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Local Government Act 2003

Sections 87 and 88: Local housing strategies and statements, and Housing Revenue Account business plans

215.A local housing strategy is the local housing authority’s vision for housing in its area. It sets out objectives and targets and policies on how the authority intends to manage and deliver its strategic housing role and provides an overarching framework against which the authority considers and formulates other policies on more specific housing issues.

216.In England, local housing strategies are currently prepared by local housing authorities. They are set out in specific documents – dissemination of the housing strategy to key service users, key stakeholders and other interested parties is an important part of the strategic housing role. These documents are made available to and appraised by the Government Offices for the Regions to ensure they are “fit for purpose” i.e they are capable of delivering the local authority’s housing function to the standard demanded by Government. They are currently sent to the Government Offices pursuant to section 65 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government has asked local housing authorities to have local housing strategies in place by April 2004. Previously, it asked authorities to prepare annually a “housing strategy and operational plan”.

217.There has not, until now, been a statutory provision which specifically requires local housing authorities to have a housing strategy. Section 87 puts local housing strategies on a statutory basis to reflect the Government’s belief that a robust strategy is essential to the delivery of local authorities' housing functions.

218.Local housing strategies are among a number of housing plans, policies and strategies which local authorities are required or asked to prepare by central Government or the Welsh Assembly Government. One is the non-statutory Housing Revenue Account business plan, relating to the management of the authority’s own housing stock, prepared by local housing authorities in England who maintain a Housing Revenue Account. These are also submitted by authorities to the Government Offices for the Regions. Others are the Homelessness Strategy prepared by local housing authorities in England and Wales pursuant to the Homelessness Act 2002 and the reports on home energy conservation measures prepared under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.

219.The current guidance on local housing strategies in England and Wales stresses the importance of addressing all relevant issues, including homelessness and energy efficiency of housing stock in the strategy. Local housing strategies are also expected to be consistent with the community strategies prepared by authorities under section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000.

220.In many cases there may be considerable overlap between the material included in the different documents and it may not always be properly linked.

221.It is expected that a document prepared by an authority under subsection (2) of section 87 will be known as the “Local Housing Strategy”. But it will be for the authority to decide what to call such a document in the light of its contents. The section enables a local housing authority to be required to include in its Local Housing Strategy material that is currently set out in separate documents. However even where an authority is not required to do that, it will normally have the freedom to include in its Local Housing Strategy some or all of the material that would otherwise be set out in separate documents. Accordingly, an authority will be free to produce just a single housing document, or a number of documents, as best suits its local circumstances.

222.Section 87 therefore draws a distinction between formulating and having a strategy, and promulgating this, e.g. through a document recording or setting out that strategy.

223.If the authority was required only to prepare a statement setting out that authority’s policy or strategy on housing or related matters, then if the authority had formulated no such policy or strategy, it would simply prepare a statement saying that it had no such policy or strategy on that particular issue.

224.Section 87(1) allows the appropriate person (defined in section 124 as the Secretary of State, in relation to authorities in England, and the National Assembly for Wales, in relation to authorities in Wales) to require local housing authorities to have a strategy on certain specified matters relating to housing. In order to have such a strategy, authorities will have to have considered the relevant issues and formulated policies to achieve certain ends. Subsection (1)(b) provides that requirements can be imposed as to the ends the strategy must achieve (e.g. the availability of better quality housing in the authority’s area), the formulation of policy for the purposes of the strategy (e.g. that it must be consistent with any national housing strategy or an authority’s community strategy) and the review of the strategy (e.g. that the strategy must be reviewed after a certain period of time).

225.In practice the requirements which the Secretary of State and National Assembly for Wales propose to impose under section 87(1) are unlikely to differ from what authorities are asked to do on a non-statutory basis for their local housing strategies at present. If authorities have already formulated the relevant policies and strategies (albeit that they were not compelled to do so by an explicit statutory provision) then section 87(1) will not have the effect of imposing any further burdens on the authorities.

226.Section 87(2)(a) will allow the appropriate person to require the authority to set out the strategy which it has formulated in accordance with section 87(1), and submit it to him at such time as he may specify. Section 87(3) allows the appropriate person to impose requirements with respect to the contents and form of this and its supply by the authority to the appropriate person in accordance with subsection (2).

227.Section 88 makes it clear that the appropriate person can, in imposing requirements as to the contents of any document prepared for the purposes of section 87, require the inclusion of material relating to property in the authority’s Housing Revenue Account, designated as the authority’s Housing Revenue Account business plan. This would set out how the authority manages its housing stock and performs its role as a landlord. If an authority in England is required to submit to the Secretary of State (in practice the relevant Government Regional Office), a document whose contents include the Housing Revenue Account business plan, the plan (although not necessarily any other material in the statement) may be taken into account in calculating HRA subsidy in accordance with section 89.

228.Different requirements as to the formulation of local housing strategies, and the preparation and submission of documents evidencing them, may be imposed on different authorities. Differing requirements as to how often an authority may be required to revise its strategy, or submit a document evidencing it to the appropriate person may be imposed, depending on an assessment of the authority’s performance. Authorities which no longer keep a Housing Revenue Account (e.g. if they have disposed of all their housing stock) will not be required to prepare a Housing Revenue Account business plan.

229.Unless the power under subsection (3) of section 87 is exercised so as to require authorities to include no more material in the statement than the strategy formulated under subsection (1), authorities will be free to incorporate other material in the same document, in addition to any material they are required to include under section 87. The decision as to what if any additional material to include will be for authorities to take depending on their individual circumstances. If local housing authorities decide to include additional material evidencing plans, strategies or policies which they are statutorily required to have, parts of the statement would then have to be updated as and when those other strategies, plans or policies were required to be reviewed or updated.

230.The types of plans, policies and strategies which it is anticipated that authorities may wish to incorporate in a single document, along with the local housing strategy required under section 87(1), include the Homelessness Strategy prepared under the Homelessness Act 2002, and the reports on home energy conservation measures prepared under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.

231.The Secretary of State in addition to imposing formal requirements pursuant to sections 87 and 88, proposes to issue guidance to local housing authorities. The National Assembly for Wales guidance issued in June 2002 has conveyed this advice to local authorities in Wales The guidance will assist authorities to understand how they may comply with the formal requirements imposed as to the preparation of housing strategies and the documents evidencing those strategies, and as to how they might incorporate other material into documents prepared for the purposes of section 87(2). The guidance may be issued in a single document along with the formal requirements themselves.

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