People with ‘close connections’ to the UK to be prioritised for social housing

People with “close connections” to the UK and their local area are to be favoured for social housing, under a new Government consultation.

Housing minister Lee Rowley defended the Government’s record on building social housing, in the face of longstanding calls from charities and housing organisations for greater investment in this area.

But he stated there will “never be enough” social housing, adding that it must be allocated in a way which is “fair and which people have confidence in”.

Applicants will be required to demonstrate a connection to the UK for at least 10 years and their local area for at least two years in an “overhaul” of the system.

Those with unspent criminal convictions or certain civil sanctions for anti-social behaviour could be banned from social housing for up to five years.

People who “repeatedly make their neighbours’ lives hell” through anti-social behaviour also face being evicted under a “three strikes and you’re out” policy.

Terrorists with certain convictions could also be blocked from living in social homes.

New social tenants on high incomes would also no longer qualify. The salary threshold is yet to be determined and existing tenants would not be affected.

Mr Rowley said: “Today we are proposing further steps to make the allocation of social housing fairer for people.

Cabinet reshuffle
Housing minister Lee Rowley defended the Government’s record on building social housing but said there was ‘always more to do’ (James Manning/PA)

“If you abuse the system, making people’s lives a misery, or actively work against our British values, you are making a choice – such choices will have consequences and our proposals seek to stop such people getting a social home.

“The message is clear: play by the rules, pay in and we will support you. If you choose not to, this country is not going to be a soft touch.

“The public want to know decent and hardworking people that have contributed to this country will be prioritised for new social tenancies.

“People already living in social homes want to know that anyone moving near them will be respectful of their neighbours with their communities protected from those who persistently break the law.

“That is why it is right that the finite resource of social housing is allocated fairly and local law-abiding citizens in need have more access to a home in their own communities.”

Quizzed on the plans on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, he said: “There’s always more to do. We’ve got a big programme at the moment, the best part of £12 billion of taxpayers’ money going into building more, but there will never be enough.

The Government has said it wants to bring in the reforms ‘as soon as possible’ (Peter Byrne/PA)

“And so we have to make sure that the amount that we have is used in a way which is fair and which people have confidence in.”

Mr Rowley, who is the 16th housing minister in the past 13 years, insisted his party has done a “significant amount” of work on housing as he said the focus is not on individuals but on policy over the years.

He said: “We have consistently built more houses and we’ve built them in the right place and it’s all part of a plan.”

Asked if refugees could be barred from social housing under the proposals, Mr Rowley said there is a recognition there “will be certain scenarios where there are exemptions”, giving the example of the Afghan resettlement schemes.

Pressed on whether that could change, he said: “Well, if the state has an obligation to house people that will continue, that’s part of a different set of rules to make sure that people are not homeless.”

The Government has said it wants to bring in the reforms “as soon as possible” but is seeking the views of the public, councils, social housing tenants and providers.

A consultation will run until March 26 and can be accessed through an online survey.

The Government has suggested some of the measures may be implemented by secondary legislation which would mean they do not require a vote in Parliament.

Last week organisations working in the not-for-profit social housing sector wrote to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Housing Secretary Michael Gove to express concern over the plans.

They said: “Social housing is designed to support those in the greatest need. Government data shows that 90 per cent of new social housing lettings go to UK nationals, with long waiting lists in all areas.

“Imposing extended qualification periods before people can even get on the housing register is likely to force more people into homelessness.

“If the Government’s main concern is to increase the availability of social lettings, it could achieve this far more effectively by building more social housing.”