Natalie Elphicke is a non-executive director of a leading building society and a published policy writer on housing and housing finance with Policy Exchange and the Centre for Policy Studies. She is co-founder and Chairman of Million Homes, Million Lives.
Last week’s Budget last week contained an announcement for a review of lifetime tenancies in social housing. This offers an opportunity to shape a new compassionate Conservative vision for greater fairness in the allocation of affordable housing and better life chances for young people in overcrowded or other difficult home situations. Social housing can provide increased protection and support in a home setting for those who need it most, such as the vulnerable, severely ill or frail elderly people. With such a significant review, there is an opportunity not simply to protect, but also to extend, social provision for those in greatest need. Modernising social tenancies through a continuing Housing Fairness Review would see greater mobility and fairness in social housing.
Britain has some of the highest levels of social housing of comparable economies. Yet the allocation of social housing can be at best inefficient, and, at worst, can create unfairness and reduced life opportunities for others. Too many people find they cannot access quality affordable housing when they need it for themselves or their family. Currently, tenancies are not reviewed according to need or appropriateness.
Modernisation of the current arrangements for social housing leases would bring the arrangements into line with modern housing choices, and enable greater fairness to be achieved. This would work alongside increased support for home ownership, where those who can buy are helped to buy their own home.
One approach to reforming tenancies could see three types of tenancies:
1. Housing Help for Life tenancies, with new obligations for wellbeing and active healthcare.
2. Family & Carer tenancies.
3. Fixed five year term ‘review and renew’ tenancies.
Housing help for life, Housing & Care Tenants: Lifetime tenancies would remain for all those with long term high housing requirements. Examples falling within this group would include highly disabled or mentally ill people and people in extreme old age with housing need. These would an opportunity to improve the care and security provided through two specific legal obligations relating to housing maintenance and personal health and care.
First, an obligation to undertake all housing maintenance and necessary home improvements for the wellbeing and reasonable comfort of the higher need tenant.
Second, an obligation to individually assess and provide specialist support and care alongside housing. There would be a higher legal obligation for housing authorities to assess the needs of this group and to work with other agencies, such as mental health, health and social care, to ensure that this most vulnerable group in society are given appropriate and high level active care and support in their homes.
High Period of Priority, Family & Carer Housing Tenancy: For tenants who have a higher level of need relating to their role looking after others, or who could benefit from access to affordable stable housing, there could be a family & carer housing tenancy. This form of tenancy could be provided for working parents with young children with modest incomes (like council housing of an earlier time), sole parents with young children and carers for people (adults or children) with particular needs.
For this group, it is the improved life opportunities for children and those requiring care that determines priority. A family & carer housing tenancy would be granted for an initial term of 15 years. Through the continuing Housing Fairness Review process this could be extended and renewed every five years, after the initial term, if the priority need continues. Under a family & carer housing tenancy, tenants would have increased freedom to manage their own homes, like a home owner.
Reviewable Priority, review and renew tenancies: all other tenancies would be provided on a five year fixed term basis. Through the continuing Housing Fairness Review, needs would be reviewed every five years, and tenancies can be renewed for a further five years as appropriate in that home or another suitable home. These tenancies would be brought more into line with general market tenancies for private renters. The rent level which would be payable would depend on income and earnings, as also outlined in the latest Budget.
As with all such significant changes, it seems highly likely that existing tenancy arrangements would continue largely on their current basis. However, making the change in this parliament would mean that the next younger generation would have better access to affordable quality family housing. The current and next older generations will not have to wait, and could see immediate and stronger care and active support where needed. New social housing could be provided with the new tenancy approaches within this Parliament. With increased housebuilding in hand, as many as 250,000 households in this Parliament could benefit from a fairer approach, and more than half a million within the decade.