Tag Archives: empowerment

Right to transfer offers written by councils that oppose them? This is illogical.

The current statutory guidance on consulting tenants about a housing transfer was published in July 2009 and takes no account of tenant led schemes under the Right to Transfer (RTT) which had been enacted in 2008 but not implemented by regulation until December 2013. This means that the Offer Document to tenants is the responsibility of the very council that opposes the tenants’ wishes which is illogical.

The 2009 guidance states:

Tenants need to understand why the local authority is proposing to transfer their housing (Annex 1, Para.9)

However in RTT cases the council is not proposing the transfer, in fact they are opposed to it. This internal contradiction demonstrates why it makes no sense for the Offer to come from the council.

Just as the housing transfer manual has been re-written to acknowledge the tensions inherent in RTT and transfer some responsibilities from councils to the tenant group, the guidance on tenant consultation similarly needs to be updated.

RTT is a tenant led process, the proposal to transfer is that of the tenants, not the council and so the Offer should be produced by and from the tenant group. To get to offer stage the tenants have already complied with a regulatory framework and the RTT statutory guidance, they can just as well comply with the guidance at consultation stage.

The substance of 2009 guidance is still sound, I don’t think it would take much to update it to include tenant led transfers and make it clear that the offer belongs to and comes from the tenants with the accompanying duty to take proper account of the guidance.

Being a trailblazer means having to work with the existing structures, even if they are no longer quite fit for purpose. Whilst this is not always easy, it does flag up those issues that need to be addressed so that RTT can work properly. So let’s hope that future RTT have a new version of the guidance that empowers tenants.

Housing transfer manual 2015/16

100 million) for the next transfer programme and the publication of the stock transfer manual for 2015/16.  Their press release takes an interesting angle, promoting it as an opportunity for tenant empowerment through the Right to Transfer (RTT).  The first Para reads:

Council tenants wanting more influence and control over their homes will have access to a share of £100 million.

Council tenants wanting more influence and control over their homes will have access to a share of £100 million to do just that, Housing Minister Kris Hopkins announced today (14 July 2014).

Mr Hopkins said the fund will help unlock further investment in maintaining and building social homes across the country.

Since November 2013, tenants living in council housing have had a right to request that the management of their homes be transferred to a housing association – and that the council cooperate in that process.

From today, tenant groups wanting to exercise this Right to Transfer will be able to bid for a share of this £100 million fund to help that process, with the money becoming available from next year.

The £100 million fund is also available for councils wishing to transfer their stock, with proposals that provide good value for money and have the support of residents.

In my view it is a good thing that the RTT is being promoted in this way and crucially that the stock transfer programme remains open for business with funding available to support it.  I led a workshop on RTT at the recent National Federation of TMOs (NFTMO) and it was full, so there is definitely the appetite for RTT within the TMO world.

Whilst I welcome the push behind RTT there is no prospect of TMOs making much of a dent in £100 million, even if debt relief is needed.  So I can only assume that the Government also expects some local authorities to be making applications for this round.

Speaking of applications, the 2015/16 transfer manual now includes two versions of the application for transfer (Annex A) to be submitted to HCA as referred to in my previous post.  This recognises that it makes no sense for applications for tenant led transfers to come from the local authority.

Right to Transfer Regulations go live & get used immediately

Thursday 5th December 2013 is a red letter day for the Right to Transfer as The Housing (Right to Transfer from a Local Authority Landlord) (England) Regulations 2013 came into force as Statutory Instrument 2013 No. 2898.

This finally gives tenants the power to use the statutory Right to Transfer granted by Parliament in 2008.  The wait was frustrating but now it is here tenants cannot hang about to use it, there is only a small window to get a stock transfer through in the current round.

The tenants in Bushbury Hill (where I work) have certainly not let the grass grow under their feet.  The regulations came into force 5th December and Bushbury Hill EMB served a Proposal Notice under the Right to Transfer on 6th December.  There are not huge numbers of tenant groups considering this route at present and we’re not aware of any others that have acted yet so I’m going to say that Bushbury Hill EMB is the first to take this step.

How we got here

Bushbury Hill EMB made good use of the time it’s taken for the Regulations to come into force.  In October members voted at an extra ordinary general meeting (EGM) in favour of serving the Proposal Notice. In November we notified all tenants of the decision and consulted them about this.  As this consultation was supportive of the decision of the EGM, the Proposal Notice could be served as soon as the Regulations came into force.

 Getting the RTT Proposal Notice together

As no-one has ever served an RTT Proposal Notice we are really having to blaze a trail on this.  This has meant drafting a notice taking account of the Regulations, the Statutory Guidance and seeking a legal opinion.

As well as wording the Proposal Notice we had to gather supporting evidence that demonstrated that the tenant group, the houses, the area covered and the decision making process all meet the regulatory requirements. We have access to the Council’s housing management system and our internal record keeping is pretty good, but there were still omissions and anomalies that had to be found and corrected.  We think we’ve crossed every “t” but as it’s never been done before, we’ll have to wait and see.

Now it is up to the Council

Now that the Proposal Notice has been served, the Council has 28 days to either accept it, reject it giving reasons or advise that it will go to the Secretary of State for a determination within 21 days.  Council officers are also in the position of being the first to have to work with the RTT regulations.  We have done our best to make the Proposal Notice compliant but how this will be assessed is uncertain as there is no precedent to call on.

