Clinical commissioning groups have been instructed to base themselves in existing NHS buildings – most of which are to be taken over by the Department of Health’s new property company – and pay for them out of their running cost allowance.

Guidance published on the DH website said strategic health authorities would have to prepare a strategy for administrative buildings by 16 March.

The guidance said: “It is for CCGs to determine where their administrative headquarters should be located. In making that decision, CCGs should aim to use the existing NHS estate, unless the case for alternative provision can be made on value for money grounds.”

These arguments will be evaluated by SHAs. The “opportunity costs of not using existing NHS estate” must also be taken into account.

The guidance also said: “The cost for CCG administrative headquarters will be sourced from CCG running costs.”

The DH has already set up NHS Property Services Ltd, a wholly-owned government company which will take ownership of much of the primary care trust and SHA estate after those organisations are abolished in April 2013. It is widely expected that the core of its property portfolio will comprise of administrative buildings.

The new guidance appears to suggest that some CCGs will have to pay rent to the property company in order to use office space previously owned outright by PCTs.

An accompanying “dear colleague” letter was signed by DH commercial director Peter Coates. Mr Coates is also a director of NHS Property Services.

The guidance also sets out the expectation that the local arms of the NHS Commissioning Board will not share office space either with commissioning support services or CCGs.

Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, said the DH was “wrong” to be limiting CCG choice at the same time as imposing new charges for accommodation.

He said: “£25 is a very low management fee. If you’re also having to pay for accommodation out of that, it leaves you very tight indeed.”

Mr Dixon said NHS Property Services was an unknown quantity, and that CCGs did not yet know whether they would be charged reasonable rents for their office space compared with other landlords.