Tenants face eviction or a rent rise if pay goes up
Social housing tenants could lose their homes under a new policy which critics claim "punishes" those who do well, and which could be rolled out across the Westcountry.
Councils in Teignbridge and East Devon have already adopted guidance which means all tenants will have their lease reviewed after five years – and if their salary has improved they could lose their home or face a massive hike in rent.
All Devon's six district councils, plus unitary authorities in Plymouth and Torbay, have confirmed they are considering the guidance, devised by a country-wide partnership. Cornwall Council has also started discussing the issue, ahead of a consultation process.
Alan Connett, Lib Dem opposition leader at Teignbridge Council, believes the policy is ill-conceived, and risks penalising those who do well enough at work to get pay rises and promotions.
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Teignbridge Council said the threshold, at £33,000, was "very reasonable" and said it was unfair for higher earners to live in subsidised housing.
Mr Connett, who also sits on Devon County Council, said councils should seek to encourage hard work, not "to snatch their house away if they succeed".
He said: "These families will face a 'cliff edge' because at the end of their flexible tenancy the policy is very clear. It says the tenancy should not be renewed.
"A family might be allowed to stay, but on different terms – for example a hike in rent. Where is the incentive for tenants to improve their situation, let alone the worry it will cause that they may have to uproot the family?
"Surely what is needed is a staged approach that doesn't penalise people for working hard and looking after their families."
East Devon District Council has also brought in the policy, while Mid Devon, West Devon, South Hams, Torridge, North Devon, Torbay, Plymouth and Exeter councils all said their individual cabinets would soon decide on the issue.
Amanda Downie, Teignbridge District Council's service lead for housing and chairman of the Devon Strategic Housing Group, said the guidance was designed to make sure council homes went to those most in need.
She said the level for each area would vary, but in South Devon it was £33,000 for a two-bedroom home.
"If a household living in a two-bedroom property has an income of over £33,000 it isn't unfair to expect them to pay a little more, share ownership or rent privately. Under the present system there is a tenancy for life, and it is very unfair that people who can afford more continue to benefit from highly subsidised rents at a cost to taxpayers and those in need of affordable homes."
She said only 27 of 4,000 on Teignbridge's social housing register would be over the new threshold. She said each case would be judged on its own merits, and said a "flexible" approach would be taken.
East Devon District Council said the threshold would be around £30,000, which is the initial figure used to assess first-time applicants.
"Sheltered tenants will continue to have a secure tenancy for life," the spokesman said.