The Stoke-on-Trent City Council is set to introduce the incentives scheme to free up larger homes for people on the waiting list
Dozens of council tenants in Stoke-on-Trent who ‘under-occupy’ their homes will be offered £1,000 payments to move to smaller properties.
The Stoke-on-Trent City Council is set to introduce the incentives scheme, which will also include help with moving costs, in order to free up larger homes in its housing stock for people on the waiting list.
The council currently has 1,166 three or four bedroom properties which are occupied by single tenants or couples.
At the same time, 477 people are waiting for a three bedroom council house, and 149 needing a four-bedroom property, with 804 overcrowded households on the register.
Working age people who under-occupy social housing are currently subject to the ‘bedroom tax’, meaning they receive less in housing benefits. But pensioners are exempt from this charge, which can equate to hundreds of pounds a year.
Under the incentives scheme, tenants who under-occupy council houses by at least two bedrooms will be offered a £1,000 cash payment – minus any rent arrears – along with help with packing and removal, disconnection and reconnection of utilities, and disposal of excess items.
The council, which has 17,403 properties in total, expects between 100 and 120 tenants will take up this offer over the next three years, costing the authority £300,000, after which the scheme will be reviewed.
Carl Edwards, cabinet member for housing and environment, says the scheme will be mainly targeted at pensioners.
The council’s under-occupiers include 436 single pensioners and 186 pensioner couples in three bedroomed houses.
Mr Edwards said: We have lots of senior citizens who have raised their families in three or four bedroom properties, which they are now under-occupying. We’ve also got younger families on our waiting list who require a three or four bedroom property.
So we’re looking to introduce an incentive scheme to offer our senior citizens help in moving to a more appropriate home, such as one of our bungalows or supported accommodation like the excellent QEII in Fenton, he said.
This help could include a packing service, a removal service and support with all the paperwork, which can be a barrier to moving, Mr Edwards said.
He said: The last thing we want to do is tell people that they have to move from Norton to Fenton, for example. But we do have lots of smaller properties all over the city. And I would like to see more schemes like QEII across Stoke-on-Trent.
The incentive scheme won’t be the complete solution to this issue, but if it means 30 or 40 people a year move to more appropriate housing, we will be able to offer those larger properties to young families, he said.
Previous tenancy audits carried out by the council with tenants under-occupying four bedroomrs houses revealed there was ‘little appetite’ to move to smaller properties.
A cabinet report says this is because many had lived at the property for a number of years, could not face the upheaval of moving or were not keen on the type of properties available such as bungalows.
But the report says that tenants who move to smaller properties could benefit from lower fuel bills, rents and council tax.
Tenants board member Jim Gibson, chairman of Chell Heath Residents’ Association, understands the council’s reasons for introducing the scheme, but believes the issue needs to be handled with ‘kid gloves’.
He said: There is shortage of family homes, so I can understand why the council needs to do something about this.