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What are lifetime tenancies?

Long-term security of tenure was introduced for most social housing tenants by the Housing Act 1980.  The Housing Act 1988 subsequently introduced the assured tenancy regime for housing associations, this regime has applied to most new housing association tenancies created since 15 January 1989. The level of security of tenure offered by these tenancies has led to them being described as ‘lifetime tenancies.’ Essentially, with some limited exceptions, if a secure or assured tenant does not breach the conditions of their tenancy agreement they cannot be evicted.

Discretion not to offer a lifetime tenancy after 1 April 2012

The Coalition Government legislated to give local authorities and housing associations discretion to offer fixed-term tenancies to social housing tenants in England. The Localism Act 2011 introduced a power for local authorities to offer “flexible tenancies” to new social tenants after 1 April 2012. Flexible tenancies are secure fixed-term tenancies with a minimum term of two years.

The 2011 Act also allowed housing associations to offer fixed-term tenancies to all new tenants after 1 April 2012. Previously, housing associations were required to offer tenants the “most secure” form of tenancy, meaning the majority of tenants were offered ‘lifetime’ assured tenancies. However, changes to the Regulatory framework for social housing removed this requirement, giving housing associations the power to offer fixed-term tenancies to all new tenants.

The Government said the changes were intended to give local authorities and housing associations greater freedom to manage their housing stock, ensure that social housing is allocated to those who need it most, and to ensure that lifetime tenancies are not given to tenants irrespective of how their circumstances might change in the future.

Limited take-up

There has been very limited take-up of fixed-term and flexible tenancies by councils and housing associations. The Equality Impact Assessment on Lifetime tenancies (May 2016) states that in 2014/15 “only 15% of social housing tenancies were let on a fixed-term basis.” In the Summer Budget 2015 the Government announced that it would “review the use of lifetime tenancies in social housing to limit their use…and ensure the best use is made of the social housing stock.”

The Housing and Planning Act 2016: the phasing out of lifetime tenancies for new council tenants

In December 2015, during the sixteenth sitting of the Public Bill Committee on the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16, the Minister, Marcus Jones, introduced new clauses aimed at phasing out lifetime tenancies.  These provisions are now contained in sections 118, 119 and Schedule 7 to the Housing and Planning Act 2016. The Minister explained that the new provisions would prevent local authorities in England from offering secure tenancies for life in most circumstances.  He noted that social landlords had not taken advantage of the discretionary powers introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and said that continuing to offer social tenancies on a lifetime basis did not represent an efficient use of scarce social housing. Housing associations will still have discretion over whether or not to offer a flexible tenancy.

Decision not to implement “at this time”

On publication of the social housing Green paper on 14 August 2018, A new deal for social housing, the Government announced that it will not implement these provisions “at this time”.

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