LGA First Magazine | Helping the homeless

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No.606 | December 2016

Helping the homeless

A wider housing strategy is needed to deliver on the Homelessness Reduction Bill’s aims

Rough sleeper outside ECC

Ever since the draft Homeless Reduction Bill was published in Parliament in October, the LGA has worked hard to influence proposals within it and highlight concerns that without a wider housing strategy the Bill would not achieve its aim of reducing homelessness

The Private Member’s Bill – being led by Bob Blackman MP – proposes to extend the duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness.

Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can with existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, the LGA has warned there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness.

The causes of of homelessness are many and varied, ranging from financial to social, and councils were concerned the original draft Bill was undeliverable and would not achieve its outcomes.

LGA engagement with Government officials and Bob Blackman ahead of the final Bill being published has led to a series of positive changes. This has helped shape it into a more realistic piece of legislation that is more workable for councils to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

This included the removal of the 56-day accommodation duty for those with nowhere to stay, as there is an insufficient supply of suitable accommodation to discharge this duty.

The requirement to recognise an expired section 21 notice [issued by landlords to evict tenants] as proof of homelessness was replaced with a more flexible requirement in line with existing statutory guidance.

The LGA has been clear from the outset that all new duties proposed in the Bill will also need to be fully funded. As a result of this lobbying, the Government committed to fully funding the new duties under the New Burdens Doctrine when the Bill received its Second Reading in October.

The sector continues to press the case for sufficient funding from the Government to successfully deliver responsibilities.

It wants the Government to commit to undertaking a comprehensive review of the bill’s impact after a year of implementation to ensure that it is achieving its objectives and that councils are being properly funded.

it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness.

Homelessness is spreading across all areas of the country. The number of households local authorities have been forced to place in temporary accommodation has risen by 48% since 2010, while rough sleeping has doubled.

This crisis is spreading nationwide. Since 2010, the use of temporary accommodation has gone up 44% in London and 58% across the rest of England.

Councils also need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills.

This is the only way to deliver on the national ambition to address the causes of homelessness and prevent it happening in the first place.

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National Pharmacy Association | Decisions about the future of your local pharmacies are just days away

National Pharmacy Association logo

Decisions about the future of your local pharmacies are just days away

About the campaign

Keep the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Pharmacy’.

The Department of Health recently announced a reduction of £170m to the funding of community pharmacies in England this year and it has not ruled out more cuts to follow. It’s believed that potentially 3,000 pharmacies could close (that’s a quarter of all pharmacies). At the same time, government officials have suggested that people should make more use of the internet to obtain medicines. Your local pharmacies are more than just places to get medicines.

The Local Government Association has criticised the Department of Health for overlooking the role of community pharmacy as a ‘much needed social and economic asset’.  The LGA predicted ‘unintended consequences that impact elsewhere in the local community’.

Your local pharmacies are more than just places to get medicines. Help us ensure they stay here for you, the people you represent and future generations.

Find out more about the campaign: www.supportyourlocalpharmacy.org  or contact Stephen Fishwick on 07920 494081.

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Dear Councillor Bull,

I spoke to many MPs, councillors and other delegates at the Party conference earlier this month, about Department of Health proposals for ‘efficiencies’ in community pharmacy in England.

It became apparent that many people believed, mistakenly, that these plans are on hold, following an announcement from Ministers in early September. In fact, cuts to local pharmacy services could begin as early as 1st December, just weeks away, and at the worst possible time in terms of loading winter pressures onto GPs and hospitals.

Community pharmacies play a far bigger role than many people realise. Along with dispensing medicines they play a key part in providing local healthcare, from treating minor ailments through to healthy living support programmes tailored to the communities they serve.
We need councillors like you to campaign to stop the closure of local pharmacies at the heart of the community. We are pleased to have the support of politicians from all parties, in parliament and in councils across the country.

