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Housing Rights responds on ONS reclassification of housing associations

Housing Rights has responded to the Department for Communities’ proposals to reverse the ONS reclassification of housing associations in Northern Ireland.

ONS reclassification

In September of last year, the Office for National Statistics announced that housing associations in Northern Ireland – along with those across the rest of the UK – would be reclassified as “public bodies.”

In practical terms, this would have two primary implications. Firstly, existing housing association debt of almost £1 billion would be added to NI Executive debt levels; this could significantly constrain associations’ ability to finance future developments. Secondly, housing associations gaining public status will mean that they could potentially be subject to a broader range of human rights law in exercising their duties, meaning there is greater scope for advisers to request judicial review of associations’ decisions or actions.

Department proposals to reverse reclassification

Last December, the Department for Communities released a paper detailing their proposals to reverse the ONS reclassification. As the ONS’s decision was based upon excessive public control of housing associations, the 13 proposals largely amend or repeal elements of existing legislation, to reduce public control of housing associations – with the aim of enabling them to remain private bodies, with the ability to access private finance and continue building homes.

Housing Rights’ response

Our response to the proposals focussed on 3 key issues:

  • Proposal A would introduce new regulation to safeguard the tenant and public interest in housing associations. Housing Rights would urge the Department, under this proposal, to ensure that any social housing Regulator is explicitly independent, separate from public policy responsibilities and located outside of Government. Such an independent Regulator would follow best practice in this field, as established in Scotland, and also contribute to the Department’s objective of ensuring that registered housing associations remain classified as private bodies.
  • Whilst acknowledging the particular focus on the time-frame for enacting these proposals, Housing Rights urges the Department to ensure that draft legislation enacting any proposals is subject to full consultation and scrutiny by relevant stakeholders.
  • Proposal M would repeal the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, or at a minimum make this scheme voluntary for individual housing associations. Housing Rights supports the full repeal of the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme.

Read our response in full.

Author

Stephen Orme