Agenda item

Allocations Policy

The report provides a brief overview of the Council’s current Allocations Scheme, used for the allocation of Social Housing in Brent, specifically how the scheme is applied to Care Leavers, and explains the allocation of properties owned by Invest4Brent (I4B). 

Minutes:

Councillor Eleanor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) introduced the report which outlined the Council’s current Allocations Scheme used for allocation of social housing in Brent and its impact in particular on care leavers. The committee heard that the system was relatively new for local authorities in London but if applied correctly had a potential to offer a holistic solution by using a combination of approaches for tackling homelessness. In seeking members views on proposed amendments, Cllr Southwood emphasised the fundamental role the scheme played in providing much needed housing across the borough and the need to address ongoing challenges, including high numbers of temporary accommodations, shortage of suitable accommodation for large families and issues with reasonable rents.

 

Several key points were raised in the subsequent discussion. Firstly, officers explained that bids on the existing Locata system were limited to the number of available properties. Although the benefits of the system in bringing visibility and transparency to the process of bidding were acknowledged, officers noted existing flaws in the waiting list process. It was stated that the housing register was a “snapshot in time” and a resident’s position would depend on a range of factors. It was also stated that an alternative solution would be to manually list properties and rely on officers to allocate them to residents, with penalties imposed on refusals. Responding to a member’s query on the idea of an “open waiting list”, officers stated that no qualifying criteria would be applied and that the list would not take into account the residential or income circumstances of the residents.

 

Referencing information in the report, a point was also made on the proposals for introduction of a new nominations agreement with registered providers, which would see the implementation of a policy offering private rented accommodation to homeless households through Registered Providers. The committee heard that the proposals, whose primary aim was to increase the number of private options available to residents and reduce the shortage of available private rented accommodation in the borough, would require an amendment to the Council’s allocations policy. Laurence Coaker (Head of Housing Needs, Brent Council), added that Registered Providers would be able to charge reasonable rents and were likely to maintain long-term leases, subject to receipt of consistent and reliable income. An analysis of the private sector rents was carried out by the Council’s benefits team which established that should the proposals were to go ahead then housing associations could charge up to 80% of current rent, with any additional costs being offset by the housing benefit.

 

Discussions moved on towards affordability of rents and the potential impact of Universal Credit. Officers acknowledged the linkage between affordability and homelessness and assured the committee that the latter was a priority on both central and local government’s agendas. Within Brent Council, a modelling exercise had been commissioned in order to not only demonstrate best course of action but to also demonstrate the level of viable contributions the Council could afford to make and the level of savings that could be achieved. An overarching point was made that while in most circumstances rents were expected to be covered by the housing benefit, a mitigation measure in the form of an assessment would nevertheless be required to ensure that residents were not offered properties they could not afford and in so doing, prevent homelessness.

 

A third area discussed by the committee related to the specific impact of the allocations policy on care leavers. The committee questioned what processes were in place to ensure that care leavers were placed in the right housing environment and what checks were being carried out to ensure the suitability of the offered properties. Officers stated that due regard was taken on the suitability of each offer and assured that these were considered on individual basis, depending on the specific circumstances of the care leaver. Members were assured that significant work was being put towards supporting care leavers including carrying out financial assessments and monitoring of any potential issues such as eviction to ensure adequate prevention/support.

 

Discussions moved on with officers seeking the committees’ input on the following specific areas, which were being considered as part of the allocations policy review as were set out in the report:

 

i.              Income threshold and prioritisation of housing needs - officers sought the committee’s advice on whether prioritisation of housing needs should be included in the consultation. Referencing the report, members queried the basis on which income thresholds were found and felt that they should reflect the true deprivation in the borough and thus be increased. While officers acknowledged the need to balance the supply and demand, they stated that the main disadvantage of the thresholds was that they limited the number of eligible families. They stated that the general preference was to keep the quotas and that any changes would be subject to consultation. Strong emphasis were paid on the need to offset the pursuit of a fair system against meeting the needs and priorities of the residents. Therefore, an overarching point was made on the importance of setting clear parameters which included some discretion, coupled with a detailed review.

 

ii.            allowing households in Band D to retain accrued waiting time if they become homeless or placed in temporary accommodation - responding to members concerns about the approach risking incentivising homelessness even further, officers stated that the solution to homelessness was not social housing per se but better utilising the private sector as an alternative safety net. Officers noted that it was important to move away from temporary accommodation allocations and focus on the residents with the greatest need by bringing the cohort of waiting list residents to a manageable level.

 

 

iii.           prioritising households in need of transfer to bid for accommodation that becomes available on current estate – referencing information in the report, it was explained that in principle residents could quality for a transfer on the basis of reasonable preference. However, shortage of accommodation had led to a backlog of applications, with 281 council tenants awaiting a managed transfers. In order to tackle the existing problems, the Council was reviewing its transfer policies as well as adopting a proactive approach through building new properties on current estates and considering how these should be better prioritised. In welcoming officers recommendation, the committee noted that due regard should be paid on the information available to residents, with further clarification on eligibility criteria on transfers provided.

 

iv.           review of quotas - officers explained that a range of quotas existed and these were set out in detail in the report. A key issue raised was the fact that many residents were reluctant to consider other options because of their awareness of the quota system and belief that they would be successful, which in turn hindered the access to accommodation available to families in greatest need. In welcoming the proposal, the committee expressed agreement with officers and supported recommendation to reduce quotas.

 

 

RESOLVED that:

 

i.              That the contents of the Allocations Policy report be noted

 

(Following this item the committee adjourned for a short break. The meeting resumed at 7.25pm)  

 

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