The large number of empty Council owned properties around the country is a scandal. Yet there are currently obstacles to councils selling vacant properties. So proposals from the Government to streamline the process are greatly to be welcomed.

It also strikes me as quite ludicrously inefficient in terms of asset management to retain council houses worth a million pounds – when the resources for selling such a house could alleviate the housing needs of several families.

It says:

2.1 Local authorities hold land for housing purposes under powers provided to them by Part II of the Housing Act 1985. Section 32 of the Act provides powers to dispose of such land, but requires that this can be done only with the consent of the Secretary of State. Section 34 of the Act permits the Secretary of State to grant consent generally: i.e. where certain pre-conditions are met then the local authority is free to dispose without first having to secure the Secretary of State’s agreement.

2.2 The current General Consents issued under section 32 of the Housing Act 1985 were issued in 2005. They prescribe a limited number of situations where specific consent is not required either to dispose at market value or to dispose at a discount. We feel that the current consent regime now runs counter to the principles of localism and decentralisation and will be less relevant under self-financing.

2.3 It is Government policy that local authorities should not be prevented from disposing of housing assets where to do so:
• assists effective asset management (particularly the disposal of unsuitable stock)
• allows new investment in social housing
• aids regeneration
• helps create mixed communities
• assists people into sustainable home ownership (especially existing social tenants).

Of course it is a different matter if there is a sitting tenant with security of tenure. But where the property is vacant the cost and delay of involving Eland House for each individual sale is quite unreasonable.

Should selling at a discount be allowed?

The paper says:

Disposals at discounts
2.11 Disposals at market value enable local authorities to pay off the debt associated with such properties, and thereby maintain the viability of the Housing Revenue Account business. Disposals at less than market value put this at risk and the Government wishes to retain some control over such disposals.

2.12 However the Government wishes to support offering up land and properties for
sale at less than market value where this:
• helps social tenants into sustainable home ownership
• helps people find accommodation whom the local authority deem in need of support (e.g. certain key workers or former military personnel)
• helps create mixed communities
• assists the provision of new social housing or wider regeneration.

Vacant land sold at a discount

2.13 The current General Consents permit the disposal of vacant land at a discount determined by the local authority (which could be 100 per cent), but only where the land is to be used for certain specified purposes. The Government wishes to continue to permit such disposals, but leave it to the local authority to determine that the proposed use of the land will be beneficial to its community.

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