Council tenants in Swindon have rejected the transfer of their 10,500 homes to a new housing association. They voted by over 72 percent to maintain public ownership.
The government, through its Housing Strategy for England programme, is trying to use old housing debts to pressure councils into selling off much of their remaining housing stock in a new wave of transfers. But the result in Swindon shows the level of local opposition they can face.
“We are over the moon at this result,” said Martin Wicks of the Swindon Tenants’ Campaign Group. “We now need to hold the council to account.”
Tenants say that the council used its £600,000 consultation as a high-pressure unofficial campaign for a yes vote. By contrast the trade union and tenants’ campaign spent less than £6,000 on their vote no campaign.
“The council claim they were only presenting facts, but tenants know a hard sell when they see one,” Martin said. “Staff promoting a yes vote cold-called and phoned. A tenant was told, ‘You can vote no, but it will still go through.’
“We need to build on this victory, developing independent tenant organisation to fight for funding and for a new council house building programme to address the housing crisis, both locally and nationally.”
Housing debt worth almost £30 billion has been “devolved” onto local authorities. Much of this was incurred building homes which have long since been sold off through stock transfers or the “right to buy” scheme.
Eileen Short, chair of Defend Council Housing, said, “This government promises a debt write‑off to subsidise privatisation of council housing while loading extra debt onto the backs of council tenants.” But the Swindon campaign shows that when tenants fight back, they can win.
Two London councils are taking desperate measures to avoid dealing with the lack of council housing.
Using new powers granted by the Tories’ localism bill, Barnet council in north London wants to limit all new tenancies for single people under 25 to last just two years.
Official guidelines say that tenancies under five years should only be issued under “exceptional circumstances”.
Meanwhile Croydon council in south London now has so many families to house in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation that it is having to try and find more space it can use.
Properties it is investigating include flats that private developers have been unable to sell—hundreds of miles away in Manchester and Walsall.