When Bracknell Forest Council sold its homes, it said the move would mean tenants would benefit from millions more pounds that the new private provider could spend on repairs and maintenance.

Some fifteen years later that provider – Silva Homes – has admitted it is “falling short” on its commitment to residents, with tenants complaining of huge delays to repairs.

The council transferred most of its housing stock to a private company it set up, Bracknell Forest Homes, in 2008. It argued that it needed to do this as it could no longer cover the costs of maintenance and upgrades itself.

In 2006 the council told tenants that it would cost a total of £312 million over 30 years to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard – and its own Bracknell Forest Standard – as well as to carry out basic repairs.

But it said it couldn’t even afford to pay for the bare minimum. It said a big reason for this was that it had to pay £9 million a year to a government fund that is then distributed to councils based on need.

READ MORE: The year of misery for tenants of Silva Homes in Bracknell

The council argued that a private social housing provider wouldn’t have to pay that government fee – and so could afford sweeping repairs and upgrades.

It said that if the homes stayed in council ownership, it would have to cut £150,000 a year from tenants’ services to manage the costs.

On the other hand, it said a housing association could spend the £312 million needed over 30 years on major repairs and improvements. These would include double glazing, new kitchens and bathrooms, and efficient central heating, as well as day-to-day maintenance.

Throughout the early months of 2007 the council consulted its tenants on the transfer – arguing strongly in favour. It even produced a DVD to help persuade them. Tenants voted by 70 per cent in favour of the transfer, on a turnout of 75.7 per cent.

That March, a report to the council’s executive committee – its leading group of councillors – included 12 pages of comments from tenants excited at the promise of improved repairs and upgrades.

One comment said: “My decision is based solely on one overriding fact – that these properties need major refurbishment & financially this is only fair way for work to be done. We pay our rent, we deserve decent homes.”

But even then, there were some who had worries. “What guarantee is there that after a few years the association will not join with a larger one?” asked one. “I ask this because it should be kept local.”

Another said: “I support the change providing all the promises that Bracknell Forest Homes is making are kept.”

Some said they’d heard bad things from people who’d been tenants of other housing associations. Others said they thought it was wrong to pass public property into private hands. But with the council promising great improvements, those voices were in the minority.

READ MORE: Silva Homes says it has ‘fallen short’ on Bracknell repairs

In early 2008 the final transfer was signed off. A contract said the council would be allowed to intervene if Bracknell Forest Homes didn’t stick to the commitments made to residents.

Bracknell Forest Homes rebranded as Silva Homes in 2018 to distance its name from the council, and has since expanded to provide homes in six other council areas across the south east.

Now it’s set to be fully absorbed into the much larger Abri housing association, having already completed a merger this year. Just as with the original transfer, it argues that the merger will help it complete repairs and carry out improvements to homes.

The News has asked Bracknell Forest Council and Silva Homes if this affects the council’s ability to intervene if commitments aren’t kept.