Is there such thing as a housing association law?

The variety and scale of housing associations and their constantly changing relationship with government, both national and local, has generated a substantial body of law.

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The law shifts and changes and sometimes takes a U Turn, for example by the recent reinstatement of a stand-alone regulator almost turning back time to Tenant Services Authority days.

A common element in the evolution of housing association law is the underlying tensions between three dynamics, namely the private law nature of commercial relationships, the developing public law nature of social housing and to a lesser extent the charitable and voluntary nature of the sector from a historical roots perspective, for example the community benefit or trust origins sector elements, steeped in Victorian legal principles.

The nearest we have to a body of housing association law derives from regulation of the sector.

The genesis of regulation, admittedly relatively tentative at that time, started with the Housing Act 1964 and the creation of the Housing Corporation.

Regulation though really took hold a decade later with the Housing Act 1974 when grants were introduced to supporting the building and renovation of housing, effectively outlawing professionals on the boards of housing associations gaining personal benefits (now repealed in England the provisions in Schedule 1 of the Housing and Planning Act 1996 is still in force in Wales for Registered Social Landlords).

Regulation has been further developed extensively by the Homes and Communities Agency and now the Regulator of Social Housing, through a plethora of regulatory “standards” and “guidance” backed by powers of intervention and punishment.

Alongside this regulatory roll out is another key factor (which flows from the gradual capture by the state of what was once an entirely independent sector), the growing body of public law relating to judicial review and human rights.

Housing Associations: A Legal Handbook, just published by Legal Action Group representing the fifth edition of Housing Association Law first published back in 1987 and written by myself and Professor John Alder attempts to draw out the key areas of housing association law for the practitioner, whether lawyer or layperson.

It also highlights key issues such as: austerity, changing rents policy and control, the impact of benefit reform, the public law/private law developments, dilemmas and contradictions, the evolution of regulation and current regulatory tensions and factors, the deepening housing crisis, the stigma attached to social housing, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and housing standards, the green paper and potential impacts of Brexit.

There is extensive discussion of legal forms, governance and regulation, tenancy intricacies, housing allocations and management, supported housing and safeguarding, funding, taxation treatments, mergers, acquisitions and group structures.

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