Why Section 154 of the Localism Act is a lame duck and needs to go

Now in its eighth year, the Localism Act 2011 was a tool created to hurry up change in local authority powers, in social housing and ultimately in solving the shortage of housing.

What has happened in reality, however, is a perennial thorn in the side of social housing providers, local authorities and those regions craving the power of devolved financial capability.

Lucie Barnes from property litigation specialist, Baines Wilson, discusses more.

Surely those in authority owe a duty of care to those not in authority. When the government formed the Act, they aspired to create a more flexible and fluid housing market in which housing stock could be used more effectively.

However, section 154 of the Act shows a pronounced failure of fairness. Not only that, but it is a cynical piece of legislation, which has failed in any way to address the problem it was introduced to deal with.

What might not be obvious, is that tenants of social housing have historically enjoyed lifetime tenancies.


Section 154 of the Act introduced the concept of flexible tenancies into social housing, with a minimum term of 2 years. The cry then is, ‘We agree with the premise, but tell us why section 154 is so wrong?’

Here it is. Social housing is there to support those who need it most. Social housing protects our single parents, our disabled, our grieving, our uneducated, our working families, our elderly, our poor. In truth, it protects our everybody.

Lifetime tenancies afforded to social tenants is the reason why social housing is a part of the structure. Lifetime tenancies afford a safe place for all persons, which cannot and will not be taken away from a person. If taken away, a social housing tenant is left with little if no security, protection or network.

Some might say, well, we need to do something and do something quick, because we have failed to invest in social housing and crisis point has been reached.

A valid point, but one which is not going to be solved by getting rid of lifetime tenancies. It seems redundant to say, but it should be said, the only way to solve it is to build more houses.

As it turns out, Providers are failing to implement flexible tenancies. L&Q Group announced on September 21 2018 that they were ending the use of flexible tenancies and would move some 8,500 existing fixed-term tenants onto ‘open-ended tenancies’.

Their research was conducted over 6 years and found that tenants suffered anxiety at renewal; and, flexible tenancies did not achieve the desired policy aim of the Act, because an arbitrary renewal date did not reflect individual circumstances.

A ‘crude tool’

L&Q confirmed that they had renewed the ‘overwhelming majority’ of their 8,500 flexible tenancies.

Most importantly, in L&Q’s view, flexible tenancies had in fact acted as a barrier to mobility in the social housing market (a key objective of the Act), stating they had found them to be a ‘crude tool that have not fixed the problems they were created to address’.

It would appear that the only beneficial idea to come about has been implementation of the home-swap scheme, where social housing tenants can put themselves out as having a home they would like to swap with another tenant – whether that be because their children have grown up and there is a swap to be done with somebody who needs the space or, moving to a different town for work etc.

So far, this seems to be working.

The reason for this is twofold: Firstly, those persons involved are in charge of the situation and it absolutely meets their need.

Secondly, there is no loser. Nobody being made homeless or charged extra or forced into rent arrears. For want of a better expression, it is a ‘victimless crime’.

In short, the local authority model certainly lacks flexibility. When it comes to building, it does not lend itself to the notion whatsoever.

Not only is section 154 of the Act unfair, it is not being utilised by industry and the issue is presently stayed by government.

Section 154 is a legacy of the culture of bedroom tax, Universal Credit and homelessness ignorance, which is leaving our statute books with a stonking hangover. It is a lame duck and it is time for it to go.


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