Thursday, October 09, 2008

End of lifelong tenancies?

Social housing tenants to face eviction if they get a well paid job or their children leave home? This is pretty revolutionary for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIOH) although not wholly unexpected.

Inside Housing web site (see here) reports that an institute paper has been published which calls for all new social housing tenancies to be “regularly reviewed” on need. This apparently includes even vulnerable and elderly tenants.

If a tenant no longer “needs” social housing then the logical conclusion of this review is that they should face eviction. Traditionally assured or secure tenants have enjoyed life long tenancies provided that they pay their rent and keep to their tenancy conditions.

Ending this "Right" will (and has – look at the comments on the web site) quite rightly caused an enormous row.

This proposal is also just bonkers. A madness no doubt born out of desperation by housing providers about meeting demand for homes for desperate families. However, in the future will I have to stand bye while bailiffs bash in doors of elderly tenants whose kids have left home, because they are deemed to be “under occupying” bedrooms?

Will this encourage the long term unemployed to enter training courses and learn new skills if they fear that the end result will be a Certificate together with an eviction warrant from the County Court?

Do we really, really want social housing estates to be only populated with young unemployed or disabled families with no-one in work nor any Grannies, Grand-dads or grown up sons and daughters living in the locality?

Is this future a recipe for disaster or what? Why is it completely normal in most European countries to rent secure high quality homes from public or private providers regardless of whether you pay your rent with the help of benefits or not?

There is plenty that could be done to reduce under occupation of family sized homes that is just not done. We still don’t have a workable national mutual exchange scheme, the payments and encouragement for elderly tenants to move to smaller dwellings is woefully inadequate. Successful communities are mixed tenured communities, socially and economically. We should not ghettoise our so-called “Undeserving Poor”.

This idea needs to be knocked on the head.

It is as daft as when I first got really involved in housing issues when I lived in Edinburgh in the 1980’s. I remember being at a meeting of a housing campaign group when the Labour Party Convenor of the City Council Housing committee came late into the meeting really excited and pleased. She proudly announced to the meeting that for the first time in the Council’s history as a landlord the previous year they had evicted NO tenants – this was as a matter of Council policy.

Now as a local Welfare Rights advisor at the time, I was very pleased that the Council was not “eviction happy” however, I knew that the Convenor was aware of some pretty bloody awful “problem tenants” that were causing an absolute misery to their estates, who frankly should have been evicted. Believe me comrades, despite the insistence of the Daily Hate, anti-social behaviour is not a modern phenomenon.

We’ve now gone full circle. Enough is enough. Time to pull back and realise that the “talibanisation” of the housing profession has just got to stop.


Andrew Berry said...

John me and you are never going to agree on a large number of things but I have to say this is a very good post. I am a tenant of a housing association and am a single parent but my wage I think most would agree neither very high nor very low, SO1 for LG hacks. Is the government seriously going to kick me and my two children out because I am not on benefit or a poverty wage.

Recently Islington took a very modern approach when I was in personal difficulty and ensured that neither me and my children nor my ex partner became homeless I would hope this was an example to other authority and not the rubbish in inside housing.

This thinking comes from the idea that social Housing is “subsidised” something I seem to remember former housing minister Caroline Flint talked about. It is not subsidised housing the rich Tory in his manor is not paying for my home through his taxes nor for that matter is anyone else. It is housing with rents based on running cost not on market rates and what’s wrong with that. The only gripe I have is it should be democratically controlled by the council and not by quasi businesses.

Anonymous said...

This is a very important post - congratulations John. The aim of such policies are to make social housing a truly second class option - the middle class can have security of a sort by buying a house, but others who cannot afford that will never have security.

My parents in law have been married for 60 years. They have lived in local council housing (recently transferred to a housing association)for most of that period. In their 80s, they still enjoy a good quality of life in their social housing with an immaculately maintained garden and enough space that their children and grandchildren can come and visit and stay.

