Should council houses be for life?

Council Houses

Image by Rubber Dragon via Flickr

As it stands at the moment, if you are lucky enough to be allocated a council house it’s yours for life. They can even be handed down to your children. The idea, of course, being to provide council tenants with long term security. But, with so many people desperately in need waiting years to get a property, is the house for life principle sustainable?

As a general rule I’m not in favour of changes that seek to erode part of the protection offered by the welfare state but surely if your circumstances change for the better and you become more able to support yourself you would expect to see a reduction in the benefits you receive even if one of them was your council house.

I’m not suggesting you throw people out at a moments notice but it seems fair to review tenants circumstances periodically, say every five years, and if their need for council housing is no longer as great (maybe they were now in well paid work or all their kids had left home) they could be supported to find alternative accommodation and their council house reallocated to whoever needed it most.

This was proposed by Cameron back in 2010 (although the government have been pretty quiet on this since) and it’s not often you’ll find me agreeing with him on welfare reform. I realise this is controversial but with council houses such a scarce resource and many people, especially young families, unable to find decent accommodation don’t we need to consider it?

Am I being unfair? Is this right more fundamental than I realise? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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8 responses to “Should council houses be for life?

  1. The end to lifetime tenancies was included in the Housing Bill. Pressure from housing lobbyists and charities led the government to change their initial suggested time period from 2 years to 5. But it’s very much part of the new housing law. Problem is, it’s an ‘if you like’ law rather than a compulsory one. So Housing Associations, ALMO’s and councils can choose whether they wish to adopt it or not. Something else which makes housing a postcode lottery. It also only applies to new tenancies, which will also be affordable rent tenancies – another big change. ‘Affordable’ is classed as 80% of Market rental. Not actually that affordable then, in some areas!

    I personally believe that limiting a tenancy to five years, in terms of reviewing that tenancy, is a good thing. If a tenants circumstances have changed and they can afford more rent, then let them stay in their house if they wish, but pay the Market rental figure for it. If they then choose to buy a house or move elsewhere, that is up to them – just like other private rental tenants or home owners. I don’t see why tenants of affordable rental properties should be guaranteed their property for life at a low rental amount forever, when non- affordable tenants would have no choice but to reconsider their options if their circumstances changed. But I do think that people should have the choice of staying if they wish and paying the rental amount they can afford.

    I could rant about housing all night but I’d better get some sleep I think…interesting post though 🙂

    • Blimey, shows how out of touch I am since having kids! I didn’t realise it was included in the housing bill. I guess if it only applies to new tenancies we will start hearing more about it in a few years time when/if reviews actually happen.

      I see your point about letting people stay in the house but just increasing their rent although I would worry that the money would just disappear into the council budgets rather than being used to provided more affordable housing for people on waiting lists.

      Thanks so much for commenting.

      • The increase to rents to affordable level specifically includes criteria that the organisation charging those rents must use the additional money for new house building projects.

        It’s interesting in theory, but as I said in my previous comment in many areas the rental figure people are already paying IS the affordable amount, so RSL’s can either charge more and call it ‘affordable’, and then have tenants who are unable to sustain their tenancies, or not charge more and have no money to build new houses. So in practice, I think in high cost housing areas such as London and the South East it’s not actually going to be all that great.

  2. Oooo good question. I think the whole council housing system was totally shafted with the introduction of the ‘right to buy years ago.

    Ooo I just dipped my toes in the warm political waters!

    • Welcome! Thanks for stopping by. It does seem so short sighted in retrospect, although of course there are a significant number of people who did really well out of it.

  3. I guess it is all good in theory but how practical is it? What criteria will someone move or stay? Say if after 5 yrs a family has more income but locally there are no available properties – should they move schools/jobs and lose their local support? And how much would the increase be? It can cost quiet a lot to move and then maybe having to redecorate.

    You may be interested in my earlier blog post http://pinkoddy.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/should-social-housing-be-allocated-on-contribution-to-society/

    • Fair point, I can imagine it might be quite an upheaval in a small number of cases but I think unfortunately a lot of people can’t live in the area they would like because of the cost or have to move away from friends and family to find work/housing. I know both of those apply to me and it never occured to me that we had any other option.

      I’ll head over and check out your post now. I hope you’ll link up to Love Politics Blogs if you get a chance.

  4. I think its a piss take! they should b there to help the people that need it. i know sumbody thats in a lovely house they both work and rent a room to thier son and his girlfriend both of whom pay the rent between the leaving this sponging couple to enjoy a life of free rent and all at our expense!!! If you can afford to move out you should be made to do so and free it up for somebody who genuinly needs it…. and not a 16 yr old thats got herself pregnant! It should be for people that are trying in life

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