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St Albans council house life tenancies to end: council gives go ahead to change social housing scheme
Politicians have slammed the district council, describing it as "anti-democratic" for giving the go ahead to a controversial shake up of its social housing scheme, despite most voting against it.
Labour councillor Malachy Pakenham described the ruling Conservatives' decision to implement a flexible tenancy as anti-democratic and said "they are turning St Albans into a 21st century rotten borough with an elected dictatorship".
The change will mean council housing tenants’ situations will be reviewed every five years instead of the life-long tenancy that was in place. At a heated, full council meeting on Thursday, January 10, 29 councillors voted against the change and 27 voted for it.
Conservative backbencher, Councillor Nat Young was met by outrage when he described "having a council house as almost like winning a sizeable lottery win".
He said the new rules would help "genuine" vulnerable people who may be homeless while people who no longer need social housing may still be occupying a home.
His colleague, Councillor Salih Gaygusuz, added it was "morally wrong that people living in social housing earning £100,000 a year and driving around in good cars" were living in council houses, while genuine vulnerable people were struggling to be housed. Labour and Liberal Democratic councillors stood in unison against the flexible tenancies.
Liberal Democrat councillor Aislinn Lee asked Tory councillors to avoid using "a sledgehammer", while her colleague Councillor Robert Donald urged them to avoid making a "fast and loose decision" and "not to play around with people’s lives".
Under the Localism Act 2011, local housing authorities had until Monday to decide if tenants had properties for life or if they were to be reviewed every five years. If the council did not come up with a decision in time it would have been in breach of statutory duty.
Therefore, despite strong opposition, the council’s cabinet gave the go-ahead to the new tenancies at a meeting on Monday, January 14. The change will be implemented in April.
Executive leader of the council, Councillor Julian Daly said that they were unable to ignore the results of a consultation, which showed 73 per cent of tenants agreed with five-year flexible tenancies.
He said: "A great deal of the people who this will affect, unlike councillors, agreed with it."
However, in line with concerns about vulnerable tenants raised by the full council, an all-party task and finish group will be set up to research implications of the new scheme.
New tenants will also be offered a one-year introductory tenancy, during which any new changes can be implemented.
Councillor Donald said this was "simply throwing councillors a bone to make it seem as though they were listening".
Labour councillors also showed their disappointment that the scheme had been put through before more research was carried out. Councillor Pakenham said: "They have stuck two fingers up to full council and decided to ignore our arguments."
Councillor Jacob Quagliozzi added: "It’s disappointing that the majority of councillors can say something but cabinet can say we will just do it.
"From a democracy point of view this is not a great day."