What is this Guidance?
It is issued by the Department of the Environment (NI) (the “Department”) using its powers under Article 11 of the Housing (NI) Order 1992 (the “1992 Order”). It is “The Tenants’ Guarantee” which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland undertook would issue as part of the Citizen’s Charter initiative for Northern Ireland. It is a statement of the principles which housing associations registered with the Department should practice and the minimum standards which they should achieve in the interests of applicants for, and residents in their accommodation. There are also, of course, many important statutory obligations which associations are obliged to meet some, but not all, of these are referred are referred to in the Guidance which does not claim to give a full account of them. Moreover, in addition to this Guidance, which is issued under statute, associations are expected to take account of the more detailed guidance on good practice contained in the Department’s Housing Association Guide and other non-statutory guidance which the Department may issue from time to time on specific subjects.
This guidance will be a major benchmark by which the Department will (and the public may) assess the management of an association’s affairs. Where the Department finds mismanagement it has powers to act as described in paragraph 5 below.
To Whom is this Guidance Addressed?
It is addressed to the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (the “Federation”) and to all registered housing associations which provide accommodation for rent.
Housing for special needs is often provided in partnership with specialist voluntary agencies. In such cases associations are still subject to this Guidance and they should ensure that their partners or agents operate in a way which ensures that the association complies with it.
Why is this Guidance issued now?
It is issued now as a consequence of the 1992 Order and because the Department wished to ensure that associations continue to achieve high standards of housing management. In addition to those tenants’ rights which are provided by statute, this Guidance sets out rights which the Department expects associations to offer to tenants.
How will the Department monitor whether Associations are following this Guidance?
Primarily this will be by regular monitoring visits to all registered housing associations. In addition all associations will be required to lodge summaries of their lettings policies with the Department and with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (“the Executive”). Summaries should also be sent by associations to the other relevant agencies referred to in paragraph B2.2 below.
How can the Department Enforce compliance with this Guidance?
In the first place the Department believes that associations will be anxious to maintain their reputation for good quality management and that public opinion, arising from widespread publicity, will also stimulate associations to meet the required standard.
Secondly, where failings are found through monitoring, associations will be advised and given a timetable to remedy them.
Thirdly, tenants of associations who have complaints about their landlords and have exhausted the association’s own complaints procedures may ask the Department to investigate these matters.
In addition the Department will take into account the extent to which an association complies with this Guidance when deciding whether the association should receive Housing Association Grant or whether a Higher Management Allowance is justified.
Where the Department has reason to believe that there is serious mismanagement of the business of a registered housing association it can, under the 1992 Order, appoint a person to conduct an inquiry into the affairs of the association (Article 23). If such an inquiry results in a finding of misconduct or mismanagement the Department may, under Article 25 of the 1992 Order:
- remove or suspend a member of the Management Committee or an Officer, Agent or employee of the association
- appoint a person as a member of the Management Committee
- freeze the association’s assets; and
- limit the transactions or the payments which may be made by the association Article 11 of the 1992 Order explicitly states that the extent to which an association complies with this Guidance is one of the criteria by which the Department may assess mismanagement.
This Guidance is set out in the following pages.
Meeting Housing Demand
A1 The essential purpose of registered housing associations is to provide accommodation for those who are inadequately housed or homeless, and for whom suitable housing is not available at prices within their means, or at all, elsewhere in the local market. This section and Section B is guidance for meeting that objective.
A2 To qualify for registration, housing associations are required to retain their housing stock for letting (note i) and to dispose of it only in particular circumstances. Disposals require the consent of the Department (note ii) and except in limited cases it is the Department’s policy to refuse consent for sale of tenanted property except to the tenant or to another registered housing association.
A3 From time to time the Department will determine in consultation with the Executive, the Federation and the Department of Health and Social Services the priorities of the Housing Association Development Programme and associations are expected to bring forward schemes to enable these priorities to be met.
A4 Associations should consult and co-operate with the Executive and other relevant public bodies, e.g., the Area Health and Social Services Boards, to identify housing need in any area. They should also ensure that the Executive supports in principle their proposals to meet housing need and should collaborate with voluntary and community organisations to make their housing service known to the relevant members of the public.
A5 Associations are expected to consider expeditiously all requests from tenants to participate in national mobility and exchange schemes.
(Note i – see Article 15(2) (a) of the 1992 Order)
(Note ii – See Article 13(2) of the 1992 Order)
- Allocation of Accommodation
B1.1 Subject to any special aims and objectives which the Department has agreed, associations should follow closely the Model Selection Scheme produced by the Department. Their schemes should therefore be open, fair and based on housing need.
