The Charity Commission and the National Housing Federation have opened discussions over fears that legislation designed to reduce regulation on charitable housing associations might actually increase it.
The NHF has also started talks with the Department for Communities and Local Government over its concerns about the Housing and Planning Bill, which will extend the right-to-buy scheme to housing association tenants and is currently going through parliament.
The bill will remove the requirement for housing associations to obtain consent from the housing regulator the Homes and Communities Agency to dispose of housing stock – but this could mean that those registered as charities are pushed into the commission’s regulation, making them subject to charity land disposal laws.
If this happens, housing associations would in some circumstances have to seek permission from the Charity Commission to sell property, or adhere to requirements in the Charities Act 2011, such as obtaining a surveyor’s report before selling land.
Many housing associations could experience a rise in the number of disposals when the act is implemented because the right-to-buy scheme would require them to sell properties to long-term tenants at discounts, with the government making up the shortfall between the price paid and the market value of the property.
In a briefing to its members, the NHF said: "The federation is concerned that this has the potential to increase the regulatory burden on affected organisations, delay the implementation of active asset management strategies and overwhelm the resources available to the Charity Commission."
It said the NHF would work with the commission, the HCA and the DCLG to find a way to protect charitable assets while ensuring charitable housing associations benefited from less regulation.
Clarissa Corbisiero-Peters, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, said: "We have begun constructive discussions with the Charity Commission as part of the wider discussions with the sector and a range of key partners on the implementation of the voluntary right-to-buy agreement. This has included a discussion concerning charity law compliance."
According to the HCA, this would affect about 600 housing associations in England.
A Charity Commission spokesman said it was not the case that every housing association sale would need commission permission.
He said: "Housing associations that are registered charities have always had to comply with the Charities Act framework regulating disposals of charity land; the way they do this will simply change."
He said many disposals could be self-certified under the law.
"Express permission is required only if self-certification is not possible, for example where greater clarity is needed that a disposal is beneficial to the charity and furthers its purposes or interests," he said.
"We are in discussion with the NHF to clarify the exact nature of its concerns."
The DCLG did not respond to requests for comment.
- This story was amended on 7 April 2016 to clarify that the Charity Commission was not discussing the matter with the DCLG.