People with ‘close connections’ to UK to be prioritised for social housing but what does this mean?

Credit: PA

A consultation on the government’s much speculated reforms to prioritise British citizens for social housing has been announced.

Ministers say “new measures will prioritise households who have a close connection to the UK and their local area” to ensure a fairer system.

Under the proposed changes heavily trailed last week as “British homes for British workers” as part of Downing Street’s crackdown on immigration, social housing applicants will be required to demonstrate a connection to the UK for at least ten years and their local area for at least two years.

Housing Minister Lee Rowley said “this country is not going to be a soft touch” and that “the public want to know decent and hardworking people that have contributed to this country will be prioritised for new social tenancies.”

Government data shows the vast majority of social housing is already allocated to British citizens.

In 2021/22 90% of lead tenants in social housing were UK Nationals, though the figure is lower in some London boroughs.

The majority of lead tenants are in the White ethnic group, comprising 81% of new lettings. This is similar to the general population in England where 81% identify as White.

Black households made up 8% of lettings compared to 4% of the English population. Asian households were under-represented, constituting 5% of lettings but 10% of the population.

The distribution of ethnicity of lead tenants has remained roughly stable over the last 13 years, government data shows.

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There is a chronic shortage of social homes in England, with more than 1.2 million households on the waiting list for a council or housing association property.

Since 2011 local authorities have been allowed greater freedom over the way they manage their waiting lists, including the introduction of a local connections test. That in part led to a sizeable reduction in the number of households on waiting lists, which peaked at 1.9 million in 2012.

The government’s reforms appear to be an attempt to go further in the face of record high immigration coupled with a failure to build enough affordable housing.

Last year the number of families becoming homeless or being threatened with homelessness outstripped the number of social homes being built by six to one.

Research by the National Housing Federation found 8,386 new social homes were built in England in 2022/23, while 52,800 new households were accepted by councils as requiring housing.

ITV News has reported extensively over the past 12 months on the rising rate of homelessness and the unsustainable amounts of money local councils are having to spend of temporary accommodation to house families in hotels, hostels and B&Bs.

ITV News' Investigations Correspondent Dan Hewitt spoke to families who were made homeless in the space of a few minutes

Last week 15 housing bodies wrote to the prime minister criticising the proposed reforms.

The letter stated that in 2010 funding for affordable housing in England was cut by 63% including all funding for social rented homes and warned that imposing more restrictions on people who can access social housing registers would risk more people becoming homeless.

”If the government’s main concern is to increase the availability of social lettings, it could achieve this far more effectively by building more social housing,” the letter read.

The Chief Executive of Shelter Polly Neate said the policy would be “unnecessary, unenforceable and unjust”.

“This policy amounts to nothing more than scapegoating at its worst,” she said.

“Not only does it ignore the fact that there are already stringent rules so only UK citizens or those with settled status can access homes for social rent, but it blames a group of people for a housing emergency that they did not create.”

Housing Minister Lee Rowley MP Credit: UK Parlimanet

The announcement by Housing Minister Lee Rowley makes no mention of what will happen to those people who have come to the UK under resettlement schemes from Afghanistan and Ukraine if they apply for social housing.As part of the consultation, which will run until March 26th, the government also proposes a five year ban on accessing social housing for those who commit anti-social behaviour and that new social tenants with high incomes would no longer qualify for housing “to ensure homes go to those in greater financial need.”“If you abuse the system, making peoples’ lives a misery or actively work against our British values, you are making a choice – such choices will have consequences and our proposals seek to stop such people getting a social home,” said Mr Rowley.

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