You can help to secure this vital local health resource. Please:
Propose a Motion – in support of local pharmacies, for your council to consider. Newcastle City Council is one of a number of councils to have adopted Motions.
Contact your local MP
• Spread the word on social media – using the infographics here. Use #lovemypharmacy to be part of the nationwide conversation.

Best wishes,

Stephen Fishwick
Head of Communications

More reading:
LGA Media Release: Councils respond to Government announcement on pharmacies [20 October 2016]

LGA: Community pharmacy: Local government’s new public health role [October 2013]

LGA response to the consultation: putting community pharmacy at the heart of the NHS 

 

Cllr | Local Government and the refugee crisis – frontline and last resort

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Local Government and the refugee crisis – frontline and last resort

Is the burden of settling refugees falling disproportionately on some councils? Patrick Kelly investigates why some authorities have still not signed up to the scheme to resettle people fleeing Syria.

Rose Bazzie is a nurse in a Sheffield hospital, runs a women’s choir in the city and is a mother of 3 children.

But 12 years ago, she was a refugee from war-torn Liberia. She arrived in Sheffield as one of the first people to be resettled through the Government-sponsored Gateway Protection Programme.

“I remember the day we arrived – I was shocked at how cold it was.” She says. ”I was only wearing slippers and a dress! I knew nothing, nothing at all about the UK. The Refugee Council showed us cookers and washers, and we had to get used to all this electrical stuff.”

In the year ending June 2016, 36,465 asylum applications were accepted in the UK. Rose’s story reminds us that behind that number lies an individual who has not only fled war and persecution, but having reached safety here, has to learn to adapt to their new home, to find shelter, education, work and support. Providing all those things is the task of Britain’s local authorities.

That job has not been made easier by the Syrian civil war, which has sparked the greatest global refugee crisis since the Second World War. Last year, David Cameron promised that the UK would respond by taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East by 2020.

Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, has agreed to help 75 of those refugees each year for the next 3 years. That’s in addition to the 1,162 refugees that it has aided since 2004 through the Gateway Programme. This involves co-ordinating the efforts of public agencies – including the police, health authorities and housing associations – as well as many volunteer agencies, from the national Refugee Council to local church groups. Together, they ensure that the refugee resettlement of people like Rosie is carried out as smoothly as possible.

It’s no easy task, but Cllr Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Housing at Sheffield City Council, is proud of her city’s record in resettling. “Sheffield is a welcoming and inclusive city. It’s important that we do our bit to respond to the refugee crisis, and help people fleeing war and persecution.”

But not every local authority is so keen on signing up to the Syrian scheme, which is voluntary and gives councils £8,500 for each refugee in the first year they arrive, falling to £1,000 in the fifth year. Councils also receive an additional £4,500 for each child aged 5 to 18 years and £2,250 for those aged 3 to 4 years, to cover the cost of education.

Less than two-thirds of councils have signed up, admits Cllr David Simmonds, who leads for the Local Government Association, which co-ordinating the scheme.

Some councils, like Haringey, say the pay-outs will only cover 70 to 80% of their costs. Cllr Claire Kober, Leader of LB of Haringey, said the council would like to rehouse more than 50 refugee families but “the Government’s reticence to put in place the support, not just in terms of housing costs, but in terms of the wrap-around support the vulnerable [people], particularly women and children, require is really causing a stick.”

But costs aren’t the only issue. Council housing waiting lists are already vastly over-subscribed, so local authorities look to housing associations or the private rented sector to find refugees somewhere to live.

Cllr Claire Kober said, “We have 3,000 families in this borough in temporary accommodation. Housing in London is in crisis and what we can’t do is look at this in isolation.”

Other councils, like Medway, say that helping refugees will have too much impact on already stretched local services. Leader, Cllr Alan Jarrett, told his local paper “Our priorities have to be with the people in Medway. It is unacceptable that children may have to be moved out, or residents should suffer.”

