Monday, 25 October 2010

Council Housing

When I was growing up where people lived didn't concern me much, if at all.  Truthfully I couldn't tell you if, from those childhood friends I had outside the block of privately rented flat in which I grew up, lived in council houses or not. The fact they had a home and family was possibly what registered in my childish mind.

I can recall when I learned about council houses.  For years, when I walked to my granny's house, I passed a really posh lamp on the pavement.  It was an electric lamp by then but had originally been a gas lamp.  Highly ornate and painted within an inch of its life with black gloss and gold paint, the Provost of Dundee's lamp stood outside his house. When I asked my Dad about it he explained the lamp was a public acknowledgment of the Provost's abode, outside which it stood in state.  I found out in later years that the lamp stood outside a council house, and some Provosts in Dundee in my lifetime weren't far short of a bob or two.

Unfortunately I can't find a photograph of the Dundee Provost's lamp but the one shown above is that from Bridge of Allan which has close associations with Robert Louis Stevenson.

I'm drifting from the point of this post.

David Cameron has announced plans to end lifetime council tenancies. I'm sure this applies only to England but shouldn't the Scottish government have such a policy  Is it right that people, like the old Lord Provosts, who were perhaps in those days voluntary politicians but didn't really spent a penny out of their own pocket on creating better communities.

It's not often I agree with Tory policies but I certainly never agreed with Maggie Thatcher's idea of selling off council house stock. She was thinking of quick money and not the future of those less able to buy their own homes.  Over the years I've seen so many people make profits of thousands of pounds  by selling a council house rented by a deceased family member just because they were named on the rent book.

Why should those, who do require council (social as it's called these days) housing be  able to pass on their rented property to any of their extended family? It's difficult enough these days to protect my own home when I've owned homes for 30 odd years. Yes. you may think that's not a long time, but I can tell you, as s single woman with a child back in the early 80s, it was hell on earth to find a building society or bank to take me on.  They all wanted a 'man's' signature regardless of my respectable proof of income.

I persevered and eventually I persuaded a bank, with which I had had a considerable balance for some years, to take me on.  I never let them down.

But is it right for council tenants to have a lifetime guarantee of ownership, and for their extended family to inherit the property when they die?

No.  Social (or council housing as it was know until Labor introduced the 'social housing' label) is for those who are in need.  In recent years those who are in need have been denied a home because there are none available.

Have a look at the qualifications for council housing today.   It astonished me.  Now I know how an elderly friend feels.  She applied for a sheltered house and said she was happy to pay the full rent, knowing she had a small income from the sale of her property.  She was told she was at the bottom of the list as so many others came before her.  Why she asked.  'Because you've been a home owner' was the response.

Here are the qualifications for a council house in Scotland.

If you have special needs, the council's social work department may be able to help you access accommodation that's suitable for you. This may be the case if you:
  • are elderly or infirm
  • have mental health issues
  • have a disability
  • have learning difficulties
  • are a young person who needs support living independently
  • are a refugee or asylum seeker
  • are an ex-offender
  • have an alcohol or drug related problem

Is it any wonder why some of us older Scots don't disagree with the Westminster government's decision to stop certain aspects of council housing tenancies which are passed on to other family members?

I agree with Osborne's plan.  Build and let homes to those who are in need but let's stop the culture of allowing their benefactors from making money from the properties.  It's not right.  Our political masters have persuaded is that home ownership is the way forward.  To allow those whose families have rented taxpayer subsidised property to have first call on their sale is unfair.

Thankfully the Scottish government has halted the sale of council houses.  I just hope that England follows suit for the sake of younger generations.

Later I will discuss the many housing associations which have sprung up out of the blue to make offers to those who wish council housing.  It's another subject altogether.


Woodsy42 said...

Maybe they could mount the lamp on a wheeled trolley then when the Provost got kicked out for being too rich they could wheel it round to his new place?

And yes, it's absurd to provide subsidised housing for people earning average types of income. But kicking people out is rather harsh if kids are at school and friends nearby. Why not just raise the rent to private rent levels, then the council would at least make a profit on that house and could build more?

