Sunday, 29 November 2009

Carrots and homes, sticks and jobs

I’ve learnt recently that some London councils might begin to favour unemployed council home seekers if they agree to actively look for work or sign up to training courses, writes Paul Coleman. Distilled, councils want to say:  'If you want the council to find you a home, then help yourself by getting into training or find a job.' 

It’s a carrot and stick manoeuvre to try and reverse a situation where social housing has become a refuge for people who aren't working.  Andrew Baikie, Newham’s lead councillor for housing, tells me his east London borough is looking at legal ways to give added weight to jobless council home applicants who can show they’re seeking, obtaining and - crucially - holding down a job. 

Newham, like most councils, allows applicants to choose and pursue tenancies through a Choice Based Lettings scheme. Applicants are more likely to be successful if they've enough points or are in the right 'band'. “I think one of our CBL options may be to put in a new housing band,” hints Baikie. “If people need to find work to get into a particular housing band, that might work.”

However, another idea is that working age members of families in temporary accommodation who show no intention of finding work might have to wait longer for a council place than those who do want to train or work. “There’s a need for the right blend of carrot and stick,” says Baikie.

Another plan is to offer shorthold tenancies to younger jobless members of overcrowded households once they've agreed to join a training scheme. A typical target is a jobless young man, aged 20 or over, who lives with his parents and siblings in a cramped home. 
But will the smaller ‘harder to let’ housing association flats on offer be enough to lure unemployed young people into training? Over 80% of new housing association tenants under 25 are jobless. It’s a plan being hatched by London councils, including Camden. 

Housing law says local councils must consider every application; and that's unlikely to change. 
But these discretionary London schemes are catching the eye of national politicians on the look out for vote-winning policies for 2010. 

As always, your thoughts are welcome.
You can read more about this approach to council housing in an article I've written for the November 2009 edition of 24 housing, a magazine for housing professionals. Or you can visit

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