Welwyn Hatfield reacts to end of council housing for life

PLANS for a radical overhaul of council housing provision in England signal the death knell for social housing, according to Labour’s leader on Welwyn Hatfield Council.

The plans, which were revealed on Monday, were slammed by Kieran Thorpe, leader of the borough council’s Labour group, himself a tenant at one of more than 10,000 social homes in the borough.

Social homes, which include council and housing association-owned properties account for nearly a third of all homes in Welwyn Hatfield.

Cllr Thorpe vowed to “fight” the plans “as far as possible” saying that “social housing and those it serves deserve much better”.

He said: “I genuinely fear for the future of social housing in England after these announcements, both as a council tenant and someone who understands the important role of social housing in our society.

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“It is not simply to house the poor.

“Grant [Shapps] might say this will only affect new tenants, but how long before it is rolled out to everyone?

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“What sort of reward to aspiration is it to be told to leave your home and line the pockets of a private landlord when the local authority deems you to be earning too much to require a social tenancy?”

He added: “When the Labour Party warned against these plans during the recent election, they were accused of baseless scaremongering.

“It’s clear now that this has been planned for some time.”

Another Labour councillor, Maureen Cook, simply said of the plans: “I despair, I really despair.”

She also said the new policy was “change for change’s sake”.

Elsewhere, reaction to Mr Shapps’ announcement has been lukewarm, with some broadly welcoming elements of the policy and some vehemently against other planks of the scheme.

Geoff Clark, chairman of Welwyn Hatfield Tenants’ Panel, partially backed the proposal, but expressed concern that if after two years tenants’ finances have improved they could be evicted.

The Feather Dell, Hatfield resident, said he supported downgrading homes for single occupants in three-bed properties, but added: “I don’t like the idea of a two-year tenancy.”

Also, reacting to the apparent end of lifelong social housing he said: “I do think it’s a way forward, but then I am a council tenant and I’ve lived in this house for 40 years.

“To me it’s my home – it’s where I’ve brought up my children.”

He said it would be a struggle for former council tenants to afford to get into private sector housing and said it had only been made possible years ago “when Margaret Thatcher said all those years ago that people have the right to buy”.

Fellow panel member, and former chairman, Dennis Hedges, of The Downs, in Hatfield, also backed the scheme in part. He said: “I think the two-year period is good as when a family in a three or four-bedroom house, loses some of its members i.e. deaths, marriages, etc and the house becomes too large for the remaining tenants, usually husband/ wife/partners etc.

“The two-year letting period would help all concerned as it could register these events, and then when the property becomes available (i.e. too large) re-let to a full-size family.”

He added: “High income earners is a debatable subject, yes, if you can comfortably afford to, go private.

“This in itself would enable the lesser well-off to progress the council wasting list quicker.

“The not so well-off should remain on the social housing list.”

But, despite supporting most of the scheme’s elements Mr Hedges said was worried that tenants could be “thrown to the wolves” in private sector housing.

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