Right to move for social tenants

Clare Hardy, Geldards, Derby

The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) has carried out consultation on proposals to introduce a right to move for social tenants who need to move to take up a job or live closer to employment or training.

The consultation reflected the Government’s expectation that no one should be prevented from taking up work opportunities because they cannot find suitable housing.  The consultation document said that many responsible councils are trying to help social housing tenants to find work but that in the past tenants may have felt trapped in their existing accommodation when they needed to move to take up a job.

The Government proposes to:

  • Introduce regulations to enable existing social tenants who need to move within England to take up work or training to do so
  • Issue strengthened statutory guidance to make clear that the “hardship” reasonable category relates to existing social tenants moving for work or training, or create a new reasonable preference category for those who need to move for job related reasons.
  • Use the guidance to ensure local authorities set aside a proportion of lets to enable existing social tenants to move across local authority boundaries within England for work related reasons.

The consultation also sought views on how local authorities are supporting flexibilities that they already have and sets out plans to support local authorities to test out new approaches.

The consultation recognised that some local authorities’ allocation scheme priorities already take account of financial hardship that could be resolved through moving to alternative accommodation.  It said that this is in line with existing statutory guidance on social housing allocations and that the Government wants to see all local authorities adopting such an approach.  The consultation therefore suggested two possible approaches: strengthening statutory guidance to explain in more detail in what circumstances local authorities would be expected to apply the hardship reasonable preference category to those moving for work or work related training; or introducing regulations to create a new reasonable preference category for tenants who need to move for work related reasons.

The consultation referred to “Housing Moves”, the Mayor of London’s housing mobility scheme, that allows tenants of London boroughs or housing associations to move to a different part of London.  London boroughs participate voluntarily and contribute 5% of their relets to be made available for cross-boundary moves throughout London.  The consultation said that the Government would like to see all local authorities adopting a similar approach and therefore proposes that new statutory guidance will ensure that local authorities set aside a proportion of lets for tenants who need to move across local authority boundaries in England for work related reasons.

The consultation linked the right to move proposals with the transparency obligations of local authorities.  The consultation asked for views on whether there should be a requirement for local authorities to publish information on demand and lettings in relation to the right to move.  It suggested that this could be introduced as a revision to the Local Government Transparency Code 2014.

The consultation document acknowledged that many local authorities participate in area-based lettings schemes which involve various partner authorities and social landlords.  It proposed that the new statutory guidance should include an expectation for these schemes to provide for cross boundary movement for tenants moving for work related reasons.

The consultation document commented that the Localism Act 2011 provided local authorities with more flexibility to deal with tenants seeking to transfer without the risk of challenge from applicants with greater housing needs but that relatively few local authorities had used the opportunity provided by this flexibility.  The Government  therefore intended to use the consultation to find out what barriers local authorities and housing associations were encountering in helping working tenants to move within or outside their local authority area.  The Government was also interested to know how local authorities were using a community contribution to help tenants who want to move within their local authority area.  The Government proposed to make a small amount of financial support available to support a small number of local authorities and housing associations to try approaches which make use of the new and existing allocation flexibilities to increase mobility within the social rented sector to reward positive behaviour and to make better use of the stock.  This would be intended to develop approaches which could be adopted more widely.

The consultation closed on 22 October 2014.  If the proposals are taken forward by the Government, local authorities will need to review their policies and practices to ensure that they are consistent with the right to move.