Government plans are an attack on council tenants

AS A result of plans set out by the government’s housing minister Grant Shapps, new social housing tenants would be offered tenancies with no long term security.

Paul Kershaw

Instead of being offered the prospect of a stable home, people will be offered tenancies that could be as short as two years, starting in 2011. There will be checks on their circumstances and, if their income moves too far from the breadline, they (and any children) will be forced to move out.

Presumably the alternative is supposed to be the private rented sector, which has even less security of tenure; or they could try to get a mortgage if they have a secure job and have saved, at least, a 10% deposit.

Under the coalition plans councils and housing associations will be given the option of charging much higher rents, as much as 80% of the market level. In the same week it emerged that council tenants face a 6.8% rent increase. (This figure is a government guideline. Councils could charge a higher rent).

The government disingenuously claims that increasing social housing rents will generate resources for new housing. But increasing rents will increase the amount of housing benefit claimed as well as increasing rent arrears and evictions. More homelessness will obviously increase housing waiting lists.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) says that in poorer low rent areas the new higher (“affordable” in Con-Dem speak) rents will still not be high enough to fund new building. In high rent areas, the rents would be so exorbitant that most tenants would be pushed back onto housing benefit.

The NHF calculates that tenants living in higher value areas, such as the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Haringey, would have to earn £54,000 a year “before they could get off housing benefit and be in a position where they could keep the bulk of their additional salary and find themselves better off in work”. How many people currently on waiting lists will be able to afford this?

The housing charity Shelter commented that it begins to look like a deliberate attack on the poor and vulnerable.

Housing cuts

The boss of First Choice Homes in Oldham commented: “The issue is people being able to pay. It is all very well as landlords thinking the rise will help our businesses, but will people be able to pay it? We’ll try to collect it but I expect arrears to rise.”

This happens at the same time as: 63% cuts in funding for house building, cuts in housing benefit and cuts in funding for legal advice for people with housing problems. There are five million on council waiting lists and the figure is rising.

When New Labour flirted with attacking security of tenure for council tenants Liberal Democrat MPs opposed the idea. The Tory manifesto promised to “respect the tenures and rents of social housing tenants.”

Trade unions and anti-cuts campaigns must demand that:

  • Social landlords should pledge not to evict tenants hit by these changes
  • Landlords should pledge not to use the new insecure tenancies
  • Housing Associations should pledge not to use the new higher rents, and local authorities should pressure associations to stick to this through all powers available to them (partnering arrangements, planning powers, etc.)
  • There should be a massive council house-building programme.
  • Mortgage lending is at a ten year low. The average UK house price has increased 273% since 1959 in real terms.
  • In 2009 the total number of private and social housing amounted to 156,816 (only 39,233 units were social housing), 63% less than the 425,800 houses built in 1968.