The controversy over the future of Hopton's Almshouses was raised in the House of Lords earlier this month when Lord Shipley tabled an amendment to the Localism Bill to force almshouse owners to consult their residents on any change of control.
The almshouses in Hopton Street are currently controlled by Anchor Trust which wishes to transfer the trusteeship of the Southwark property and 10 other almshouses to the Pathways housing association.
However, as we reported last month, 19 out of 24 residents at Hopton's say they would prefer the almshouses to be transferred to a local organisation, the United St Saviour's Charity.
On 7 September Lib Dem peer Lord Shipley moved an amendment to the Localism Bill to force almshouse providers to consult residents in the event of a change of control.
"I move this amendment because a housing trust – the Anchor Trust – is transferring the corporate trusteeship of 11 almshouses spread through London and south-east England to another charity," said Lord Shipley.
"Many residents oppose this proposal and would prefer to be transferred to a more local charity instead.
"The issue here is about the rights of tenants. If this was a stock transfer, say, of local authority housing, tenants would have the right to be consulted and, indeed, to give their consent to a transfer of their properties.
"The question that lies at the heart of this is: if there has to be consultation and consent given for a stock transfer, why when almshouses are being transferred is there not to be full consultation and consent?
"The legal situation is complicated because of the charitable status of the almshouses. I understand that in this specific case there have been meetings between Members of Parliament and the chief executive of the Anchor Trust and with the Charity Commissioners.
"However, we need to address this issue in Parliament because I cannot see why a different system should apply to tenants of almshouses as opposed to tenants in other forms of social housing."
The amendment was supported by Labour's Lord Kennedy of Southwark, a former councillor in the borough. However the amendment was withdrawn after the Government promised to continue to work to resolve the issue.
"My Lords, as regards the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Shipley, I recognise the strength of local feeling in the case that he highlighted," said Earl Attlee, replying for the Government.
"We have looked at his proposal extremely carefully and have discussed it with the social housing regulator, the Charity Commission, the National Almshouse Association and the National Housing Federation. We have also received helpful representations from the United St Saviour's Charity and from residents of the Hopton's Almshouses in Southwark.
"I fully understand the reasoning behind the proposed amendment. However, we are concerned that the amendment seems to require an increase in bureaucracy and potential state interference in the proper exercise of charity trustees' discretion."
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