Hammersmith and Fulham Council have published extraordinary proposals to privatise their entire council housing stock – flogging it off to a housing association. They have kept quiet about the implications but the Voluntary Stock Transfer to a Housing Association would mean ending council housing forever within the borough. The Labour Council has begun a “consultation” spending millions of pounds on consultants and lawyers – money which could be better spent on improving council housing or building new homes.
If it goes ahead the proposal could lead to higher rents and service charges, less security of tenure and less power for tenants. For example, in 2013 the rent per week for a two bed council flat was £95.37 compared to £117.61 for one rented from one of the borough’s major housing associations.
“I do not believe that stock transfer is the right approach. The Council’s time and resources would be better spent improving its housing stock and building new affordable homes for local people, not selling them off.
I am shocked and deeply concerned that the Labour Party is planning to give your home away to a Housing Association without any guarantee to you over your future. Housing is one of the most important issues facing us here in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush. We need to build more homes, not sell them off. Under Labour’s plans you could be hundreds of pounds worse off each year through higher rents and service charges, and be far less secure in your home. This is not right and I believe the people of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush deserve better.
I will be campaigning hard against the planned sale of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush council housing. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to add your name to the campaign.”
“The Labour Council is now planning a Borough-wide consultation with tenants and leaseholders to ensure that Council housing can be safeguarded for the future and that residents have more control over their homes. It wants to protect Council housing for future generations, start building new affordable homes and safeguard the rights of existing tenants. That way if the Tories ever get back in power locally they cannot auction off and demolish homes or worsen conditions for tenants. I have spoken to the councillor responsible for housing and the leader of the council and they will be in touch with you to provide further reassurance.”
Mr Slaughter’s response is, to put it kindly, muddled.
If the housing ceases to be owned and managed by the council in what sense is “council housing” “safeguarded”? He gives the game a way by saying (with rather undemocratic triumphalism) that a future Conservative council would not have anything to do with such housing. But then nor would any future Labour council. You see it wouldn’t be council housing anymore.
Mr Slaughter’s logic that all council housing should be sold to prevent a future Conservative council selling any housing is also perverse. He complains that the previous Conservative council “sold off at auction several hundred vacant Council homes rather than re-letting them to families in need.” But these were properties either in terrible disrepair or of very high value. Doesn’t it make more sense if a council house in Parsons Green worth £2 million comes vacant to sell it and use the proceeds for more replacement homes and improvements of existing stock?
But anyway Mr Slaughter’s stance is that the Labour council should sell all its 12,500 properties – with sitting tenants – to avert the possibility of a future Conservative council selling a few hundred more vacant properties.
I think he will have to come up with something a bit more convincing than that.
Here is a briefing about the implications of Labour’s proposals:
HIGHER RENTS AND SERVICE CHARGES
Housing Association rents are typically much higher than council rents, in some cases by as much as 25%. For example, in 2013 the rent for a two bed council flat was £95.37 per week, whereas for a two bed Notting Hill Housing flat the rent was £117.61 per week. So being a tenant in a typical 2-bed flat with a Housing Association, as opposed to the Council, could leave council tenants £1,156.48 a year worse off.
Under any proposals for stock transfer there is no guarantee over future levels of rent despite any promises made. Service charges are generally higher for Housing Association tenants. In most stock transfers the small print in the offer document shows service charge rates are only guaranteed for a few years, if at all.
Again, under stock transfer there is no guarantee over future levels of service charges.
On transfer council tenants will lose their special ‘secure’ tenancy and get an ‘assured’ tenancy. There are differences in law between the two types of tenancy. The Council may try to claim that the new landlord will write additional rights into your new assured tenancy contract, which will make it the equivalent of a secure tenancy. However, a promise by the new landlord not to use certain powers is not the same as the statutory rights ‘secure’ tenants have in law.
If the Council wants to evict a tenant, they must prove both the ground for possession (e.g. rent arrears, anti-social behaviour) AND that it would be ‘reasonable’ to evict them. A Housing Association can seek to evict you without the court having to consider ‘reasonableness’ in 8 out of 17 grounds for possession.
MERGERS AND TAKEOVERS
The Council may try to say that the transfer will be to a locally-based organisation. But this won’t last long. There is a high risk the new landlord will merge or be taken over by one of the big London housing associations. In Old Oak for example the well run and much respected Old Oak Housing Association, formed when the council did a stock transfer in the late 1990s has now been swallowed-up by Family Mosaic, losing all of its distinctive identify and character. Residents there did not get a meaningful say on their future.
Also tenants won’t get a vote on takeovers or mergers and the new Housing Association landlord is under no legal obligation to keep promises made at the time of transfer.
TRANSFER: LESS POWER FOR TENANTS AND LEASEHOLDERS
Don’t be taken in by the council’s idea of ‘community ownership’. A ‘Community Gateway’ or ‘Community Mutual’ is just a Housing Association by another name. There will be wild claims made about making tenants a ‘shareholder’ and how that will empower them, but there’s no basis for this. Tenant ‘shareholders’ in a community mutual or gateway organisation generally won’t even have the right to elect the whole board.
Tenants and leaseholders of the council get to elect their landlord every four years and, if you don’t like the way things are done, you can vote them out through the ballot box. This direct democratic relationship with your landlord will be lost after transfer.