Defend council homes – FAQs
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- Why should we Defend Council Homes?
Because residents who live in them love them – we know this from lots of survey feedback. Also, because continuing access to council and other affordable homes is really important if ordinary people are going to be able to afford to live in boroughs like Hammersmith & Fulham in the future.
- What do we need to protect council homes from?
Not everyone has residents’ best interests at heart. Greedy developers, for instance, who might want to buy up the council’s housing land to build luxury apartments.
If there’s going to be any redevelopment, it shouldn’t result in the loss of affordable housing, so residents’ interests have to be protected from day one.
That’s why we need a policy that is clear and has teeth.
- What are the aims of the policy?
The policy has three main aims:
- To make sure residents are fully involved from the outset in any redevelopment proposals that are likely to significantly affect their homes.
- To commit the council to meet the most up-to-date standards of good practice when consulting residents about any redevelopment proposals and when carrying out any redevelopment that significantly affects residents’ homes.
- To give residents a ‘triple-lock’ of protections against the council failing to meet its commitments and obligations.
- What will the council be required to do under the policy?
Under the policy, the council must:
- Fully involve residents in any redevelopment proposal using the most up-to date standards of good practice. This means good communication and involvement throughout.
- Ensure that a residents’ steering group is set up for each redevelopment proposal.
- If a redevelopment proposal goes ahead, the council must provide every resident affected with full information at every stage, explaining what they can expect from the council.
- Provide residents with a formal mechanism for complaining to the council if they believe that the policy has not been complied with.
- What are the legal protections that support the policy?
The policy is reinforced by a ‘triple-lock’ of legal safeguards:
First, the council will make binding commitments to residents through a legal principle known as legitimate expectation. Residents can rely on this principle and take action against the council in the courts if the council is not following its own policy.
Second, the policy will require the council to register a legally binding restriction on title with the government’s Land Registry. This means it has to prove it has complied fully with the policy before any of its freehold housing and property can be sold as part of any redevelopment.
Third, there is an appeal mechanism built in for residents to use if they think the council isn't fully complying with the policy. If residents are not happy with the council’s first response, they will be able to make a compliance referral to the council's monitoring officer.
- What would trigger the policy?
Whenever there’s a realistic proposal to redevelop part of the council’s housing, the council MUST involve the residents affected in all the decisions.
- Does the policy cover developments outside housing land that the council owns?
No – the DCH policy won’t apply to any developments in the private or other areas surrounding your estates but it will apply to any development proposals on your estate that significantly affect local residents.
- Does the policy include commercial properties on estates?
No – commercial properties (for example, shops and small businesses) would not be covered by the policy.
- Does the policy cover empty buildings that are unsafe, empty, and non-habitable dwellings?
It would only do so if they were on the council’s housing land and there was a proposal to redevelop them. Then, if local residents would be affected by the redevelopment, the policy would apply.
- Does the policy cover estates where the council leases the land?
Yes, the policy applies. But one of the legal safeguards – the registration by the council of a Restriction on Title – would not apply if the council is only the leaseholder.
- Will the policy affect my Right to Buy?
No – the policy will not alter any of the rights you may have if you are a secure tenant, such as the right to buy your council home.
- Who would be on the residents’ steering group?
It could be you! The steering group will consist of local people who come forward through a process to be designed in consultation with residents. Members of the group will be expected to represent the interests of all residents.
- What does ‘consultation’ mean in practice?
The policy requires the council to use the most up to date good practice in consulting residents. While the nature and content of consultation will vary from scheme to scheme, residents can expect to have real involvement in all the important decisions.
- If you needed to move how many choices would you have?
This is the kind of issue on which the council would need to give you clear and firm undertakings under the policy. The details would depend on the nature of the scheme.
- What will happen to leaseholders’ service costs under the policy?
The policy itself has no impact on leaseholders’ service costs. But if there is a redevelopment that could affect leaseholders then the policy would require the council to explain the full implications for leaseholders including any financial implications.
- Does central government have a role to play in this policy?
This is a local government (council) policy that is specific to Hammersmith & Fulham. Central government is not involved in the policy’s development or implementation.
- What role does the council’s monitoring officer play?
Every council has to appoint a monitoring officer. It is a post defined by law within the council whose job it is, among other things, to report when the council is in danger of acting illegally.
The monitoring officer will therefore have to consider appeals and warn the council if it is in danger of not complying with its obligations under the policy.
- Does the policy give residents a basis to challenge the council through the courts?
The policy gives residents a basis to challenge the council in the courts where they think the policy has not been complied with. Residents may be eligible for legal aid to support them in challenging the council.
- What is the Defend Council Homes Unit?
The council set up the DCHU in 2017 to look at new ways of safeguarding the homes of council tenants and leaseholders and to make recommendations to the council.
- Who is involved in the DCHU?
It is a resident-led unit. Details about the three members of DCHU are on their website along with the brief the council gave to the unit.
- Who is consulting residents now?
H&F Council is consulting residents as their landlord and, subject to this consultation, it’s the council that will adopt and implement the DCH policy. The DCHU has only advised the council about the policy.
- Will the policy encourage the privatisation of estates?
No - the proposed Defend Council Homes policy is about protecting residents against unwelcome redevelopment – which would include proposals to ‘privatise’ estates.
- If another administration took over could they overturn the policy?
Under housing law, the council has to consult with its secure tenants about housing policies. It is built into the DCH policy that any variations to it (including its full revocation) can only be made following full and appropriate consultation with residents. So, a future administration would not be able to simply overturn the policy.
- Why is it so important to get a big response from residents to the consultation?
Because the more support residents give the policy during the consultation, the stronger the legal protections will be for residents in the future.
- Why isn’t the policy written in plain English?
The policy aims to create legal rights for residents that could be tested in the courts. Therefore, it has had to be written in a precise language using some legal terms.
But there are lots of supporting documents and videos that explain the policy in plainer language here.
- What are the timescales?
The policy goes out to consultation with residents in September 2020 and, subject to the response from residents, will be adopted by the council early in 2021.
Residents will benefit from the provisions of the policy immediately after its adoption by the council.
- My question still isn’t answered. How do I get more information on the Defend Council Homes policy?
The best place to start is to look at the resources on Commonplace such as the one-page summary, video, presentations. You can find links to these on [insert links or reference to them].
Online Q&A sessions are also taking place. To book your place, or ask us any other questions about the policy, please get in touch with us by either calling us on 0208 753 6652 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org