This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser in response to a report on the Council’s ‘Tenancy Strategy’

The report to Swindon’s Cabinet on its ‘Tenancy Strategy’ excluded some key things. Why, for instance, were Cabinet members not told that all the tenant groups are opposed to ‘fixed term tenancies’ and an income ‘threshold’? Why were they not told that the working group set up by the Council unanimously opposed their proposals, or that the Housing Advisory Forum has called on the Council to “maintain secure tenancies for existing tenants and future tenants”? For the first time ever the Cabinet was not informed of the point of view adopted by the HAF. Why?

If the Council treats the tenants it consults with, with such contempt, airbrushing their opinions out of the record, and keeping Cabinet members in the dark, what confidence can we have that the ‘consultation’ will be anything other than a rubber stamping exercise? To add insult to injury they have launched their ‘consultation’ during the height of the summer holidays.

There was another serious omission from the Cabinet documents. A Diversity Impact Assessment which was presented to the HAF mysteriously went missing. Amongst other things it said: “There are so many households on the waiting list that the measures outlined may make little difference. For example many on the waiting list do work, but on low salaries.” This posed the question, if it may make little difference why waste money on doing it? However, since this statement would undermine the argument for proceeding with ‘fixed term’ tenancies and an income ‘threshold’, it was excluded from the report. The exclusion of these things was disgraceful, a travesty of democracy.

The Advertiser report centred on who gets a Council home. What the Council is proposing is the modern version of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, with the ‘charity’ doled out to whoever ‘deserves’ it. However, there were key aspects of the policy missed out. The Council is proposing to end the ‘secure tenancies’ for new tenants and introduce ‘fixed term’ tenancies. They want the power to evict tenants who have done nothing wrong and force them to try to get a mortgage or to move into the much more expensive private rented sector.

Since 500 new tenancies a year are given out (excluding sheltered accommodation) this means that within 10 years the Council would have the massive and costly administrative task of reviewing 5,000 tenancies, whether or not they had crossed the ‘earnings threshold’ and so on. Yet the documents which went to Cabinet made no estimate whatsoever of the cost of such an onerous task; monies which will come out of tenants rents and will no longer be available to spend on the upkeep of our homes.

According to Richard Hurley the purpose of all this is to cut the housing waiting list. He seems to think that people who can afford a mortgage put their name on the list, presumably because they don’t want to spend any money. It’s a real mystery. Why would people who don’t need Council housing want to become Council tenants?

Despite decades of politicians and the mass media stigmatising Council tenants and Council housing, as a tenure it is apparently so popular that people are thronging to put their names down even when they can afford to buy a house. Yes, there’s so much more social kudos to being a Council tenant than a home owner. As we know, being a Council tenant is widely revered as an expression of success in life.

Back in the real world there is a deepening housing crisis that is the result of inflated house prices, the difficulty of getting a mortgage, the large deposits now necessary, and the shortage of genuinely affordable rent. This is why the housing waiting list continues to rise not because people who can afford a mortgage are so desperately keen to become Council tenants.

The Council puts priority applicants on Bands A (‘in urgent need’) and B (‘in need’). There are more than 7,000 and still rising, on these Bands. If the Council considers applicants are ‘in low need’ they go on Band C. Even if you leave aside those applicants on Band C (‘in low need’) there is a worsening crisis reflected by the numbers on the priority Bands. We face what MP Rob Buckland has described as “an acute social housing shortage”. Perhaps Richard can tell us if he is in favour of building new Council housing. It is only by cutting the shortage that the housing crisis can be addressed, not by manipulating the housing waiting list numbers to make the crisis look less severe than it is.

 

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

333 Welcombe Avenue

Park North

Swindon

SN3 2PF

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