Localism Act 2011 – How it affects Haringey residents

There are 6 main parts to the housing provisions under the Localism Act 2011 for local authorities. These are:

  • housing allocations;
  • homelessness duty;
  • flexible tenancies;
  • how local authorities can use finances from their housing stock;
  • how social housing is regulated; and finally
  • how complaints are dealt with.

Below are websites that look at all 6 areas, but for us there are only two real areas we need to know about.

These are:

  • A local authorities new homelessness duty; and
  • what are known as “flexible tenancies”.

This training will therefore ONLY look at the two areas mentioned above. If you want to know more about the other four areas – check out the websites listed.

As two other small point unrelated to this training, but in the Localism Act under housing , (1) the Home Information Packs, which Labour brought in have now been done away with (these were the report on houses people who were selling their homes had to provide to prospective buyers), and (2) Housing Co-ops are no longer required to meet HMO rules.

There are also small changes to the “tenants deposit scheme” but others who understand the scheme would need to look at this – not me.

HOMELESSNESS DUTY

At present local authorities have to find accommodation for people who are “eligible”, “homeless” in “priority need” and not “intentionally homeless”. For a fuller description of these terms check out Shelters definition at:
http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/homelessness/help_from_the_council/what_the_council_will_check
or Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/52/section/193

It is not part of this training to look at the way Haringey Council present deals with homelessness applications or implements “gate keeping”.

Up to now, if a local authority had a duty to house you, it had to be in either in local authority housing or other “secure” housing – ie Housing Associations or other social landlords. They could off er you private rented accommodation, but you didn’t have to accept it. But, under the Localism Act a local authority can now offer you private rented accommodation and if you refuse, you may yourself “intentionally homeless “ and would no longer be eligible for the local authority to house you.

There are a few (pathetic) safe guards. These are:

  • There has to be a fixed term tenancy of at least 12 months (council’s can offer longer if they wish),
  • You can ask for a “review” of the decision if you think the offer is unacceptable (this can be done even if you accept the offer),
  • If you become unintentionally homeless within 2 years of being housed, you can reapply as priority homeless and even if you are not now in one of the “priority” groups you will still be assumed to be “priority” homeless.


There doesn’t seem to be a specific date this change applies. The best I can find is “The government will soon publish draft regulations setting out the criteria for assessing whether a private rental home offered under this 12-month tenancy is “suitable”. There have been assurances that this will cover the standard of the accommodation and the credentials of the landlords.” So, at the moment, this is not policy and tenants can still refuse an offer of private accommodation. Although the local authority should try and find you somewhere in their own area, they don’t have to and you can be housed anywhere within England. If you have lived in that area for more than two years and then become homeless again, you apply to the area where you now live – NOT the local authority who placed you
there.

At present I cannot find out when this section of the act becomes law.

FIXED TERM or FLEXIBLE TENANCIES

Presently, if a local authority offers a place to somebody from the council’s waiting list it is something called a “secure tenancy”. Basically this means, unless they break the rules of the tenancy (non-payment of rent, anti social behaviour, etc), they have a secure home for life.

Under the Localism Act, council’s can now off er a tenancy for a minimum of 2 years, although the government is saying this will have to be exceptional and the norm should be at least 5 years.

Council’s have the option for this to be anywhere between 2 years and life. This will only affect new tenancies and does not apply to either:

  • present tenants, or
  • tenants who move from a secure tenancy to a new social rented home.

Tenant can stop a flexible tenancy with 4 weeks notice. Landlord needs to give 6 months notice if they are not renewing flexible tenancy and tenants can ask for a review of this decision, from the landlord, within 21 days of the notice. Landlord also have to give 2 months notice of the date they want the property back.

Local authorities CANNOT bring in flexible tenancies until they have produced and agreed something called a “tenancy strategy”. It must submit its draft tenancy strategy to “every private registered provider of social housing within its district” for comments.

