At the beginning of August, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced plans for the review of security of tenure in respect of social housing.

Under the Housing Acts of 1985 and 1988, social housing tenants currently benefit from security of tenure and in some cases are able to pass on the benefit of that security to members of their families. Social housing properties can therefore become tied up for very long periods.

The proposals referred to are yet to be fully detailed. Mention has been made of the creation of fixed term tenancies, for periods possibly as short as five years, which would apply to tenancies granted in the future to tenants of social housing. If a tenant no longer met the criteria for social housing need, then the dwelling would be reallocated at the end of the term.

The need to deal with lengthening waiting lists for social housing has been cited as the rationale for change to the current system. The move away from long term security of tenure would be intended to allow greater flexibility in the allocation of existing social housing stock.

Industry commentators have expressed concern as to how housing stock will be reallocated under any revised system. Potential problems include the possibility of tenants being de-incentivised to improve their circumstances for fear that they will lose their tenancy. There is also the possibility for an increase in litigation between social housing tenants and councils or housing associations in the implementation of the reallocation criteria and, in general terms, the socio-political difficulties which can be encountered when there is any form of allocation of resources by means testing.

The debate will continue as the details of the proposals emerge, but a movement away from long term security of tenure would mark one of the most important changes in the provision of social housing in the last 25 years.