Prisk praises flagship Tory council for ‘ripping up social housing rulebook’

Prisk praises flagship Tory council for 'ripping up social housing rulebook'

New housing minister Mark Prisk has praised a London borough’s plans to “rip up the social housing rule book” as it bids to introduce two-year fixed-term tenancies for under 25s and ban households earning more than £40,200 from accessing the housing register, instead, directing them towards low-cost homeownership.

Conservative-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council (H&F) is aiming to introduce the policies in April 2013 – alongside plans to prioritise workers and those making a contribution to the community (e.g. ex-service personnel and foster carers) in its allocations and preventing the children of tenants inheriting their council property.

Under its tenancy reform, it wants to introduce five-year fixed-term tenancies as the norm, with two years for those aged 18-25 or with a history of anti-social behaviour. Secure tenancies, it said, will still be available for the most vulnerable residents. It will also only consider granting tenancies for those with a five-year local connection to the borough who are in clear housing need.

The plans are due to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on October 15.

It also wants to increase its low-cost homeownership provision and will be building homes sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough.

Mr Prisk said the council was “taking firm action to ensure that their homes are reserved for those who genuinely need and deserve them the most”.

The new housing minister’s endorsement, however, appears to contradict two areas of the Government’s own housing reform. Firstly, the new regulatory framework for social housing in England – launched in April– stipulates that tenancies below five years should be offered in “exceptional circumstances”. This condition covers both local authorities and housing associations.

H&F appears to be putting all those between 18 and 25 and those with a history of anti-social behaviour in the “exceptional circumstance” category.

Furthermore, it appears to contradict messages in the Government’s pay to stay consultation proposals,which has sought views on an earnings threshold for sub-market rents. It has deemed those earning between £60,000 and £100,000 a year as able to access housing outside of the social sector and, therefore, should be asked to pay more for their social home.

However, H&F’s plans to ban those earning £40,200 from the housing register brings the income threshold for those deemed to need a social home down a lot further, and, in an area that has the fourth highest property prices in the UK.  

Cllr Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for housing at H&F, said: “Today we are leading the way in ushering in a new era for social housing in this country. We are saying that the current system, whereby anyone can apply for a council home irrespective of housing need, has failed.”

Instead of joining the housing register – which currently stands at 10,300 people – those households earning above £40,200 will be offered advice on other housing options including joining the council’s HomeBuy Register.

It also believes that preventing children of tenants inheriting their property will instead push them to look at homeownership; and that braking the “automatic link” between a homelessness application and a social housing tenancy will prevent those playing the system.

Mr Johnson added: “We believe that the notion of a tenancy for life is outdated and that it’s wrong to expect to inherit a welfare benefit in the form of a subsidised house irrespective of housing need.”

“Instead, we want to give honest, hard-working, local residents on low to middle incomes, who make a positive contribution to their local communities, the opportunity to access social housing.

“The old, antiquated system has created disadvantaged communities by producing concentrations of people on benefits with disproportionately high levels of unemployment and sometimes social breakdown.

“In its place, we want to create neighbourhoods where a broad mix of social households all live side-by-side.”