Housing Minister Grant
Shapps chose to headline his news release launching revised
guidance on allocation of council housing as "Housing help for
military families", probably in an attempt to stir some media
interest in what would otherwise have been a non-story.
Not only is the Government rightly keen to be seen to be acting to
support those serving their country, but encouragement to give
greater priority to Armed Forces personnel and their families is
practically the only area where the new guidance is more
prescriptive than that which it replaces.
Elsewhere, the guidance generally offers more flexibility. Indeed,
as the Minister proudly points out in his introduction, the new
guidance is one third the length of its predecessor.
This new flexibility is, however, two-edged. Its main effect is to
enable councils to deny priority for council housing to people who
might otherwise have expected to receive it. This may well have the
effect, as the Government hopes, of reducing waiting lists, but it
does not thereby reduce housing need.
Councils are encouraged to revisit their allocations policies in
the context of a wider move to an options approach which makes full
use of all tenures in responding to housing need. But there is an
important difference between enabling councils to help people
needing housing in a wider range of ways, and removing from
councils any responsibility for providing help. With council
budgets so sorely stretched, resources for housing advice and
assistance may be hard to find.
Nor should the Government have unrealistic expectations about the
impact of their amendments. "Today's new guidance" trumpeted the
CLG press release, "will also give councils and housing
associations more freedom to use their discretion to reward
ambition and achievement - ensuring homes go to the most in need
such as hard working families - instead of those who merely know
how to tick the most boxes".
Local housing markets vary widely in different parts of England,
but in many areas a shortage of affordable housing - in the old
meaning of "affordable" as the full range of housing at sub-market
rents - remains the critical constraint. It is important that
councils are enabled to make the best use of the precious resource
of council housing, but rewriting the allocations rules cannot
alter the fact that, in many areas, there is just not enough of
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