Con-Dem housing reform plans

Cameron and Shapps have trailed a consultation paper to be published as early as tomorrow with a “plan to end lifetime council tenancies” (Inside Housing and The Guardian) and a “home swap scheme to help tenants move” (Today Programme and Inside Housing) (hat-tip to Katie Brown (HLPA junior group), J, and Francis Davey – e-mail’s been buzzing this morning – as well as he who cannot be named who tipped me off about this announcement a week or so ago).  The idea behind both schemes is to facilitate labour mobility, which rather goes to the “end of housing policy” debate that did the rounds at the turn of this century (more on mobility below).

In essence, the end to “lifetime” tenancies seems to be a shift to “flexible tenure” which, in turn, looks like the grant of a tenancy for a fixed period (five or 10 years has been mooted), with a discretion to providers to extend after “regular reviews” and a potential to “force” council tenants to downsize.  That is the sum of our knowledge so far.  Apparently, the “problem” is that there are 1.8 million households on waiting lists (although, it might be added to that, that this signals the success of choice-based letting schemes to which there is no reference in the reports I’ve read).  This signals the return of housing tenure to the attempt during the early period of the inter-war recession to get households out of council housing who no longer had a need for it (see the interesting discussion in the excellent Peter Malpass book Housing and the Welfare State).  The reports I’ve read are short on knowledge about current housing law (woefully short to be frank), but the detail of this scheme, I suspect, will be pulled off the shelf from the delightful Caroline Flint’s time in office as housing minister (see the NL note).  In other words, this is unlikely to be “new” other than in the fact that it could become real.

The home swap scheme is trailed by Inside Housing as “a freedom pass” scheme that allows swaps to take place over a national database “… to make it easier for tenants to move to find work without having to leave social housing”, although Shapps also mentioned on the Today programme moves to enable care to be given to relatives.  Shapps trailed this in an “interview” with the Tory ConservativeHome Platform in November last year (hat tip to Francis for that).  New Labour was already developing regional and sub-regional schemes for this purpose and aimed to create a national scheme (see the allocations guidance at para 29), so there is nothing particularly innovative about this element at all (and as well).  Shapps also suggested that swaps might involve more than a simple two household swap, which sounds complex (ask Locata).

But it is worth questioning whether “mobility” for employment or other purposes is actually what tenants want.  Transfer schemes are already available and the whole point of the “housing options interview” is to offer alternatives, including alternative locations for housing.  Few social housing tenants take up these moves and/or transfers.  The reasons for this are reported to be about the identity of communities (something which, one presumes, is close to Cameron’s heart) on social housing estates.  The Impact Assessment of the allocations Code noted (at p 16) that

Significantly, immobility in the SRS may result not from the rigidity of the allocation system but from households’ rational response to the benefits of social networks that must often be forgone when moving. Tenants are not prevented from moving to areas with greater job opportunities, but rather choose not to sever family and other social ties just to improve their access to jobs (Fletcher, 2008). This is particularly the case where jobs are, or are perceived to be, low paid and insecure. When surveyed, social tenants do not feel their chances are impaired by their tenure (DWP, 2008). This implies allocation policies are not the main barriers to mobility in the social sector and consequently that the new guidance is unlikely to bring about much greater levels of mobility.

Labour mobility may be just one reason for moving, but the whole point of an allocation system based on choice (again, presumably, something close to the Tory heart) is that it responds to, well, choice, particularly when it is a rational choice based on a survey of the employment “opportunities” available.

Further, one of the key reasons for introducing security of tenure in 1980 was to link the right to buy to it.  How will the right to buy fare under the “flexible tenure” scheme?

Anyway, rant over – let’s wait and see the detail of the scheme.

Posted in Allocation, assured-tenancy, Possession, right-to-buy, secure-tenancy, Succession.

5 Comments

  1. I cannot see the Lib Dems signing up to this – it will be political suicide for them in urban areas.

    The only way it could work is by abolishing the Right to Buy – and there is no way the Tories will do this .

