Amid chronic shortages of housing for Brits
Thousands of Eastern European citizens are given council houses every year, leapfrogging millions of Britons languishing for years on waiting lists. The Daily Mail can reveal that last year some 4,000 homes were allocated to applicants from countries which have recently become part of the European Union, such as Lithuania and Poland.
Thousands more go to other European migrants and others without British citizenship even though the waiting list for social housing stands at 1.8million, with the average wait lasting more than six years.
Helena Horvatova is grateful for her council house. Her only complaint is that it has just three bedrooms for herself, her husband and their seven children. The 27-year-old was allocated the property by Peterborough council in March, days after the family arrived from the Czech Republic. Her 29-year-old husband does not work.
Their youngest child, born six months ago, is named Kevin. ‘It is a very British name,’ Mrs Horvatova said. ‘We want him to grow up British. ‘We came to Britain because we wanted a better life for all our children.’
She added: ‘My husband is claiming the Jobseekers’ Allowance. Back in our country he was a school cleaner, but in Peterborough they say there are no vacancies. ‘Our oldest boy has to go to school five miles away. The schools nearby are full of children who came to Peterborough before us.’ At least 10,000 eastern European immigrants have arrived in the city since the EU expanded its borders six years ago.
Now the Coalition has pledged to let British people jump the queue. Social housing allocation has previously been entirely ‘needs based’. Councils will now be free to acknowledge ‘local connections’ in their policies.
Housing minister Grant Shapps said: ‘It causes a great deal of concern and is very problematic for social cohesion when people find they aren’t provided with any preference when they are actually in the area they have lived in for a very long time.
‘People who have made contributions to the system deserve to benefit from the system.’
The move was welcomed by Edward Lister, the Tory leader of Wandsworth council in South London. He said: ‘We want to give a measure of priority to local residents. It builds stability in the community and keeps families together.’
No fewer than 310,000 council and housing association homes – around one in 12 – are now headed by someone who is not a UK citizen.
Some towns claim they are being overwhelmed by immigration from eastern Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and schools.
Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: ‘Immigration from Eastern Europe is putting a massive strain on local authorities, especially at a time when everyone is having to cut costs. ‘It helps build up resentment that otherwise wouldn’t exist. ‘It is not the fault of the people who are offered these homes, it is the fault of the system.’
The shortage of social housing has become a hot political issue in recent weeks, with David Cameron suggesting ending the right to council housing for life as a way to make more homes available.
He said it was wrong that tenants should be able to keep state-subsidised homes if they get a well-paid job when others were in need.
Figures seen by the Daily Mail show that in 2008/09, at least 3,350 homes were given to new tenants from countries which have recently joined the European Union.
The figures are collated by the Continuous Recording of Lettings and Sales in Social Housing in England, a body funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
But Richard Capie, policy director of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘It is likely that only a small proportion of these are new migrants.
‘Most of these lettings are likely to be to long-standing residents of the UK who have kept their foreign nationalities.’