Date: 16th February 2010
By: Brendan Ryan, Director of Community Services,
Summary: The Council is working with the neighbouring councils to establish an organisation to jointly manage council housing in East Kent. The Council has a legal obligation to consult tenants on such a proposal. Before the Council can make a formal decision to delegate its housing functions to the new organisation, it is required to seek the approval of the Secretary of State. In approving such a proposal the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied that tenants have been consulted and broadly support this proposal. Scrutiny has suggested that a ballot of all tenants is the only way to ascertain the true views of tenants. This paper sets out the limitations of running a ballot and suggests alternative proposals for consulting tenants and seeking their views. This paper is intended as a supplement to the substantive paper on shared landlord service already provided to members
Details of the proposals for the joint management of council housing in East Kent are set out in the papers attached to the Council agenda.
In order to proceed with this project it is important that tenants are fully consulted and have an opportunity to express their views about setting up an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) to manage their homes. The Secretary of State must approve any such arrangement, although this decision is likely to be transferred to the regulator, the Tenants Services Authority (TSA) in the near future.
In considering any application to delegate the management of the housing services to another organisation, the Secretary of State or TSA will require the local authority to demonstrate that:
There is no requirement for councils to undertake a ballot on proposals such as this and a majority of councils do not. More sophisticated methods can be used to test tenants’ views, linked more closely with the consultation process. A ballot is a statutory requirement where councils are proposing to transfer their housing to a housing association, as this means a change of landlord and a different type of tenancy. No change to the ownership of our council housing or to the status of our tenants as tenants of Thanet District Council is being advocated in this proposition.
The East Kent Scrutiny Committee considered the proposal for a shared housing service and recommended that tenants should be balloted on the proposal. The East Kent Joint Arrangements Committee (EKJAC) considered scrutiny’s recommendation and chose not to adopt it in the recommendations made to the four individual Councils. Thanet’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel considered the EKJAC recommendation recently and reinstated the recommendation for a ballot of all council tenants in Thanet. This paper sets out proposals for consulting tenants and assessing their support or otherwise for the proposal.
2. What is being proposed – consultation programme
Initial consultations have taken place with tenant representatives from across all four districts. An Independent Tenants’ Advisor (ITA) has been appointed to support tenants in this process. This group has worked closely with officers from the four councils to develop a programme of consultation through which the proposals can be taken to all 16,000 tenants and leaseholders in East Kent. Built into this programme are various ways of seeking tenants’ views and testing their support or otherwise throughout the process. This is important as it allows the councils to adapt the proposals to respond to what tenants are telling us and it allows for any misconceptions to be challenged.
In developing this programme, we have been able to draw on the experiences of other councils that have consulted their tenants about setting up an ALMO. We have looked closely at the methods used by other councils to ascertain tenants’ views and support for the proposition. We have also taken advice from officials in Communities and Local Government
A meeting with tenant representatives was scheduled for 11th February to sign off the consultation programme, although this had to be postponed because of the bad weather. The outline programme is appended to this report. Consultation with tenant representatives has been limited so far to the outline proposals and more importantly the format and nature of the wider consultation programme.
3. What is being proposed – Test of opinion
An important part of the consultation process is to assess how tenants feel about the proposals. When tenants were last consulted about the future ownership and management of the housing service in 2005, a Test of Opinion survey was carried out by the ITA. This survey was used to inform the council’s decision to retain ownership of its council housing and the existing management arrangements.
We are looking to improve on these arrangements this time around by conducting surveys at six different points in the consultation programme. Details of these are set out in the appended consultation programme. An independent organisation will be engaged to conduct some of these surveys. Surveys have an advantage over ballots in that they can better test tenants understanding of various aspects of what is being proposed. It will also provide an opportunity for tenants to advice us of what aspects of the service they would like to improve and of any concerns they have about what is planned.
As well as conducting independent surveys, it is usual in such projects for the ITA, who is appointed by the tenants and is totally independent of the councils, to provide a report on the consultation process and provide an assessment of how tenants feel about the proposal. We expect the ITA to provide such a report in this project and for this to be part of the final submission to the Secretary of State.
Any questions to be asked in surveys and test of opinions will be agreed with tenants and their advisors. The scrutiny sub committee has also agreed to continue to meet to track the consultation process.
What is being proposed covers a wide range of survey methods that offers choice to tenants about the ways they can express their views. E.g. Face to face at road shows and meetings, postal surveys, telephone contacts. This provides greater opportunities to involve and hear the views from hard to reach groups and from other tenants who are reluctant to get involved or express their views.
Tenant representatives that have been involved in the process so far, are concerned about the responsibilities that they have in making a decision of this magnitude that will affect so many tenants in East Kent. For this reason, some see the need to have a ballot as a means of ensuring that it is a collective decision of all tenants. However, it was never envisaged that tenant representatives should shoulder such responsibilities and the consultation programme has been designed to ensure that as many tenants as possible are made aware of what is being proposed and have the opportunity to influence the decision of the council.
4. Why a ballot won’t work
The proposal to establish an East Kent ALMO is complex and it is important that tenants are properly consulted so that they can make an informed decision. By linking the test of opinion to the consultation process, we are able to check understanding of different aspects of the proposal and identify which elements of the proposal tenants support or don’t support. It also allows tenants to identify how they want their service improved.
A ballot is a very blunt instrument for assessing tenants’ views on a complex proposal such as this. Without fully understanding the issues, tenants will potentially opt for the status quo because of unfounded fears that their security of tenure or rights will be affected.
Weaknesses of the ballot approach includes:
While understanding members’ concerns about what tenants think about the proposed East Kent ALMO, for the reasons outlined above, it is suggested that a ballot is not the best method and there is potential for a ballot to be hijacked by external pressure groups opposed to changing the way in which council housing is managed and run. The complexity of this project require a more comprehensive programme of consultation and more sophisticated and thorough ways of testing tenants views.
5.1 Members are asked to endorse the consultation programme that has been developed in conjunction with tenants’ representatives from all four councils.
5.2 Members are recommended to reject the recommendation of the Overview and Scrutiny Panel to hold a ballot of tenants in Thanet.
6. Background papers
Annex One: East Kent Shared Housing Services proposed consultation framework
Director of Community Services