Downsizing has become a major discussion point among Welsh Tenants Federation members. The anxiety of tenants have increased significantly following the UK government proposals to penalise tenants for under-occupying their home. From April 2013 tenants in the RSL sector who claim housing benefit will have no choice but to contribute 13% of the rental cost out of their welfare payments if they under-occupy a property by 1 bedroom and up to 23% if two bedrooms or more. This will create significant hardship for many poor families already hitting multiple deprivation indicators such as fuel poverty and unemployment.
The issue of how we support and enable people to ‘move-on’ (perhaps as a last resort) if they are unable to meet these additional costs, is therefore a popular discussion point among the tenants movement.
The Welsh Tenants Federation have argued for better support to exchange or transfer and indeed for the Welsh Government to take the lead on developing compensation schemes for tenants who wish to free up their under-occupied homes for families who are desperate for that accommodation, thereby making more efficient use of the existing stock. Compensation schemes are on offer, but they vary widely across Wales from £100 to £2,500. Schemes vary within a single landlords stock and can be based on the condition of the property, size of the rooms being freed up and its location. However existing schemes lack consistency, fairness and transparency. They depend hugely on whether the property being vacated is indeed desirable to exchange. This can unfairly penalise tenants who live in poorly maintained housing on sink estates.
Tenants have had a right to mutual exchange or transfer among a suite of rights since the introduction of the 1984 Housing Act. The scheme was extended to include assured housing tenants in the housing act 1996 and under the tenants guarantee. However the scheme is not actively encouraged widely by all landlords, this despite 20% of tenants stating they would consider moving if a suitable property could be found and the costs of removal could be met.
The Welsh Tenants Federation has suggested that we should consider whether there should be a legal duty on RSLs and LA to support tenants who are under-occupying as a priority need category thereby ensuring that loyal tenants who under-occupy get priority when homes become available. This would have the benefit of ensuring that families stuck in unsuitable or overcrowded temporary accommodation can move-in more quickly, while the family waiting in temporary accommodation can more quickly receive suitably sized accommodation. Priority move-on could also increase the level of priority if the family moving on from their existing social housing can also demonstrate that the move-on would enhance their job prospects.
According to research published by the intergenerational foundation, there are 25 million empty rooms in the owner-occupied sector across the UK. Many elderly people are capital rich while being cash poor, combing opportunities to support owner occupier conversions, providing more flexible Priority move-on, coupled with social letting agencies and internet providers such as home swap direct, we can begin to make better use of the existing stock across the range of markets. We need a more whole market solution. We need to get away from the controlling and restricting aspects of the existing systems to do so.