    There are a hatful of reasons why this is idiotic – forcibly evicting elderly pensioners as their homes are too big, turning social housing into large transit camps – goodbye sustainable communities , a deliberate counter incentive to getting employment – get a job lose your house etc etc .

    And proportionality anyone ???

  2. Agreed on all counts – but it will be interesting to see how they balance all this out in the CP.

  3. Has anyone yet worked out how the the Scrapps Exchange Scheme differs from the HA 85 S92 right to Mutually Exchange tenancies as serviced by Homeswapper?

  4. What is the problem that these policies are trying to solve? It isn’t the lack of affordable housing, that is for sure.

    I happen to think we need more housing, greater security and affordable rents. This policy doesn’t deliver on any of those fronts. And combined with the decision to revamp housing benefit, this direction of travel can only end up producing a reservoir of poor, vulnerable and ill-housed economic actors ready to provide cheap labour if and when necessary.

    I work in private sector rented housing in central London and see many people from all over the world. Almost unanimously they are amazed at the lack of security in the rented secor in comparison to where (ever) they come from. And we seem to take the status quo for granted, almost as if it is a natural state of affairs.

    I suppose the only short-term hope is to keep fingers crossed that the Lib-Dems wont swallow it – (Simon Hughes had made some critical comments).

    Relying on the LD’s isn’t really where I ever hoped to be.

  5. I read with interest and I have to say concern regarding the proposed housing reform plans. Personally, having been homeless myself and subject to the awful delays in getting a property, ideas to release “empty nest sydrome” homes is certainly welcome, however, the earlier idea of preventing the use of housing benefit funding for an excessively large property would be a very good idea (not the £400 limit announcement, the seperate one that said that if you were on your own and claiming hb for 4 bed you would be limited to equiv of a 2 bed). The thought however of having the very limited security of just a five or ten year tenure for a property I believe would give such a feeling of insecurity, and anxiousness within families, prevent people improving generally their properties and remove the feeling of it being a “home” in many ways. Having had to move several times before we have been housed, I can personally say what a devistating effect this has on the mental health of the family.

    Imagine if you were moving into a new property, you have to purchase all flooring as this is ripped up as a matter of course by the authority for “health and safety” reasons, which is not a small cost. You renovate the garden, and gradually decorate and improve the property, often putting considerable sums (certainly as much as you can with limited funds) into the property, making it your own. Would you do that if you were only guaranteed to be there for five years?

    Also, you could run the risk of creating “sink estates”. If you have to move out to “other options of housing” if you are able to get an improved job for example and could feasibly afford then a private rental, do you think that people would take the job? I do not believe so. Would you take a job for a couple of thousand more and risk losing your home? Alternatively they would move and the only ones left would be those on benefits and create a disunified community, with little ambition and hope.

    This programme would also cause difficulties when children are older yet still return often because of relationship breakdowns or lack of affordability for themselves, returning from university, whereby they had left the home, the family were downsized, then the children have no where to return to. Until you are of an age where your family really are unlikely to return, you are not safe from this very real situation.

    Administratively as well it would be a complete nightmare for councils. They have not got the resources, or in fact many times, the knowledge to deal with what they already have to deal with, let alone having to review people’s situations every five or ten years. I know of a large number of complaints to our local authority (Braintree), where they are taking liberties with families rights and running roughshod over them, for which we have a number of complaints in with the Local Government ombudsmen, how on earth would they manage with even more?

    I would dearly love to see real fairness for the homeless, not having to be the same banding as a family needing one extra bedroom, able to wait for years in their small yet comfortable home for a home, which the homeless does not have the benefit of, creaing great unfairness, and within choice systems the fact that accepted homeless applicants can only bid within their borough, whereas the others in the same choice system can bid regardless of boundary.

    I hope everyone with any sense makes sure the government are shown the real situation for the homeless, look at ways to reduce the number of elderly people in over large homes which are desperately needed by families, but not create a sub culture of social housing and estates where no one wants to be other than those absolutely with no choice and no hope.

Leave a Reply (We can't offer advice on individual issues)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.