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Mutual exchange: an under-used option for social tenants

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The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published Guidance on 10th February 2014 on promoting mutual exchange.

Mutual exchange occurs when two tenants of social landlords swap properties. The guidance suggests that not enough tenants are aware of the option and landlords should think about the benefits and be more proactive in promoting it.

In particular, one benefit would be that those living in properties with an extra bedroom for bedroom tax purposes could swap with a family in an overcrowded property. A win-win situation it would seem. It is now well documented that many social tenants have been left in a ‘Catch-22’ situation due to the bedroom tax. A long standing tenant, whose housing needs have changed over the years, may now face a shortfall in paying their rent, due to the bedroom tax.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are not enough one and two-bedroom properties to go around. Once in rent arrears it is very difficult for a tenant to apply to their landlord to be moved somewhere else. The guidance suggests that landlords should adopt a flexible approach in allowing an exchange so that those in rent arrears are not prevented from applying.

The benefit of mutual exchange to a tenant and landlord is that the tenant can search for properties themselves in whatever area they wish to move to without the need for the previous tenant to already have handed their notice to leave or vacate the property. The knock-on benefit to the landlord is that they do not have properties that are empty for any period of time.

The Government launched HomeSwap Direct in 2011 to assist tenants in searching for a property to move to that meets their requirements but this seems to be an under-advertised scheme. Both the Government and social landlords would be well advised to advertise the option of mutual exchange in a bid to assist with maximising the use of housing stock, particularly in light of the problems caused by those living in houses affected by the bedroom tax.

By Jessica Knott, Graduate paralegal in the housing law team