The government has announced a crackdown on social housing tenants, with new rules to determine who will be eligible to live in the tenure; ‘rule breakers’ will be given the boot.
On the face of it, the announcement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) presents the reforms as a package of measures intended to tackle anti-social behaviour, and otherwise make allocations ‘fairer’.
From its tone, and the language used, however, the announcement clearly has its eye on the forthcoming general election. Housing looks set to be a key battleground, then, but probably not in a manner the sector would prefer.
As DLUHC puts it, the government is proposing to “overhaul” how social housing is allocated, “to make the system fairer” and see that it is “not available to those who abuse it”.
Under the proposals, DLUHC says that those who “blight” communities, and “continue to make their neighbours’ lives hell” through anti-social behaviour could be banned – or evicted – from social housing; a ‘three-strikes and you’re out’ policy.
The measures also propose to favour people with “closest connections to the UK, and to their local areas” when it comes to allocating homes.
This undoubtedly provides some substance to last week’s headlines that prime minister Rishi Sunak is considering a policy of ‘British homes for British workers’. Welcome to the culture wars.
Housing Minister Lee Rowley offered some tough talk on the matter, vowing this country will not be a “soft touch”.
“[W]e are proposing further steps to make the allocation of social housing fairer for people,” he said. “If you abuse the system, making peoples’ lives a misery or actively work against our British values, you are making a choice – such choices will have consequences, and our proposals seek to stop such people getting a social home.
“The message is clear: Play by the rules, pay in, and we will support you. If you choose not to, this country is not going to be a soft touch.
“The public want to know decent and hard-working people that have contributed to this country will be prioritised for new social tenancies. People already living in social homes want to know that anyone moving near them will be respectful of their neighbours with their communities protected from those who persistently break the law.
“That is why it is right that the finite resource of social housing is allocated fairly and local law-abiding citizens in need have more access to a home in their own communities.”
We’ve heard this kind of talk before, of course; with welfare ‘reform’ and immigration. The notion of the ‘deserving and the undeserving’ is an age-old and easily played trope in politics.
If it’s any consolation, the government isn’t implementing the measures straight away. A consultation has been launched, seeking views from the public, councils, social housing tenants, and providers, although DLUHC says the government wants to bring the reforms forwards as soon as possible.
The reforms include new UK and local connection tests to determine social housing eligibility, with applicants required to demonstrate a connection to the UK for at least 10 years, and their local area for at least two years.
Prospective tenants on “higher incomes” could also no longer qualify for social housing, although existing tenants will not be affected.
As part of the reforms, people who have unspent convictions for certain criminal anti-social behaviour or have been subject to certain civil sanctions could be disqualified from social housing for up to five years.
This sits alongside measures which could disqualify terrorist offenders from benefiting from social housing. Changes will be delivered by secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity, DLUHC said.
Responding to the announcement of the consultation, councillor Darren Rodwell, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “The vast majority of social housing lettings go to UK nationals and many councils already have policies relating to anti-social behaviour, criminal behaviour, rent arrears and income thresholds in their allocation policies.
“The LGA has raised concerns that restricting eligibility criteria for social housing and extending qualification periods could result in a rise in homelessness.
“With almost 1.3 million households on council housing waiting lists and record numbers in temporary accommodation, this is symptomatic of our wider housing shortage. We are calling on the government to use the Budget to grant councils the flexibilities needed to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes.
“This can be done by implementing our six-point plan for social housing, including further reform of Right to Buy by allowing councils to permanently retain 100% of receipts.”
The consultation will run until 26 March.
Main image: Housing minister Lee Rowley. Credit Gov UK
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