David Cameron set the cat amongst the pigeons yesterday by seemingly off-the-cuff suggesting that the current situation where people can stay in council houses effectively for life may be reviewed during a Q&A session.
He particularly focused on the sort of situation where a family living in for example a four bedroomed house where the children have left home but the parents are then allowed to remain in the house could be questioned.
I have to say I agree. If people's circumstances change, then surely it is right for the housing situation to also be reviewed? This is not least because for every empty room in a council house there will be someone on a waiting list who needs a home of their own. A system that allows a more fair and equitable (and efficient) division of the available housing resource is surely something that is desirable?
Of course we do not want to end up in a situation where people are being kicked out of their homes with nowhere else to go. Apparently Labour looked at something like this before the election but backed off "when they saw the pitfalls". I have no doubt there are some. There always are when reforming a complex system. I cannot imagine it is beyond the wit of man to reasonably work around them though.
With private renting or home owning people move all the time as their circumstances change. I always rented privately until I purchased my own home in 2004 and I lived in 11 different houses/flats between 1992 and then. That was almost one move per year. In two cases it was forced upon me by fickle landlords who decided they wanted to do something different with the house/flat (nothing to do with my behaviour I should be clear). In the other cases it was that my circumstances had changed either in terms of my job or in terms of geographical considerations. Towards the end I would have loved security of tenure in my privately rented accommodation but that is not how it works. I blogged about it at length last year here.
One other point on this. On Iain Dale's show last night, Denis MacShane suggested that it was not a good idea for this reform to be led by an "Eton Toff". This sort of rhetoric is extremely unhelpful. If MacShane does not like the proposal then he should argue against it (although he actually seemed to think it had some merit) rather than go in for ad hominen attacks based on class. We all saw how they backfired in the Crewe by-election in 2008.
So in summary, the idea that council tenants could need to be a bit more flexible given their circumstances seems like a good principle to me. Simon Hughes has already protested that this was not in the coalition agreement. Fair point, so it will require some internal debate within the coalition to make sure concerns of both parties are taken into account. That should not stop something though if it can be shown to be a good reform.