ aspirations for their homes.  Perhaps you’ve spent a lot of time and money investigating all the options and concluded that tenant-led stock transfer is the best option for your community and this has been backed repeatedly by your fellow tenants.

In these circumstances, how would you feel if your local authority flatly refused to countenance the possibility and to not even give tenants a vote on the matter?

This is the problem that the Right to Transfer is meant to solve.  It empowers tenants to pursue their hopes and dreams, in spite of local authority indifference or intransigence.

How does it work?

For those that don’t know, RTT allows council tenants to initiate a stock transfer to another landlord (who must be a Registered Provider).

RTT is possible thanks to section 296 of the Housing & Regeneration Act 2008 which gives the Secretary of State (or Welsh Ministers) the power to make regulations which require local authorities to co-operate with tenant groups who wish to pursue tenant led stock transfer.

When does it start?

For England the Right to Transfer Regulations and accompanying Statutory Guidance have been published and are due to be laid before Parliament in October 2013.

Why it has taken 5 years for this important new community right to be enacted is another story (fodder for another blog post) but all indications are that we are nearly there.  Assuming this happens without further delay, this will fire the starting pistol for those tenant groups who have been waiting, in some cases for nearly 10 years.