Local authorities in Cumbria have said that their priority is with victims of floods, while Manchester’s local authorities say that they already house 1 in 4 asylum seekers, and are demanding a change in the Government’s dispersal policy before they will join the Syrian resettlement scheme. In July, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee criticized those councils, particularly wealthier ones, for opting out.

In September, the National Audit Office expressed concerns that although early targets have been met, more refugees will have to be resettled each quarter from now on if the 20,000 figure is to be reached. It added that 4,930 houses or flats and 10,664 childcare and school places will be needed. “The future of the programme could be put at risk by local authorities’ lack of suitable accommodation and school places.”

But David Simmonds says that it has been a relative success story. So far, more than 2,800 people have been resettled “without a great deal of difficulty” and 20,000 offers, meeting the Government target, “are now on the table.”

He says the biggest challenge for local authorities is the patchwork of other refugee resettlement schemes, many of which were contracted out to private companies purely on the basis of price. The contracts, which account for the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, mean that companies are going for places where housing is cheap and readily available, adding to the already stretched services in areas of disadvantage. “Local authorities have no say in where people go, but they still have obligations in education and social care,” says Simmonds.

In addition, there are pressures created by schemes for unaccompanied refugee children and other EU agreements under freedom of movement regulations.

The LGA estimates more than £100m a year is spent by councils in looking after refugees, money that is not backed by any central Government funding. “Of course, no-one is saying that councils should not be helping, but that help needs to be backed by funding,” adds Simmonds, who points out this would assist in cementing public support for resettling refugees.

He sympathises with authorities which face significant housing shortages, and suggested that areas which are facing depopulation are in a better position to accommodate refugees.

David Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services [ADCS], says that outside of major cities, it does get harder for infrastructure to cope. There are fewer translators, and local schools are unused to dealing with traumatised children from conflict zones but “if we’re going to make this work, everyone has to make it work together,” he says.

Some councils are calling for more drastic action.

Coventry City Council, which has taken in more than 100 Syrian refugees, is writing to MP Theresa May, demanding that the Government enforces a minimum quota on all local authorities.

Coventry’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Abdul Khan, say, “We are very happy to support the programme because we believe these Syrian refugees are facing real danger and have been recognised by the UNCHR. It is part of our common humanity.”

He says that’s it not a question of money or resources. There is little justification for other local authorities not sharing the responsibility. “It’s not a question of having the right infrastructure, it’s a question of providing a place of safety,” he says. “Our argument is basically about fairness.”

Across the political divide, Tory-run Kent County Council also wants a compulsory system, The council, which sees itself in the frontline of the refugee crisis, because of its proximity to France, says it faces “enormous pressures” on services, foster placements, accommodation and finances.

“We believe that any national dispersal scheme should be mandatory,” says Cabinet Member for Childrens’ Services, Cllr Peter Oakford. “We urgently need to share the numbers fairly across all local authorities.”

Finally, the NAO in its report suggests that councils were worried that the Syrian Resettlement Programme is dealing with the most vulnerable group of refugees, and many of them may need substantial support beyond the 5 years of the programme. “Support for these needs is not covered by existing programme funding,” says the NAO.

Patrick Kelly is a freelance journalist

LGA | Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

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Media release | 14 September 2016

Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

Proposed new legislation to tackle homelessness will not work – and councils say what they really need is to be able to build more homes.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the Government needs to address the increasing gap between household incomes and rising rents, allowing councils to build more affordable homes.

If passed, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons next month (October), would impose on councils a raft of new duties, such as providing emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days for households not in priority need. It would divert resources away from other essential homelessness work leaving councils less able to support vulnerable people.

Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and support those who are homeless into housing as soon as possible but are struggling to deliver due to rising demand, reducing budgets, and falling levels of social housing. The Government needs to fully fund existing commitments – and any additional commitments new legislation would incur.

LGA Chairman Lord Porter said:
“Simply adding more duties to councils is not the answer to tackling homelessness. The only viable long-term solutions are increasing the availability of suitable affordable housing and addressing other underlying causes of homelessness.

“Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and to support those who are homeless into accommodation as soon as possible. However, legislation alone will not resolve homelessness – the causes are complex and range from the economic and social to the personal.

“The Government’s commitment to more mental health spending is a step in the right direction but it must ensure it reaches the people it is designed to reach.

“There is no silver bullet – homelessness is a historical problem which has been inherited by successive governments.

“Housebuilding is well below the levels needed to meet current demand. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and has caused an increase in rents that can make independent living more difficult.

“Social housing is critical if we are to house people who are homeless or at risk.  But the availability of social rented council housing has halved since 1994. We’ve got 69,000 people already currently living in temporary accommodation and more than a million extra on council waiting lists. If we are to succeed then we need to address the gaps between household incomes and spiralling rents, and resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

Notes 

  • Housebuilding is well below the levels required. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and causing an increase in rents and prices that can make independent living more difficult.
  • Stable social housing is therefore increasingly important for housing people who are homeless or at risk. However, the availability of social rented council housing has nearly halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016.
  • Councils have developed five year strategies for dealing with homelessness and spend £330 million a year tackling homelessness. In 2009/10, councils were successful in preventing homelessness in 85 per cent of cases (165,200 in total). In 2014/15, councils were successful in 93 per cent of cases (220,800 in total)

Background

The Bill proposes:

A new duty for local authorities to take action to prevent the homelessness of anyone eligible for assistance (e.g. ‘habitually resident’ in the UK) and threatened with homelessness within 56 days, without regard to their priority need status.

A new duty for local authorities to take steps to relieve the homelessness of anyone who is currently homeless, eligible for assistance and has a local connection to the area.

For households who are not in priority need but have nowhere to stay, the local authority must provide emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days.

The full homelessness duty of settled accommodation will remain in place for households who are eligible for assistance, homeless through no fault of their own, have a local connection, are in priority need and where the prevention and relief duties have failed.

 

First | No place for hate

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No.604 | October 2016

No place for hate crime

by Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board

Councils are best placed to tackle the challenges posed by reported increases in hate crime

National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016 [08-15 October] is all the more relevant this year. Hate crime report to the police in the last 2 years of July were 49% on the same period in 2015.

The charity Stop Hate UK – which organises the awareness week – saw a 60% increase in reports in late June and referred 40% more cases to the police. Racially-motivated reports more than doubledd.

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Post-referendum racism and xenophobia: abuse reported online [courtesy Worrying Signs/StreetWatch/PostRefAbuse]
Incidents included xenophobic graffiti [for example on the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith], arson against a Polish family in Devon, anti-immigation cards distributed outside a primary school, physical assaults and verbal abuse.

Although attacks are perpetrated by a tiny minority – the local community in Hammersmith was quick to offer the Polish Centre sympathy and moral support – both David Cameron and his successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May, have spoken of the need to tackle hate crime, and the Government has published a fresh action plan – Action Against Hate: The UK Goverment’s plan to tackling hate crime [26 July 2016].

Local government has a vital role in building community cohesion and combating extremism. The impact of hate incidents and crimes on both individuals and local areas is far-reaching. Victims are more likely to suffer serious and longer lasting damage when they have been targeted in this way, and the anxiety and tension this causes can permeate entire communities.

As soon as it became that we were facing an increase in incidents, the LGA provided a collection of documents and links on our website [see Community Cohesion and Hate Crime resource]. The page contains useful contacts, guidance, case studies, toolkits and other resources.

Councils are already doing much to combat hate crime.

For example, Essex has established a Strategic Hate Crime Prevention Partnership, bringing together schools, police and voluntary organisations, and using social media to encourage reporting and deliver sessions to schoolchildren.

Birmingham City Council has created a faith map to show the contribution faiths make to life in the city.

Tower Hamlets has a No Place for Hate Forum which brings together the council and key agencies to co-ordinate responses to race and hate crime.

Manchester has worked closely with voluntary and community partners, including housing providers, to establish reporting centres across the city. Each organisation has received training and signed up to a set of standards that support them to deal with incidents.

