Socialist Worker

Outrage at Labour’s attack on tenants

New plans to end the right to lifelong council tenancies will spell disaster for council residents and are no solution to Britain’s growing housing crisis, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2127

The government’s latest bizarre solution to the housing crisis is to consider taking away yet more rights from council tenants.

Council house tenancies for life are likely to be scrapped and instead tenants would be given fixed-term contracts of as little as three years.

Tenants could then be faced with the “choice” of moving to the private sector, buying part ownership of a house or paying higher rent.

The proposal comes from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). New Labour housing minister Margaret Beckett is said to be “mulling over” the plans.

The plans could be included in the government’s Green Paper on social housing, due to be published early next year.

The proposal to means test and time limit “secure” council tenancies is shocking.

“This is yet another attempt to stigmatise council housing as housing of last resort,” said Alan Walter, tenant chair of the Defend Council Housing (DCH) campaign.

“With so many people facing insecurity today the last thing we need is the ‘great and the good’ of the housing world proposing to take away ‘secure’ tenancies which council tenants fought for and won in the late 1970s.”

New Labour’s failure to build council housing has added to the housing crisis in Britain.


“The solution to a shortage of decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing isn’t to means test and time limit it but to build more,” said Alan.

“We need to put pressure on ministers to announce a massive investment programme to build a new generation of first class council housing to provide the secure tenancies, low rents and accountable landlords that the private market has failed to deliver.

“That would also have the benefit of opening up council housing allocation policies to the wide range of people who used to live on council estates and re-establishing the mixed and sustainable communities the CIH and government say they want.”

This latest scandal is a reflection of the fact that New Labour has put its hope in the private sector to solve the housing crisis.

It promised that there would be two million new houses built – but the reality is that private building firms are halting construction and sacking workers.

New Labour’s plans for “eco-towns” have withered to almost nothing.

On top of this, the strategy of putting private firms in charge of local authority housing is heading into chaos.

One example of this comes from Lambeth Living Limited – an Arm’s length management organisation (Almo) that runs council estates in Lambeth, south London.

Just months after it was set up, it is hitting tenants with major cutbacks. It was meant to bring great improvements to 33,000 council-owned homes.

But a major financial crisis in Lambeth council’s housing department, which is millions in the red, means Lambeth Living is making drastic cutbacks to services.

Tenants already face rent hikes of up to £14 per week from next April. The council is also ramping up heating and hot water charges by 65 percent and lighting charges by more than 30 percent from next month.

Lambeth Living is slashing services and cutting jobs in a bid to save more than £2.5 million over the next 18 months.

It wants to close four housing offices and has axed a home redecoration scheme for elderly tenants.

Almost 50 “capital projects” on estates in Lambeth will be stopped – including lift and window replacements and works on roofs and drainage.


Schemes for the replacement of out-of-date gas boilers and the upgrade of communal boilers have also been ditched.

Almost 70 jobs are to be cut across departments, including maintenance and repair staff.

At the same time the thousands of council-owned empty properties in Lambeth are not being used to house people.

Instead the council has started selling them – putting 53 vacant houses up for sale.

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Article information

Tue 11 Nov 2008, 18:22 GMT
Issue No. 2127
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