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Sarah Rowe @crisis_uk Sarah is Senior Policy Officer at Crisis

New rules on lifetime tenancies undermine housing stability

The Housing Minister has this week introduced amendments to the Housing & Planning Bill, being debated today, that could bring an end to the option of long term tenancies in social housing. We are still guessing at much of the detail – the Government introduced this change by amending the Bill at the 11th hour without prior consultation – but we are worried about the implications.

Since the Localism Act in 2011, councils and housing associations have had the option of offering short fixed term tenancies of 5 years or more (or 2 years in ‘exceptional circumstances’).

The previous government’s stated intention was to make better use of the existing housing stock, encouraging people under-occupying their homes to down-size, or higher earning tenants to move on into the private sector. Only a minority of councils have taken up the new flexibilities, but fixed term tenancies are being used for a growing proportion of housing association lettings.

The impact of the original changes hasn’t yet been fully felt because many of the first generation of fixed term tenancies haven’t reached the end of their term.

The new rules proposed by the government mean:

  • Councils will no longer be able to offer long term tenancies. They will only be able to provide fixed term tenancies of 2-5 years. Any exceptions have not yet been outlined by the Government, though ideas floated by Million Homes, Million Lives give us an idea of the types of groups that that Ministers might want to protect.
  • As is the case under the current rules, councils will have to review tenants’ circumstances before the end of the tenancy and decide whether to offer another tenancy or bring the tenancy to an end. If the tenancy is ended, the council must provide housing options advice, but does not have a specific obligation to ensure the tenant finds another home. The tenant would have very limited grounds on which to challenge the eviction.

It is not yet clear whether the Government will impose the same changes on housing associations, but they would be able to do this through regulations.

Stable housing is vital for vulnerable people and for those who have experienced homelessness. For some people who have been homeless, a social rented home is the first stable home they have had. Creating uncertainty over their tenancy length will make people feel insecure and prevent them putting down roots and building a new life. It may also damage work incentives as people fear that improving their financial situation will lead to their tenancy being ended. The complexity of the review process could be detrimental to the well-being of vulnerable tenants.

At a time of severe housing shortage there is also a danger that the new rules will leave people on low incomes with nowhere to go at the end of their tenancy and potentially facing homelessness. The end of a private sector shorthold tenancy is now the cause of homelessness for 30% of people accepted for assistance by English Councils (38% in London). It is essential that we do not see this problem mirrored in social housing with short term tenancies creating further insecurity and uncertainty.

If these proposals are to go ahead, we will want to see at the very least robust exemptions for people who have been homeless.