The BBC has reported that council housing “for life” is to be phased out, due to budget cuts of more than 50% in the social housing budget. Already there has been huge outcry; the chief executive of the National Housing Federation called the proposal a “kick in the teeth to millions of people”.
I have no problem in giving a broad welcome to the move to end council houses for life. At present a council tenant can keep their property for life and even pass it on to their children. This is surely just plain wrong. The government should not be in the business of providing people with homes for life. Council houses should be there for when people fall on hard times and genuinely need help, but once they have got back on their feet they should be encouraged to find a property in the private sector, just as anyone else would have to.
Proposals look set to include local authorities checking whether council tenants still need help, and putting all new tenants on fixed term contracts and encourage them to move over to the private sector as soon as financially possible. Also “flexible” tenancies are to be introduced which will allow tenants to move round the country to find work. Grant Shapps also hopes to create a National Swap Scheme.
The government is going to end inherited tenancies, so no longer will council tenants be able to pass on their tenancies to their children. This comes after a freedom of information request discovered that more than £9 billion of council housing had been inherited to those who did not qualify for state help on their own circumstances. That is an unbelievably high figure, and I am glad the government is going to do something about it. We have a massive homeless population in this country and yet we have people living in council housing who could easily afford to live in private sector housing.
Of course, the PR problem here is that people imagine this policy is going to apply to existing council tenants. It won't. It will only apply to new tenancies. So for existing tenants nothing whatsoever will change.
It's also a consultative document, not even a white paper, and is designed to get a real debate going. There's no doubt that this is controversial and radical stuff. But is it right? I think so, but I'm open to persuasion.