Rules and processes designed to decide who gets access to social housing could be failing those in 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 housing they have – and that the way they allocate these homes can exclude some very vulnerable people.
There are at least four million households in England waiting for social housing, and this number is growing all the time.
“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,” said Greaves.
“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,” she said.
The report, sponsored by South Liverpool Homes, recommends that councils 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
- 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 CBE 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 as we’ve found, the pressures that housing providers face can lead to them relying on processes alone.”
“Faye’s report is a reminder of the risks of that and gives good examples of how to avoid them.”
South Liverpool Homes chair Steve Jennings acknowledged an “increasingly complex challenge” inherent in allocating social housing.
“But as a sector we must remember that 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,” he said.
“Rethinking Allocations provides us all with food for thought and contains clear recommendations for local authorities, providers, and government.
“A wide-ranging review deserves wide-ranging action – so let’s make it happen.”
The report also reinforces cross-sector calls on 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 10-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
- 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 PRS home