Social housing and the myth of ‘inherited’ tenancies

by Cllr Leonie Cooper

The past few months have seen an upsurge of interest in social housing- but for all the wrong reasons.

One example that has had the Tories and right-wing media frothing at the mouth is the need to get rid of ‘lifetime’ tenancies, so that Councils can re-allocate properties on a regular basis, moving on tenants who are ‘under-occupying’.

Another new policy has been serving notice of eviction on whole households, including small children, when (usually) a teenager has been accused of being involved in the August riots.

In Wandsworth, we now have 3 such cases – but the local Tories proudest moment was being the first Council to serve an eviction notice. 8-year old Jessica, Daniel’s little sister may not see it as quite such a triumph, though.

But another area that has attracted recent attention are the 90,000 people who have inherited tenancies. “More than 90,000 live in ‘inherited’ council homes” screamed the Telegraph in October.

Rent subsidy for these ‘dreadful people’ could be as much as £300 million. Ministers are looking at closing this appalling loophole, we are told.

But nowhere is there an explanation as to why anyone might be allowed to inherit a Council or Housing Association tenancy in the first place.

So who are these people? They are joint tenants whose husband or wife has died, or someone in a civil partnership whose partner has died.

As one half of the joint tenancy has passed away, the remaining person succeeds to the tenancy as an individual. Sometimes, much more rarely, the inheritor is a son or daughter, usually living at the family home to care for an elderly parent. Councils and Housing Associations conduct very full checks before allowing anyone to inherit a tenancy – obviously.

But in the brave new world ushered in since the arrival of the coalition, we see the government promoting the eviction of the bereaved. It may be a Big Society, but it certainly isn’t a caring one.

Threat to Evict Jobless a ‘Gimmick’ Says Labour

Labour has criticised Wandsworth Tories’ proposals to put new council tenants on contracts which mean they could lose their home if they don’t find a job or enrol on a training course.

Labour’s Cllr. Mark Thomas said ‘Of course It’s really important that we do more to incentivise people into work. But we are concerned that those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own are not unfairly penalised.

What’s really needed is more Council action to build more homes and provide more jobs for local people. We are calling for a new council-led programme to build many more social rented homes, a proportion of which we have said should be earmarked for those in work. We all know the jobs market is very tough at the moment and the vast majority of people do want to work.

It is crucial that the council provides meaningful employment support for people who sign up to this new scheme with a real job at the end of it, otherwise these plans for new council tenants are just a hollow gimmick.’

Wandsworth Council press release here:

Inflation busting rent rise for council tenants

Over 17,000 council tenants in Wandsworth will be more than £400 a year worse off on average following a rent increase decision by Wandsworth council. Tory councillors voted to hike up rents by an average of 7.4%, having rejected a motion put forward by Labour for a lower increase.

Labour’s housing spokesperson, Councillor Mark Thomas said:

“Wandsworth tenants already pay the highest council rents in the country. This inflation busting increase will cause real hardship, and shows just how out of touch the Tories are at a time when ordinary residents are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.”

The Tories also voted down a Labour proposal to help ease the housing crisis in the borough by earmarking additional money from the sale of housing assets for the provision of new council and housing association properties. Cllr Mark Thomas added:

“With so many residents on the council’s housing waiting list, it’s vital that we build more council and housing association homes. Given the council’s poor track record in this area, it’s disappointing the Tories are not willing to take on board practical proposals to help ensure that Wandsworth performs better in future.”

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