London’s largest housing association L&Q has announced it is scrapping fixed-term tenancies and will now offer all its tenants security of tenure for indefinite periods.
The move will mean shifting 8,500 tenants who are currently on fixed-term contracts onto assured tenancies. These only represent a minority of the association’s tenants, as it has 41,000 on assured arrangements. Nonetheless, the step has been taken as part of a clear statement by L&G that it believes all tenancies should be assured.
Indeed, the timing is no accident. Last month, the government abandoned plans to abolish lifetime tenancies and institute rolling fixed-term tenancies. That decision has left open the question of just what does happen next and what new approach could be adopted.
The L&Q move may be copied by others, creating a de facto norm of lifetime tenancies whether or not it is legislated for, but it may also prompt decision makers to acknowledge which way the wind is blowing and adjust policies to fit this.
L&Q said its own research has shown the tenancy renewal process simply creates anxiety for tenants and fixed-term arrangements “were not achieving their desired policy outcomes”. The study also found that the renewal date seldom corresponded with changes in residents’ circumstances, with most tenancies being renewed and not a single case of under-occupation causing a tenancy to end.
Chief executive David Montague said fixed-term tenancies, which housing associations have been able to provide since 2011, were found to “be a crude tool that have not fixed the problems they were created to address”.
He added: “We share the government’s determination to tackle social stigma. Ending fixed-term tenancies, introducing a new home standard, linking rents to local incomes and a £250 million long-term investment in communities to build skills and opportunities are all designed to ensure that everyone has a safe, secure, quality home they can afford.”
The move has been welcomed by board member and chair of the L&Q resident services group Fayann Simpson, who said: “I’m delighted that L&Q has made these changes following extensive consultation with residents.
“It will help thousands of residents to feel more secure about their home and their future.”
L&Q’s move has added to the impetus for all tenancies to be made indefinite. In April, the Resolution Foundation thinktank produced a report arguing that if ‘generation rent’ was here to stay, with millennials truly locked out of the housing market, a German-style system of lifelong renting was required to give them security.
It argued that this was necessary because if current patterns of homeownership continue, a third of those now aged in their 20s and 30s will be renting when they reach retirement age, making the security of tenure all the more important.
Writing in the New Statesman last month in his capacity as a member of Shelter’s cross-party commission on social housing, former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband spoke of short term tenancies in the private sector as creating situations where people would “endure mould or vermin if they fear their landlord would sooner replace them than address the problem”.
The question now may be whether the social housing sector will soon offer a long-term alternative for all tenants free of such concerns.