'Sometimes lifetime tenancies are much more appropriate'
CIH policy and practice officer David Pipe assesses the government’s proposal to introduce mandatory fixed-term tenancies for new council tenants.
MPs scrutinising the new Housing and Planning Bill will today debate a new amendment which, if enacted, will mean that all new secure tenancies will only be able to be granted for a fixed period of between two to five years. The amendment relates specifically to tenants of local authorities, although it is likely that it will also be introduced for housing associations via regulatory measures.
Last month, amid speculation that such a change might be imminent, I wrote a blog suggesting that if the government was going to extend the use of fixed-term tenancies, that the detail of exactly how they chose to do this would be important. In particular, we felt that as far as possible decisions about how fixed term tenancies are used should continue to be made locally.
More specifically, we identified three areas where local flexibility would be important:
- Firstly, we felt it was imperative that landlords should be able to determine the circumstances in which tenancies should and should not be renewed at the end of a fixed term, as it would be extremely difficult to create a single set of rules which would work in very different housing markets in different parts of the country. The proposed amendment does not appear to prescribe a set of renewal criteria so we are hopeful that individual landlords will be allowed to make their own decisions about what is appropriate for their area.
- Secondly, that landlords should be allowed to choose between a wide range of options in terms of the length of the tenancies that they offer, ideally anything between two and 10 years. Here the amendment suggests that terms will have to be between two and five years. We strongly feel that it would have been preferable to have given landlords the option of longer terms for several reasons - they offer more security for tenants (particularly, for example, those with young children), they help to create more settled and successful communities and they also reduce the administrative burden of carrying out regular reviews for landlords.
- Finally, we felt it was really important that landlords should retain some freedom to continue offering open-ended or lifetime tenancies where necessary, as undoubtedly there will be occasions where a lifetime tenancy is simply much more appropriate than a fixed term. This might include, for example, where someone is moving in to sheltered housing. The amendment that has been brought forward includes only one set of circumstances in which new open-ended tenancies will definitely still be permissible - where an existing secure tenant is required to move, for example because their property is scheduled for demolition. However the Secretary of State will also have the power to set out further exceptions via regulations, which can be introduced at a later date. We think that individual landlords will be best placed to identify these exceptions and would encourage the government to draft their regulations to give as much local flexibility as possible.
More generally there is a risk that shorter tenancies could create uncertainty and instability for tenants and make it more difficult for housing professionals to help build sustainable, settled communities.
If you're a CIH member, we'll shortly be asking for your views on the proposed changes, and particularly the areas where you feel exceptions are required. To share your views, just sign up to our member opinion panel, which we regularly survey on issues like this.
In addition, as the Housing Bill continues its passage through parliament we will continue to keep our members up to date. We have published a new member briefing which provides a summary of the bill’s progress to date, an overview of its main provisions and our initial analysis of their likely impact. And finally, we will also provide help and advice for members to help you to implement fixed-term tenancies, as more information becomes available about how and when these changes will come into effect. In the meantime, our good practice briefing New approaches to fixed-term tenancies provides a range of examples of how they are already being used in different areas.