JRB said...

Not so sure that I’m with you on this one, Subrosa.

It is, without question, a very difficult topic and nothing is ever simply black and white. It is, in most cases, hard to be dogmatic.

Only last week I attended the funeral of a lovely lady in her late sixties, her husband is now alone in the council house in which they lived for a generation.
For him now living on his own the house embodies the memories of a lifetime. The pictures, the furniture, all the fixtures and fittings tell a story of the happy family that lived there.
The people living in his neighbourhood, are ages with him, they are his friends and represent his local community.
In that house they brought up a family. Of the two boys one has created a new life down-under, the other lives with his own family outside London.
Perhaps the council should have re-homed them in a smaller unit when the boys left home nearly thirty years ago, but they did not.
Perhaps the council should have re-homed them in a smaller unit when his wife was confined to living on the ground floor, but they did not.

Now, if lifetime council tenancies are ended, as Mr Cameron would suggest, John will be moved from the only home he has known since his marriage, from the tiny garden he tends with devotion to a single persons flat across town in a concrete block of fifteen other flats filled with what to him are single youngsters totally removed from his interests, his way of life and his understanding.

Yes, he has more room than he actually needs, but to remove him now would be an act of cruelty.

subrosa said...

The provost of Dundee in my day lived in a council house. I wasn't aware of that for years Woodsy yet his lamp stood outside all these years.

It's a difficult one. What is council housing for? Those will less than average incomes?

subrosa said...

That's not too hard a problem for me John. He should be allowed to stay of course, even though the house may be too big for his needs.

I'm more interested in the fact that some houses are passed onto the next generations who may not have a real need. We have some superb council housing in Scotland, much of it owner occupied now of course, but for families to be able to automatically lay claim to their parents' home just doesn't seem right, particularly when councils aren't building new homes and so many of these housing associations have cropped up in recent years.

Of course it would be cruelty. What keeps me going is the thought of one of these concrete blocks with a tiny lounge and even smaller bedroom. I think I'd rather go mad than live in one of these places.

wisnaeme said...

There is talk that Coventry City Council are in the very process of reviewing rents with a mind to "equalising" them with private sector rents.

But at least with council properties you have a right of re address with the condition and maintenance thereof.
Did you watch Panorama tonght?
My neighbour next door has a private landlord. Perhaps, Panorama should have been extended to include the owner of the rented property next door. ..and no, ah'm not jokin either.

Dark Lochnagar said...

Rosie, I've no doubt that selling cooncil hooses was the start of the housing bubble during the current recession.

I remember laying it to this so called 'Socialist' in the pub years ago, who gave out about Thatcher, every time he saw me. He had bought his cooncil hoose and unbeknown to him, I also knew he had bought her mother's as well. I just took the usual shit for a moment, (which wasn't like me), and then informed him that he was a greedy Thatcherite in buying his house and not only that he was a f'in greedy bastard for buying her mother's as well. I can see his face yet!

Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed. They call it 'social housing' becuse this includes

1. Council housing (in traditional meaning)

2. Housing association housing (which is also ultimately owned by the govenrment)

Witterings From Witney said...

Will look forward to your post on housing associations - know a bit about them!

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I don't think Mrs. Thatcher was thinking about short term financial gain when she introduced the sale of council houses; I think she was thinking how this would encourage those people to behave as private home-owners and maybe vote Tory - and I also think it did have that effect.

And also, I don't agree, by and large, that selling council houses off made them unavailable - they are already unavailable, because the tenants who were committed enough to buy "their" houses were not about to move anyway; they were there for the rest of their lives, and, as you have pointed out, for the rest of their childrens' lives too. So those houses were never going to be available for the next generation of the needy, and selling them off changed nothing.

I agree we shouldn't turn people out of their homes just because their circumstances improve; it would be hard to think of a more peverse incentive not to succeed! But rents should be means-tested somehow; a family with a normal comfortable income should pay the proper market rate for their accommodation, including visibly and clearly paying the council tax. The more voters have to do that, the more likely they are to hold their councils to account.

