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Carers and the Housing Bill - what difference will the Bill make?

08 March 2016

Jenny Luckett
Policy, Research and Public Affairs Officer, Carers UK

This week the House of Lords is going through the Housing and Planning Bill in detail, at its Committee stage, scrutinising the effect of the Bill. For carers and those they look after, there are some important changes that could have a significant impact, mostly on future carers, but some affecting current carers who live in council housing properties.

There are some positive developments – in particular for carers who live in the private rented sector. The Housing and Planning Bill will see local authorities keeping more of the fines they impose on private landlords so they will be more likely to invest in enforcing laws on decent conditions. It will also allow local authorities to share intelligence about landlords and see the creation of national database of convicted landlords and agents to protect tenants.

However, there are some new controversial measures that will have a negative impact on carers which are most likely to be felt in the social housing sector where there are changes to social housing tenancies.  The first significant change to impact on carers will affect the length of tenancy in a council property. For anyone granted a tenancy for social housing directly from their council or local authority in the future, the maximum length of the tenancy will be 5 years and the minimum length 2 years. This change to fixed term secure tenancies will have an impact on anyone whose circumstances might change as a household’s ‘needs’ will be reassessed at the end of the 5 years to see if they still qualify for social housing. It is also possible that tenancies may be renewed on a rolling basis but the uncertainty could be an unnecessary source of worry for carers. Whilst this measure will not be mandatory for housing associations at present, Government has said that they would like to see this taken up by all social housing providers.

Carers UK is concerned about this new part of the law  for several reasons. There could be significant distress and disruptions to carer’s lives and those they care for if their tenancy is not renewed – the difficulty of moving around would be exacerbated for those who have care and support packages in place as these arrangements would also be disrupted. There is a strong likelihood that those whose tenancies are not renewed will end up in the private rented sector where it is well documented that tenancies are even more insecure, often only lasting 6 months to a year. We also think that that may be a range of impacts that might change family decision-making, for example, a carer who might have given up their secure lifetime tenancy in order to move closer to the person they care may be unwilling to do so under these rules, leaving local authorities to find care provision to fill the gap. There is a lack of detail yet on how decisions are to be made around tenancy renewals and no draft guidance, but we will be advocating strongly on behalf of carers.

The Bill also introduces a new provision which will stop tenants with a new fixed term council tenancy from making or being compensated for any "improvements" that they make to the property. In the future, when this Bill becomes law, this could affect families who want or need adaptations. Carers UK is currently seeking clarification on this point as it is a critical for disabled people and their families to be able to live independently. 

Another part of the Bill will change the rules to succession of tenancies in the social housing sector. As the terms of tenancy agreements vary enormously, this aims to standardise the terms of succession so that only spouses and partners will continue to have a statutory right to inherit a council housing tenancy. At the moment, spouses and partners can inherit the tenancy, and some other carers living there e.g. sons and daughters who are caring for parents in certain circumstances.  Although local authorities will continue to have discretion to grant succession rights in certain cases, the current guidance on successions does not include carers, making it less likely that carers will receive some protection. Carers UK has already raised the issue of tenancy succession with Ministers and our Adviceline services regularly receive concerns and queries from carers about the succession of tenancies.  Carers often give up homes to care for someone or forgo the opportunity of owning or renting their own home because they are caring which leaves them in a very difficult position when caring comes to an end - either when the person they care for passes away or for moves into a care home.

Carers UK has expressed strong concerns that will change the automatic succession rights to a council tenancy of anyone but a spouse or partner as it will reduce the number of carers who are able to inherit the tenancy. When the 2002 guidance for local authorities on social housing allocation and succession was updated in 2012, it removed the explicit reference to carers inheriting a tenancy in cases where they did not have a statutory right to inherit but had been providing care and living in that home. This continues to be a problem in arguing for support and provision for carers in terms of housing. 

Carers UK believes the Government should reinstate that guidance to protect the position of unpaid carers who give up their own home to care for another because the high level of care they are providing makes it impossible to maintain their own home, and in doing so, recognise the reality of the sacrifices that carers make in order to care for their relatives. 

Whilst Carers UK is providing evidence of the likely impact on carers of the changes in the Housing Bill, these are only a few of the housing issues faced by carers. The growing debate on housing, particularly in areas like London, must adopt a whole population view to take account of the fact that housing is a key element of ensuring that people are able to care for their families and close friends who are chronically ill, frail or disabled. Housing has to be seen as a part of a sustainable future on care and caring. 

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