Town hall bosses today unveiled tough new housing rules to stop Blackpool being a “magnet” for problem families, vowing: “If you want to live here, then pay your way.”
The changes, which come into force today, mean local people will get priority when it comes to allocating council houses.
All three councils on the Fylde coast – Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre – have adopted the new policy, which means people wanting council housing must have lived or worked here for at least three years before they can be considered.
Previously, applicants either had to have lived in the area for six out of the last 12 months, or three out of the last five years.
That meant new arrivals could quickly become eligible for housing, which town hall leaders said make Blackpool a magnet for families from other areas, many of them bringing problems with them.
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool’s cabinet member for housing, said the changes were ‘firm but fair’.
She said: “It is often suggested Blackpool is a magnet for people with problems.
“There is no doubt some people do gravitate here when they are down on their luck or in need of a fresh start. That’s something we understand and, in some ways, is a great compliment to the town.
“However, if people do want to come here and make Blackpool their home, we need them to pay their way.
“We simply do not have the housing, the budget or the resources to look after a never-ending wave of those people with the tax-payer footing the bill.
“By insisting on a three year local connection, which is a policy borne from residents’ concerns, we send a firm message that local people are our priority.”
Blackpool Council is facing cuts of £36m over the next two years and 700 council posts axed by 2016.
Under the new policy, people will be able to demonstrate their eligibility for housing for example by producing bills to prove their link to the area.
Currently there are around 7,000 people across the Fylde coast on the waiting list for social housing.
Anyone who does not meet the new criteria will be taken off the list, and there will be no exceptions to the new rules.
It is not yet known how many people that will affect as the councils will now write to people on the list to check their eligibility.
However, the council will still have to find accommodation for people who become unintentionally homeless through its usual statutory responsibilities.
Residents on one of Blackpool’s estates today gave a largely warm response to the changes.
Steve Williams, 36, of St Michael’s Close, Grange Park, said: “I quite agree with it. We had a two-bedroom house but when we had another child it took us five years to find a three-bed room house. It was grossly overcrowded.”
Carl Sanderson, 45, also of St Michael’s Close, said: “I’ve lived in Blackpool all my life and I had to wait a couple of years to get my house.
“I think the new rules are a good idea if they work.”
But Lisa Luckhurst, of Chipping Grove, Grange Park, said she would have fallen foul of the new rules, having only lived in Blackpool for two years.
The 29-year-old, originally from Wales, said: “I think it’s a bit harsh really.
“This was the only area they could give us and the council said we can’t move from here until we have been here a year and we only moved into this house in February. But then you’ve got all these people that don’t even live in this country getting nicer houses so I do think the council needs to change its priorities.”
Chris Swarbrick, of Furness Avenue, Grange Park, added: “How many local people do you know? I’ve got quite a wide social network and I probably only know about 10 or 15 people that are Sandgrown’uns.
“We have got to have a way of housing the transient population that comes to Blackpool. If you don’t, we are looking for trouble.”
The changes have been introduced in response to welfare reforms and using new powers under the Localism Act.
There will also be tougher restrictions on people who have caused problems with anti-social behaviour.
Under the new rules, applicants who have been evicted from a tenancy due to anti-social behaviour face a ban of at least five years before being allowed to re-apply.
Other acts of anti-social behaviour will lead to their applications being suspended for at least 12 months.
There are also changes which mean that most current and former members of the Armed Forces will be treated more favourably when applying for housing.
Applications for transfers will only be considered once a tenant has lived in a property for 12 months and households with an income of more than £60,000 or savings and assets over £30,000 will not be considered.
The changes also affect Fylde and Wyre Councils as social housing is allocated via the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre joint scheme My Home Choice Fylde Coast, a shared system set up last year.
Coun Cheryl Little, Fylde Council cabinet member for social wellbeing, said: “Most Fylde tenants are good neighbours and we want to keep it that way. We also want to keep local homes for local people. This new policy aims to be fair all round.”
Coun Roger Berry, cabinet member for housing at Wyre Council, said the authority would be writing to existing applicants to explain how they are affected.