Back in March, Red Brick had a good moan about the government’s draft allocations guidance, which was intended to help councils get to grips with the changes brought in by the Localism Act. The government clearly decided afterwards that consulting about allocations policy was a mistake, since not only did it take little notice of criticisms but the final guidance issued last week has left out almost all the advice to councils to consult stakeholders and residents about any changes they plan to make in their local schemes.
Given the controversy that often surrounds issues about who gets houses and why, this seems extraordinary, and I imagine most councils will still consult widely. Of course, the government might be tipping a wink to authorities that want to have much more restrictive allocations schemes that they can also go ahead without paying much attention to any criticisms.
One authority that is planning such a restrictive scheme is Red Brick’s old favourite Hammersmith and Fulham, though to be scrupulously fair (as always) we should point out that their proposals are up for consultation. Like the government, H&F are making great play of how in future they will be much more generous to ex-service personnel, and indeed this is one of the few aspects of the final DCLG guidance which is actually longer than the draft version. But as the DCLG’s summary of responses shows, a lot of authorities already give extra priority to former armed forces people and in fact the last government issued specific guidance on doing so in April 2009. One suspects this is all about being holier than thou and is very little about any practical improvement in the chances of ex-service personnel getting social housing.
It is also about hiding the nasty side of the new changes. Despite criticisms, for example by Garden Court Chambers, there is no extra advice for councils about how to exercise their new powers to decide for themselves who can apply for housing in the first place. So we find that in Hammersmith and Fulham’s press release welcoming the guidance, two-thirds is about the armed forces issue and only at the bottom is there a reminder that they plan to exclude from their waiting list applicants who earn more than £40,200.
Last week’s guidance says no more about this issue than did the draft. In fact it says less, as the reminder to follow equal opportunities policies has been taken out. Given the significance of new powers such as this and the future ability of authorities (H&F take another bow) to issue only fixed-term tenancies, the limited coverage of them is staggering. The same goes for the recommended priority for ‘hard working’ households or people who are ‘contributing’ to their community, where nothing has been added to say how these might be defined. One suspects that the minister was happy to say as little as possible and civil servants were happy not to set themselves any traps. The Nearly Legal blog, which looks at various snags and wrinkles in the latest document, says that authorities would do well to ‘tread carefully’ on these issues and I’m sure that’s correct.
In fact the main difference between the final guidance and the draft is that it is now down to 46 pages rather than 64. However, Mr Shapps might not like to be reminded that the equivalent publication from his predecessor, John Healey, which is still available on the DCLG website as ‘new guidance’, came in at only 30 pages, despite having a whole section on consulting people about allocations schemes locally. One important reason for this is that John Healey’s document said almost nothing about immigration, whereas Grant Shapps devotes 17 pages to the issue. Ironically, he could have saved most of this space, since all the detail (and much more) is already available from a well-used website which his department helped establish.
P.S. A wonderful typo in the ministerial Foreword has Mr Shapps promising to lever in less than £20 of new housing investment. Even Red Brick didn’t think things were that bad.
In Shapps own words…….
That is why we have taken decisive steps to tackle this problem, including an affordable homes programme set to exceed expectations and deliver up to 170,000 new homes and lever in £19.5 of new investment…