Reforms to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally
Social housing allocations reform
Previously almost anyone could apply to live in social housing, whether they need it or not. As social housing is in great demand and priority is, rightly, given to those most in need, many applicants have no realistic prospect of ever receiving a social home. The previous arrangements encouraged false expectations and large waiting lists.
The Act gives local authorities greater freedom to set their own policies about who should qualify to go on the waiting list for social housing in their area. This means that they are now able, if they wish, to prevent people who have no need of social housing from joining the waiting list. Authorities are still obliged to ensure that social homes go to the most vulnerable in society and those who need it most.
Social housing tenure reform
Under the previous system social landlords were normally only able to grant lifetime tenancies. Sometimes this meant that people acquire a social home at a moment of crisis in their life, and continue to live there long after their need for it has passed. Meanwhile there are people waiting for a social home who face much more difficult circumstances.
The Government has protected the security and rights of existing social housing tenants, including when they move to another social rented home. However, provisions in the Localism Act allow for more flexible arrangements for people entering social housing in the future. Social landlords will now be able to grant tenancies for a fixed length of time.
Reform of homelessness legislation
People who experience a homelessness crisis need somewhere suitable to live. Councils have a duty to house people who are eligible, in priority need and unintentionally homeless; and this duty will remain in place. Central Government will also continue to fund support and advice to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping.
However, under the previous rules, people who became homeless were able to refuse offers of accommodation in the private rented sector, and insist that they should be housed in expensive temporary accommodation until a long- term social home becomes available. This meant that in some circumstances people in acute, but short-term housing need, acquired a social home for life, although they may not have needed one, while other people who needed a social home in the longer term were left waiting.
The Localism Act lets local authorities meet their homelessness duty by providing good quality private rented homes. This option could provide an appropriate solution for people experiencing a homelessness crisis, at the same time as freeing up social homes for people in real need on the waiting list.
Reform of council housing finance
The Localism Act changes the way social housing is funded to pass more power to a local level. Previously, local authorities collected rent from their social tenants and then sent the money to central government. Central government collected all the money raised this way into a single pot. Local authorities were then paid a sum out of the pot each year for the upkeep, renovation and repair of social homes.
Now, instead of having to send the money raised by rent to central government and wait to see each year what share they get allocated back, councils will be able to keep the rent and use it locally to maintain their social homes. This will give them a more predictable and stable basis to plan for the long term.
National home swap scheme
There are lots of reasons why people move house; to take up a new job, to be nearer to family members who need care, to give a young family more space to grow or to find a smaller, more manageable home in later life. Evidence suggests, however, that it is less straightforward for people who live in social housing to move than for other people.
The Localism Act paves the way for a national home swap scheme. This will enable people who would like to swap their social home to access details of all other tenants who may be a suitable match.
Reform of social housing regulation
The Act reforms the way that social housing is regulated. The Act provides social tenants with stronger tools to hold their landlords to account. Landlords will be expected to support tenant panels - or similar bodies - in order to give tenants the opportunity to carefully examine the services being offered. The Act also abolishes the Tenant Services Authority and transfers its remaining functions to the Homes and Communities Agency.
The Act also changes the way that complaints about social landlords are handled. Currently, there are two separate ombudsmen (the Local Government Ombudsman and the Independent Housing Ombudsman) handling social tenants' complaints about their landlord. In the future, a single watchdog (the Independent Housing Ombudsman) specialising in complaints about social housing will ensure greater consistency across the sector.