Police housing crisis as forces sell off homes

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police forces are cashing in on the buoyant housing market by selling off thousands of homes previously used by serving officers. Tens of millions of pounds have been made - despite warnings that lack of subsidised police houses will make it even more difficult to attract new recruits.

Police forces are cashing in on the buoyant housing market by selling off thousands of homes previously used by serving officers. Tens of millions of pounds have been made - despite warnings that lack of subsidised police houses will make it even more difficult to attract new recruits.

The rush to sell has reached such a pitch that more than two-thirds of the Metropolitan Police's stock of homes have been sold, while Sussex has netted £22m from sales.

Last month the Prime Minister admitted to the House of Commons that there was a recruitment problem, and pledged to do everything possible to overcome it. Yet yesterday the Home Office said it would not ban the sales.

The highest level of sales is in London, but other forces around the country have seen the opportunity to raise extra millions. The Northants force has sold 64 of its 140 police homes, raising £3.7m; a spokeswoman said the money had gone back into policing. The force hopes to raise £5m more by selling the rest by 2005.

Greater Manchester has disposed of 363 houses. In Highgate, north London, the Met is currently selling off Mansfield Heights, a £6m estate of 45 police homes.

Now Conservative members of the new London Assembly are demanding an end to the sell-offs, which were introduced in 1992 at a time when clustered police accommodation provided an obvious target for the IRA and when property prices were much lower. Before 1994, police officers were entitled to either free accommodation or a housing allowance.

Bob Neil, the assembly's Conservative group leader, said: "It makes no sense to continue this policy at a time when it is becoming increasingly hard to attract new recruits to London and other major cities because of living costs."

Surplus housing stock is first offered to the officers in residence before being advertised to the general public. But, with no kind of discount, most officers cannot afford to buy at market value. A two-bedroom maisonette in Mansfield Heights, for example, is on sale for £125,000. A new owner would have to spend thousands of pounds more on refurbishment.

Peter Forrest, a Conservative councillor for Highgate, said: "I was recently canvassing on this particular estate when it became apparent that nobody was living there. An officer eventually came down to see me and explained that virtually all 45 properties were empty because they were being flogged off at a price beyond most police officers.

"I was astounded because I had only just heard Tony Blair wringing his hands over the problem of recruiting new officers in London."

Latest figures reveal that, for every new officer recruited by the Met, another three are leaving. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, recently announced that new recruits would be offered an annual bonus of £3,000 on top of their £18,500 starting salary in an effort to end the manpower crisis.

Even with a mortgage of three times salary, however, the average constable would have only half the cost of one of Mansfield Heights' modest homes in an area where houses often go for £500,000.

Ann-Marie Manning, the wife of a police constable who lives at Mansfield Heights, said the community was now a "ghost town". Mrs Manning, who has lived on the estate for nine years, said she had lost many police friends who had been forced to leave because their short-term tenancies had run out and they could not afford to buy their homes.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Police homes are no longer required. The way forward now is to ensure that officers have enough money for housing from their salaries."

Comments