'Housing after transfer: the local authority role' says that local authorities still have an important housing role to play after their stock has been transferred to housing associations. More planning needs to be given to how councils meet their ongoing responsibilities, such as housing strategy and homelessness.
After transfer, councils should be prepared for changes in their relationships with other organisations. The new housing association will become the biggest provider of social housing and a major player locally. Councils need to take a more strategic approach to housing, and adjust to a new way of working in which housing providers can be influenced, but not directly controlled, by the council. Good partnership working and creative solutions are important to ensure that key services don't suffer. For example, councils still have responsibility for re-housing homeless people, and may need to negotiate with housing associations to do this.
Councillors' responsibilities also change. Local authorities usually nominate councillors to serve on the boards of the new housing associations, but this role is far from straightforward and there may be conflicts of interest. Councils should ensure they monitor the performance of housing providers, including the delivery of promises made to tenants at the time of transfer, and drive local improvement.
For transfer to be a success it needs careful planning and effective on-going management. Councils need to have a clear idea of what they want to achieve through the change. Housing problems vary in different parts of the country, and stock transfer has to be part of an overall strategy. For example, some councils have used stock transfer as part of a long term market renewal strategy. Having set up a housing association to run its rented homes, a council is able to concentrate on area-based regeneration, including private sector housing. In other areas, councils have used stock transfer as an opportunity to work more effectively with planning services to provide more affordable housing and more mixed-tenure developments.
Audit Commission controller Andrew Foster said:
'In the run-up to stock transfer, councils tend to invest a great deal of their energies in planning the new housing association and thinking about the council's ongoing housing role can often fall by the wayside. In fact, councils should view stock transfer as a beginning, not an end. With careful planning and clear priorities, councils can use this as an opportunity to tackle key local issues and have a major impact on people's quality of life in their communities.'
The National Audit Office will also be publishing a report on stock transfer, Improving social housing through transfers. The report will examine whether transfers have delivered the expected benefits locally and whether they provide value for money from a national perspective.
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