Someone came to my surgery on Saturday, though not as a result of my post (at least they didn’t mention it, if it was). I’m afraid that it doesn’t change my opinion on the value of surgeries, it’s still the first time anyone has attended a surgery session I’ve run for the life of this blog. And while looking through the surgery log it still seems to average about one attendee per session, I still think we could be more imaginative about the way we do these things.
But what really struck me on Saturday was the realisation that I’ve probably had to tell most of the people I’ve seen in 12 years of surgeries that I’m sympathetic, but just can’t help. Why? Not because I’m lazy or unwilling, but because I’d guess the bulk of my visitors at surgeries (like Saturday) are about re-housing. We have well-defined rules and policies when it comes to deal with housing applications, and obviously these can’t bend to suit the will of a councillor. I can check they have been correctly placed in the housing queue (make sure medical conditions or overcrowding have been correctly reflected, for example) but can’t do anything to get them a home any quicker.
What really struck me on Saturday was how the current housing system of secure tenancies fail the people who need them. I’ve touched on the subject before and – without breaking any confidences – the case I saw on Saturday was typical example of how those in need are let down.
It was a family in severely overcrowded accommodation. And, realistically, their only option was to sit and wait.
We know we have properties that are big enough, but we also know that people are reluctant to leave them, even when they don’t need all the rooms, all the time – often they want to keep spare rooms for when family visit. We therefore end up ‘buying’ rooms by offering an incentive payment for people who release a larger property.
The family who are waiting could look to the private sector. But that doesn’t have the same security, and they will inevitably move further down the queue for the large council property they want, so there is little incentive to take the risk. As a result people who do want a smaller property lose out because that hasn’t been freed up.
I’m not sure I have the answer. The council has an important role as a provider of housing, it is de facto the landlord of last resort. But it seems wrong that the secure tenancy means that the system moves so slowly that people can spend most of their life in a home that is the wrong size – first in an overcrowded house, then a few years in a house that’s the right size, then as children leave the home the rest of their lives in a house that’s too big!
I can see why people need to have security. But surely the balance is wrong when it leaves so many people without the home they should have.