13 March, 2008
Ever since its conception, the proposed bill has faced stiff criticism from housing associations with regard to sections which would allow the government to effectively veto the decisions of respective association boards.
However, Communities and Local Government (CLG) officials have signaled to the National Housing Federation that ministers are to reconsider this provision and suspect that the powers could be restricted accordingly.
Rather than a wide sweeping authority to overrule association boards, changes could be made that would see a caveat imposed on the government, permitting them to invoke this right only in respect of rent-setting, maintenance and tenant involvement.
In short, these three areas represent the core regulatory functions where the secretary of state will have the authority to intervene.
However a further rewrite has raised concerns from the federation who have expressed worries as to whether the government will demand any further statutory powers.
Another section of the Bill that has been met with disdain from commentators in the housing sector relates to the establishment of a new regulator 'Oftenant', conceived to police housing associations' neighbourhood activities and monitor their role as landlords. It is suspected that this too may be watered-down.
The federation has been at the forefront of the lobbyist movement trying to force the hand of the government into reconsidering these potentially explosive sections of the Bill. It is felt that the bill in its current format would foreshadow a loss of independence for housing associations as well as bestowing less favourable treatment upon them, compared with private developers.
Those hoping for an immediate response to the lobbying may have to wait a little longer. The committee stage ended on 31 January 2008 and since then there has been no update from the CLG and no approval sought from either the government or parliament.
However, although no amendments have been guaranteed, many insiders feel that, in order for progress to be made, the government will have to grant concessions to break the giant wave of fierce criticism directed from housing associations.
In the mean time it can be expected that pressure from the housing sector will continue unabated.