370,000 council and housing association homes will be sold off in England by 2020, the head of the Chartered Institute of Housing has warned.
Terrie Alafat blamed the government’s Housing Bill which was focused on home ownership. Alafat said there ‘has been a huge decrease over a period of time in the number of homes for rent at sub-market levels. In 1980, we had about 30% of all homes being rented by councils and housing associations at affordable levels of rent. That is now at about 17% of all housing, and that is actually less than the private rented sector.’
Her comments came as it emerged that thousands of Londoners have been kicked off the housing waiting list in Labour-controlled Camden, in north London, prompting fears that town halls across the capital will follow suit. Camden has reduced its waiting list for council homes from 27,000 to just over 5,000 and has tightened its criteria to qualify, blaming the housing shortage.
Under the new rules, applicants for a council home must have lived in the borough for five out of the last seven years. Those with financial assets or savings of more than £32,000 will no longer be eligible and the rules on overcrowding have been tightened to include living rooms and dining rooms as potential bedrooms.
Housing experts now fear that other boroughs with large waiting lists could take the same action, forcing thousands to take their chances in the private rented sector. Camden had the longest waiting list in the capital last year, with 24,644 hopeful residents. It was followed by Tower Hamlets with 19,783 and Islington with 19,196, according to official government figures. Hammersmith and Fulham had the lowest number, 518, followed by Harrow with 762.
Samantha Davies, 29, who is sleeping in her parents’ living room following treatment for cancer, is among those in Camden who have been told they no longer meet the criteria for a council home, despite joining the register more than three years ago. She told the Camden New Journal: ‘I am asthmatic, my immune system is low and I often sleep in the living room because the damp in my room is so bad. I haven’t got back to work as I have been too ill since I had chemotherapy for bowel cancer. I just think it is unfair that people who have lived in Camden their whole life no longer have a chance.’
In January, a brief letter from the council housing needs team said Davies’ application ‘does not demonstrate a need for social housing under the rules of the new register’. he was allowed to request a review but was told the decision is ‘unlikely to change’. The Tory-led Local Government Association, which represents council bosses, warned yesterday: ‘Homelessness will increase and housing waiting lists will rise as government housing policies combine to reduce the number of desperately-needed homes available to communities.’
Cllr Peter Box, LGA Housing spokesman, said: ‘With 68,000 people already currently living in temporary accommodation, more than a million more on council waiting lists and annual homelessness spending of £330 million – there is a real fear that this lack of homes will increase homelessness and exacerbate our housing crisis.’