This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser, published in today’s paper

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling on tenants and anybody concerned with the housing crisis in the town to tell the Council to abandon its proposed changes to its Housing Allocations Policy. Despite the fact that existing tenants are unaffected, all the tenant groups in the town are opposed to introducing a two tier system. We don’t see why new tenants should be treated worse than existing tenants. That’s one of the reasons why we are calling for the continuation of ‘secure tenancies’ for existing and future tenants. 

In place of ‘secure tenancies’ the Council is proposing to introduce time limited tenancies, at the end of which people who are deemed to earn ‘too much’ will be forced to leave. A consequence of this is the likely loss of more Council homes. Faced with the prospect of being forced to move into the very expensive private rented sector, or trying to get a mortgage for a home on the open market, the chances are that tenants will take advantage of the ‘right to buy’. Almost certainly buying their Council home will be the cheapest option on offer. So a proposal which is supposed to make ‘best use’ of our housing stock will promote the loss of more homes, increasing the shortage.

Even if a tenant has their tenancy renewed at the end of their fixed term, they could be forced to move against their wishes. The Council is proposing to apply the ‘bedroom standard’ in such a way that changes in the family composition will mean tenants being forced to move a number of times. This could involve ‘up-sizing’ and ‘down-sizing’. At a certain point they will qualify for a bigger home, e,g, when a child reaches 16 (and there are other children in the house) then the family will qualify for an extra bedroom. Yet when the children begin to leave home the family will have to ‘downsize’, for example from a 3 bed to a 2 bed and eventually a 1 bed property. This will apply to tenants whether or not they are in receipt of housing benefit.

These enforced moves will undermine settled communities and force tenants to move away from friends and family to an area which may well not be their choice. This is to treat them like pawns who can be moved about at will regardless of their wishes.

The Council is proposing to wipe 7,500 households off the Housing List by closing down Band C. Pretending that these people have no housing needs may make the figures look better but they will do nothing to tackle the housing crisis. This proposal is supposed to be to prevent well-off people going on the list. Yet the idea that people who can easily afford to buy a house are putting their names down on the Housing List is complete fantasy. After 30 years of demonisation of Council housing and Council tenants why would somebody who is well off want to live on a Council estate? Even if such a rare person did go on the list their chances of being given a home are negligible.

Rather than policing a scarce resource we need to start building new Council housing in order to make the resource less scarce. Council housing was never conceived as being just for the poor or ‘ the vulnerable’. It was a socially necessary housing tenure, necessary because ‘the market’ would not provide homes for a large proportion of the population. As house ownership continues to decline in the face of rising house prices, more and more people are renting. The acute shortage of ‘social housing’ means they are forced to pay very high rents in the private sector. That’s why the number of private renters in Swindon on HB has nearly doubled in the past 5 years, with HB payments around £30 a week more than in ‘social housing’. It makes more sense to build new Council homes than to rely on the growth of private rented accommodation which will drive up the HB bill.

The way to cut the numbers on the Housing List is to cut the housing shortage. Swindon Council has the resources to begin building Council housing again. It’s resources, financial and human, should be concentrated on increasing and improving the stock at its disposal rather then wasting them on searching for well-off people who supposedly want to become Council tenants. The proposals will disrupt the lives of tenants in an inhuman and forlorn quest to constantly shift tenants from one place to another, based on a ‘bedroom standard’ which takes no account of real life circumstances.

Please tell the Council’s consultation to stick with ‘secure tenancies’ for all tenants and tackle the shortage by building new Council stock.

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group