Every local authority MUST have their tenancy strategy in place by April 2013 at the very latest. Haringey have not yet produced a draft strategy although I understand Brent have recently produced theirs and are one of the first boroughs to do so.

Haringey Council said it did not intend to bring in flexible tenancies because it was worried about the cost and the damage to communities. But, until we see their draft “tenancy strategy” they could easily change their minds.

It seems local authorities can amend their tenancy strategy at any time, but again have to inform the same group of people as above, and produce a draft of this before it becomes the new strategy. There are similar rules being drawn up for “Registered Social Landlords” but that’s beyond this session.

From Monday 2 April 2012 councils can grant new style ‘flexible’ secure tenancies, assuming they have adopted a tenancy strategy dealing with such tenancies. At the moment Haringey haven’t got a tenancy strategy in place.

Useful websites:

The Localism Act 2011. This is heavy reading but is the actual act word for word.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/20/contents/enacted

 Local Government Association’s take on the Localism Act 2011 . This gives a broad view on all aspects of the Act. Their views on the housing provisions are detailed below as appendix 1 http://www.local.gov.uk/localism-act

 This is an interesting take on the Localism Act (housing element) from solicitors who advise local authorities: http://www.dmhstallard.com/site/publications/legalnews/Localism_Act_2011_the_Housing_provisions.html

Appendix 1

The housing provisions

There are a large number of changes to housing outlined in the final Localism Act. They include:

Allocations

- Allocation of housing will only be given to eligible persons, with the Local Authority deciding who qualifies. The Secretary of State has the power to prescribe classes of people who are eligible or ineligible

Homelessness duty

- Local authorities can discharge their duty to persons with priority need who are not intentionally homeless into the private rented sector, whereas previously an applicant could refuse the private rented sector and wait in temporary accommodation for a social home.

Tenure and tenancy strategies

- Tenure will be provided for a minimum of two years (although only below five years if there are exceptional circumstances) as opposed to previous lifetime tenancies. There will be no automatic succession rights except for spouses or partners. Beyond this, councils will have flexibility to develop tenancy agreements to meet local need.

- Every local housing authority has a duty to produce a tenancy strategy and for registered providers of social housing to have regard to this.

Housing finance

- The Bill abolishes the housing revenue account (HRA) and sets out how councils can become self financed. The Bill enables the Secretary of State to retain a proportion of Right to Buy receipts, and provides the power to change the settlement payment in the future and to determine how much housing debt a local authority is allowed to take on.

Regulation of social housing

- The Localism Act reforms the way that social housing is regulated with the functions of the current regulator, the Tenant Services Authority (TSA) being transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) via a regulatory committee. The regulator will set a standard for all local landlords.

Democratic filter and Housing Ombudsman

- To enable greater consistency across the housing sector in handling complaints; the functions of the Local Government Ombudsman will be transferred to the Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS). The remit of the HOS will be extended to cover the tenants of local authority housing as well as those of Housing Association Registered Providers (HARPs).

- Tenants can access the Housing Ombudsman through a local councillor or MP or directly if they want their privacy protected – though they do have to wait eight weeks. Where their MP, Councillor or Tenant Panel reject the complaint or refuse to take it to the Ombudsman then the tenant can refer it directly.

Appendix 2

Immigration & Asylum

I would need somebody who knows more about housing and immigration rules to look at this section, but the Localism Act seems to state that councils can’t allocate housing to “people from abroad”. See below:

(2) A person subject to immigration control within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 is ineligible for an allocation of housing accommodation by a local housing authority in England unless he is of a class prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(3) No person who is excluded from entitlement to housing benefit by section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (exclusion from benefits) shall be included in any class prescribed under subsection (2).

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe other classes of persons from abroad who are ineligible to be allocated housing accommodation by local housing authorities in England


Appendix 3

Allocation of housing

See article with these notes.

May 3, 2012  Tags:   Posted in: INFORMATION