HC Deb 17 September 2003 vol 410 cc739-43W
Bob Russell

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many of the proposed new dwellings in the Thames Gateway area he estimates will be council houses. [129309]

Keith Hill

Provision of affordable housing to meet the needs of Gateway communities and secure sustainable and balanced growth, is an important element of the Gateway strategy. Decisions on central Government funding to support this, which will be allocated through the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme (ADP), will be made by Ministers of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in the light of recommendations from the East of England, London and South-East Regional Housing Boards. ADP funding is not available for local authorities but they can provide housing through their own capital programme where this a priority and represents good value for money.

Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what conclusions have been drawn from the effectiveness of differing schemes to aid key workers onto the housing ladder. [130041]

Keith Hill

Around 4,100 key workers have so far been helped under the Starter Home Initiative to buy homes they would otherwise have been unable to afford. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister receives regular monitoring data from the Housing Corporation on activity under the Starter Home Initiative and, in addition, will be commissioning an evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme. This study is expected to start towards the end of the year and will report during 2004.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is currently discussing with key worker sponsor departments how key worker housing assistance can best be targeted in future to meet recruitment and retention needs. These discussions include the type of properties and tenure required and take into account views expressed by employers, key workers and others about the operation of the Starter Home Initiative, and also key worker housing preferences. Regional Housing Boards are also advising on the allocation of funding for key worker schemes in their areas. Bids for key worker housing schemes will be invited in the Autumn.

Mr. Drew

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what research his Department has(a) undertaken and (b) sponsored into the effectiveness of those local authorities that have transferred their housing stock through large-scale voluntary transfer. [130521]

Keith Hill

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has funded two studies which explore issues connected with the local authority role after the stock has transferred. They are (i) "Large Scale Voluntary Transfers: Staff impacts and implications" published in August 2003 which explores the impact of the transfer programme on employees in both the local authority and the registered social landlord sectors and considers the role of staff who remain in the local authority post transfer. (ii) "Housing Functions and stock transfer" will be published in late 2003 which will set out the key issues that housing authorities need to consider when deciding whether to retain or contract out the delivery of their statutory housing functions.

The Audit Commission Housing Inspectorate is responsible for inspecting and reporting on local authority housing services, including those retained when stock is transferred. The Office contributed to the Audit Commission report "Housing After Transfer— The Local Authority Role" which was published in December 2002 and which drew upon previous housing inspection reports.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) if he will ensure the arguments for and against a large scale voluntary transfer of council housing are made available to tenants in advance of their ballot; [130526]

(2) if he will take steps to ensure that councils opting for large-scale voluntary transfers provide equal (a) financial assistance to the parties involved and (b) opportunity for them to distribute campaign material to all tenants. [130628]

Keith Hill

The "Delivering Decent Homes Option Appraisal—Guidance for Local Authorities" published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in June this year sets out how tenants should be central to the appraisal of options for delivering decent social housing within their authority. Where the choice emerging from the option appraisal is to pursue housing transfer, we then expect authorities to further explain the transfer proposals to tenants and to provide them with the facts surrounding housing transfer in accordance with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. The code allows authorities to refute any misleading arguments put to tenants by those opposed to transfer.

To enable tenants to make an informed choice the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister expects accurate information on the housing association sector to be provided to them by authorities and Independent Tenants' Advisors. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would also expect the individual housing associations working with tenants with a view to becoming their new landlord to provide tenants with accurate information on their policies and operations.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will ask the Housing Corporation to report on the performance of housing associations taking over council housing stock in respect of(a) promised improvements, (b) rent and service charge increases, particularly after the five year moratorium and (c) evictions. [130527]

Keith Hill

The information is as follows:

(a)Promised improvements: The National Audit Office (NAO) carried out a study in 2002, "Improving Social Housing Through Transfer". This showed that transfer associations had met their promises to improve houses, or were on schedule to do so. The Housing Corporation has a role in monitoring the performance of all registered associations to ensure that they meet the Government's Decent Homes Standard by 2010.

