Open letter to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning
Gavin Barwell MP
Minister of State for Housing and Planning
Department for Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
2nd December 2016
Dear Mr Barwell,
This open letter seeks to encourage a full and transparent debate as to issues that have arisen concerning the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme.
In the National Housing Federation Code of Governance (2015) it is a requirement of effective governance that a Housing Association Board should make decisions based on ‘timely and accurate information’. Since the introduction of the Voluntary Right to Buy agreement in November 2015, the Federation has consulted with its members on the policy, but has not yet published any detailed guidelines. Furthermore, the Government has not yet published a financial impact assessment for the proposed scheme. Without these two fundamental elements in place, a Housing Association Board does not have timely and accurate information on which to base its own policy as to the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme.
We are therefore of the opinion that neither the Government nor the Federation should expect a Housing Association Board to make any policy decision on the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme until such time as timely and accurate information is to hand.
For the foreseeable future, it seems that the national roll-out originally proposed for the scheme has been replaced by a large-scale regional roll-out, which will cost the public sector around £250m. Restricting implementation to one region means that the scheme will not be available to all housing association tenants in England, notwithstanding that universality of the right to buy was a key element of the agreement reached between Government and the Federation in 2015.
We are therefore of the opinion that the Board of any Housing Association invited to take part in the regional roll-out of the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme should defer acceptance until such time that it has timely and accurate information on which to base its decision.
Over the years, successive governments have consulted publicly on the Statutory Right to Buy scheme. There has been no such consultation in respect of the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme. We urge the Government to publish an impact assessment and the Federation to publish detailed scheme guidelines as soon as practicable. This would allow a public consultation to take place before the regional roll-out.
In the interests of fairness and transparency, we are of the opinion that a public consultation is necessary before large-scale regional implementation of the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme.
We have reservations that the Voluntary Right to Buy policy is being implemented at all against the backdrop of financial austerity and an acute housing crisis. Nevertheless, we hope that you will feel able to endorse the opinions set out above and look forward to a response as soon as possible.
Director – Future Housing Review
Rural Housing Enabler – Warwickshire Rural Community Council
Chief Executive – Lambeth and Southwark Housing Association
Director – Westfield Housing Association
Founding member – SHOUT (Social Housing Under Threat)
Professor of Law and Policy – Bristol University
This letter has also been endorsed by:
Rural Housing Enabler – Community Council for Berkshire
Rural Housing Enabler – Community Council of Sussex