The Social Housing Cliff Edge

A review into income thresholds for local authority tenants will be too late for people who could see their rents increase this year. 

The issue was raised by Douglas North MHK David Ashford in Tynwald this week.

Mr Ashford has asked DoI Minister Chris Thomas what plans he has to revise the thresholds which only apply to social housing tenants. 

The thresholds were written into the Public Sector Housing Policy which was approved by Tynwald in 2019, though it has been in place since 2014. The thresholds are applied at the end of each fixed-term tenancy, usually five years. 

Mr Thomas said: ‘The Department of Infrastructure may only adjust the financial thresholds with the approval of Tynwald and a consultative process on the allocations policies is envisaged this year. Views from local authorities and others on other enhancements to the fixed-term tenancy policy will be sought including on potential revisions regarding lump sum payments and long-term savings, as well as how private market rents are tracked and applied within the policy. 

‘It is intended that a policy result which is flexible in a wider range of circumstances, whilst ensuring that affordable housing is made available to those applicants most in need.’

Too Late

However, while Mr Ashford welcomed the review, he said it ‘does not really help those tenants whose are up for review now’.

The former treasury minister said that he had become aware of people living in social housing who, as a result of these thresholds, are ‘looking to limit their income in order to get the lower level of rent’.

Mr Ashford added: ‘So at a time of skill shortages in certain sectors of the economy and also a high vacancy rate, this policy now, where the amounts have been written into legislation so it means that they cannot easily be changed, is actually disincentivising economic activity amongst those who are currently tenants.’

He asked Mr Thomas if this process could be sped up to help these tenants.

The DoI Minister said that it is an accelerated policy and one which the DoI, Housing and Communities Board and the Treasury are working together on and one that was raised by Ayre and Michael MHK Tim Johnston.

Mr Ashford later said: ‘Would the Minister also agree with me, that actually, currently, the entire policy gives cliff edges; so a single individual, if they are earning £33,000, their rent under current review would go up to 80% of the market value of that property, but if you are a single individual earning £58,000 your rent would also go up to 80% of market value, exactly the same despite the fact you are earning substantially more than the other person?’

Mr Thomas agreed with Mr Ashford that the principle is unfair and, to the laughter of members, said he is ‘so glad that the 815 dream team is now in place’.