The UK government is quietly phasing out lifetime tenancies in council homes, a move that Labour has blasted as part of the Tories’ “a vendetta against council tenants”.
The Conservative Party has placed a strong emphasis on homeownership throughout its terms in power, with a controversial deal only recently signed with housing associations to extend the “Right to Buy” to more people. The measure was accused by some as threatening to reduce the much-needed supply of affordable homes in the UK at a time when the country is building more properties, but still not at a fast enough rate to meet demand.
Now, the government is courting controversy again with its plans to phase out lifetime tenancies in council homes.
Secure tenancies allow tenants to live in a council home until they die, at which point the lifelong right to live in the property is passed on to their children. Previously, the government introduced a ruling that allowed councils to determine how long these tenancies would last in each local area.
This week, though, an amendment to the government’s new Housing and Planning Bill will phase out the lifetime contracts altogether, forcing councils instead to offer all new tenant a fixed contract that lasts between two and five years.
At the end of this period, the tenant’s circumstances will then be reviewed to determine whether they should have their tenancy renewed for another fixed period or evicted.
The ruling does not apply retrospective to current lifetime tenants, but an amendment has also been added to inheritancy rules, which will mean that anyone inheriting lifetime tenancy of a council home who is not a spouse or partner will also be subject to a fixed, periodic tenancy. When a persion other than a spouse or partner inherits a fixed tenancy, it will not automatically be renewed.
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing and Planning, said people will be “astonished that Ministers are legislating to deny families a stable home”.
“This will cause worry and upheaval for tenants, and break up communities,” he warned.
“Margaret Thatcher passed the law to give council tenants secure tenancies which David Cameron is now tearing up. This generation of Tory Ministers seem to have a vendetta against council tenants and council homes.”
“There are already 32 new powers for the secretary of state in this Housing Bill,” he added. “Once again the government is determined to override local decisions and impose the worst aspects of the private rented sector on social tenants – less affordable rents and now less secure tenancies.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government told the Guardian that the amendmend is “about ensuring we make the best use of our social housing, and that tenancies change as needs change”.
“We want to support households to make the transition into home ownership where they can,” they added.