Social housing tenants will be expected to keep fit, give up smoking and actively look for work, under a controversial new scheme devised by a major housing association.
Yarlington Housing Group, which manages 9,000 homes in Somerset, has come under fire for its so-called Household Ambition Plan (HAP), which new residents will be expected to sign when they agree fixed-term seven-year tenancies.
Among the ambitions they could be expected to work towards are “skills and qualifications so that you stand a better chance of finding the type of job you want”; “skills for life” including “cookery, gardening or DIY” and “health and wellbeing” which includes “thinking about what you eat, how much exercise you take and other things that affect your health, wellbeing and fitness”.
Prospective tenants have been told: “We will look at the progress you have made with your HAP when we consider the renewal of your tenancy at the end of the seven-year fixed period.”
The housing association acknowledged that “some people may feel uncomfortable” about committing to the ambition plan. “If they decide they do not want to take advantage of this opportunity, they will be advised to bid for homes offered by other housing providers who do not have a similar scheme,” the housing association said in a statement.
Michael Gelling, chairman of the Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisation of England, which represents those in social housing, said the scheme was patronising and possibly illegal.
“You can’t tell me not to smoke if I smoke, or not to drink if I drink or how to live my life,” he said. “I’m not a social underclass. I’m a human being. This has been drawn up by people in well-paid jobs sipping wine on their verandas saying ‘we’ve sorted the underclass out’. I don’t think it would stand up in court. The landlord tenant relationship is very strong in law.”
The plans have sparked a storm of criticism in the housing world, with some people working in the sector describing the plans as “insulting” and “offensive”.
One commenter on the Inside Housing website wrote: “Whatever the motivation, this takes social housing into social engineering and smacks of Victorian paternalism.”
Gary Orr, chief executive of Yarlington, stressed that nobody would be evicted if they failed to keep up with their “ambitions”. A spokeswoman added it was a “positive” scheme to help people “realise their full potential and achieve what they might like to do”.
“We will continue to house and support tenants that don’t fulfil their ambition plans, recognising that not everyone starts from the same position,” Mr Orr said. “We believe that there are significant skills across our communities. Our Household Ambition Plans are an opportunity to realise the potential that exists behind each and every front door. Yarlington have embarked on this new policy initiative in order to reconnect fully with our charitable objectives, creating opportunities for residents to fulfil their full potential.”