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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Bus drivers may get subsidised homes
A double decker bus in London
London bus drivers may get some home help
By BBC News Online personal finance reporter Sarah Toyne

Bus and train operators may be given government help in subsidising homes for their staff, along similar lines to that proposed for teachers and nurses.

It has emerged that a number of London bus companies, including London General and London Central, are now attracting new drivers to London by offering to pay their rent for up to six months.

Housing is astronomical and we would welcome tax breaks so that employers could support their staff with housing costs - people are moving out of London, so we are having to help them move in

Kevin Cocker
Go Ahead

Homes in many parts of the country, and especially London, are unaffordable for many people, particularly for workers in essential services.

And, like hospital and schools chiefs before them, companies are now experiencing staff shortages, as workers are priced out of London, or decide to take advantage of high property prices by selling up and moving to cheaper areas.

At the same time, they are now having to offer sweeteners to fill these vacancies.

The government is expected to confirm details of a package for teachers and nurses within the next couple of months.

However, the government says it is willing to listen to private sector employers who were struggling to keep hold of their staff and would welcome consultations.

Growing concern

Go-Ahead group, a Newcastle-based company, which owns a number of train and bus companies including Thames Trains and London General buses is pressing for government help.

Kevin Cocker, from Go-Ahead said: "Housing is astronomical and we would welcome tax breaks so that employers could support their staff with housing costs.

"People are moving out of London, so we are having to help them move in."

Other proposals

On Thursday, the government announced a series of proposals to shake-up the housing sector.

For council tenants, the government is proposing an "equity share" or "rent-to-buy" scheme, to help them get a foothold on the property ladder.

A radical shake-up of housing benefit, which will make landlords responsible for their tenants or risk losing benefit is also proposed in a series of measures announced by Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, on Thursday.

Mr Byers, who moved to the DTLR after the election, told a meeting organised by the Social Market Foundation, that he wanted a new golden age for housing, harking back to the "Homes fit for heroes" campaign which followed the Second World War.

'Decent' housing

More than 2 million children now live in homes classed as "not decent", the majority of which are in the private sector.

The government pledged on Tuesday to help renovate 200,000 of these private sector homes, which are in poor condition.

"We are committed to ensuring that by 2010 all social housing meets set standards of decency," Mr Byers told the SMF, a centre-left think tank.

"Over the next three years, more than 300,000 children will be able to live in homes which are decent, with most improvement taking place in the most deprived areas."

Housing before the Second World War
60% of houses were privately rented
10% were local authority owned
30% were owner occupied
As well as boosting investment in housing, the government proposes to cut its 4bn annual housing benefit bill by "attaching conditions" before it will pay out.

This move aims to encourage landlords to provide better living conditions for tenants.

Under perhaps the most radical initiative announced on Thursday, the government wants to use housing benefit as a way of promoting good citizenship and to ensure tenants behave in a "civilized manner".

"No more neighbours from hell disrupting the local community - while their landlords do nothing apart from pocket housing benefit, courtesy of the tax payer," said Mr Byers.

Details of the scheme will be announced in the autumn.

Private homes

Mr Byers confirmed at Thursday's meeting that the right-to-buy scheme, which gives tenants the right to buy their own home, would not be abolished.

Instead, the government will introduce a new "equity share" scheme which is aimed at the 4 million people who live in local authority and housing association homes.

Housing today
12% of homes are privately rented
20% are either local authority or Housing Association
68% are owner-occupied

Unlike, the right to buy scheme, which has been criticised for causing shortages of affordable homes, the new system is aimed at safeguarding housing stock.

Rental payments by tenants would go towards a 'bonus' fund, which could then be used as a deposit on a home in the private sector.

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Business
Property price rises start to slow
18 Jul 01 | Scotland
Housing Bill finance concerns
31 Jul 01 | Business
House price rises 'unsustainable'
10 Jul 01 | Business
Is now the right time to buy?
03 Aug 01 | Education
Cheaper homes for teachers
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