Arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs) have led a revolution in the management of council housing since they were first established in 2002. The NFA now represents 40 ALMOs, which manage over 550,000 council homes across 43 local authorities.
ALMOs were first mooted in the Labour government’s housing Green Paper in 2000 as a way of achieving social housing investment without having to pass the ownership of housing stock out of council control while ensuring higher levels of expenditure, which went hand-in-hand with higher quality management, more effective investment and greater involvement of tenants. The first eight ‘Round One’ ALMOs went live in April 2002 with high hopes of transforming council housing to provide a better life for their tenants.
Access to what became the ‘Decent Homes’ funding was made dependent on receiving a 2-star, ‘good’, rating from the Audit Commission. Decent Homes funding was only made available to those organisations that were able to demonstrate a high level of performance and sound financial planning and management. And so ALMOs have demonstrated that they offer a better service to tenants than any other form of council housing management – ALMOs achieved higher inspection ratings than local authority managed housing or housing associations.
The creation of ALMOs provided an opportunity for a more fundamental change in the nature of council housing management to give tenants a much greater say in how their estates would be managed. To ensure tenants receive sufficient representation, ALMO boards are structured so that one-third of members are council tenants with the remaining positions filled by serving councillors and independents often with business and housing experience. This structure enables ALMOs to access housing expertise, retain a close relationship with their parent councils as well as guaranteeing tenants an important voice at a senior level.
Improving housing standards is only one part of ALMOs’ work to regenerate neighbourhoods. They also have an active role in improving the local environment and contribute to the quality of the lives of tenants through providing out of school clubs, employment and training schemes, activities for both young and older people and the provision of advice on debt reduction and tackling fuel poverty amongst other services.
ALMOs up and down the country are working with residents to promote financial inclusion. Among measures are: the appointment of benefits and specialist money advisors to spread awareness of entitlements, help balance budgets and make savings; warnings about the dangers of loan sharks; and widespread fuel cost reductions through warmer homes and cheaper, efficient heating systems.
ALMOs are also building new homes that meet tenant requirements, creating local jobs at the same time, while active youth engagement projects nationwide are combating the threat that a whole generation will be denied useful, fulfilled, and financially-stable lives.
And individual ALMOs are structurally gearing up to a fast-changing world: adapting, diversifying, merging, sharing resources, striking new alliances and developing improved working relationships to thrive in a post decent homes world.