Shadow housing minister John Healey urges extension to timetable on housing association right to buy plans

He's written to the Charity Commisison and other regulators, asking them to answer questions on the new government policy

John Healey
John Healey

The shadow housing minister, John Healey, has called on the Charity Commission and other regulators to give housing associations more time to consider the impact of extending the right-to-buy scheme to their tenants.

Healey wrote to the commission, as well as the Homes and Communities Agency and the National Audit Office, yesterday after housing associations were told they had six working days to vote on whether they would accept proposals for an amended version of the proposals, with the deadline tomorrow.

In the letter, addressed to Paula Sussex, chief executive of the commission, Healey described the housing associations’ decision as "one of the biggest changes their organisations have ever faced".

The government announced plans to include housing associations in the right-to-buy scheme in the Queen’s Speech in May. Under the plans, housing associations, most of which are exempt charities regulated by the Homes and Communities Agency, would be forced to sell off high-value properties to long-term tenants at a discount.

The umbrella body the National Housing Federation described the plans in April as requiring a "fundamental rewriting of the agreement between government and civil society".

The NHF said earlier this week that it had been drawing up proposals to make the scheme voluntary and to ensure housing associations received the full market value for the properties, with the government paying for the shortfall, something it has indicated it would be prepared to do.

In the letter, Healey said that despite this the short time available to NHF members to review the proposals raised a number of questions concerning the commission.

These, he said, included "whether these plans for the sale of charities’ affordable housing are consistent with the charitable housing bodies, whether charities should be forced to come to a view on the disposal of their assets in such a short time and what assessment you have made about whether these plans would be legal under current charity law given that they propose the state directs the sale of charity assets to non-charitable third parties".

He said the commission might have to consider whether the proposals would affect whether housing associations could still be considered to be delivering public benefit.

He said: "I ask that you confirm publicly before Friday how any decision to sign up to the voluntary deal in these circumstances will be judged by the Charity Commission.

"If you are unable to do this, then I urge you to ask the government and the housing association sector to ensure that the timetable is extended so that any decisions on this agreement can be properly considered by those you regulate."

A spokesman for the Charity Commission confirmed the letter had been received and that that commission would be responding, but could not say when.

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