And Derbyshire has organised hate crime awareness training for staff, partner agencies, housing providers, third sector organisations, and police, probation and fire & rescue services.

Every community is different, and councils are best placed to tackle the challenges each faces. A great deal of good work is being done by the sector, and National Hate Crime Awareness Week offers us an opportunity to promote it and encourage our communities.

Further reading:
Stop Hate UK: Hate crime reporting post-Brexit

PostRefRacism: Post-referendum racism and xenophobia: the role of social media in challenging the normalisation of xeno-racist narratives 

 

The Times | Planning chaos leaves Tory pledge to build more homes in tatters

The Times logo

15 August 2016

Planning chaos leaves Tory pledge to build more homes in tatters

Homeowners and developers are experiencing “severe” delays in decision making as the government struggles to meet its pledge to get Britain building [Peter Byrne/PA]
Homeowners and developers are experiencing “severe” delays in decision making as the government struggles to meet its pledge to “get Britain building”.

Almost a quarter of a million applications have not been processed on time since 2010, with planning departments reducing staff numbers, freedom of information requests show.

Despite repeated government pledges to liberalise planning laws, the proportion of major applications approved has fallen between 2010 and 2015.

Fewer than 120,000 new homes were built last year, well short of the 250,000 that most experts say are needed to tackle the housing crisis. Developers say that delays are curtailing their ability to meet the demand for homes.

Gavin Sherman, from Linea Homes, which specialises in regenerating derelict sites, said that his business was suffering delays even when applications were sent with the correct paperwork and were “policy compliant”.

“Local authorities are so under resourced that they simply can’t acknowledge and administer the number of applications they are receiving,” he said. “Some officers only work two days a week which makes it impossible for them to deal with the workload they are given. We are not the only developer experiencing severe delays.”

Freedom of information requests to every council in Britain found that a third of major applications, which include large housing and commercial developments, have suffered delays over the past five years, with some councils only managing to process one in three applications within the statutory three-month time limit.

Homeowners and smaller developers have also suffered delays, with more than a quarter of minor applications, which include developments of fewer than ten homes and extensions, waiting longer than two months.

Not a single council has processed every application on time, while one in 16 is failing to process half on time.

Delays to minor applications were up 16 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Over the same period councils have shed 10 per cent of their planning workforce, equivalent to 1,200 jobs. Brighton and Hove city council, which has cut its planning staff by a third, is now processing less than a third of minor applications on time compared with three quarters five years ago.

However, the link between the number of staff and the speed of applications is not straightforward. Wigan borough council, for example, has lost 48 planning staff since 2010 but has managed to improve the proportion of major applications processed on time from 55 per cent to 83 per cent.

Many councils appear to have shifted resources from minor to major applications, forcing smaller developers and homeowners to wait longer so as to speed up big commercial projects.

Rico Wojtulewicz, from the National Federation of Builders, which represents local builders, said: “Councils overlook smaller builders. They don’t push through applications of less than ten houses even though these are the developments that can been done quickly to increase the number of homes. Larger projects can take years to deliver. Local builders used to make two thirds of homes — now we only build a quarter, and delays don’t help.”

The Local Government Association denied that planning delays were the main barrier to building new homes.

A spokesman said: “Hundreds of thousands of homes given planning permission are yet to be built.

“However, we want to do more and developers and councils have repeatedly called on government to resolve the underfunding of planning. Government limited the planning fees councils can charge, which impacts on services and means council tax payers have had to subsidise planning applications by £450 million over the last three years.

“Developers are increasingly willing to pay more, and fees need to be set locally so that they cover costs”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said that more than a quarter of a million new homes received planning permission last year.

A spokesman added: “We are getting Britain building again, with almost 900,000 homes delivered since the end of 2009. Now our plans to allow councils to introduce competition into the planning system will help speed up the process and bring a renewed focus to our efforts to build more homes. But the new local government secretary accepts we need to do more. That’s why housing will be a priority.”

