'Council homes for life' under threat

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Council tenants could lose their right to a home for life under reforms being considered to cut waiting lists, it emerged today.

Under the proposals, council homes could be provided with fixed-term contracts and regular reviews every few years.

Any tenant whose financial circumstances improve could be asked to move to the private sector, purchase part ownership of their home or pay higher rent.

The proposal was put forward by the Chartered Institute of Housing, which represents housing officials, reported The Times. It is understood it gained favour under former Housing Minister Caroline Flint, who also floated the idea of removing council housing from people who fail to seek work.

But Ms Flint's replacement by Margaret Beckett in last month's reshuffle has put back the publication of the Government's Green Paper on social housing, which had been expected this month.

The CIH proposal is understood still to be under consideration, but Mrs Beckett has given no indication of whether it will feature in the paper when it finally appears in the New Year.

At present, council tenants enjoy their subsidised accommodation for life, and many are able to pass flats or houses on to their children. In some cases, people initially granted social housing because of their straitened circumstances are able to retain the subsidised homes after becoming wealthy.

With nearly 4 million people on waiting lists for social housing, and only 170,000 homes becoming available each year, the Government is understood to be keen to find a way of ensuring that help goes to the most needy.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We recognise that housing professionals like the CIH have made a case for reform in the social housing sector.

"As new Housing Minister, Margaret Beckett is currently considering all the evidence and arguments in favour of changes to the current system. However, she has not taken any decisions on measures that may form part of a reform package.

"We expect to signal how we intend to take this forward in the New Year."