Headlines: March 20th, 2003

The transfer of council housing stocks from local authorities to registered social landlords has largely delivered the expected benefits to tenants according to Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office. In a report to Parliament he highlights improvements in the condition of transferred housing and the quality of services to tenants but also points to ways in which the transfer programme could be improved.The report says that around 72 per cent of homes transferred to registered social landlords (RSLs) have been improved. Almost all repairs had been made on time, and promises on housing services have been met. Most of the new landlords have kept rent increases within guideline figures as well as meeting their commitments to tenant participation.

Sir John says, too, that most RSLs have established sound finances and are in a good position to continue delivering benefits to tenants. A small proportion, though, experienced financial difficulties and a very few have had to merge with other more viable organisations to overcome significant financial problems.

The NAO report also suggests a number of ways in which the transfer process could be improved. It is recommending the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to continue to increase the range of choice of landlord, to satisfy itself that local authorities have properly assessed all options for improving their housing and services to tenants and to allow greater flexibility in determining the transfer price. It also calls for a review of the finances of a sample of social landlords to assess whether transfer assumptions have been realistic.

The report says that as the transfer process is unlikely to be financially neutral the ODPM should try to influence the use by RSLs of any additional surpluses in areas such as social housing development, other stock transfers or schemes to develop sustainable communities, like homes for key workers.