New Charter Housing Trust Group is backing a campaign to protect locally driven community work, run by housing associations, from interference by central government.
Group Chief Executive Ian Munro has written to local MPs warning of the dangers contained in the Housing Bill, currently going through Parliament. He believes the Bill represents the
“greatest threat ever” to the ability of housing associations to ensure neighbourhood schemes are driven by local need, not central direction.
His fears arise from proposals in the Bill to give Ministers the right to regulate associations’ neighbourhood work paid for out of their own money. Various innovative local schemes, such as
the ‘Dreamscheme’ which harnesses the energy of local young people, could be scrapped as associations inevitably feel compelled to work on the subject areas the Government says are
Ian Munro has also warned the Bill may hit the ability of Group members New Charter and Aksa to build as many affordable homes as currently expected by Gordon Brown.
During the past two decades, housing associations have raised more than £35bn of private finance to spend on new and existing homes, as well as the £30bn that ministers have invested in
However, this successful funding model is now at risk. The degree of central control in the Bill is so great that housing associations could be reclassified as public bodies by the Office for
National Statistics, when it compiles the Government’s accounts.
This would mean they would no longer be able to lever in billions of pounds of private money to match public subsidy, as the borrowing would show up on the public debt. In turn, there would be less
money to spend on building new affordable homes.
In a letter to local MPs, Ian Munro says: “While we support the Government’s new emphasis on housing, we believe the Housing Bill contains some key threats that could lead to fewer homes
being built and locally driven community work being scrapped.
“As it stands, the Bill sets out a big increase in government control of housing associations.
“Communities Secretary Hazel Blears would have unprecedented power to compel housing associations to carry out government policy unrelated to housing, through a new regulator. In addition,
Ministers would be able to impose regulation on community services provided by housing associations themselves, paid for out of their own money.”
New Charter is backing a national campaign run by the National Housing Federation to try to persuade the Government to amend the Bill before it is too late.