The Long, Long Queue For A Council House

The long, long queue for a council house

Jill Sherman, Whitehall Editor
From The Times
November 10, 2008

Up to four in ten households are on waiting lists for council housing in some parts of England, according to a survey to be published this week.

The rise in people applying for social housing over the past five years is partly caused by demographic changes, immigration and more people living on their own. But it is also a result of a 12-year fall in the construction of council and housing association homes.

The situation is likely to worsen in the current downturn as more homes are repossessed and people turn to local authorities for help.

Although the Government has pledged to bring forward money to build more social housing, local government experts insist that this will be insufficient and the homes will not be built for several years.

Ministers have called for 200,000 homes to be built each year, but fewer than 100,000 are being started, a figure likely to fall in the next few years as the recession bites.

The survey, by the Local Government Association (LGA), shows that 63 councils have more than one in ten residents on a social housing list. Of those, eight have more than one in five on their list.

Nearly 1.6 million households are on council waiting lists – about four million people. The LGA has given warning that within the next two years five million people could be waiting for a home.

Big cities have the longest waiting lists. In Brent, North London, 41 per cent of households are struggling to find a home, while in Sheffield the figure is 39.7 per cent. In Newham, East London, 25.5 per cent of households are on the list, in Bradford 24.3 per cent and in Bolton 23 per cent. Those without any roof over their heads are housed in temporary accommodation, including shelters and bed and breakfasts.

Councils have a duty to house anyone who is homeless. Priority groups include teenagers aged 16 to 17, pregnant women and those who are leaving care homes. Town halls have separate waiting lists for other applicants, but, because of the shortage of houses, most of the 170,000 homes that become vacant every year go only to the most vulnerable.

The LGA is calling on ministers to allow councils greater freedom to help to ease the housing shortage. It argues that all town halls should be able to borrow on the open market in the same way as housing associations, and to remortgage assets to invest in housebuilding.

Paul Bettison, the chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: Even when the economic good times were rolling, councils saw ever-increasing pressure on social housing stock. Now that the credit crunch is biting hard it appears that many thousands more will be looking to councils to provide them with a permanent home as they either find it impossible to get on the housing ladder or see their home repossessed. In parts of the country the system is creaking at the seams.


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My niece was married 4 years ago and could not get a council house.She wanted to set up home before starting a family. Government policy dicriminates against sensible people putting those with children first, even if they are immigrants. She has solved the problem and emigrated to Australia.

R Bateman, Birmingham, england

Funny, but don't the areas you mention with the highest waiting lists just happen to be also the ones with the highest numbers of immigrants? What a coincidence.

Barrie Redfern, Zdole, Slovenia

The council housing here in Battersea seems to have a high proportion of young healthy looking east Europeans in them… do they manage that?

sedgwick, London, UK