Social housing and the myth of ‘inherited’ tenancies

by Cllr Leonie Cooper

The past few months have seen an upsurge of interest in social housing- but for all the wrong reasons.

One example that has had the Tories and right-wing media frothing at the mouth is the need to get rid of ‘lifetime’ tenancies, so that Councils can re-allocate properties on a regular basis, moving on tenants who are ‘under-occupying’.

Another new policy has been serving notice of eviction on whole households, including small children, when (usually) a teenager has been accused of being involved in the August riots.

In Wandsworth, we now have 3 such cases – but the local Tories proudest moment was being the first Council to serve an eviction notice. 8-year old Jessica, Daniel’s little sister may not see it as quite such a triumph, though.

But another area that has attracted recent attention are the 90,000 people who have inherited tenancies. “More than 90,000 live in ‘inherited’ council homes” screamed the Telegraph in October.

Rent subsidy for these ‘dreadful people’ could be as much as £300 million. Ministers are looking at closing this appalling loophole, we are told.

But nowhere is there an explanation as to why anyone might be allowed to inherit a Council or Housing Association tenancy in the first place.

So who are these people? They are joint tenants whose husband or wife has died, or someone in a civil partnership whose partner has died.

As one half of the joint tenancy has passed away, the remaining person succeeds to the tenancy as an individual. Sometimes, much more rarely, the inheritor is a son or daughter, usually living at the family home to care for an elderly parent. Councils and Housing Associations conduct very full checks before allowing anyone to inherit a tenancy – obviously.

But in the brave new world ushered in since the arrival of the coalition, we see the government promoting the eviction of the bereaved. It may be a Big Society, but it certainly isn’t a caring one.

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