Plans being considered by the government to give UK families higher priority for social housing would force more people into homelessness, Rishi Sunak has been warned.
“We all deserve safe housing. Regardless of where we are from,” the prime minister was told in a joint letter by groups representing councils, housing professionals and charities.
Further rationing of “already scarce resources” would not address the fundamental failures of the past 40 years, theysay, before the expected launch of a consultation on whether British citizens could be given faster access to social housing.
The proposed policy, designed in part to bolster Sunak’s reputation for being tough on immigration, was revealed by the Guardian this week.
But it has prompted anger from some in government, who say it could further fuel support for the populist right, and from housing experts who say it is likely to be either illegal or unworkable, or both.
The letter to Sunak has been sent by more than 12 bodies in the nonprofit social housing sector as well as partner agencies who say they wished to express concern about the proposals.
Signatories include the heads of the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, charities such as Shelter, Crisis and St Mungo’s, and bodies such as the NFA, which represents England’s council housing management companies.
At the heart of the issue was an “urgent need” for more housing and the fact housebuilding had not kept pace with demand for decades, they added.
There is the legacy from a 63% cut in 2010 in funding for affordable housing while only 9,561 social homes were delivered in England in 2022-23, compared with 40,000 a decade earlier. There is record homelessness and councils and support agencies were under huge pressure.
“We all deserve safe housing, regardless of where we are from. Further rationing of an already scarce resource does not address the fundamental failures of the last 40 years – we have simply not built the homes the UK needs to ensure everybody has a safe and secure place to live,” the letter states.
Social housing was designed to support those in the greatest need, and government data shows that 90% of new social housing lettings go to UK nationals, with long waiting lists in all areas, it adds.
“Imposing extended qualification periods before people can even get on the housing register is likely to force more people into homelessness. If the government’s main concern is to increase the availability of social lettings, it could achieve this far more effectively by building more social housing.”
Gavin Smart, the chief executive at Chartered Institute of Housing, who coordinated the letter, said focusing on the wrong policies will not alleviate an escalating and entrenched housing crisis.
He urged the government to focus on efforts to increase housing supply and described the forthcoming spring budget as a perfect opportunity to provide “the much-needed investment”.
Asked about the proposals, Downing Street declined to comment on “policy speculation”. The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “It’s important that we have a policy that is fair for everyone. We want to build more homes and boost social housing supply and obviously we keep any policies under review.”