(b)Rent and service charge increases: The Housing Corporation collects details of average rents and service charges for all registered social landlords. These are published annually in a sector study. For the last three years for which data are available, the increase for all whole stock transfers are:

2000 4.4
2001 2.9
2002 4.8

It is possible to analyse the increase for each association post transfer guarantees, and I will write with further details to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby.

(c)Evictions: The number of evictions for all large scale voluntary transfer landlords recorded by the Corporation's Continuous Recording of Lettings (CORE) survey over the last three years is:

2000–01 1,640
2001–02 2,095
2002–03 2,664

Unpublished research commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister shows that evictions as a percentage of stock for all housing associations and local authorities is:

Housing association Local authority
2001–02 0.63 0.63
2002–03 0.64 0.65

The number of evictions as a percentage of stock transferred is less than half of 1 per cent.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 18 June 2003,Official Report, column 341, to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), on council housing, what proposals he has to provide adequate funding for those council tenants who wish to stay with local authorities after tenants' ballots on council housing transfers. [130624]

Keith Hill

Some local authorities will be able to meet the decent homes target using mainstream housing funds and their own resources, e.g. capital receipts, particularly since mainstream housing funds have been increased since the Government came to Office.

However, alternative options have been provided. The Sustainable Communities Plan made it clear that local authorities seeking additional investment in their housing stock are able to choose from three options; set up a high performing Arm's Length Housing Management Organisation (ALMO); pursue a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme; and stock transfer. Only stock transfer results in a change of ownership of the stock.

The Sustainable Communities Plan also made it clear that authorities that do not pursue any of the three alternative options cannot expect increased investment above that provided for in the Housing Investment Programme.

The option appraisal process is designed to ensure that tenants are at the heart of the decisions about the future management of their homes. This process should make a negative vote on the chosen option less likely. However, in the event of a negative ballot the local authority and the tenants will need to revisit the options that will deliver decent homes by 2010.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister by when local authorities were required to submit their proposals on the future of their council housing stock; and what proposals he has for encouraging early applications. [130626]

Keith Hill

As announced in the Sustainable Communities Plan all authorities with housing stock have to produce objective and rigorous option appraisals for Government sign-off by July 2005.

To ensure that we reach the 2010 target Government Offices for the Regions and the Community Housing Task Force are working with individual local authorities on creating an action plan that will ensure that all local authorities have an option appraisal signed off as soon as possible.

Local authorities wishing to take advantage of future Arm's Length Housing Management Organisation (ALMO), stock transfer or Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes will not be granted a place on a programme unless their option appraisal has been signed off by the relevant Government Office.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many local authorities have submitted proposals on bringing their council housing stock up to the decent homes standard; how many have chosen between the Government's three options of large-scale voluntary transfer, private finance initiative and arms length management organisation; and how many have not yet notified their intentions. [130627]

Keith Hill

The Sustainable Communities Plan made it clear that all stock owning local authorities must undertake a formal options appraisal process for Government sign-off by July 2005. Guidance on the process was issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in June 2003. No options appraisals have yet been signed off.

However since April 2001, when there were 246 local authorities that owned housing stock, the following schemes have been put in place: 22 local authorities have transferred all of their stock to a registered social landlord. Seven have undertaken partial transfers, 18 local authorities are on the 2002 and 2003 programmes for whole stock transfer pending a ballot Seven more are proposing partial transfers pending a ballot 34 local authorities have secured places on the Arm's Length Management Organisation (ALMO) programme, 12 of which have already set up their ALMO and secured additional funding after gaining a 2* or 3* rating from the Housing Inspectorate. Nine local authorities have been given permission to let Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts for the management of some of their housing stock. Two of these contracts have now been signed.

In total 74 local authorities are on programmes which account for the whole of their stock. That leaves 172 local authorities that have yet to formally agree an approach.