A plan which would have allowed working families to jump the queue for a council house has been rejected in Birmingham.
The idea was floated as a way of rewarding those seen to be making a contribution to society by holding down a job. But the scheme, which divided senior members of the Labour-run city council, was finally rejected amid fears it could hit the sick and vulnerable unable to find employment.
Details of the proposal emerged days after the biggest benefit shake-up in decades – including the controversial “bedroom tax” – came into force on April 1.
A council survey found almost 15,000 of the city’s social housing households would be penalised for having spare rooms by losing part of their housing benefit – generally up to £20-a-week.
Senior Tories claimed the changes would ensure that life on benefits was not more attractive than working.
The Birmingham housing scheme would have allocated extra points, used in the allocation of its 65,000 properties, to those in work or volunteering their time for free.
But the council’s cabinet could not decide whether to introduce it and passed the decision down to a scrutiny committee, where it was rejected.
The city’s former housing boss, Coun Marje Bridle (Lab, Shard End), said it was a missed opportunity to help workers and volunteers on the authority’s 25,000-strong housing waiting list.
“Many feel that people are rewarded for bad behaviour by the system, that some get something for nothing,” she said.
“This would have been a clear indication that those who make a positive contribution to their community would be rewarded.”
But opponents of the scheme feared it could have added to the demands on social services by increasing the chances of vulnerable people missing out on stable accommodation.
Coun Waseem Zaffer (Lab, East Handsworth and Lozells), chairman of the social cohesion scrutiny committee, which voted to reject the policy, said: “We thought the policy was well-intended.
“But we think, in the current climate with the scale of inequalities in Birmingham and thousands in need, it would create more problems for us.”
The committee heard compelling evidence from the city’s largest social landlord Midland Heart and the homelessness charity Crisis.
A spokeswoman said: “For some vulnerable people, on-going disabilities or support needs may mean work is unlikely to ever be a realistic option.
“They, in particular, need stable housing and unconditional support regardless of their employment situation.”
There was also a concern that a ‘good tenancy history’ criteria might be unfair on those falling into rent arrears as a result of the new benefit changes.
The proposal was set against the backdrop of a wider overhaul of the council housing waiting list.
A shake-up could see a range of priority bands simplified and cut to about five in a bid to simplify the system.
And the council’s survey looking at the housing benefit changes revealed about ten per cent of residents, or 14,600 households, in social housing would see their payments cut.
Not surprisingly, most of the under-occupied properties were three-bedroom houses, 47.7 per cent of the total, followed by two-bedroom flats, 25.4 per cent, and two bedroom houses, 10.7 per cent.
Most residents will pay an additional £10 to £20 per week rent unless they can find a smaller property or increase their household.
But the city council only has about 160 one bedroom properties currently available to rent, meaning there are few opportunities for tenants in two-bedroom properties to downsize.