The Department for Communities and Local Government has published its plans for “the most radical reform of social housing in a generation”.
The reforms which have generated most publicity are those which allow local authorities to offer council homes on short-term lets rather than for life. The ‘council house for life’ scheme was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government 30 years ago.
The general theme of the proposed reforms is giving local authorities more power to set the terms of council tenancies, manage housing waiting lists and allowing them to charge more for council housing. Current tenants will be protected from the changes. For an expert view, see the Nearly Legal blog’s excellent coverage of the reforms, as well as Local Government Lawyer’s post.
- Flexible tenancies – decisions on tenancy arrangements will be made locally. Currently national policy dictates that social landlords can only offer lifetime tenancies. Social homes for life are allocated to people who may have only a short-term housing crisis, which means households continue to occupy a social home and to pay low rents, even if they no longer need this support. Councils and housing associations will now have the flexibility to offer new social housing tenants fixed tenancies – offering minimum contracts of two years. The lifetime tenancies and succession rights of existing council and housing association tenants will not be affected. New tenants will be guaranteed one succession to a spouse or partner, with landlords free to grant further succession rights.
- Fairer allocations – councils will now be able to set their own rules about who qualifies to go on the housing waiting list. At the moment anyone can apply to live in social housing, whether they need to or not. The ‘reasonable preference’ categories for those with the greatest housing needs will be kept, to ensure priority for social housing continues to go to the most vulnerable in society and those who need it most.
- Greater mobility – it will be easier for any of the eight million social tenants in England to move when their circumstances change. Only five per cent of social tenants moved home over the past year compared to almost a quarter of tenants in the private sector. Existing tenants will be removed from housing waiting lists – freeing up social landlords to work together and focus on helping those tenants wanting to move to do so. A new National Home Swap Scheme will offer tenants access to details of social homes available for swaps across the country, regardless of which home swap service they have joined – making it easier for them to move whether to a different sized property, to be closer to family, or for work.
- Fairer provision for homeless people – there will be greater flexibility for councils to make decisions on how best to help people at risk of homelessness at the local level. Currently some homeless families are turning down the decent private rented accommodation they’ve been offered as a settled home, and demanding to be provided with expensive temporary accommodation, at huge cost to the taxpayer, until a social home becomes available. Councils will be able to offer flexible solutions to people at risk of homelessness. Despite tight public finances, the Government will be investing £400m to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping.
- Affordable Rents – a new ‘Affordable Rent’ tenancy will be offered by housing associations to some new tenants of social housing from April 2011. Affordable Rent properties will offer fixed term tenancies at a rent higher than social rent – with landlords able to set rents at up to 80 per cent of local market rents. This will enable landlords to raise funds to build more affordable housing for those who need it. The Government is investing £4.5 billion in new affordable homes over the Spending Review period, which combined with the reform of social housing should deliver up to 150,000 new homes over the next four years.
- New tenants power of scrutiny – Grant Shapps has announced plans for the abolition of the Tenant Services Authority, and instead to give England’s eight million social housing tenants strengthened powers to ensure that their landlords provide quality housing and are held to account when problems arise. Landlords will be expected to support tenant panels – or equivalent bodies – in order to give tenants the opportunity to scrutinise the services being offered and to
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