We don’t know what can and cannot make a Proposal Notice invalid.  For example the regulatory thresholds for a tenant group to be able to use the RTT are 20% of tenants as members and 20% of Secure tenants as members.  Bushbury Hill EMB has membership levels at 77% & 76% respectively so we’re pretty confident that this should not be an issue.  However, if for example there was a mistake in our count of +/- 1 tenant or member would this make the whole notice fail?  The threshold would still be exceeded by over three times, so does the principle of de minimis apply?

The 28 days will be up on 2nd January so we should know as soon as we’re back at work in the New Year.  It seems likely that 2014 will be a very interesting one for the Right to Transfer.

The right to transfer is here, but there’s not much time to use it

The transfer window is open

On 12th November 2013 the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published the final version of the Statutory Guidance to the Right to Transfer Regulations.  On the same date they published the new Housing Transfer Manual and the responses to the consultation on the manual.  On 14th November 2014  The housing (right to transfer from a local authority landlord) (England) regulations 2013 were laid before Parliament. These should come into force on 5th December 2013.  Taken together, these documents provide council tenants a window of opportunity to exercise their Right to Transfer.

But it’s not a very big window

The title “Housing Transfer Manual period to 31 March 2015” says it all, the Government is emphatic that any transfer requiring debt write-off must be completed by this date. With a fixed term Parliament this is clearly tied to the expected date of the next General Election.  There’s so little slack in the timetable it’s hard to predict what would happen to transfers in progress if the Coalition fell apart and there was a snap election.  That leaves only a little over 16 months to put together a transfer proposal, conduct a tenant ballot and if tenants’ want it, set up a stock transfer landlord and complete the transfer.  As Pete Apps said in Inside Housing “Councils hoping to use a debt write-off scheme to complete stock transfers face an ‘unrealistic’ race against time to tie up the deals.”

An uphill race

So if councils with all the resources of a local authority at their disposal face a struggle to complete a stock transfer in time, where doe this leave tenant groups hoping to use the Right to Transfer (RTT)?  Almost by definition tenants only need to use the RTT process where their landlord is not willing to support their desire to explore stock transfer, so from the start these tenant groups are at a disadvantage.  Whilst the RTT regulations require local authorities to co-operate, there are still myriad ways an unscrupulous council could slow down and seek to derail the process.  Given the incredibly tight timescales there is little scope for slippage in any stock transfer plan, so delay introduced by a council could prove fatal.  There is also a complete mismatch of resources, even the largest and best run tenant management organisation doesn’t have the resources in manpower and finances to match their landlord.

It may appear that forcing a local authority to transfer stock against its will is an unwinnable fight, and so it may prove.  However tenant activists have been successfully overcoming bureaucratic indifference and political opposition for decades; sometimes David does beat Goliath.

Who do you trust?

Tenant groups do also have some factors in their favour, the trust and support of their local community is a huge benefit and may help overcome one of the big hurdles as outlined again by Pete Apps in his article:

Jonathan Hulley, a partner at law firm Clarke Willmott, said: ‘The timescale is unrealistic given the critical issue of consultation. As lawyers we would never say it’s impossible, but it is certainly unlikely.’

A tenant group that genuinely represents the local community has a built in advantage over any council when it comes to understanding the needs and desires of tenants and what is important to them when considering stock transfer.  There is also the issue of trust, an effective ad accountable tenant group should be able to persuade tenants more easily that its intentions are bona fide than even the most honourable local authority.  It is natural that people are more likely to believe what they are told by people they know and live amongst.

When a local authority undertakes Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) it is most unlikely that the key decision makers will be directly affected.  The odd local councillor may be a tenant, but the overwhelming majority of members and senior officers won’t be.  In contrast, tenant activists are subject to the outcome of the transfer, as are their family and friends, so they have a critical personal interest in ensuring that the proposal brings immediate and long term benefits to their community.  This gives their message credibility – it is a lot easier to believe when someone tells you stock transfer is a good idea if you know they are going to go through it themselves.

Size matters

Being small can work to the advantage of tenants pursuing RTT.  With timescales being so tight, speed of thought, decision making and implementation will be of critical importance.  Most tenant groups are small cohesive organisations with the ability to take decisions quickly.  If they employ staff then they will typically have a close working relationship between tenants and officers and very flat management structure.  This can help to get staff buy in to the process, make it quicker to get decisions acted on and make it is easier to be flexible in how to get tasks done.

By contrast local authorities are large, unwieldy organisations with fairly rigid decision making  processes and timetables that will tend to introduce delays to any project.  They also tend to have party politics as well as pork barrel issues to contend with and far more external stakeholders to work with and satisfy.

Big Politics

Whilst the local political landscape may be unhelpful, tenants do at least have some friends in high places.  The Right to Transfer came about through Central Government support tenant groups thwarted at local level.  Although we have been through umpteen Housing Ministers and a change in government since it was enacted, RTT has always had general support at departmental and ministerial level as part of the tenant empowerment and localism agendas.  In the Ministerial Foreword to the new Housing Transfer Manual, Kris Hopkins says:

We want to encourage not only stock-holding local authorities, but also tenants and existing private registered providers to consider the opportunities which stock transfer may provide.  Alongside this manual we are laying before Parliament the Right to Transfer Regulations which will for the first time give local authority tenants a statutory right to initiate a transfer process and require the local authority to co-operate as tenants explore the options.

That RTT gets such a prominent mention in this critical document suggests that tenant groups with a strong business case for transfer will get a fair hearing from the Government.

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.