Can the council force you to downsize?

Can the council force you to downsize?

If you’re a council or Housing Association tenant, you might have heard whispers of individuals being pressured, or even forced, to downsize and leave their homes. It’s not the most comforting thing to hear… Whether you’ve worked hard to make your place a home, lived there and been a member of the community for many years, or inherited the place from a loved one who’s passed away — we don’t blame you for worrying if your home is at risk.

There’s surprisingly little information or reassurance on this topic on the internet. Can the council force you to downsize? And what exactly would downsizing a council house mean? Well, don’t worry, stick with us and we’ll get to the bottom of it.

What is downsizing?

You might have guessed that downsizing a home would involve moving to a smaller house… but there’s a bit more to it than that.

Downsizing is a voluntary scheme where council or Housing Association tenants may exchange their home for a smaller one. That might sound a bit odd — after all, why would anyone want to downsize a council house? Surely the more space you’ve got the better, plus, spare bedrooms are always nice for when guests come over.

Well, the idea is that if you’re a couple living in a 3 bedroom house, for example, you might be happy to swap for something smaller just for the two of you. This would free up the larger house for a family with children or perhaps for a couple who are living with and caring for elderly relatives. Smaller homes are also easier to take care of — think of all that time you’ll save on dusting empty rooms that no one’s using. Plus if you’re not that attached to your home, maybe you don’t like the building or the area, you might not begrudge being asked to move at all.

But if the council asks you to downsize and you feel pressured or forced? Well, that’s a whole other story. Can the council enforce downsizing? Let’s investigate that next.

Can the council force you to move?

The government considered a petition in 2020 that called for council and Housing Association tenants to be forced to downsize when necessary. This led to a lot of scary articles that you may have come across in the newspaper, but rest assured, this petition was rejected. As such, a council can only force a tenant to move in a select few cases, such as:

  • If they’ve inherited a larger property than they need from a close relative.
  • If they’ve inherited a larger property than they need from an unmarried partner (whose secure tenancy started pre-April 2012).

Even in these cases, your council would still need to apply to the courts to get the property back — ie. it’s not exactly a done deal. If you’re being unfairly pressured to downsize by a landlord or council member, you can contact GOV.UK. You have a right to fair treatment, just like any other tenant, so don’t be afraid to make a complaint if you need to.

Should I downsize my home?

So back to the whole, downsizing being a voluntary scheme, thing — are there any benefits to choosing to downsize your home? Well, at the end of the day, councils want to house as many people as possible. They’re dealing with huge waiting lists packed with people who are keen for a place for themselves and their families. There are a reported 1.6 million households in need according to The National Housing Federation and the shortest waiting time for a studio apartment is currently 13 months.

That’s why many councils offer incentives to tenants who are willing to downsize — that way, more people have a roof to sleep under without so many empty rooms going spare. These incentives can be things like…

  • Money — for example, the London Borough of Hounslow offers £1,000 for any council tenant willing to downsize.
  • Financial help to support the move, this is either given as a cash sum or organised through the council.
  • Decoration, appliance fitting, and handyman services. The idea is to make your transition into your new home as easy as possible.
  • Multiple options for relocation, usually 2-3, so you can choose the new home that suits you best.
  • Help to move into sheltered accommodation if you’re over the age of 60.
  • As an added bonus, the move will usually be handled quickly to get you settled into your new pad asap (and to offer a new family your old home).

Convinced? If you’re thinking of taking the leap and starting out someplace new, why not check out our ‘Moving house checklist’.

Downsize council house exchange

If you’re interested in downsizing, there’s one more option available to you! Let’s say you’ve got a friend who’s also a council or housing association tenant — this could be your neighbour, someone in your building, or even just in your local area.

If you both like the idea of swapping places, maybe you like their open plan kitchen and they’re pretty keen on your spare room, you can apply to exchange your homes through the council. This is called a mutual exchange and you can start the process via GOV.UK. It’s also possible to find tenants willing to do a house swap on Gumtree.

A few final tips…

While there are a couple of reasons you might want to downsize, the main takeaway is that it’s very unlikely you’ll be forced to do so. However, if you’re thinking living someplace cosier might not be so terrible, you can always contact your local council to discuss incentives and options — you’re free to change your mind if it’s not for you.

Dealing with a pushy landlord or council? Get tips on handling the situation in: ‘How to deal with a landlord who is unreasonable’.

Ready to downsize? Why not read up on: ‘How long does it take to move house’.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.