Homeowners and developers face a planning lottery with some councils twice as likely to approve an application as others in 2015.

Many local authorities have also got tougher over the past five years despite pledges to make planning easier.

There is a north-south divide, with some in the south refusing more than half of applications while others in the north approve every major project.

Waverley borough council in Surrey approved the lowest proportion of major applications last year at 41 per cent, down from 80 per cent in 2010. Carlisle council approved every major application.

Councils near each other also have different approaches. Worcester council approved every major development last year but Stroud turned down a third.

There are also huge variations in the likelihood of extensions being approved.

In Amber Valley 97 per cent were given the green light but in Maldon only 59 per cent succeeded.

WMN | Councillors call for right-to-buy scheme to be scrapped

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11 August 2016

Councillors call for right-to-buy scheme to be scrapped

By Kate LangstonPosted: August 11, 2016

(top right) Cllr Owen

Over the last three years, Devon and Cornwall councils have funded an average of just one new home for every four sold – despite a policy of one-for-one replacements.

Councillors claim this is because the scheme is unsustainable, and warn the problem will get worse if ministers plough ahead with plans to extend it.

Exeter City Council member and portfolio holder for housing, Keith Owen, accused the Government of failing to grasp “the seriousness of the situation”.

Cllr Keith Owen

“As a local housing authority, we are not in a position to replace anywhere near the number of council properties which are acquired by tenants under the right-to-buy scheme,” he said.

“And the situation in Exeter is generally no different than it is through the rest of the country.

“Its getting harder and harder to [replace homes], and its not going to be helped by recent Government legislation.

“The whole idea is badly thought through… I think it has to be scrapped.”

According to new figures from the Local Government Association, the rate at which councils in England replaced homes sold under right-to-buy (RTB) fell by more than a quarter last year.

Their data shows that while 12,246 council homes were sold to tenants in 2015/16, just 2,055 replacements were started by councils.

Government figures show that in Devon and Cornwall a total of 361 properties were sold under RTB between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

In that same three year period, councils only began the process of replacing 87 homes.

In the district of East Devon, the ratio of replacements to sales since 2012/13 has been 4.5 to one.

A spokesman for the council said it had been struggling to fund replacements “for a number of years”.

Right to buy figures for Devon and Cornwall (source: DCLG live sales tables)

“The receipt we receive from Right to Buy sales, after the statutory and significant discount is applied, is insufficient to purchase or build replacement units on a one for one basis,” he said.

“We have purchased and built some new homes over the past few years, but our ability… has been compromised by a recent Government requirement to reduce rents by 1% each year for the next four years.”

“This reduces our ability to finance new council homes as it eliminates any surpluses we have set aside for new affordable homes.”

Cllr Owen shares concerns about rent reductions, as and about plans to fund the extension of RTB to housing associations through the sale of council assets.

He said the forced sell-off of high-value social housing will see local authorities deprived of both the asset itself and income from rent.

“It’s a vicious circle,” he said. “Any money we’ve had in the past to build replacement council houses is not going to be there.

“There’s no sign the government understands the seriousness of the situation.”

A Government spokesman said there is a rolling three-year deadline for local authorities to deliver an additional home “and so far they have delivered well within their sales profile”.

“However, we have always been clear that if local authorities don’t start building replacement homes within the three-year deadline, then we will step in and build them for them,” he added.


What is right-to-buy?

Right-to-buy was introduced in 1980 under Margaret Thatcher’s government, as a means of boosting home ownership

It gives most council tenants the right to purchase their home from their landlord at a discount of up to 35% for a house, and 50% for a flat

Tenants can apply to buy if the property is their only or main home and self-contained, and they have had a public sector landlord for three years

If the property used to belong to the council, but has since been sold off, a tenant might still qualify for “preserved” right to buy

The Government is looking to extend right-to-buy to housing association properties, starting with a voluntary pilot scheme, through the Housing and Planning Bill