Boris backs Labour in 'council houses for life' row
A London council has rebelled against David Cameron’s drive to end the practice of offering council homes for life — and has been backed by Mayor Boris Johnson.
Labour-led Camden council believes forcing tenants to move on after a few years will disrupt schooling and break up local communities. It has decided to reject the power — granted to all local authorities under the controversial Localism Act of 2011 — to offer only short-term stays in council homes. Camden will also continue to allow the relatives of long-term council tenants to “inherit” the property.
Councillor Julian Fulbrook, Camden’s housing chief, says: “Government proposals in relation to housing policy are wholly counter-productive and could spread alarm and anxiety to our residents.”
He adds that the new powers are optional, and says while asking tenants to move on after a few years would free up homes for some of the 25,000 people on the council’s waiting list, this benefit would be outweighed by the impact on those who lost their home. Continuing inheritance rights will, he says, allow families to feel “safe and secure”.
The Mayor has backed the council and all housing associations operating in the borough have been advised to follow suit.
The decision puts the council on a collision course with David Cameron who has frequently argued that a lifetime right to council housing “stunts ambition”, leaving undeserving tenants hogging cheap homes that should be passed on to more deserving families.
Responding to Camden’s decision housing minister Mark Prisk said: “Social housing is a valuable resource to protect the most vulnerable in society, but one that helps far fewer people than it should. That’s why we’ve introduced common-sense reforms to make the system fairer and more responsive.
“Councils should be using the flexibilities we’ve given them to ensure homes go to those in greatest need in their area, better meet the needs of current and future tenants, and cut waiting lists.”
Some London councils will, inevitably, take up the opportunity, creating a postcode lottery situation across the capital. Neighbouring Westminster Council, for example, will consider short term tenancies for all but the most vulnerable. Hammersmith and Fulham backs tenancies of just two years for all under 25s. Richmond is advocating five-year tenancies with a presumption that they will then be renewed.