Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 18:38 UK

House plan not spin - government

houses
Almost five million people are on housing waiting lists

The government has denied Tory claims its plan to give local people priority on council house waiting lists will be torpedoed by its own equality laws.

It says it does not want to change the law, merely give councils "more freedom" to interpret existing rules.

Local councils are already allowed to give priority to people with local connections through jobs and family, although not all do so.

The Tories say the government plans are little more than "spin".

Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps said the measure was a "sham" as it would be illegal under existing law and the forthcoming Equality Bill.

Transparency

But this was denied by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

A DCLG spokesman said: "As we made clear yesterday (Monday), we are proposing a stronger role for Local Authorities so they can better allocate social housing according to their own needs and priorities, and will be changing the current rules to give them more freedom to do so.

It is already the case that most local councils favour people who live in the area
Local Government Association

"The Equality Bill will not run counter to what we announced yesterday. Indeed, authorities may well decide that local disadvantage could be addressed by giving greater assistance to local people with housing needs."

The guidance the DCLG plans to issue to councils is thought likely to include increased transparency, allowing people "to see how the rules are set and to understand that any application they make for a social home will be treated fairly alongside other applicants".

But the DCLG refused to be drawn on when the new guidance would be issued or the details of what would be in it.

A spokeswoman said the plans would not have the force of law, saying it would still be "up to local authorities" to decide whether or not to to give more priority to local people.

Applicants with an existing "high degree of housing need" will have a high priority for a council home, she added.

'Local homes'

However, the Tories said that councils already had discretion to help local residents under guidelines published on the DCLG's own website.

Views on council housing: "Local people get nothing"

And a spokesman for the Local Government Association said: "It is already the case that most local councils favour people who live in the area. They already award more points to local people."

One council that already operates a "local homes for local people" policy is Enfield.

A spokeswoman said: "Under our current Allocations Policy we award "waiting time" points which means we give more priority to local people.

Another council - Southampton - says it gives more housing points to applicants with a "proven link" to the city and existing city council tenants.

The DCLG spokeswoman did not reply to requests to name any councils which do not already award extra points to applicants with a local connection, or who have been on the waiting list for a long time.

Neither did she outline any specific changes to existing council guidance on prioritising local people.

The funding of a £1.5bn building programme for social homes has also been questioned, with a statement on it from Housing Minister John Healey apparently delayed.


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