Saturday, February 12, 2011

Government plans for social housing

.The Government are attempting to change the basis of Social Housing in this country moving from a position where it is a viable alternative to private renting or owner occupation to a safety net form of poverty housing.
At a time when entry into the housing market has rarely been more difficult and incomes are being squeezed for most people their changes represent a move in precisely the wrong direction.
Many of the changesare permissive, allowing councils and housing associations to make changes rather than compelling them.
Security of Tenure
Existing tenancies will remain as now, although the Government are asking if tenants who move should be given one of the new fixed term tenancies. Councils and Housing Associations will be able to give fixed term tenancies, with a minimum period of two years. These tenancies will be at social rent levels.
Rights to succeed to a tenancy for new tenants will be standardised for council and housing association tenants. Spouse/partner will have an automatic right to succeed (as long as the spouse/partner wasn’t a successor). Children and anyone else will be up to the land-lord.
Affordable Rents
The Government plan to introduce a new “affordable Rent” for Housing Associations to offer to new tenants from April 2011. These will be short term tenancies at a rent higher than the current social rent level-up to 80% of local market rents.
Councils will no longer have to have” open” short-lists but central government will decide priorities.
There will be a nationwide home swap scheme to improve mobility.
Councils will be able to meet their duty to the homeless with an offer of suitable private rental accommodation.
Council Housing Finance
Current arrangements will change to a self-financing arrangement with councils keeping all the rent money they raise and spend it locally on services.

1. The fact that the changes are permissive means that the decisions ostensibly will be taken locally. Labour needs a clear, consistent policy to respond to these changes at a local government level.
2. The attack on security of tenure reflects the Tory view that social housing is “Poverty Housing”. Depending on the criteria adopted we could see tenants moved on at the end of two years if their circumstances improve.
3. This will act as a disincentive to people improving their conditions, make it harder to develop strong communities and risk creating ghetto’s of poverty.
4. Restrictions on succession raise the possibility of families being evicted on the death of a parent.
5. “Affordable Rents” could see major increases in rents for new tenants-perversely, much of the increase will be met by Housing Benefit. Setting rents in this way means the level of housing association rents can be skewed by local areas of affluence e.g. Salford Quays will artificially inflate the average rent level for the whole city. It appears that this provision only applies to housing associations/Almo’s.
6. The changes to housing finance appear to allow cash-strapped councils to use rent revenue to subsidise other services.