Housing body says poor people are being denied access to social homes

Rules and processes designed to decide who gets access to social housing could be failing people in the greatest need, according to new research from the Chartered Institute of Housing.

In ‘Rethinking Allocations’, CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves found that faced with not enough genuinely affordable homes, councils and housing associations are forced to ration the shrinking stock of housing they have – and this is excluding some very vulnerable people.

As a result some poor prospective tenants not being offered housing because they are seen as likely to run up big rent arrear debts. Others are rejected when social landlords identified they had unmet mental health or addiction problems, often because of cuts to local NHS and housing support services. Individuals with unmet support needs are seen as “too high a risk to tenancy sustainment”.

Ms Greaves said: “For decades, we have failed to build enough homes, and our welfare safety net is no longer fit for purpose. More and more people are turning to local authorities and housing associations for help to access social housing.

“But that leaves housing providers having to find a balance between people in acute need, local priorities and their need to develop sustainable tenancies. What we found is that relying solely on processes can end up having the opposite effect to that intended.”

Extra factors

The report, which was sponsored by South Liverpool Homes, recommends that local authorities should ensure applicants’ unique circumstances and housing histories are considered when making decisions about whether someone can access a list and what priority they are given. It also recommends:

  • Housing providers should consider making a proportion of their properties part- or fully-furnished;
  • Providers should review their lettable standard to explore ways to improve the marketing of properties, particularly in areas of low demand; and
  • Local authorities and housing associations should work in partnership to strengthen the role of nominations agreements in how they balance competing objectives.

CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat said: “This is an important and timely piece of work. It may seem obvious to put people at the heart of deciding about something so essential as their home, but the pressures that housing providers face can lead to them relying on processes alone. This report is a reminder of the risks of that and gives good examples of how to avoid them.”

Government action points

South Liverpool Homes chair Steve Jennings said: “The housing crisis has produced an increasingly complex challenge for those charged with allocating local authority and housing association homes. As a sector we must remember we are dealing with people who need a home, so we must put them at the heart of any process to allocate the ones we own and manage.” The report also calls on the Government to:

  • Include affordability in the statutory ‘reasonable preference’ groups;
  • Develop a single code of guidance for local authorities on the allocation of social housing in England;
  • Work with local authorities and housing associations to develop toolkits that supports the delivery of support-focussed pre-tenancy processes and the development, monitoring and review of nominations agreements;
  • Make a significant investment in a ten-year programme for social house building, as recommended by CIH, Shelter, Crisis and the National Housing Federation;
  • Suspend the Right to Buy to prevent further loss of social rented homes and allow councils to retain receipts from Right to Buy sales; and
  • Restore local housing allowance to cover the most affordable third of rents, so more people have the financial support they need to afford a decent home in the private rented sector.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor