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Localism Bill – the Pickle Family Circus

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

The famous American Pickle Family Circus was known for its ‘Big Juggle’ that ended every performance in an intricate club passing pattern.  As the Localism Bill, published yesterdy, passes ‘powers’ (ie the blame for cuts) down to councils, ‘Pickles Big Juggle’ seems an appropriate metaphor.

For social housing and homelessness, the Bill had few real surprises as everything had been widely trailed or pre-announced.  We’ll pick up on specifics in later posts but here’s an initial reaction to the Social Housing Reform chapter of the Bill.

On allocations, councils will be able to decide who goes on waiting lists, which will no doubt lead to great claims in the future about ‘cutting waiting lists’.  We will be back to local manipulation of the list for political ends.  Transferring tenants will be moved outside the waiting list, but there is no evidence to support the claim that this will make it ‘easier for them to move’.        

On homelessness, its a nerve to call this reform rather than virtual repeal.  Come on Shelter, time to wake up to what is actually happening here!   And come on LibDems, the homelessness legislation was a Liberal private member’s Bill in the first place, something the Party has always been proud of  – time for you to speak up.  The government complains that 20% of social lettings go to homeless people ‘at the expense of other people in need on the housing waiting list’.  A miserable and ‘divide and rule’ justification for an extraordinarily backward step. 

The introduction of ‘flexible tenancies’ (insecure fixed term tenancies) which will gradually turn social housing into transit camp accommodation.  Some housing association chief executives really like this, so I am even more concerned.   

Reform of council housing finance is something I welcome but we still have to be careful about how much will be returned to the Treasury and how the detailed formulae will apply to different councils with stock.  Called a ‘key plank of localism’ but a previous Labour measure. 

The proposed Homeswap Scheme again is something to welcome as mobility arrangements need a boost.  Landlords will be required to participate in home swap schemes. 

‘Reform’ of the regulatory system and abolishing the Tenant Services Authority will, in some magical and as yet unexplained way, “put local people in control of driving up standards of social housing management and resolving most failings.”  Social tenants will receive ‘stronger tools to hold landlords to account’ but I’ll believe it when I see it.  The more likely explanation lies in the statement that ‘State intervention will be reduced’.  A positive change will be to end the system of two separate ombudsmen handling complaints, providing a common route for all social housing tenants.

In London, new powers for the Mayor will include full control over housing investment, a good step, and the devolution of more planning decisions to the boroughs.

Watch this space for more discussion of these issues over the coming few weeks.

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