Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority Item...

15/03/200515 February 2006

Error! Bookmark not defined.Disposal of housing - Revised Policy

Report by the Chief Officer

Contact: David Howells, Director of Corporate Services; Tel: 02380 626833

1

Summary

1.1

This short report summarises the outcome of a consultation exercise held with staff and their representatives on the Authority's proposed revision to its housing disposal policy. Given that no substantial objections were raised, the Authority is now asked to formally adopt the revised policy.

2

RecommendationError! Bookmark not defined.

That, in cases where residential properties (owned by the Authority) are declared surplus to operational requirements as a result of changes to duty systems and/or the establishment, existing tenants will be given the appropriate notice to quit in accordance with their service tenancy agreements; and those tenants who have been in occupation of the property for a minimum of 12 months prior to the date of changes to the duty system and/or the establishment will be offered the opportunity to purchase the property at full market value - less 5% or £10,000 (whichever is the lesser sum) - in recognition of the financial saving to the Authority of the normal administrative costs and professional fees associated with disposal.

3

Background

3.1

At its last meeting (7 December 2005) the Authority approved, for the purposes of consultation with existing tenants and representative bodies, a recommendation made by the Asset Management Working Group to revise the current policy for the disposal of housing as and when they become surplus to operational requirements. The basis of the Authority's preferred (revised) disposal policy was:

"That, in cases where residential properties (owned by the Authority) are declared surplus to operational requirements as a result of changes to duty systems and/or the establishment, existing tenants will be given the appropriate notice to quit in accordance with their service tenancy agreements; and those tenants who have been in occupation of the property for a minimum of 12 months prior to the date of changes to the duty system and/or the establishment will be offered the opportunity to purchase the property at full market value - less 5% or £10,000 (whichever is the lesser sum) - in recognition of the financial saving to the Authority of the normal administrative costs and professional fees associated with disposal."

4

Consultation

4.1

A letter was sent, on 2 January 2006, to firefighters currently appointed at the three day-crewed fire stations (Andover, Havant and Winchester) as well as to the relevant trades' unions' representatives. The text of the letter is reproduced as Appendix 1 to this report. Members will note that it sets out the background and justification for the change in policy which was fully discussed at the Authority's last meeting. It was decided that all firefighters should be sent the letter - i.e. not just the tenants of Authority-provided houses.

4.2

In addition to this letter which sought comments on the proposed revised housing policy, all day-crewed personnel and their representatives were invited to a meeting arranged specifically to discuss the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) proposals for the three day-crewed fire stations. The meeting (held on 9 January 2006) was well attended and the discussion and question & answer session covered a wide range of implementation issues associated with the IRMP proposals. Some of the concerns expressed by personnel about the timescales for implementing the changes were subsequently considered and Members will be aware that, as a result of these concerns, some components of the IRMP have been modified (see the item on the IRMP also on this agenda).

4.3

At the meeting one firefighter (a service tenant) expressed the view that the former disposal policy (which allowed a 15% discount off the market value of the houses to existing tenants wishing to buy the property) should be retained. Some - particularly those providing their own accommodation close to the fire station locations - felt that a policy which gives only those tenants of Authority-owned properties a benefit in the form of a discounted purchase arrangement was divisive and unfair. This was an issue identified in the initial equality impact assessment, and is repeated in this report (see below).

4.4

The meeting concluded with a reminder that any further (written) comments on the revised policy should be submitted by 31 January 2006. No comments were received, although some individual tenants took the opportunity to raise their personal circumstances in the light of the revised policy with the Director of Corporate Services.

4.5

As no substantial or compelling objections have been received during the consultation period, it is recommended that the Authority now formally adopts the revised disposal policy.

5

Equality Impact Assessment

5.1

The existing housing disposal policy produces a situation of unequal treatment of firefighters conditioned to the day crewing duty system because those providing their own housing (or properties rented by the Authority) would not be in a position to be offered the same benefit (real or perceived) of a discounted property purchase. The revised policy seeks to reduce the impact in value terms.

5.2

Other than this important issue, the proposals within this report are considered compatible with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

Background Information (Section 100D of Local Government Act 1972)

The following documents disclose the facts or matters on which this report, or an important part of it, is based and has been relied upon to a material extent in the preparation of the report:

· Reports on Housing Policy to two meetings of the Asset Management Working Group held 21 October 2005 and 21 November 2005.

· Report of the Asset Management Working Group to the meeting of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority held 7 December 2005.

· Although included on the agenda of the meeting of Finance and General Purposes Committee held on 20 January 2006, no written report was prepared for the meeting owing to the lack of any formal consultation feedback on the housing disposal policy by that date.

