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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 15/03/2005
Exploring Choice Based Lettings



Summary & Purpose
This report introduces the subject of Choice Based Lettings and asks the Committee to support the officers' intention to undertake a detailed investigation as to how this approach could be adopted and implemented in Waverley.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive


APPENDIX G
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
15TH MARCH 2005

Title:

EXPLORING CHOICE BASED LETTINGS

[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

This report introduces the subject of Choice Based Lettings and asks the Committee to support the officers' intention to undertake a detailed investigation as to how this approach could be adopted and implemented in Waverley.

Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

E-Government implications:

Choice Based Lettings can take many forms but in all of them use of IT is a key component and therefore Choice Based Lettings make an important contribution to extending E-Government.

Resource and legal implications:

Exploring the options for introducing Choice Based Lettings will initially have minimal resource implications. However, it is anticipated that introducing Choice Based Lettings will have significant resource implications in terms of set-up costs and IT. The revenue and capital costs will form part of the Council’s consideration should it determine to pursue this initiative.

Background

1. Government policy places considerable emphasis on the themes of choice and responsibility. This applies as much to housing as other areas of public service delivery. One element of this agenda is changing the way in which social housing is allocated, to give applicants more choice over where they live. Such schemes are called "Choice Based Letting" schemes and operate in a similar way to private sector lettings work – homes are advertised and applicants put themselves forward for particular vacancies as they arise.

2. The Government wished to test this approach and so, in April 2001, supported 27 Choice Based Letting schemes as part of a national pilot study. The aim was to examine the different approaches to providing choice in lettings. The pilot programme completed in March 2003, when the Government commissioned a formal and independent evaluation. The results of this are now published in the Paper “Piloting Choice Based Lettings – An evaluation”, ODPM May 2004.

3. The evaluation of the pilots is favourable and the ODPM has indicated that it intends to issue guidance to authorities on developing Choice Based Lettings schemes. There is already an ODPM target in place to have all local authorities operating a Choice Based Letting schemes by 2010, and each Council is now being asked annually to indicate when a Choice Based Scheme is likely to be implemented in their area.

4. Currently, Waverley uses a points based allocation system. In essence, the higher the points the greater the housing need and the greater chance of receiving an offer. The problem with the points based allocation system is that applicants find it difficult to understand because there are so many variables at play, for example:-

because there are more vacancies in certain areas than in others, applicants may need fewer points to be housed in town X but more points to be housed in village A (Supply);

there is more demand in certain areas for homes and so an applicant may need more points to be housed if they want to stay in their local area – where there is a high demand – but fewer points to be housed in another area (Demand);

because the points system is based on "housing need", it is entirely possible for a household to apply for housing today and because their housing circumstances are so bad, they may be awarded enough points to go straight to the top of the register – even though other applicants have been registered for sometime.

5. There is a body of opinion that considers points based allocation systems unfair because, despite their objective approach:-

they are difficult to understand;

appear not to be transparent;

are difficult to explain;

they encourage "points chasing";

are confusing when you might only need 50 points to be housed in one area, but you might need 120 points to be housed in another;

some households appear to "jump the queue".

6. The fundamental difference with Choice Based Lettings is that applicants are invited to express an interest in a vacant property before it is allocated to them, rather than officers making assumptions on what would be best or most suitable for them on the basis of information provided on an application form.

7. Most Choice Based Lettings schemes give a heavy weighting to households who have been on the Housing Needs Register for the longest time. It is generally considered that the British understand the concept of queuing! However, Councils, as housing authorities, have to take account of relative housing need and so Choice Based Lettings also incorporate ways of giving greater priority to cases of high housing need.

8. When the Council last reviewed and amended its Allocation Policy, it made changes that were in the spirit of the Choice Based approach by, for example, no longer penalising households who decided – for whatever reason – to refuse an offer of accommodation. However, such changes fall far short of being described as a Choice based Letting scheme and the Council therefore needs to explore this area further.

Issues for consideration

9. To meet the Government’s 2010 target for implementing a Choice Based Lettings scheme, the Council needs to start investigating the options in adopting a scheme.

10. Initial discussions are already underway with neighbouring authorities in the Blackwater Valley about the possibilities of future joint working. In addition, some Members took the opportunity to attend a presentation by Kennet District Council regarding Choice Based Lettings on 24th November 2004.

11. The Council now needs to:-

q Explore opportunities for joint working with other authorities e.g. Hart District Council and Waverley are at a similar stage in regard to introducing Choice Based Lettings. A meeting has been arranged to examine if there are areas where the two Councils could work together. Guildford Borough Council aim to introduce Choice Based Letting late in 2005, so there may be scope to work jointly with Guildford on some aspects of any future Waverley scheme. q Explore a range of issues including IT procurement issues and working in partnership with the new Waverley housing organisation and other housing associations. q Review some of the work of the pilot authorities and to talk with colleagues in pilot authorities and to work out a way forward that suits the local circumstances in Waverley. q Develop its approach to Choice Based Lettings and undertake a costing exercise to assess both the revenue and capital implications, so that these can be contained within future budgets in 2006/07 and beyond. q Develop a project and implementation plan.

Conclusions

12. There appears to be a general consensus that Choice Based Letting is a much more "customer friendly" approach to allocating homes even in areas where there is a high demand and low turn-over of homes, as in the Waverley area. Choice Based Letting in itself does not generate more lettings. However, by publicising vacancies as they arise, customers can see where there are vacancies and how often. This removes the mystery about how many homes are available and where, and also enables people to make better informed decisions about what chance they have of being housed in the areas of their choice.

13. Experience from Kennet and Poole, for example, is that Choice Based Letting has improved customers’ perception of the lettings service and has significantly reduced complaints – because the system is more transparent to the customer.

14. It should be noted that the Choice Based Letting approach tends to be more expensive to administer than the traditional Allocations system. The Council will need to assess these costs and consider budget implications in due course as part of the wider consideration of introducing Choice Based Lettings.

Recommendation

It is recommended that Members agree to detailed work being carried out to explore introducing a Choice Based Letting system for Waverley, and that further reports be brought to this Committee in due course.

Background Papers (DoH)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Mr M Rivers Telephone: 01483 523013

E-mail: mrivers@waverley.gov.uk

comms/o&s2/2004-05/086