What is the Community Right to Challenge?

The Community Right to Challenge was one of several new initiatives introduced in the Localism Act 2012, and has been in force from 27 June 2012.

The Community Right to Challenge is the Right for community organisations to submit an expression of interest in running services of local authority and fire and rescue authorities on behalf of that authority.

The Community Right to Challenge gives community groups, parish councils and local authority employees the right to submit an ‘expression of interest’ in taking over and running a local authority service. The local authority must consider and respond to the challenge.

If a local authority accepts the challenge they must then run a procurement exercise in which organisations – including those that made the challenge but also private companies – can bid to take over the running of the service.

Where the service is delivered as part of a statutory duty the public authority retains the statutory duty, even if they commission delivery of services to meet their statutory duties externally. This is the same as when services are commissioned out now – for example homelessness services can be contracted, but the legal duty towards homeless people remains with the local authority.

Community Right to Challenge aims to give communities more opportunities to shape and run local public services where they believe they can do so differently and better. They may think they could deliver services better or cheaper, make them more responsive to local needs, offer additional social value, or deliver better value for money. The services may be at any scale of activity from very local and small to authority wide.

Who can use the Right to Challenge?

There are four broad categories of groups who can use the Community Right to Challenge to submit an expression of interest in running a service:

  • Voluntary and community bodies
  • Charities
  • Parish / Town councils
  • Two or more employees of the relevant authority.

These are called ‘relevant bodies’ and are defined in the Localism Act and explained in more detail in the statutory guidance. Relevant bodies may submit an expression of interest in partnership with other relevant bodies, and/or non-relevant bodies to their local council or relevant authority. So, for example, a local community group could submit a joint expression of interest with a parish council (other relevant body) or with a commercial business (non-relevant body).

What services can the Community Right to Challenge apply to?

The Community Right to Challenge applies to all ‘relevant services’. The default position is that unless expressly excluded, all services provided by, or on behalf of, a relevant authority are defined as ‘relevant services’ and so can be open to a Community Right to Challenge.

Exceptions to this are services which are excluded by legislation. Some services are excluded permanently. These are:

  • Individual packages of services for continuing health and social care for named individuals with complex needs, provided/commissioned by a local authority or NHS body (or jointly).

In addition, services which are commissioned and managed by individuals or their representatives using direct payments do not fall within the scope of the Community Right to Challenge.

Other relevant areas of policy and law

Public Service Reform

In the Open Public Services White Paper published in July 2011 the Government set out its plans for changing how public services are owned, delivered and funded. It is based on the following principles:

  • Choice of providers for service users
  • Decentralisation
  • Diversification of providers
  • Fair access to public services and accountability to users and tax payers.

Community Right to Challenge is one of the ways that the Government is implementing the white paper.

Read more about Public Sector Reform.

Social Value Act

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 became law on 8 March 2012. This places a legal duty on public bodies to consider the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of an area in making decisions on commissioning and procurement. Public bodies will have to abide by this when making decisions on contracting out public services, including contracting triggered by using the Community Right to Challenge process.

Read more about Social Value Act.

Best Value Statutory Guidance

Authorities also have a general duty to consider ‘best value’ under the Local Government Act 1999, and in compliance with Best Value Statutory Guidance Sept 2011. This is defined as “having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness” as well as the overall value, including economic, environmental and social value, when reviewing service provision. In this they have a duty to consult before deciding how to fulfil their Best Value Duty, honour local compacts and, when considering de-commissioning, actively engage community organisations and service users and consider options for how to reshape the service or project.

Read more about Best Value Statutory Guidance.

Read the Community Right to Challenge statutory guidance