The end of lifetime council tenancies is being proposed as the government introduced a late amendment to the Housing & Planning Bill currently making its way through parliament.
If passed, the new law will introduce mandatory five year reviews for any new council tenancies to see if social housing is still appropriate for the tenant. This move marks a significant step away from the old ideal of council housing – that it provides a home for anybody – and squarely states that social housing is for those at the foot of the economic pile.
The idea was first floated in a speech by David Cameron in 2010 where it was suggested the move would promote social mobility.
At Citizens Advice Merton & Lambeth, we have a number of concerns about this proposal. It must be viewed with other parts of the Housing & Planning Bill, such as requiring councils to sell off their most valuable council properties (and with property prices in London as they are, everything is “valuable”):
- The already inadequate stock of social housing is likely to reduce even further as five year reviews potentially make available council houses that then have to be sold by law.
- If the review process simply takes a snapshot of a tenant’s circumstances at five years then there is a real risk of bad decisions being made – in a world of insecure work with zero-hour contracts becoming more commonplace, it becomes a matter of luck as to what a tenant’s situation is when the review happens. The review process must be robust and take a longer-term view to be fair.
- We have serious doubts whether social mobility will be increased by this move. A more likely scenario is that it cements in place a new poverty trap. Even if social housing rents climb to the proposed 80% of market rents, that is still at least a 20% rental increase for someone having to move out of a council house and into private rented accommodation – quite an increase in expenditure for anyone. It provides little incentive to earn more if the only result is that you lose your council house and your rent shoots up.
There is no parallel legislation strengthening security and tenants’ rights in the private rented sector. The danger is building in housing insecurity to more people’s lives and locking in the negative effects of that on economic and psychological well-being.
The measures are not law yet and are sure to spark intense debate. You can have a voice in this debate by contacting your MP and telling others about it.