Note: The list excludes: (1) published works; and (2) documents that disclose exempt or confidential information defined in the Act.

Secretarial/WP/Corporate/HFRA HFRA/15 2 2006/Disposal of Housing DH/JMW/7/2//2006

Appendix 1

Note: Text of letter sent, on 2 January 2006, to all firefighters serving at Andover, Havant and Winchester Fire Stations. The letter was also sent to the relevant trades' unions' representatives.

Dear

INTEGRATED RISK MANAGEMENT PLAN (IRMP) - PROPOSALS FOR EXISTING

DAY CREWED FIRE STATIONS: ANDOVER, HAVANT AND WINCHESTER -

POLICY FOR THE DISPOSAL OF AUTHORITY OWNED HOUSES

You will be aware that proposals to improve emergency cover arrangements (response times to incidents) include the possibility of replacing the day crewing duty system in operation at Andover, Havant and Winchester. If the proposals are approved for implementation by the Authority, it will mean that the current service tenancy arrangements will cease and there will no longer be a requirement for the Authority to provide housing at these stations.

Understandably, personnel at the day crewing stations - especially those in provided accommodation - are anxious to know how the proposals would affect them. David Howells, Director of Corporate Services, attended a meeting at Andover Fire Station last Friday and took the opportunity to brief personnel on the Authority's recently reviewed policy for the disposal of housing. This letter briefly sets out the background to that review and invites comments from personnel and representative bodies on the revised policy.

The situation is as follows:

If and when the implementation dates are determined to end the day crewing duty system (a provisional date of 1 October 2006 for Andover has already been proposed), current service tenants will be given notice to quit the provided accommodation in accordance with their tenancy agreements.

In similar circumstances in the past (eg, in 1999 when Hardley and Lyndhurst Fire Stations were changed from nucleus/day crewing to fully retained crewing), the Authority's policy at the time was to offer existing tenants of Authority owned houses the opportunity to purchase properties at a discount of 15%. Anticipating that this situation would arise again if the IRMP proposals for the 3 stations are approved, the Authority has taken the opportunity to review its current policy regarding disposal.

The need to review the policy was prompted by 4 main factors:

· Although the statutory `right to buy' scheme does not apply where tenants occupy properties as a requirement of their contracts of employment under service tenancy agreements, the Authority's policy was influenced by the provisions of the right to buy scheme in force at the time. The statutory scheme has since changed - the percentage and maximum discount rates have been amended (ie, maximum discount allowed is now £38,000 for the relevant areas of Hampshire).

· The existing policy was determined taking into account the typical house prices in 1999 and acknowledged (by setting a minimum discount level of £10,000) the significant difference in values of the Lyndhurst and Hardley houses). Given that house prices have increased, on average, by 134% since 1999, it is reasonable in the circumstances to question whether the original policy is still appropriate and relevant given the Authority's fiduciary duty in the management of is assets.

· The existing policy produces a situation of unequal treatment of firefighters conditioned to the day crewing duty system because those providing their own housing (or properties rented by the Authority) would not be in a position to be offered the same benefit (real or perceived) of a discounted property purchase.

· The Government has since introduced housing assistance schemes for key workers and the Office of Deputy Prime Minister has announced that the `Key Worker Housing Programme' will be extended to cover firefighters from April 2006. This means that eligible tenants may be able to seek assistance under the programme to purchase a property - including that which becomes surplus to the Authority's operational needs and is offered to tenants.

The Authority's Asset Management Working Group has reviewed the relevance of the existing policy for the disposal of surplus housing and made the following recommendation the Authority at its meeting on 7 December 2005:

"That, in cases where residential properties (owned by the Authority) are declared surplus to operational requirements as a result of changes to duty systems and/or the establishment, existing tenants will be given the appropriate notice to quit in accordance with their service tenancy agreements; and those tenants who have been in occupation of the property for a minimum of 12 months prior to the date of changes to the duty system and/or the establishment will be offered the opportunity to purchase the property at full market value - less 5% or £10,000 (whichever is the lesser sum) - in recognition of the financial saving to the Authority of the normal administrative costs and professional fees associated with disposal."

In approving this revised policy, the Authority noted that firefighters would also be eligible to apply for assistance under Key Worker Living Programme.

The Authority also resolved that the officers should consult the relevant trades unions and personnel at the 3 day crewed stations and invite comments on the revised policy.

I would therefore be grateful to receive your views on the policy. Any that are received before 31 January 2006 will be reported to the Authority at its next meeting on 15 February 2006. In the meantime, if you require any further clarification of the revised policy, can I suggest that you contact David Howells, Director of Corporate Services, to arrange a meeting?

Yours sincerely

Dave Curry

Deputy Chief Officer