B1.2 A few associations currently use waiting lists which are fully integrated with those of the Executive. The Department hopes that such arrangements will increasingly be used by associations but in all cases where associations operate their own waiting lists (e.g. associations providing accommodation for battered wives, alcoholics etc) they should ensure that within each list applicants are arranged in order of housing need.
B2.1 Associations should make publicly and freely available a summary of:
- a) Who is eligible for their accommodation
- b) How members of the public may apply for tenancies, including any arrangements for nominations or referrals from the Executive and other organisations
- c) Their policies and procedures for deciding on priority as between applicants, in sufficient detail to enable people seeking accommodation to take a reasonable view of their own priority; and
- d) Their policies and procedures for responding to tenants wishing to move (whether or not by way of exchange of dwellings) to other dwellings let by that association or another landlord
B2.2 Associations should send a copy of this summary to the Department, and to the Executive’s local district office(s) in whose area they manage tenanted property. A copy should also be sent to local advice centres and other organisations advising the public on access to housing and be given to people who apply to the association for accommodation.
B3.1 Associations should prepare annual summaries of their letting activities to include a report on the number and types of lettings to different of applicant.
They should make these summaries available to inquirers (see also G4).
B3.2 Associations should not deter low income applications by enquiring more rent in advance than that required to cover the first rental period returnable deposits should never be required for unfurnished tenancies, and should be kept as low as possible even when furniture is provided.
- Terms of Secure Tenancies
C1 The Housing (NI) Order 1983 provides secure tenants of registered housing associations with a code of statutory rights (the “Tenants’ Charter) and requires associations to supply secure tenants with information about their contractual and statutory rights and obligations.
C2 The rights of secure tenants include:
- Security of tenure subject to associations being able to regain possession on certain defined grounds
- The right of a widow, widower or resident member of a family to succeed to the tenancy on the tenant’s death
iii. The right to take in lodgers
- The right to sublet part of a home with the association’s written consent
- The right to improve a home with the association’s written consent
- The right to information about their rights under the Charter, the terms of their tenancy agreements and the arrangements for varying them
vii. The right to information to be consulted about matters affecting their homes and their tenancies (see section F)
C3 When offering tenancies to existing tenants of another association or the Executive, associations should explain to them fully any differences in contractual rights and obligations which the new tenancy will entail.
C4 In addition the tenancy agreement should:
- a) State that the association is registered with the Department and is subject to this Guidance; and
- b) Define clearly the landlord’s statutory responsibility for repairs and the contractual responsibilities for internal decoration and repairs (and replacement of furniture and fittings where relevant) (see also Section E)
- Principles upon which rent (an d other charges) for Secure Tenancies are to be determined.
D1 Article 8 of the 1992 Order removes an obligation on the Department to specify rents charged by registered housing associations on most tenancies granted on or after 16th September 1992. However, tenants of registered housing associations
whose tenancies began before 16th September 1992 (except those whose rents were previously fixed by associations) will continue to have their rents determined by the Department. That also applies to such tenants who, after that date, exchange tenancies by mutual assignment with another secure tenant.
D2 Paragraph (7) of Article 8 of the 1992 Order provides that those rents which are fixed by associations may only be increased once in any period of 12 months and no earlier than 12 months from the tenancy commencement date.
D3 All accommodation belonging to registered housing associations is intended to be accessible to people on low incomes, whether or not they are in paid employment or in receipt of housing benefit. Therefore for new tenancies beginning on or after 16th September 1992, associations are expected to set and maintain their rent at levels which are within the reach of those in low paid employment. This will usually entail setting rents below market level Associations should not discriminate in their rent setting between those who are eligible for housing benefit and other.
D4 In addition associations are expected to take account of the need to cover the costs (after subsidy) of loan charges, and of management and maintenance, including the requirement to make prudent provision for future repairs and in selling the rent for each dwelling, its size amenities and condition. Associations may also use location as a factor in their rent setting policy.
D5 Where associations require tenant to pay service charges they should inform those tenants how their service charges have been calculated.
- Maintenance and Repair
E1 Registered housing associations must meet their statutory and contractual obligations to keep their housing property fit for human habitation.
E2 They should inspect their property to ensure that they meet these obligations. They should also make financial provision for long term maintenance.
E3 Associations should provide their tenants with information in clear terms on
- a) Who is responsible for which repairs
- b) Methods for reporting the need for repairs. These should give tenants open and easy access to their landlord
- c) How long it should take for defined categories of repairs to be carried out, taking into account the importance to tenants of speed of response
- d) How emergencies should be dealt with
- e) What tenants can do if associations fail to meet their repairing obligations
- f) Their policy for planned maintenance including cyclical decoration of external and common parts; and
- g) Their policy for improvements, including the provision of alternative or temporary accommodation, disturbance payments (note iii), compensation (note iv) and the effect on rents
(Note iii – See Articles 37 and 38 of the Land Acquisition and Compensation (NI) Order 1973).
