Blitz on council house sub-letting: it’s not what it says on the tin


A minor bit of today’s housing news is about John Healey MP backing a private member’s bill which, it is claimed, is a ‘blitz on council house sub-letting’. As someone who thought John did a half-decent job as housing minister I’d not normally want to take him to task.  But there are reasons for questioning whether this particular bandwagon is a good one to jump on, even if his former opposite number Grant Shapps has already done just that.

First of course it needs to be said that council tenants who move out and make a fast buck by sub-letting the property without handing it back to the council are acting despicably, especially in areas of housing shortage (which let’s face it, means pretty much everywhere).  It’s even worse when the new ‘tenant’ is using the property for selling drugs or something else which harms the neighbourhood.  So it’s right that the problem is tackled and that such sub-letting should be illegal.

But as our esteemed co-bloggers at Nearly Legal have pointed out, not only is the practice already recognised as fraud, and so is already illegal, but councils like Camden have had successful prosecutions against tenants who have done it, as indeed has Tory Westminster.  The private member’s bill from Conservative MP Richard Harrington is therefore a complete waste of parliamentary time, as unlawful sub-letting is already a criminal offence.

Why then are the likes of Harrington and Shapps trundling on with their bandwagon?  First of all they presumably want to give the impression that ‘for far too long’ (to use a phrase beloved of Shapps) tenants have been getting away with murder (or sub-letting), and that only judicious action by a Tory MP has alerted us to the problem.  Well surely if they want to play that game (and it’s not the first time), Labour ought to be making clear that it’s a ruse and have nothing to do with it.

Second, once again, social housing tenants are being targeted, as they have been recently with anti-social behaviour and other measures.  This, surely, is the real reason for the private member’s bill. It’s to remind tenants once again that they are only temporary custodians of an asset owned by the state.  “An Englishman’s home is his castle” is not intended to apply to social housing tenants, who’d best be moved on to a proper home in the private sector.

The message to Labour should be this: don’t be fooled into going along with measures which encourage social housing, and especially council housing, to be treated like an emergency social service. Even if extreme shortages and spending constraints are putting enormous pressure on landlords to use their stock as effectively as possible, we ought to think twice about any measure of this kind which the government supports.  The chances are that its real aim is not what it says on the tin.  And it’s not Labour’s job to undermine the objective that – ideally, if resources allow – social housing should be about providing homes that people can feel proud of and want to raise their families in.

I heard an anecdote recently from a social housing manager which reminded me of this point. He’d been chatting to a tenant who’d moved into a housing association house after many years in different private lettings.  She said that she was so relieved to be in a place she could now call ‘home’, after having so many landlords who had imposed petty rules and having never been offered a long-term tenancy.  It was encapsulated in a trivial conversation she’d had with her son, who’d asked whether in this house he’d be able to put posters on his bedroom wall. For the first time, she could say ‘yes’.



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3 Responses to Blitz on council house sub-letting: it’s not what it says on the tin

  1. will 98 says:

    This is nothing in comparison to the massive countrywide use of social housing by the dwp surveillance teams. Hundreds of properties are in the hands of “fake tenants” and this is a particular problem on council estates where hapless benefit claiments are being targetted by cretins called spy workers of the dwp. It’s immoral, unlawful, entrapment and all in aid of dwp
    workers driven by financial gain. Hull has over 40 properties in the hands of the dwp.

    Are the housing providers aware ? Do landlords get paid housing benefit ? Dwp workers are
    sub letting to their cretin mates whilst picking up huge bonuses for stopping, reducing, prosecuting
    innocent claiments. The dwp have for decades lied, cheated and set up claiments in search
    Of bonus money. One job centre alone in the north received over £19000 in staff bonuses in a 12 month period. Questions under the FOI system just meets with more lies and denials OR ” no comment”…this is where investigative journalism needs to look and ASAP.

  2. Monimbo says:

    Graham I very much support the aim of tackling illegal sub-letting and support your view that social landlords should make period audits of how their properties are being used. It’s just that this latest move fits into a pattern with so many of the government’s recent announcements and policy moves – several of which might be sensible in their own right, but whose overall motivation is clearly to move social housing towards being an emergency service on the US model. I’m calling for senior Labour politicians to be wise to this and not automatically fall into line with what the government does just because they don’t want to be made to look bad by the tabloids.

  3. Graham Facks-Martin says:

    Labour has to make clear that it is as opposed to illegal sub letting as their opponents, no one knows the true extent of it and when I suggested to the large landlord that I am involved with that they should make a visit at least annually to every property I was told that it was impossible, nonsense. Local housing officers should have a good relationship with tenants in their patch or seek to and they will learn by contact and gossip what is going on

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