Residential qualifications in social housing

It’s reported today that the government will introduce a residency test for ‘council housing’ , requiring people to have lived locally for up to five years before they can even be admitted to the housing list.   (Despite what the linked article says, the rule will almost certainly relate to local residency rather than migration to Britain – the second would be counter to EU rules.)

This is a long-running issue.  Some local authorities have long had residential rules, but the continuing use of residential qualifications was condemned in the reports of the Central Housing Advisory Committee in 1945, 1949 and 1969 (no, I haven’t mis-typed those dates).  In the 1970s, the London Borough of Hammersmith removed its residential qualifications and demonstrated, the process, that they served no useful purpose  – they didn’t alter the pattern of demand, even in an area where   pressure was high and people could easily be coming from immediately adjoining local authorities.    The critical arguments – reviewed e.g. by Derek Fox, a former Director of Hammersmith, in the 1970s – were that

  • residential qualifications stop people moving to find jobs
  • the fears of local authorities that they will be inundated by applications from people outside their area were shown to be groundless.
  • residential qualifications lead to a mismatch between the supply of housing and the incidence of need, particularly in places like London where people often  move across local boundaries.
  •  the effect of restrictions is to force people to apply as homeless, because it is the only avenue through which they can be housed.

The main problem that local authorities are facing now is different: much of the demand comes from single people, for smaller accommodation which doesn’t exist.  And no alteration to the law governing allocation policies is going to make any difference to that.

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