No fair future for social housing?
The Coalition Government’s housing reform proposals remove security from the social housing tenure, reducing the quality of what the sector can offer and effectively reinforcing the bias towards home ownership in government policy.
Leeds Tenants Federation has called on its city council to reject flexible tenancies and promote security of tenure to all its partner housing associations. In its response to the consulation paper ‘Local Decisions: a fairer future for social housing’ it sets out its opposition to proposals that undermine the social housing sector and fail to deal with the housing crisis.
While research commissioned by Department of Work and Pensions in 2007 found that security in social housing provided an incentive to work and an insurance against the risks involved in taking insecure and poorly paid jobs, the Housing Reform proposals see security as an unnecessary luxury for social housing tenants. These reforms aim to make social housing less attractive for all but the old and disabled by reducing it to a temporary shelter.
These reforms need to be considered within the context of public spending cuts and the overall recession. They cannot be separated from the cuts in housing benefit, or the reduction in affordable house building. The removal of security from the social housing sector is matched by higher costs in the private rented sector and increasing risks of homelessness. Against a background of economic recession and job loss these reforms impact on those who can least afford to cope with increased risk and who are most affected by public spending cuts and rising costs.
These reforms fail to target the most pressing housing issues of affordability and supply. Instead they apply unaffordable market rents and market rental standards to public housing, so reducing the choice and quality of housing available. They place responsibility for funding public housing onto tenants, rather than wider society, further undermining commitment to public services. In failing to recognise the problems associated with marginal home ownership and in the implicit suggestion that home ownership and shared ownership do not receive public subsidy these housing reforms conceal the depths of our housing problems and deepen the housing crisis.
Leeds Tenants Federation calls on social landlords and tenants to voice their opposition during the consultation period and to lobby MPs to oppose the Localism Bill when it is put before Parliament.
Details of Housing Reforms
The proposals in the consultation paper are as follows:
Flexible Tenancy: Councils and HAs will be given the option to issue flexible tenancies of fixed periods from a minimum of 2 years to new tenants. Landlords would be free to set the maximum fixed term. Existing tenants will not be affected and will remain secure (or assured) tenants if they move. Council tenants on a flexible tenancy will have the Right to Buy and the right of succession to a spouse or partner. Landlords will be required to draw up a policy on renewing or ending flexible tenancies and where they decide to end the tenancy to serve notice on the tenant six months before the end of the tenancy.
Affordable Rent: Housing Associations will have the option from April 2011 to let flexible tenancies at rents up to 80% of market price. These rents will be covered by Housing Benefit. Local authorities will still have nomination rights to these properties and their rent levels will be advertised in Choice Based Lettings.
Local authorities will have a new duty to publish a Strategic Policy on tenancies in their area recommending to social landlords in their area what approach they should take to tenancies and rents.
Succession rights for all new council and HA tenants will be limited in future to the spouse or partner of the deceased tenant only. Other succession rights will be at the discretion of the landlord.
Waiting Lists: Councils will be given the power to decide to limit their waiting lists and restrict entry to those not in immediate housing need or who do not have a local connection. This means that access to social housing could be means tested or further rationed in other ways. Landlords will operate a separate list for tenants wishing to transfer.
Homelessness: Councils will be allowed to discharge their duty of accommodation to homeless people by housing them in assured shorthold tenancies in the private rented sector on a minimum of 12 months tenancy.
Read Leeds Tenants Federation's response to the proposals (PDF file attached).
What We Say