Housing Associations: Charges

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 7:02, 22 November 2023

I very much appreciate having been granted this debate tonight. I reassure the Minister that I come here not in anger, not in sorrow, but with deep, deep concern at the charges being levied on my constituents, specifically by the Aster Group, which is the largest housing association operating in my constituency. I am not alone in my concern, and I am conscious that my hon. Friend Richard Drax is facing similar, although not identical, issues, as is my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, who is here this evening. However, it does seem as though Romsey and Southampton North is particularly impacted, and I will go on to explain why and how.

First, I draw the Minister’s attention to a salient piece of correspondence: a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dated 4 September and addressed to the chief executive of the Aster Group. He concludes it with the phrase:

“I will be taking a personal interest in how your organisation continues to deliver its responsibilities”.

I come here in the spirit of wishing to help my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his mission to keep a very close eye on how Aster is delivering.

I also, of course, welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, to his new role. He knows how pleased I am to see him on the Front Bench responding to this debate. I know that he is familiar with the Aster Group, which operates in his constituency as well as my own. I seem to recall an Adjournment debate in 2017 in this Chamber. Like him, I recognise the huge importance of housing associations and the phenomenal work they do to support many of our constituents, especially the most vulnerable ones.

To give a short history, in 2000 Test Valley Borough Council transferred ownership of its housing stock to Testway Housing, which was later bought out by Aster. By and large, that deal has worked well. There are always challenges, but nothing that even begins to compare with the current situation, which I first raised in the House several years ago, sadly to no avail.

In 2000, when the sewage treatment plants were handed over from Test Valley Borough Council to Testway Housing as part of the large-scale voluntary transfer of housing stock, those sewage treatment plants were in full working order, with the requisite environmental permits. Now, none of them is in full working order and none of them has the correct permits. As is tradition, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will give way to Jim Shannon.