Refusal to work could cost council home
Published: Saturday 12th November 11
A radical shake-up of housing policy in Wandsworth could see some new tenants lose their home - if they refuse to find work or take up training opportunities.
This week councillors will be asked to back a new 'Housing into Work' strategy that aims to encourage new council tenants to find work or improve their job prospects through training or volunteering.
If the policy is adopted, people would be given a council home on the condition that they find work or enrol on a training course. If they fail to stick to their side of the bargain they would face the prospect of losing that home. The new rules will only apply to selected new tenancies - current tenants will not be affected.
The council will also be looking to introduce new rules that give a higher priority to working families when it comes to allocating council properties.
The overall strategy aims to make better use of council housing as a way of helping people gain new skills and employment. New tenants who are able to work but refuse will forfeit their right to a home.
The new policy draws on new powers contained in the Localism Bill which will give town halls greater freedoms and flexibilities when it comes to determining who is given a taxpayer-subsidised home.
All new applicants would also be subject to fixed term tenancies. Periodic reviews would be conducted to ensure they receive continued support to help them find employment or engage in other worthwhile activities like voluntary work.
Tenants who failed over the course of that fixed term to take steps to find work or improve their employment prospects would face the prospect of losing their council home. They would then need to secure their own accommodation.
Housing spokesman Cllr Paul Ellis said: "We are effectively creating a contract with selected new tenants to support and help them find a job or gain new skills. In return we expect them to take up these opportunities. People who refuse to meaningfully to look for work without good reason will forfeit their right to a council home.
"This isn't about punishing people who are made redundant or cannot find a job. It is about having a way to penalise those who can't be bothered to make the effort."
Cllr Ellis said that the new scheme will use social housing as a 'launch pad' not 'an end point'.
"We want to help people move on in life. By providing low cost housing on the condition that someone takes up work our expectation is that this will act as a launch pad towards more housing choices to buy or rent elsewhere and to move on, freeing up social housing for people who really need it. Fixed term tenancies will ensure social housing is a starting point, not an end point.
"As it stands nearly 30 per cent of working age households on our housing estates are in receipt of full housing benefit. Research has shown quite clearly that unless you help people in these circumstances get off of benefits and into work, they run a much greater risk of developing health problems and all the other social problems associated with living in poverty."
Cllr Ellis added: "At the same time as offering help, support and encouragement to families who are out of work, we want to also take steps to make it fairer and easier for working families to be given council accommodation.
"It is important that our housing estates have a good mix of people from all walks of life and with different socio-economic backgrounds. We believe that increasing the number of families on our estates who are in work will act as a beacon for those around them.
"Ultimately when it comes to offering council homes in the future we want to give people a hand up - not a hand out."
The proposals have been welcomed by Marlene Price, vice-chair of the Borough Residents' Forum, the organisation which represents the council's 33,000 tenants and leaseholders.
She said: "I support the council's efforts to encourage people to do all they can to improve their lives and improve the life chances of themselves and their families.
"It is important that tenants who are not working have an incentive to find a job, or take up training or volunteering. With support and encouragement they can turn their lives around and make a bigger contribution to the community."