Sorry for length of comment.

Edward Spalton said...

Labour councils used deliberately to keep council house rents below cost and send the bill for the shortfall to the other ratepayers as part of a "redistribution of wealth".

Don't forget - Robert Maxwell's mansion was a "council house" and

Baroness Uddin (who is not short of a bob or private house or two two and fiddled her House of Lords expenses) lives in a Council property at about one sixth of the open market rent for the area.

It's a great system for the Nomenklaturawho can work it

subrosa said...

No I didn't watch Panorama wisnaeme, but I will do in iPlayer.

'Equalising' eh? Aye, right. I always thought council housing was for those in need.

subrosa said...

That's where it all went bottom up DL. I know someone who did that too, bought his mother's house that is.

subrosa said...

Mark, Housing Associations are just an extra, costly tier of housing subsidised by taxpayers. I have no objection whatsoever to helping someone live in a comfortable home if they've been unable to buy a place of their own. Many folk who live in council houses can afford to purchase but don't wish to. It's their choice. But they should be charged a rent equivalent to their means.

subrosa said...

WfW, I don't have enough knowledge of Housing Associations really so I look forward to your post. :)

subrosa said...

Never apologise for length of comment here, Weekend Yachtsman. Write as much as you like.

I see you have another view of why Maggie wanted them sold off, but I still think it was for short-term gain.

Of course rents should increase according to increased income. Private landlords don't charge less if a tenant falls on hard times do they and mortgages don't reduce.

Witterings From Witney said...

Methinks you misread my comment, SR. You wrote:

"Later I will discuss the many housing associations which have sprung up out of the blue to make offers to those who wish council housing. It's another subject altogether."

subrosa said...

Goodness Edward, I didn't realise Maxwell's mansion could be classed as such.

Baroness Uddin sprang to mind when I was typing the post. Scrounger.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

I don't think you have quite appreciated Thatchers reasoning Rosa.

The quick buck wasn't so much the purpose behind it as the strategy to get tenants into the honey trap of mortgages. Less strikes and less strife for the free markets to make hay in is more like it.

As to the profiteering, they regard that as sacrosanct to the church of materialism and consumerism.

Having developed the rat-race it's now being consolidated by the race of rats.

subrosa said...

I certainly didn't appreciate her reasoning RA, but I do now. :) I wasn't in UK at the time this was going on and formed an 'outsider' opinion that it was another ploy to fill the coffers for her privatisations.

Your opinion shows me a more robust reason.

Excellent last sentence.

William said...

It must be said that the sale of council houses was a policy that had floated around Whitehall for many years and was considered by the Labour governments of the 1970's. Some Labour ministers of this era regret the fact that it was Thatcher who introduced it and not them.

I agree with the tenet of your post, SR - it's simply nonsensical for council tenancy to be handed onto another generation purely for profit. It simply adds to the squeeze and inflates the housing market.

The qualifications for a council house are equally despicable. They effectively encourage young people to develop problems - drugs, alcohol, crime - so that they may be housed. If you're a young, law-abiding person who doesn't drink or take drugs then you pretty much have to stay with your parents as a mortgage is also out of reach.

Yet some of the new council houses built in the East End of Glasgow have gone to Eastern Europeans, Africans, etc. So, if you grow up in Easterhouse and are an innocent soul then you have less chance of a council house in the area than someone arriving from Gdansk or Somalia. Mental.

Dramfineday said...

Well SR and William when my son tried to get a council flat here in no tram city, he went for an interview and the questions mentioned in your article were asked plus, are you an expectant father or have existing children? Having answered no to all these things, the young lady replied that she was sorry that while he was registered for a flat, there was no chance of him getting one, in fact "he would be an old man by the time he got one".

So here we have a decent, earning, local son of Scotland and drunks, druggies, immigrants and a host of other "problem" people are put before him. Little wonder our children are disillusioned. I know that in our society there is a contract that the workers will pay for the non workers (NI, tax etc) but it's time that the workers were put first and that the non workers realised that they were fortunate to live here and not to imagine anything they get as a god given right but that it had to be earned by others.

subrosa said...

