Recently the HCA issued new guidance on the disposal of land covering revised procedures for obtaining consent. The document is a useful and comprehensive guide as to how the HCA, in its new role as regulator, will address consents in a wide range of circumstances. However the most significant change from the previous regime is the ability for Registered Providers to seek consent for a programme of disposals of vacant dwellings rather than having to seek individual consent for each property, which has been the case to date.
The regulator has had the ability to issue such a policy since the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 came into force. It states that the reason for issuing a policy now is to support the Affordable Rent programme and specifically those providers who have a clear strategy for asset management that involves large scale disposals. The policy is intended to encourage efficiency and value for money and minimise interference from the regulator. Whilst the HCA will consider all applications, the size of a programme for disposal will be relevant to its decision and it has said that there is less potential for administrative and efficiency savings for providers with a programme of disposal which may lead to fewer than 25 applications for Section 172 consent. They will review this figure in the future depending on uptake.
An application for approval is made on a new Form RPCON8. Whilst the HCA requires a proposed programme to be time limited, it is not necessary for the addresses of the dwellings to be known in advance. The consent may be given for units to be sold as and when they become vacant.
However, the HCA will expect an application for approval to include the objectives of any programme of disposals; an assurance that the providers' governing body has fully considered the implications for its business plan, value for money, alternative options, compliance with legislation and the risks associated with the disposal programmes; evidence of how the governing body will monitor the programme; and evidence of appropriate consultation with local authorities and their responses.
The application must also state the criteria a provider would adopt for choosing individual dwellings for inclusion in the programme; the type of purchasers to whom the properties would be marketed; the timetable for the programme including an end date; and the maximum number of dwellings to be disposed of. If the programme is open-ended, the HCA will require a date when re-approval must be sought.
This new policy gives Registered Providers the opportunity to achieve administrative efficiencies where they are planning large scale disposals of vacant assets. However the regulator will require detailed applications so a Registered Provider will want to be certain of the benefits before it embarks on this course. It is worth noting the policy only applies to disposals where consent is only required under Section 172 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, ie consents cannot yet be made for a programme for disposals where Section 133 consent is also needed. And remember the policy only applies to the disposal of vacant social dwellings. Tenanted dwellings still need specific consent.