May 22 2013 Latest news:
by Meyrem Hussein
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Cash-strapped Camden Council is offering tenants tens of thousands of pounds in a bid to get them to move out of their council houses.
Residents in houses with spare bedrooms could get up to £25,000 if they agree to downsize.
Taxpayers are bemused at how the Labour-run council, which needs to save around £50million over the next three years because of government cuts, can dish out so much money.
But Camden says it needs to do something to free up homes for its 5,000-plus families living in overcrowded accommodation – 791 of which need a home with five or more bedrooms.
It insists the money is coming out of a separate ring-fenced housing account funded by tenants’ rents.
For the next three months, tenants are being offered £25,000 if they leave a six-bedroom home, £20,000 if they vacate a five-bedroom home and £15,000 if they move from a four-bedroom home.
There are 1,380 council homes with four or more bedrooms in Camden and it is estimated that about 60 per cent of these are under-occupied.
Saul Zadka, a trustee of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, said the council should not be using taxpayers’ money as an incentive.
He said: “Does the council not have the power to move people into smaller council houses anyway? I would expect the council to have such powers without offering taxpayers’ money as an enticement.”
Cllr Jonny Bucknell, the Tories’ housing spokesman, believes Camden should have voted to allow fixed-term council tenancies when it had the chance in December.
He said: “I was in favour of fixed-term tenancies so that, after a set time, tenancies would be reviewed – perhaps once tenants’ children had left.
“It’s really quite large amounts of money they are offering when people should be giving up their rooms voluntarily. The council can’t afford any extra money when we have a massive repair bill on our properties.”
Camden cannot force under-occupiers out of their council homes because it gives its tenants lifetime tenancies.
But from April, the government will effectively try to force council tenants to downsize through a bedroom tax. This will see tenants with spare bedrooms have their housing benefit docked.
Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “What Camden is doing doesn’t make sense because the government is giving people an incentive to downsize anyway. It doesn’t make sense to give people a carrot to avoid a stick.”
Camden says the scheme will actually save the council money since it will stop overcrowded tenants moving into the private sector and asking for financial help.
Finance boss Cllr Theo Blackwell said: “We have found it very hard to get people to move house without a cash incentive.
“There are people living in overcrowded housing – parents with three kids in a two-bedroom flat – while people without children are in four-bedroom homes.”
Jim Widdowson, chairman of Camden Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations, said: “We have no problem with encouraging people to downsize to a smaller home and compensating them.
“Moving costs money – for new carpets, curtains and redecorating. We are totally against any compulsion.”