In a move condemned by Labour as likely to break up communities, the government has quietly tabled an amendment to the housing and planning bill that sets a maximum of five-year terms for new secure tenancies.
In an explanatory note to the bill, Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, said: “A secure tenant can currently live in a property for life. This amendment phases out lifetime tenancies.”
David Cameron first signalled he would like to make such a move as long ago as 2010, when he suggested it could help increase social mobility.
While admitting that “not everyone will support this and there will be quite a big argument”, he said at the time: “There is a question mark about whether, in future, we should be asking when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period? Because maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won’t need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector.”
But the plan was never implemented under the coalition, with Grant Shapps, then housing minister, eventually unveiling plans to let tenancy limits be set in each local area.
The new legislation forces councils to offer all new tenants contracts of between two and five years. At the end of the fixed term, local authorities will have to carry out a review of the tenant’s circumstance, and decide whether to grant a new tenancy, move the tenant into another more appropriate social rented property, or terminate the tenancy.
Where the local authority decides to terminate the tenancy, they will be required to provide advice to support the tenant into home ownership or to help them access other housing options, whichever is appropriate.
The new move has already been criticised by John Healey, Labour’s shadow cabinet minister for housing, who said people would be “astonished that ministers are legislating to deny families a stable home”.
“Councils are already able to decide on the length of tenancy they want to offer according to local needs,” he said. “Margaret Thatcher passed the law to give council tenants secure tenancies which David Cameron is now tearing up. This generation of Tory ministers seem to have a vendetta against council tenants and council homes.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the changes would “improve local authorities abilities to provide social housing for those who need it most, as long as they need it”.