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Housing Succession Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:18 pm, 31st October 2019

It is indeed an honour to be answering this debate—the very last debate that you will chair, Mr Speaker. In that regard, it is quite an occasion. Many of us will only know you as the Speaker. You have a reputation for being a thorn in the side of Ministers, but as a Minister, I appreciate that your job is to help to ensure that Back Benchers hold Ministers to account, and you have done that better than anyone else. That is your job and your purpose for being here.

Many people have also mentioned how you have been a modernising Speaker, that you have ensured that Back Benchers have had more say and, in doing that, that the public have had a greater say in this House, as a centre of democracy; the people are being heard.

I wish you well as you go forth. There is a chapter closing here, but I do not want to dwell on that. I want to look forward to a chapter that will be opening, for you and your family. I am sure we have not heard the last of your dulcet tones. You have accrued an almost—no, not almost—an encyclopaedic knowledge of what goes on in this House, of its processes and procedures, and I hope you take that forth into another job that allows you to speak about what happens in Parliament. I hope you remain a good friend of this House too.

I want to also pay tribute to Rose—I will call her by her first name because most of us class her as a friend and call her by her first name. She has touched the hearts of many, as we have heard here today, and has been there for many during this turbulent time when people have turned to her in their time of need. She has celebrated with us and spent sad times with us. She has not left the House entirely: she is coming back next September, when I shall be, late in life, getting married for the first time.

I turn back to this important debate. I commend Rushanara Ali for securing it and bringing this matter to the Government’s attention. The Government recognise the important role that affordable housing in general, and social rented housing in particular, play in supporting people and communities. That is why the Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and have made £9 billion available through the affordable homes programme, to March 2020, to deliver 250,000 new affordable homes of a wide range of tenure, including homes for social rent. It is also why we are determined to ensure that social housing is safe and decent and that those who live in social homes are treated with dignity and respect. The hon. Lady raised very relevant issues about those who have been bereaved and could be going through a period of grief.

The hon. Lady talked about succession and social housing. Social housing confers many benefits, including security of tenure and below-market rents. For local authority tenants, it also confers the statutory right to buy. It is incumbent, therefore, on local authorities and housing associations to manage their housing to benefit the community, particularly those in greatest need; they need that housing. It is important, therefore, that the succession rules strike a balance between the needs of those members of the deceased tenant’s family who consider the property to be their home, the interests of the local authority and the housing association in making best use of their housing, and the interests of those on the housing waiting list who are also in need.

There will always be sensitive and difficult cases that cannot always be foreseen or captured by the statutory provision, which is why there is an addition to that provision: the social landlord can exercise discretion to take into account individual circumstances such as those the hon. Lady raised, and that is what they should be doing. Provided it is in line with their own allocation policies and the Regulator of Social Housing’s tenancy standards, there is nothing to stop a social landlord from granting the surviving family member a new tenancy in the same property, or they may be able to offer a tenancy for a different property, should that be more appropriate. Indeed, it is partly because the previous succession rules were considered too inflexible and not sufficient to allow for a household’s individual circumstances to be taken into account that the Government introduced changes under the Localism Act 2011.

Those changes apply to social tenancies granted from 1 April 2012. They mean that social landlords are no longer limited by law to providing only one succession to a spouse or a partner, or, in the case of local authorities, to a resident family member. Instead, social landlords have, since April 2012, been able to give to new tenants more extensive succession rights in tenancy agreements, in addition to the statutory one succession to a spouse or partner. That important flexibility means that, for example, carers or adult children who have lived in a property for many years can be provided with the assurance of a right to succeed to the tenancy, regardless of whether a previous succession has already taken place.

Striking the right balance between competing interests is never easy.