Sheila Gilmore: Age brings wisdom

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FOR years many of Edinburgh’s high-rise blocks were plagued by a vicious cycle of antisocial behaviour, residents leaving, more unstable communities, and yet more antisocial behaviour. Vulnerable residents, who are often the least able to move, would suffer most.

However, of late, a number of blocks, including Citadel and Persevere Court in Leith and the three blocks at Hailesland Park, have been transformed into sought-after places to live.

This has in part been down to the council’s policy of only letting properties to people who are over 35 and don’t have any children, which has produced more stable communities. In turn, these have helped sustain the extensive and expensive refurbishment work that has gone on in these properties.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Housing Regulator told the council that this policy was illegal in 2010. This meant the policy couldn’t be extended to other types of housing where it could have been of use. For example “pensioner housing” – rows or small groups of cottages for example – are a good option for tenants wanting to downsize from family homes they are now finding hard to manage. However, unless these properties are sufficiently adapted to be classified as sheltered housing, the existing law means that they cannot be allocated only to older applicants.

In response, the Scottish Government announced that its Housing Bill would enable councils and housing associations to allocate certain types of properties to specific age groups. But on Monday housing minister Margaret Burgess announced that she would seek to remove this clause following a campaign by Shelter claiming that this would disadvantage young applicants and those who are homeless.

While I’ve been a strong supporter of Shelter’s work for many years, I’m afraid their claims aren’t backed up by the facts.

An analysis concluded that homeless applicants did not lose out while the council’s age-restricted lettings policy was in place. In addition, safeguards could be built into the legislation, such as requiring councils that use this flexibility to demonstrate that younger or homeless applicants don’t lose out overall.

It has also been suggested that demand for affordable homes isn’t particularly high amongst older people, but in Edinburgh 41 per cent of applicants for social housing are aged 35 to 60, and they were 37 per cent of new tenants in 2011-12.

The Scottish Government talks a lot about the need for tenant consultation and participation. Age-restricted lettings policies were popular with tenants and applicants alike, so why are their views now being ignored?

There is a sound argument for allowing for age-restricted lettings policies on the basis of housing management and sustainability. In addition, there is a need to be fulfilled, and such policies have the support of tenants. I hope all MSPs of all parties vote to retain provision for flexible allocations of this type.

• Sheila Gilmore is the Labour MP for Edinburgh East