Charity: Big changes to housing policy are ‘misguided’

Horsham Churches Together have opened a night shelter to help the homeless this winter - Photo by Derek Martin

Horsham Churches Together have opened a night shelter to help the homeless this winter - Photo by Derek Martin

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People who have been convicted of a crime within the past 12 months will not be allowed on the council’s housing register under new draft plans published this week.

Following the introduction of Government’s Localism Bill, councils have the opportunity to set their own policies on who should be eligible for social housing, although the duty to house vulnerable homeless people remains.

To help determine its policy, Horsham District Council ran a three month consultation in the summer during which 604 people responded telling it who they think should be allowed onto the housing register and in what circumstances they should be prioritised.

Most (91 per cent) said social housing should be for people who have become homeless through no fault of their own and 95 per cent said those on low incomes should qualify. Only 3.7 per cent said social housing should be given to people with no local connection.

However, 68 per cent of respondents felt people who had not lived crime free in the community in the past year should not qualify.

The council has taken this forward into its draft Allocations Policy, saying that a household would not be admitted to the housing register if ‘any member of their household has been convicted of a crime in the preceding 12 months or has not lived a crime free (charged or convicted of a crime) in the community for six months since leaving prison’.

But Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns for the Howard League for Penal Reform, said this could make things worse.

He said: “This misguided policy may appear tough but it would put the safety of Horsham residents at risk. Many people who commit crime lack a stable home and family environment and, in particular, those who have served their time in prison often need the help and support of society at large to turn over a new leaf.

“Denying someone access to a home, on the other hand, will virtually guarantee a return to offending.

“In England, we leave decisions on how to deal with people who commit crime to courts of law, even if that crime is as minor as an eleven year old stealing from a newsagents or a pensioner failing to pay a bill.

“We should not go down the road of having council bureaucrats step in to add the mandatory sentence of homelessness to any family with a member who commits any crime.

“Horsham council has strict criteria for allowing people onto its housing list, based on their vulnerability and need. It should stick to these genuine concerns rather than try and achieve cheap political wins that will only encourage crime and create more victims of crime.”

Sue Rogers, cabinet member for a safer and healthier district, said: “Social housing is a scarce resource. Great care has been taken, by officers from Horsham District Council, to consider the responses from the first consultation process with residents and to produce a policy which reflects the views expressed in the replies.

“So far, the responses received from the second phase of the consultation of the policy document have been very positive.”

This consultation on three draft documents about housing and homelessness are available on the council’s housing webpage

People should send responses before Tuesday January 1, 2013 to Andrew Smith, housing strategy and development manager, Horsham District Council, Park North, North Street, Horsham, RH12 1RL or Andrew.smith@horsham.gov.uk