Social housing tenants 'trapped' report says

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The Independent Online

One in eight social housing tenants are trapped in properties away from their family or work opportunities due to the barriers they face in trying to move, a report indicated today.

An estimated 495,000 of the UK's 3.9 million families in social housing are thought to want to move home but are unable to do so, according to affordable housing group Circle Anglia.

The reasons people gave for wanting to move home ranged from moving closer to family so that they could care for sick relatives, to finding work, and escaping overcrowded living conditions.

But the group warned that people in social housing faced significant barriers if they wanted to relocate.

Part of the problem is due to a shortage of affordable homes available to rent for people trying to move, with a 66% decline in the availability of new lettings to existing tenants during the past 13 years.

At the same time, there has been a 500,000 reduction in the overall number of social homes available, while there has been a steep rise in demand for social housing, with one in 12 households in England now on waiting lists, the group said.

The study, which was carried out by thinktank Human City Institute, estimates the lack of social housing mobility is costing the UK around £542 million a year, or £2.5 billion over the course of this Parliament.

The group estimates that £305 million a year could be saved if social housing tenants were able to move so they could care for sick relatives, while a further £48 million could be saved through welfare payments and increased tax revenues if people were able to move to areas where there were jobs.

It is also thought that £18 million could be raised through higher tax revenues if people could move to take up better paid jobs, while there would also be benefits to families in terms of better educational achievement for their children if they were able to escape overcrowded living conditions.

Circle Anglia is calling for all social housing landlords to join a mutual exchange register to make it easier for tenants in one local authority to move to another one, without having to compete with external applicants.

The group already runs its own exchange, and said that while 53% of people who signed up with it had already been trying to move for more than two years, 80% managed to do so within six months of registering with it.

David Williams, executive director of strategy and new business at Circle Anglia, said: "Social housing residents want to move for a number of reasons, including health, to care for sick family members, to escape overcrowding or to seek work in more prosperous areas.

"Whatever the reason, one thing is clear, it is near impossible to make the move on the transfer list, and the social and economic costs to the UK are devastating.

"With around half a million people on the social housing transfer list, if their landlords simply signed up to one national mutual exchange service we could create a fluid, free-market of house exchanges that would help so many people."

Housing minister Grant Shapps said: "It is vital that we ensure council and housing association tenants don't become trapped, unable to take up job offers, move to more appropriate accommodation or care for loved ones.

"Schemes already exist to help people who want to move, but it's patchy and so I want to do more so they can take up opportunities anywhere in the country to improve their lives.

"That's why I am working to bring forward our manifesto commitment for a national affordable home-swap scheme, where tenants will be able to easily transfer to another home or another part of the country."

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