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Ending lifetime council tenancies will only add to housing insecurity

To increase social mobility the government propose to take your home away. This was the message to new council house tenants that was slipped into the Housing and Planning Bill at the last minute yesterday. Council house tenants currently have permanent tenancies as do most housing association tenants, but if the government’s proposal is approved, there will be no new permanent council tenancies and all new tenancies will last between 2 to 5 years. This removes one of the main principles of social housing, a home for life.

The government argue that it is reasonable to do this as social housing becomes scarcer. They also state that it will increase social mobility and help people to aspire to ownership. As usual they provide no evidence to support their case. Many will see the proposal as yet another attack on social housing by a government whose housing policy is driven solely by an ideological vision of home ownership at whatever the cost. It is ironic that a government that has created the demise of social housing now uses that demise as a reason for further attacks.

There has been much debate in the housing press recently on the issue of rationing an ever reducing supply of social housing by introducing fixed tenures and increasing rents through the “pay to stay” proposals. Some housing associations support this and have introduced fixed-term tenancies for so called affordable housing. Stock retaining councils also had the option of introducing fixed-term tenancies but refused to do so. The government’s proposals no longer give them a choice. Any attempt at rationing social housing only deals with the symptom of the problem and not the cause. It is only the government who fail to see that the real answer to the shortage of homes that people on low incomes can afford is investment in social housing.

It is clear that the government now see social housing as a temporary measure for those in need. It is also clear that councils are seen as the future main providers in this area. There is no mention of housing associations in the proposal. This might change, but under the “new deal” between housing associations and the government there will be an expectation that it will be introduced as a “voluntary” measure in the same spirit as the extended right to buy. The government are wary of legislating further for housing associations when the ONS has just declared them to be public bodies. A decision the government wishes to reverse as quickly as possible by giving housing association more independence.

The more cynical might argue that by creating fixed-term tenancies for new council tenants the government are ensuring a supply of vacant properties that councils will have to sell to fund the replacement of housing association homes sold under the right to buy.  This might be stretching the government’s ability to plan so far ahead.

Whatever the motivation, there is no doubt that fixed-term tenancies will undermine the stability that a permanent home creates. It will disrupt communities and harm the educational and employment prospects of people living under the threat of losing a home. Just as the regular reviews of social security benefits have placed a great strain on many people, regular reviews of tenancies after 2 to 5 years will do the same. The emotional and physical effects will place a further burden upon health and other services.

Once again short sighted government proposals will increase social disruption and financial costs at the expense of those in greatest need. A permanent home of whatever tenure is a basic human right. It provides a foundation in the creation of a more just and equal society. We must resist the government’s attempt to punish one section of society to benefit another.