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WMN opinion: Doing well should not cost council tenants their homes

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 19, 2012

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Finding an affordable home is one of the biggest challenges for young working families in the Westcountry. So council homes still offer the best chance of long-term security at an affordable price, particularly for couples with children. And once a family has secured a home, the breadwinner – or winners – can concentrate on working hard, perhaps winning promotion at work and improving the family's financial situation.

Yet what is the incentive to do that if, as soon as you have a little more cash coming in, the local authority is attempting to move you out of your home and move in a "more deserving" family? If ever a policy was likely to undermine the Government's intention to make work pay, it is this one. Westcountry councils considering introducing it should think again. Fast.

As the Western Morning News reports today, Teignbridge and East Devon are planning to review council leases after five years, in line with a Government initiative. If tenants' circumstances have changed they face a very real chance of losing their homes or facing a rent rise. Six other councils are looking at the policy.

On the face of it, many homeowners might think it perfectly reasonable to expect tenants to move out of local authority housing and into the private rented sector – or become owner-occupiers – if their circumstances improve. Yet that is easier said than done, especially here in the Westcountry where private rents are notoriously high and the cost of a home – even for first time buyers –is often out of the reach of all but the best paid.

Council homes never used to be a safety net only meant for those at the bottom of the financial heap. For generations they provided good quality family houses for working people. In most cases, if tenants' circumstances dramatically improved they would seek to move out themselves. If, however, even relatively modest hikes in earnings are likely to cost them their homes or force a significant rent rise, their incentive to better themselves will be damaged.

Alan Connett, Lib Dem opposition leader on Teignbridge Council, is right to tell today's WMN that local authorities should encourage hard work, not seek to snatch a family's home away if they succeed. What is needed is more local authority homes, built in our towns, cities and larger villages, not crackpot policies that seek to evict those who are considered, through some arbitrary council measure, to be too well off to enjoy security of tenure.

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The bandwagon jumping celebrities who have been clogging up the internet with expressions of concern about the badger cull do little to inform the debate. How many of them were tweeting their concern when farmers were wringing their hands in exasperation at another TB outbreak in the herd? How many have adopted this cause because it is vaguely fashionable? Too many, in our judgement.

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