A body which claims to offer independent advice to tenants during transfer ballots stands accused of bias towards sell-offs.
Anti-transfer campaigners in Brighton say the Tenant Participation Advisory Service England (TPAS) is biased in favour of stock transfer.
TPAS is a major operator, used in many ballots. It is centrally involved in the ballot that has been taking pace on the Ocean Estate in Tower Hamlets, east London.
Last week Andrew Gilligan wrote in London’s Evening Standard that, “TPAS is an integral part of the election-manipulation machine.”
Defend Council Housing has claimed that e-mails sent to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Brighton & Hove council prove that TPAS is advising the authority on how to secure a yes vote from tenants.
One e-mail shows that TPAS tenant adviser Tony Bird gave advice on the formula the council would use to set rent levels.
Another said, “A modest proposal will not win a ballot in a place like Brighton & Hove in my view.”
Chair of Defend Council Housing Alan Walter said: “TPAS cannot claim to be giving independent, impartial advice to tenants or to be a ‘tenants friend’, when the evidence shows that it has been directly involved in helping Brighton council present a formula to tenants with the aim of securing a yes vote.” MP Austin Mitchell has written to communities secretary Ruth Kelly demanding she intervene.
He wrote, “I have received disturbing reports about the conduct of TPAS, an independent tenants’ adviser regularly employed by local authorities to provide tenants with balanced and impartial information to help them decide how to vote.
“Recent e-mails between TPAS, Brighton council and your department clearly show that the TPAS consultant has been complicit in helping the council and civil servants work up a business plan to assist in securing a vote for stock transfer.
“You will be aware that Brighton council are having difficulty producing a business plan to sell their homes and have applied to the DCLG for substantial public subsidy to make the privatisation finances stack up.
“The e-mails conversations discuss a proposal to help the new landlord increase revenue by carrying out a revaluation of council housing—after the transfer - to provide justification for the new landlord to increase tenants’ rents.”
But TPAS chief executive Phil Morgan said, “We have been acting to try to secure the best deal for tenants.”
“It seems that unless the new landlord is prepared to make the no change to Council valuation method commitment, it cannot say that the rents would be the same… This is the weakness in the Government’s rent setting policy. It needs to think through the effect this would have on tenants considering a stock transfer in an area like Brighton and Hove where local RSL rents are perceived to be verging on the unaffordable for low income households.
“P.S. The other text is good, no problems. The interview quotes are really good and should prove very effective.”
E-mail from Tony Bird, TPAS adviser in Brighton, to various recipients at Brighton & Hove council and IPB Communications, the council’s communications consultants, 13 February 2006