Housing Minister John Healey has today taken steps to give people confidence that councils allocate housing in their area fairly.
It forms part of the Prime Minister’s Housing Pledge to improve access to housing by giving councils a bigger role in meeting the needs of people in their area, and clamping down on tenancy cheats who unlawfully sub-let their properties for a profit.
Draft guidance published today makes clear that first priority for housing must be given to those in greatest housing need. But it also strengthens the freedoms councils have to prioritise needs specific to their local area.
This could include:
- Attracting people with particular skills into an area
- Giving priority to those who have been on housing waiting lists for a long time
- Supporting people in work – particularly those on low incomes
The draft guidance also makes clear the need for councils to tackle the myths and misunderstandings surrounding allocations, by doing more to inform their communities about who is getting housing, and to consult tenants and residents when setting their local priorities, so that allocations policies are better understood and have greater legitimacy among local people.
Mr Healey also launched plans for a coordinated crackdown this autumn on people who cheat the housing system and profit from subletting their council house or housing association home. This anti-fraud drive, the first of its kind, could free up between 5,000 and 10,000 homes for those who need them over this and next year. There is a waiting list of 18,000 alone in Salford….
This multi-million pound anti-fraud drive includes a data sweep of housing and benefit records, and new practical advice for councils and housing associations on the best way to catch tenancy cheats – including on setting up local hotlines, and special crack squads to investigate reports of fraud.
This initiative is supported by the Audit Commission, National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing, the Tenant Services Authority and the Local Government Association.
Councils that sign up to this commitment and agree to work with local housing associations will benefit from a share of £4million to help them start their own anti-fraud initiatives.
John Healey said: “People must have more confidence that decisions about who gets housing are taken fairly. This means better information for residents, so that local authorities’ allocation policies are clear, well understood and meet the needs of the whole community. It also means councils making the most of the greater leeway I’m giving them in the new guidance to allocate homes according to local needs.
“But this is only one side of the equation. Anyone getting council or housing association homes should stick to the same rules as everyone else. So today, I am also announcing a coordinated crackdown on the tenancy cheats who profit from unlawfully sub-letting their home. This could free up thousands of properties for people who really need them.
“These two measures combined present a valuable opportunity to tackle head-on the myths and false perceptions around social housing. By working together and with local residents, councils and housing associations can ensure fairness in allocations.”
The plans come as an Ipsos-Mori poll shows more people disagree (32 per cent) than agree (23 per cent) that the way local authority housing is allocated is fair – while 45 per cent simply do not know enough about how housing is allocated in their area.
The survey also found that 81 per cent agreed that social housing tenants who abuse the conditions of their tenancy should not be allowed to stay in their homes.
Housing experts have suggested that the number of social homes unlawfully sub-let by tenants could range from one in 100 to as many as one in 20 in some inner-city hotspots.
Some councils have found that recovering a property that has been unlawfully sublet can cost as little as £4,000, whilst the total cost of building a new social home can be well over £100,000.
Steve Bundred, Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, said: “For every illegal tenancy there is a homeless tenant or family who stands to lose out. This is because housing which should have been theirs is occupied illegally by some one else holding two or more tenancies. It also represents a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“We are delighted to be working with government and local authorities on this initiative to root out the fraudsters who exploit the social housing system for personal gain.
“Extending our National Fraud initiative will help to prevent this type of fraud occurring in future.”
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Subletting social housing is not only unlawful, but it deprives people in pressing need of affordable housing. At a time of recession and growing waiting lists this is unacceptable.
“It’s because this scandal is compounding the national housing crisis that we are fully behind this drive.”
Sarah Webb, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing said: “Every year almost 200,000 people get the keys to a good quality, affordable home in communities up and down the country. With shortages of affordable rented housing the way that these homes are allocated is critical.
“Local councils and housing associations have a shared responsibility to house people who are in real need and a shared responsibility and motivation to help build strong communities. But we know that there can be real tensions around who gets priority and access to affordable housing.
“CIH believes today’s announcements are an important measure in providing local communities with a greater say in the allocation of affordable housing, something that in turn can help tackle some of the myths that exist around waiting lists.”
Chief Executive of the Tenant Services Authority, Peter Marsh, said: “The TSA exists to ensure that current and potential tenants are protected. We believe that action should be taken when people are abusing the system and profiting from sub-letting.”
Sam Younger, chief executive of Shelter said: “Our desperate shortage of social housing makes the allocation of social housing an incredibly difficult decision and Shelter believes it must be made on the basis of greatest housing need.
“We are calling on local authorities to continue to use their powers to ensure those with the greatest housing need are allocated social housing so that the most vulnerable people in society continue to access a decent home.
“We will continue to highlight cases where we think this is not being put into practice.”