There is a maelstrom going on out there! Well the world of professional housing staff are certainly in a whilrling dervish – although when I take the temperature outside of the bubble – we do seem to be operating in a micro climate – and this is concerning.
I am, of course, talking about the looming Right to Buy deadline – and my number one concern is its impact both on those current tenants of sheltered and supported housing, and those who may need to access the stock in the future. The big news in the voluntary deal is the portable discount, and how this provides an opportunity for housing associations to still meet their obligation to all tenants to have access to right to buy, but at the same time use their board’s discretion to retain supported and sheltered housing stock.
However, this is all presupposing they feel able to in the light of the challenges they face.
Sitra and others have been continuing our discussions with our members about the impact of the 1% rent reduction, and how this will affect both future developments, and current provision (please see previous blog for details). The message has been that supported housing, whether or not the service charge is included in the -1%, will be significantly hit by the rent reduction, and this will raise questions about long term viability on a scheme by scheme basis. We also know that there is currently no exemption from the rent reduction (or for that matter for the right to buy) for supported housing (unless you fall into the very narrow definition of specialist supported housing) and therefore as things stand, the provision of supported housing is already precarious. My worry is that there will be housing associations out there who have to make some very difficult decisions, when the right to buy is requested, to let go of some of their precious sheltered and supported stock.
Today, I head off to speak to a conference about how the Care Act 2014 applies to sheltered housing. I will be taking the temperature of the housing association members there to see how they feel it is likely to affect their stock. The current Right to Buy scheme, as it applies to local authority stock, is clear the exceptions a landlord is likely to consider (https://righttobuy.communities.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Your-Right-to-Buy-Your-Home-A-Guide-July-2014.pdf), and sheltered and purpose built supported is part of that. However, my reading of the voluntary offer is that any exceptions will be at the discretion of each and every board, and whilst directed to this exemption, there is no requirement for them to apply it. It is imperative on housing associations board members that when they are making the decision about how to vote on Right to Buy, they consider and discuss how they might structure any future decision making around discretions in a way that explicitly protects the long term future of supported and sheltered housing. Without this discussion, the very stock that we are reliant on to meet future requirements might be under threat.