New housing rules could stop benefit claimants migrating to east coast

A new residency test would require social housing applicants to have lived locally for at least two years before being accepted.
A new residency test would require social housing applicants to have lived locally for at least two years before being accepted.
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The east coast’s allure to benefit seekers could be curbed under new government measures limiting immigrants’ access to social housing, a councillor claims.

The Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday that social housing applicants must take a residency test before being accepted.

Although the measures were hoped to change Britain’s image of being a ‘soft touch’ on EU immigrants, in East Lindsey, where foreign nationals make up less than four per cent of the population, the scheme could curb a different form of migration.

The proposals would require any social housing applicant to have lived locally for at least two years, prohibiting not only immigrants, but British residents from outside the region too.

A coastal councillor hopes the scheme may reduce the strain placed on East Lindsey’s social housing list by applicants from other East Midlands counties with ‘tenuous’ links to the region.

Coun Colin Davie said: “In line with the Prime Minister’s announcement, it is vitally important that the district council, which administers housing matters, addresses the eligibility criteria as a matter of urgency so that only people who are truly local with strong local connections are prioritised on the housing list.

“It’s not right that people,whether from abroad or from counties outside Lincolnshire can turn up on the coast and think they can get to the top of the housing list.

“From the many complaints I’ve received it’s clear that the public believe that local people do not get the priority they deserve.”

With high levels of seasonal employment, he feels the Department of Work and Pensions is less ‘stringent’ in its demands for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants to gain work, which could be seen as an attractive option for those living elsewhere in the country who want to remain on benefits.

“Because of the seasonal nature of employment opportunities on the coast, most people would argue that the DWP is less stringent in the winter months at trying to get people back into work, when clearly the jobs do not exist.” he said.

East Lindsey District Council says that 12 per cent of the 403 lettings offered last year were not living locally, which would prohibit them from applying under the new regulations.

Coun Davie believes many of those recorded as living locally, may have only done so for a number of years having moved to the area with only ‘tenuous’ connections.

The district council, however, says its policy already ensures the ‘vast majority’ of social housing vacancies go to people with a local connection and doesn’t believe the residency test will reduce the waiting list.

Like many other housing authorities, it has also raised concerns about the scheme’s details, which it is awaiting further clarification on.

“We will need the government to clarify how this sits with the Localism Act which allows each council to set some of their own rules for social housing and also with existing legislation regarding our statutory duties,” a spokesperson said.

“For example, if the proposed two year rule is applied to all applicants, the council could have a statutory duty to house someone who is homeless but be unable to do so because of the two year rule - we need further information.”