THE reaction to no-nonsense plans to jail council tenants who rake in thousands of pounds by sub-letting their properties can be summarised as this: why is this not illegal at present?
Given how Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s default response to any social policy challenge was to introduce new legislation, even when patently not necessary, this omission beggars belief.
The reason is this. People are allocated a council or housing association property because they cannot afford to buy or rent a home of their own on the open market. Most are also the beneficiaries of other state entitlements, paid for by the taxpayer.
The rules are also crystal clear. If a tenant’s circumstances change, the onus is on them to inform the town hall or the housing provider concerned.
It does not permit them to exploit the state’s benevolence by sub-letting their home – these decisions should be for individual local authorities, many of which are struggling to manage lengthy waiting lists because the construction of new social housing properties has failed to keep pace with demand.
As such, the plans set out by Housing Minister Grant Shapps should not even need to be subjected to a consultation exercise – there should be a definitive commitment to close this loophole in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
The only people who have anything to fear from this crackdown are those who have exploited the system. Furthermore, Mr Shapps needs to ensure that town halls, and HMRC, have the resources to identify those who have made a mockery of social housing and, in all probability, failed to declare this lucrative income stream to the taxman.
Nothing less will suffice at a time when there is a political imperative, both nationally and locally, for decisions and policies to be fair to all.