(Note to Association have a statutory obligation to pay home loss payments to tenants required to leave their dwelling under the circumstances described in Article 30(1) of the Land Acquisition and Compensation (NI) Order 1973).
- Consultation and Tenant Involvement
F1 Registered housing associations should consult all affected tenants about proposed changes to management and maintenance policies or practices, in particular where:
- a) The Association proposes a change in the arrangements for management or maintenance, which substantially affects tenants
- b) Physical improvements to the dwellings or environment are proposed by the association
- c) The Association proposed to change significantly the extent and cost of services paid for out of tenant’ service charges; and
- d) The Association is proposing to transfer its tenanted properties to another Association.
In addition associations should periodically consult tenants and / or their representative organisation(s) on their views about existing policies and service delivery, for instance by tenant satisfaction surveys.
Associations should make a reasoned response to tenants and / or their representative organisation(s) when they approach the association on a matter of concern to them or about proposals which they wish to make, including proposals for increasing tenant involvement in management.
F2 Associations should make arrangements for consultation which take into account the views of the tenants affected and the part which representative tenant organisations can play.
The consultation process should ensure that tenants are provided with sufficient information to understand the implications of the Associations proposals: and that they are subsequently informed how their views were taken into account.
F3 Associations should help and encourage representative tenant organisations. They should help them to obtain reasonable facilities for meetings and for the proper conduct of their business. They should also provide them with information about the association’s performance (see G4 below) and consult them on policy reviews and similar exercises.
F4 Associations are encouraged to make arrangements or opportunities to enable tenants to participate in the management of the estate or group of dwellings of which they are tenants. All tenants should be informed of these arrangements.
- Information to Tenants
G1 As described in other sections registered housing associations should inform their tenants and other interested parties about their:
- a) Policies and procedures for selecting tenants and dealing with transfer requests
- b) Terms of tenancy
- c) Principles and procedures for fixing rent and other charges
- d) Maintenance responsibilities and procedures; and
- e) Arrangements for consultation and participation
G2 In addition associations should have policies and procedures on the following matters and should inform their tenants of them in plain terms so that tenants and other interested parties may see how individual decisions fit in with them; namely:
- a) For dealing with complaints about the association’s service and its treatment of tenants and applicants. This should include an appeal procedure leading to the association’s Management Committee. Associations are further encouraged to set up arbitration procedures for resolving disputes between themselves and their tenants
- b) For dealing with tenants’ claims for compensation for failure of services etc
- c) For dealing with complaints about serious nuisance caused by other tenants
- d) For requiring tenants to move to alternative accommodation and the circumstances in which this might be necessary (note v)
- e) For pursuing arrears of rent and other charges, including the circumstances in which the association may take legal action
- f) For allowing access to personal information held by the association (see G6 below); and
- g) For meeting the requirements of tenants and members of their family who become disabled
G3 The information in G1 and G2 should be provided in writing in plain English, and also, where appropriate, in Braille or on tape. It should also be outlined in person at the beginning of a tenancy and / or in meetings with tenants.
G4 Associations should make available information about their housing management performance to their tenants and should inform all their tenants what information will be provided on request. Each year they should prepare reports which, as a minimum, should provide information about:
- a) The rents charged for different categories of homes
- b) How quickly repairs were carried out
- c) The association’s success in collecting the rent due from all tenants
- d) The association’s empty properties; and
- e) How quickly homes have been let or re-let and to what categories of people (see also B3.2).
These reports should be in readily understandable language, using tables and charts where appropriate. Associations are encouraged to circulate these reports, or summaries of them, to all their tenants, through, for instance, an existing newsletter.
G5 Associations should offer tenants help and advice in applying for housing benefit.
G6 The Data Protection Act gives people a statutory right (subject to certain exemptions) to see and check details about themselves which are held in the form of computerised data (note vi). Associations should also allow their tenants, former tenants and applicants for tenancies reasonable access to other personal information held about themselves or members of their family (other than that provided in confidence by third parties).
If the tenant, former tenant or applicant considers the records inaccurate he or she should be allowed to correct, or record his / her disagreement with the information held by the association.
(Note v – It is expected that these will only be fully justifiable management grounds, such as the need for vacant possession to carry out necessary works).
(Note vi – See Data Protection Act 1984).