Many local authorities are inflexible over tenancies (furfeatherandfinblog.co.uk)
Okay I admit it: my wife and I are snobs. Possibly because she comes from Kirkby and I didn't live at street level for nearly 20 years, rather than move to an estate or tower block we chose to wedge our bed beneath a noisy, carbon-monoxide emitting boiler in an oversized broom-cupboard in order to remain in the two-bedroom Peabody Trust property we share with our daughter Emma, 10 in February, and son Sean, now seven.
According to Peabody's lettings policy, children of different sexes aren't expected to share a room once the oldest turns 10. In practice, however, with over 1,400 tenants on the transfer list, when Emma reaches double figures we merely get a few extra points on our application.
Whether you call it a "spare-room subsidy" or "bedroom tax", the change in legislation in April should have been good news for families like ours. If tenants rattling about in larger properties are "encouraged" (albeit with a carrot-shaped stick) to downsize, we can upsize and won't need to check the carbon monoxide sensor each night to ensure we wake up next morning.
The number of people using social housing homeswap websites is rising fast; we registered with five, including the UK's largest, houseexchange.org, whose membership rose by a quarter last year. Yet despite the huge number of people desperately seeking an exchange, it's proved almost impossible to find a swap.
No-one (ourselves included) wants to move to a rougher neighbourhood. Many would rather lose a portion of their benefit than leave a street property for a gardenless flat, and no-one in their right mind swaps a secure for an assured tenancy. Many turn down potential swaps based on the subtle distinction between right to buy and right to acquire (a distinction we are yet to understand). When you want to stay in your children's school catchment area, options are reduced still further.
Another unforeseen problem for potential swappers is the inflexibility of local authorities. On two occasions we've made contact with an older person living with a dependent in a four-bedroom house, yet were unable to swap because if we moved in we'd be deemed as under-occupying. In other words, it's not morally acceptable for two people to inhabit a four-bed house, or four people to live in a two-bed property, but current regulations do not enable them to swap homes, to their mutual benefit.
It's hard to imagine that the government that brought in this legislation foresaw the knock-on effects. But then it's hard to imagine many in power having a real understanding of social housing. This might explain why they can't grasp that moving tenants from areas they've lived in for decades does little for social cohesion; and asking Eastenders to move to some northern estate might work in theory but not in practice.
Unlike some, I don't believe the government's position on social housing is purely ideological; I'm sure Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg really do want everyone to live in a property which suits their family's needs, while sorting out the deficit - though clamping down on greedy buy-to-let landlords rather than claimants might be more cost-effective.
Social housing is often castigated as subsidised housing yet tenants contribute billions in rent to the economy and are still expected to pay towards new schemes which benefit homeowners. According to the BBC the average house price is now £238,976 and there are almost five million people on the waiting lists in the UK. Taking housing benefit from social tenants won't ease the logjam.
The only solution is to build more homes. Not in cities - brownfield sites are essential for us townies - but in the countryside. Planning regulations must be eased; country-dwellers must accept they can't keep this green and pleasant land all to themselves. This solution won't come cheap; but if it's simply a question of money, how many homes could we build with the billions set aside for HS2?
Mark Piggott is an author and journalist. You can find him on Twitter @markliampiggott.
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