Council Housing – The Fairest Policy
A lot of fuss has followed David Cameron’s suggestion (reportedly with Nick Clegg’s support) that Council tenants should lose their lifetime tenancy rights. The present situation means that anyone can apply for a Council House. If you meet the basic criteria you are added to the waiting list and after a very long wait you might be lucky enough to be granted a house. The long wait is largely due to the limited supply of Council housing and the low turnover of occupancy. If tenancy is granted for life and in some cases family members are allowed to take over the tenancy it is hardly surprising that the turnover is very low and the supply doesn’t meet demand.
Compare that to the private rented market. Most private tenancies are for a renewable 6 or 12 months and the turnover is reasonably high as people move on in their careers and trade up in their housing status. It is similar in the owner occupied sector. Generally people move between houses every few years as they develop in their careers and start a family, moving to bigger and better houses at each step. Once a family is started there is often more stability as schools are started and a career matures. However, the flexibility allows the freedom to move when required with all the benefits for the individual and the economy.
David Cameron’s suggestion that tenancies should be granted for a renewable five or ten year period seems to me eminently sensible. Why should, for example, a lottery winner be entitled to retain their Council house when they could afford to buy a small palace; why should someone who inherits money or someone who is successful in their career block a family desperate for decent accomodation? Clearly a tenant that is unable to move on should be able to keep their house once granted but to inject more mobility in the Council housing stock and free up desperately needed properties is so logical I find it difficult to understand why the likes of Simon Hughes are opposed.
I did read one article in the Telegraph by Janet Daley which suggested that tenants would be discouraged from seeking promotion at work or getting on in life by the potential loss of their Council house but that argument seems specious to me. Who would not wish to improve their lot in life because they might have to move out of a Council property? That could surely be addressed anyway by the offer of help to enter the private rented market or to become a home owner. That is surely the purpose of the many shared-equity type schemes on offer. She also suggested that higher turnover in Council houses would damage the sense of community. Does she think that privately rented and owned areas have no sense of community? You only have to look at the state of some majority Council owned estates to see how unrealistic that statement is.
The other thing that the critics have not satisfactorily dealt with is why people whose circumstances have improved should stop those in a far worse condition than themselves being able to get a house. The “fairness” agenda surely dictates that those who are in a position to enter the private market should do so freeing up a Council home for those who are unable to afford to do so.
Those who have opposed the freeing up of Council house tenancies are also often the same people who have opposed the Thatcher government’s “right to buy”, which was one of the main causes of the break up of most monolithic Council estates, with the consequent injection of much needed private cash to improve the physical fabric of the environment.
I hope that the Coalition proceed with these proposals to end a lifetime right to tenancy. It is the right thing to do.