The National CLT Network exists to protect the interests of its members. In recent years we’ve secured exemptions for CLTs from the 1% social rent cut and the voluntary right to buy.
We’ve lobbied for the multi-million-pound Community Housing Fund for years and championed its arrival. But, some stipulations of the Fund, particularly those around registered provider status, are causing concerns for CLTs. In this blog our Director, Tom Chance, confronts the issue head on, taking into account many of the anxieties groups are currently feeling.
No two words stir up CLTs quite as much as “registered provider”. [Cue your own choice of dramatic music here]
I can understand why many CLTs dislike the idea of registration with the Regulator for Social Housing, but it’s probably something we need to get used to. Homes England requires CLTs to become a Registered Provider (RP) to access capital grant for low rent homes. That’s a statutory requirement, and isn’t about to change. Only CLTs that partner with a housing association, or that just build homes to buy, can avoid it.
There’s a line of thought that CLTs should never take the Government’s shilling, that the CLT movement should try to remain independent. I get that. For some CLTs their mission is to take land out of the market and the political football, motivated by destructive policies like the right to buy. But I also want the CLT movement to go mainstream.
Our long-term aim is that most CLTs won’t need community housing funds and start up funds and the like, because CLTs would have the same access to finance and funding as any housing association or developer. There was an empty homes fund that didn’t require applicants to be an RP, but it only lasted for three years and wasn’t renewed, despite a lot of lobbying. I’d like Homes England to offer loans and grants that are flexible enough to be suitable for CLTs as a matter of course, and our sense is that Homes England might share that goal. To get there we will need to accept certain requirements like registration.
We don’t want to just assimilate with the housing associations, losing what makes CLTs special. But, to put it bluntly, if no compromises are made we will remain forever “small and special”. Only the most go-getting communities will have what it takes to set up a CLT without those grants. Surely that’s not what we really want. Don’t we want as many communities as possible to be able to start a CLT and build genuinely affordable homes?
Many CLTs are worried about exposing themselves to policies aimed at big housing associations. Registered providers had to cut their rents by 1% a year from 2015 to 2019, and had a “voluntary” right to buy deal imposed on them by government. Now the Social Housing Green Paper has proposed a raft of new measures. But so far we have successfully lobbied for exemptions and exceptions for CLTs. So long as we can sustain this Network, with the help (and fees!) of our members, we can continue this work to protect the movement.
Then there’s the more prosaic concern: registering is a complete pain! Volunteers have enough work to do liaising with the landowner, bank, builder, housing association, council and more. The registration process can take at least 6 months, and the regulator can appear deliberately unhelpful after it decided it shouldn’t “coach” applicants. Plus there’s the £2,500 fee (which we’re hoping to secure money to cover for you).
We’ve been talking to the regulator about this for years, with meetings in 2011, 2015 and again this July. There’s been some incremental progress. We will still press for a more fundamental shift, so the registration process is proportionate for a small community organisation with 10 or 30 homes.
But if it’s any comfort, most of what the regulator wants is just good practice that CLTs should be achieving anyway – good governance and good financial management. After Grenfell we should be embracing opportunities to show that CLTs can be really well run. So far nine CLTs have become Registered Providers. Once registered, the costs and admin are proportionate.
I’ve no doubt this number will rise as groups register to access Community Housing Fund capital grants. Perhaps in time we’ll follow the housing co-op sector. They’ve managed to remain outside the mainstream of social housing while being properly overseen by the regulator.
We’ll be responding to the social housing green paper to point out that CLTs are a brilliant way to give tenants a platform, reduce stigma and improve the quality of the homes. It would be fantastic if we could all show the Government that they’re also trustworthy bodies doing a great job of managing homes. The time is right, as they’re paying more and more attention to our movement and to the great work you all do.
If you apply to become an RP, do get in touch and keep us informed of your progress. We’re keeping an open line to the regulator and the lead official in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and will raise any concerns we get from our members. Hopefully we can crack this one together, as we’ve cracked so many other hurdles in the past decade!