Strangely William, you're the first to mention the 'qualifications' required. I was astonished to read them. Let me say that being elderly doesn't qualify anyone - not in this part of Scotland anyway. And if they are infirm they're put through so many hoops it's unbelievable. Then, for one particular friend, she was told she was unsuitable as she was too infirm to live alone. We couldn't believe it. Yes she broke her hip a few years ago and uses a stick but she's more than capable of looking after herself. Her current property has stairs and those are difficult. It's not a large one and any money made from its sale wouldn't be enough to buy a property suitable for her. Now she's between a rock and a hard place and hoping her brother, who is a widower and lives in England, would want to move north to share with her. That way they could afford a retirement flat.

My heart goes out to her really. A woman who has worked for 40+ years, never claimed one benefit, is left high and dry by our modern system of allocation.

subrosa said...

That's shocking and for the reasons you state Dram. Council housing was the stepping stone for most of us back in the 50s, 60s and 70s and rented housing prepared us for the responsibilities of ownership.

What a disgrace.

RantinRab said...

I live in a council house. My choice.

For those of you that say that I should pay the 'market rate' for renting, I already do. I pay the rate for a council house.

I have to laugh at the comments about social housing being subsidised. Yes. I suppose it's true and it always has been subsidised but folk should look in before they look out. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of mortgages in this country is subsidised by the tax payer.

It's a racket, the whole thing and the sooner people wake up to the fact the better.

The selling off of council houses in the 80's was a mistake and we are reaping what was sowed.

So, enjoy your beans and toast for dinner each night while struggling to pay a mortgage on a rabbit hutch on a soul-less cloned Barratt estate that you need to send the wife out to work to help pay for. I'll stick to a council house and a decent family life that doesn't revolve around keeping the big nasty wolf from the door.

It's all about choice, isn't it? And by the looks of it, the majority of you lot want to take that choice away.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"...the vast majority of mortgages in this country is subsidised by the tax payer"

Supporting evidence, Rab? What subsidy, how paid?

[Also, being a fully-paid-up pedant, I am struggling to decide whether that should be "is" subsidised (the majority is singular) or "are" subsidised (the mortgages are plural). Comments from other pedants most welcome.]

subrosa said...

Rab, there's nothing wrong with living in a council house. In fact most of them up here are far better build than the boxes which are being erected these days.

Councils, housing associations etc all mention council house rents are subsidised. I think the link I put on the post said the average in Scotland was around £50 a week although I'm not saying that's what you pay. I don't want to know that.

What I am saying is that it's unfair to future generations that council houses can be passed on.

One thing I have noticed is that, in younger generations there's a culture of 'must own my own property' and the age gets lower and lower. All part of government brainwashing of course, but to read of newly qualified nurses or teachers, in their early 20s,complaining they can't get on the housing ladder is laughable.

Fortunately I've always had a home which cost me well within my financial limits. In England council housing was not nearly as ready available as here - that's back in the 70s/early 80s by the way.

subrosa said...

Now Weekend Yachtsman, that's a difficult one although I would always class the word 'majority' as plural because it has to be more than the 'minority'.

RantinRab said...

Yachtsman, I struggled with the singular/plural aspect of my mini rant myself. No matter.

Did you know that the banking system has been bailed out by the tax payer?

Ergo, mortgages are subsidised by the tax payer. A bit of simplistic thinking but a valid point.

Subrosa, I understand your point. I also support the idea that once you have raised your family, you should move into a house that fits your needs. There are far too many 'bed blockers' in social housing.

subrosa said...

I can understand your struggle Rab, because, in the good Scottish education of old, it was always drummed in we use verbs correctly. This one is a difficult one.

I suspect some linguist will correct me too.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Ref, rents set low in order to act as a redistribution of wealth?

I would suggest they were more likely to be set at a level that could be afforded since any shortfall would have to be met by the rate charges equally on private or council properties.

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