But the logic of this proposed removal of security of tenure is that this is too good for them and they would be moved from the house they have lived in for some 40 years to a tiny flat with no garden and no space for visitors. The next logical step would be to require them to do some work for their keep and then we would be back at the feared and hated Victorian workhouse. We have to oppose such policies through our Unions and political parties and lobby representatives.

leftygirl said...

Yes - excellent post and what incredible timing for CIOH to propose more people are pushed into mortgages that are a huge burden - leaving them hugely vulnerable should their allegedly well-paid job end in redundabcy. The reason why certain groups want to end social housing for those who can afford it is surely that it gives the banks and another intitutions chance to profit through mortgages etc. Thatcher started the war on social housing, but it seems there are plenty who will continue it. Thanks fpr publicising this - am sure it isn't a priority for the media at this time

John Gray said...

Thanks Andrew
You are going to have to watch it – this is the 2nd time (decriminalise drugs) you have agreed strongly with me over a post (mind you that is out of 586 posts in total).

Still, I live in hope, I’m sure one day you will see the light!

Just think of it – Lord Berry of Islington?

John Gray said...

Hi Adrian

Your own story illustrates the "horror, the horror" about this proposal.

Robert said...

In my area councils now give people rent free periods you take over a property which is in shocking state if you agree to do it up you might get a year rent free or you are told that if you do it up and leave the house it's calculated so that you get back any money for improvements. It has worked for our council and for myself, we had a council house which was shocking, we did it up and then had six months rent free, when we finally left ten years later because of my disability we had a years worth of free rent on our new property, if you tell people they might have to move how many people would be willing to do up a property. I've seen people putting double glazing in building on extra buildings because they knew it was their or the families for as long as they needed it.

How sad for people to see this happen and it's happening through a Labour government.

Andrew Berry said...

John. I was going to say your sense of humour is not your strong point but that would suggest you had a strong point!

This report is based on proposal put forward by New Labour Minster in a New Labour Government, question John what are you going to do about it? Is the London Labour Link committee going to call on the new housing minister to condemn such ideas of Flint. May be Margret Beckett should be invited to the next forum so we can ask her?

Social Housing is a major plank of old Labour a major plank of the welfare state. why do New Labour get away with attacking social housing when they would never be allowed to get away with attacks on this sort of level on the principles of the NHS

John Gray said...

Hi Leftygirl
Yes, I think that the CIOH is losing the plot (to be fair it is only a discussion paper – not policy). Increasingly social housing is dominated by the “numbers game” – trying to squeeze the sector to produce as many homes as possible. A very laudable aim - but one that forgets that we are dealing with real people not just numbers.

Hi Robert
Crikey Robert – an interesting contribution! I didn’t realise that Councils/social landlords still did this! If demand for local housing is so low then you can understand this happening. But if there is a housing shortage in the area then you may want to consider is this fair? A family who doesn’t have the wherewithal to repair and upgrade a home loses out? Are people “jumping the queue” and those who don’t family or friends to help out lose out?
I suspect that a family in need who loses out in these circumstances would be able to judicial review such a system? (I think, check it out, but don’t rely on the law for total fairness)

Hi Andrew
No, I think you are wrong about where this proposal came from? It’s actually from the CIOH itself, which is even perhaps more worrying!

I cannot even imagine that such a measure would have been put forward by the CIOH 10 years ago! I don't think it will go that today either.

I suppose the Labour link committee could spend its time writing up and debating “really strongly worded" and “we are very, very cross” motions and loads of amendments, deploring this proposal and calling for a national strike, a really big London demo, T Square rally and an advert in the Guardian supporting John McNoHopers imminent bid to be acclaimed Party Leader.


While another way could be ...I am trying at the moment to organise joint lobbying of Ministers over supporting people funding issues and to hold a UNISON labour link mobilisation event with my branch link members and ministers at Parliament.