Red Brick’s first ever post was on security of tenure. And we have argued consistently since that reducing security of tenure would be bad for individuals, bad for communities and bad for social housing.
The government has now relented and moderated some of its worst proposals. Grant Shapps, in a letter to consultees, has ‘caved in’ and accepted a significant amendment to his draft ‘direction’ on tenure. Blogger Jules Birch has reported on the slalom that has been Grant Shapps’ opinion on this in recent times, wavering about under pressure from both sides. In his letter, Shapps puts the change down to ‘concerns expressed during debate on the tenure reform provisions of the Localism Bill at Lords committee’. Step forward those Lords, if this goes on I might have to amend my unicameral views. And well done to the Labour opposition and to those elements of the housing lobby who have fought for the interests of tenants rather than landlords on this one. No accolades seem to be deserved by the Liberals, who have been particularly supine on security despite their long-term party policies.
It is important however to put Shapps’ retreat into perspective. A skirmish has been won but not a battle let alone a war. Instead of a minimum term of 2 years for general needs housing, the policy will in future be that a normal tenancy term will be 5 years, but landlords will still be able to offer a 2 year tenancy ‘in exceptional circumstances’ as long as they set out what that means in their tenancy policy. Some landlords will no doubt try to adopt an elastic definition of ‘exceptional’.
It should be said clearly that the policy is still wrong, just less wrong than it was. At the end of 5 years, tenants will still be at the mercy of a landlord assessment of whether they should keep their home, without being able to make their case to a court. That is where the immorality lies. It gives arbitrary bureaucratic power to people who are often unaccountable, some of whom are very judgemental about tenants and which ones they like (deserving) and don’t like (undeserving). And if virtually all tenancies are renewed, as some argue, what a waste of time and effort it will be. Linked to Shapps wanting to means test all tenants to find out which ones have a high salary so he can charge them more rent, an army of people will be needed to go round checking everyone’s
income and resources and assessing everyone’s suitability to continue as a tenant. Shapps will still need his Snoopers.
This victory should encourage more campaigning over the summer. In particular, the government looks wobbly on the total benefit cap aspect of the welfare reform bill.
Their Lordships have more good work to do.