Councils make case for HRA tweaks

Wed 24th July 2013, 11:03 am

More than 90 per cent of council housing officers are satisfied with reforms to the Housing Revenue Account regime, but want to see a number of revisions, according to a new survey.

Housing: councils largely support reform measures

A report by think tank the Smith Institute and consultant PriceWaterHouseCoopers found that only 4 per cent were dissatisfied with the reforms, which give councils greater control over revenue from council housing.

The survey of 50 housing officers, conducted through interviews and round table discussions, found that most believed that the reforms provided greater autonomy and certainty for local authorities.

The report said: “Officers spoke of having more control, flexibility and freedom and this was generally seen as positive. There was little apprehension or concern about the new responsibilities; instead, the reforms were seen as providing opportunities for ambitious authorities.”

Those surveyed said that the changes were allowing councils to think differently about their investment strategies and develop bespoke funding models to attract private investors.

Some reservations were identified, however, about the poor quality of data about the existing stock, the unwillingness of some councils to even consider sharing risk and investment with housing associations and other housing providers, along with the general lack of ambition and sophistication in some HRA strategies.

A large majority (86 per cent) advocated the repeal of the cap on borrowing imposed by the government as part of the reform package.

The report said: “While some conceded that government’s preference for a debt cap was understandable (given a history of  occasional inappropriate borrowing by local authorities), there was a strong sense that it was unnecessary and inconsistent with the model of a self-financing HRA.”

One of the suggestions to emerge was for individual councils to appeal to government to break the cap on case-by-case basis.

View the report: HRA reform: one year on

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