The Localism Act

01 Jan 2012

The Localism Act became law at the end of last year and gives tenants and community groups new powers.

  • The Community Right to Challenge

    This enables voluntary or community bodies to express an interest in providing or assisting to provide a service. If the challenge is accepted the group or body may tender for the service in line with European regs along with other qualifying bidders. However it is not a right to provide services. (In addition the Government are looking at the idea of greater involvement by social and community enterprises in delivering services. If this becomes law public bodies will be required to recognise social and community value when tendering.) It is unlikely though that community groups will easily be able to take over service contracts, but it may mean Councils and other public bodies will seriously reconsider how services are to be delivered.
  • The Community Right to Buy

    This requires Councils to keep a register of land and buildings that are assets of community value. This register will include public and privately owned properties. Once on the register owners cannot sell the property or land for a set period, unless the owner has first considered any bids from a community interest group. There will be provision for owners to be compensated.

  • The Community Right to Build

    This gives neighbourhoods powers to vote to give planning permission for developments in their area. It also enables them to draw up their own neighbourhood plans.
  • The Localism Act also allows Councils:
  • More power to manage Council housing waiting lists
  • To create new flexible tenancies. These tenancies will be offered for a period of time which could be as little as 5 years and it will end life time tenancies for some tenants. The landlord will still require a court order to evict and will need to give 6 months notice that they will not renew the tenancy at the end of the fixed term period. It must be noted that existing tenants will retain their present security even if they should transfer to a different property. Housing Associations will be able to create similar short term tenancies but they will be called assured shorthold tenancies.
  • To abolish housing revenue accounts
  • To introduce new free standing business plans for Council housing.

The Act also abolishes the Tenant Services Authority and transfers the powers to the Homes and Communities Agency.

Furthermore the Act changes the way in which housing complaints are dealt with. This will mean tenants with complaints against their social landlord may take their complaints, if not satisfied with the landlord’s response, to a MP, councillor or tenant panel for consideration.  Any of these may then refer the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman Service. However setting up tenant panels to consider complaints (and other matters) will not be compulsory.  An individual tenant may still complain direct to the ombudsman.

The housing standards framework will still continue and the Home and Communities Agency will have enforcement over landlords, but the Regulator can only apply powers in relation to standards of service provided to tenants if there is a risk of ‘serious detriment’ to tenants.

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