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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 11/07/2006
CHOICE BASED LETTINGS - ALLOCATION POLICY



Summary & Purpose
In order to implement a Choice Based Lettings scheme, it is necessary to change the allocations policy so that it works in conjunction with the principles of a choice-based scheme. Accordingly, this report, which was considered by the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Member Tenants' Special Interest Group at their June meetings, proposes that the Council should change its Allocations Policy (scheme) and presents a new Allocation Policy or Scheme. This relates to the prioritisation of housing applications and the allocation of Council and Housing association properties in the borough.

APPENDIX -
Waverley Borough Council

EXECUTIVE - 11TH JULY 2006

MEMBER TENANTS' SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP - 26TH JUNE 2006

COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE - 19TH JUNE 2006


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Title:
CHOICE BASED LETTINGS - ALLOCATION POLICY

[Wards Affected : All]
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Summary and purpose:

In order to implement a Choice Based Lettings scheme, it is necessary to change the allocations policy so that it works in conjunction with the principles of a choice-based scheme. Accordingly, this report, which was considered by the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Member Tenants' Special Interest Group at their June meetings, proposes that the Council should change its Allocations Policy (scheme) and presents a new Allocation Policy or Scheme. This relates to the prioritisation of housing applications and the allocation of Council and Housing association properties in the borough.

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Environmental implications:

There are none directly arising from this report.

Social / community implications:

Choice Based Lettings allows applicants on the Housing Needs Register to see what properties are available for letting and affords applicants to choose whether or not to express an interest in home in a particular area. In areas of high demand, this system shows to applicants the properties that are available, where most vacancies occur and then applicants can make informed decisions about where they want or are prepared to live. For the customer, it is a more transparent system.

E-Government implications:

There are no E-Government issues arising directly from this report, it is worth noting however that Choice Based letting schemes use e-based technology and will contribute to the Council's E-Government programme.

Resource and legal implications:

Capital and revenue provision has already been made within the Council’s budget for 2006/07 to accommodate the introduction of Choice Based Lettings. The Council, with its partners, secured 100,000 Government funding through its sub-regional CBL bid. Also, by working with other Councils, commissioning costs for introducing CBL to Waverley are being reduced.
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Introduction

1. It is a requirement that all Councils introduce a Choice based lettings scheme by 2010.

2. The Council has agreed to implement Choice Based Lettings and has previously received reports on the progress being made in Waverley, and of the Council’s participation in a sub-regional CBL scheme with Guildford, Rushmoor and Hart. This sub-regional approach had resulted in an award of 100,000 to contribute towards the setting-up of CBL across the four boroughs using a common approach and technology.

3. The introduction of a CBL scheme necessitates a revision of the Council’s current Allocations Policy in order for a CBL approach to work. One of the advantages of CBL is that Allocation Policies need to be simpler than many of the detailed ‘points based’ policies that have tended to be used in the past to prioritise applicants. Many other Councils, which have introduced CBL have, of necessity changed their policies with the aim of making them easier to understand.

4. A copy of the draft Allocations Policy (scheme) is attached as Annexe 1 to this report.

Waverley’s Current Allocation Scheme and how the new Scheme was devised.

5. Waverley’s current policy relies on a ‘points based’ approach. Housing applications are assessed and points are awarded to reflect the severity of the housing need as outlined in the policy.

6. Points are also awarded to increase the priority of certain groups of applicants - such as those with a local connection to the Borough of Waverley.

7. Whilst points schemes can be helpful in trying to differentiate in precise way between different levels of need, they are complicated both to administer and for applicants to understand.

8. Another disadvantage of points based schemes is that it is never possible to give a guarantee of re housing or likely timescales as to when an applicant may be re-housed. This is because it is impossible to predict the changes that may occur in other applicants circumstances - someone who was at the top of the waiting list with the most points for a particular sized property today could be second, third or lower tomorrow because other households have applied who have greater housing need or because their circumstances have worsened and therefore been awarded additional points.

9. In addition, under Waverley’s current scheme, transfer applicants are pointed under different criteria to new applicants and those in temporary accommodation. This means that when deciding the relative priority between the two different groups of applicants for a particular allocation, officers are required to judge between the merits of one case over another based on different points levels.

10. Besides devising a scheme to reflect the required legislative constraints, the challenge for officers was to devise a scheme that could still award priority based on housing need and a connection to Waverley but that was also simpler and more transparent for applicants.

11. One of the many advantages of Waverley’s participation in a sub regional CBL scheme is the ability to share good practice and benefit from the work that the other local authorities have already undertaken.

12. Guildford Borough Council – one of our partners in this initiative is further along the CBL route than Waverley. In addition, and helpfully, both Guildford and Waverley used the same Housing IT systems. In order therefore to reduce IT implementation costs, and to use the lessons from the Guildford CBL experience, it was sensible to follow Guildford’s approach to adopting a simpler banding scheme as opposed to continuing to use a points based scheme.

Proposed new allocation scheme

13. Under Waverley’s proposed new scheme housing applicants will be placed into one of 5 bands viz: Bands A to E. Applicants in Band A have the greatest priority, those in band E the least.

BandAEmergency & High Priority
BandBUrgent Need to Move
BandCIdentified Housing Need
Band DLow Housing Need
BandEAll other applicants or no local connection
14. Within each of these bands the applications will be placed in date order. The date will normally be when the applicant originally applied for housing. If their circumstances change they may become eligible for a higher band. If this happens the date will normally be the date that we were notified of this change. 15. The banding scheme ensures that applicants with similar circumstances are in the same band, and that the applicant with the earliest date has the highest priority.

16. When assessing which band an application is placed in, the scheme will also take into account whether an applicant has a local connection with Waverley and if so, to what extent.

17. Like the Council’s current policy, the scheme also includes assessment as to whether the applicants are able to afford to resolve their own housing problems, for example by purchasing a shared ownership property.

Advantages of the new scheme

18. The scheme achieves a good balance between reflecting housing need and being easier to understand. 19. The fact that within each band new applicants cannot leapfrog over those already in that band means the scheme appears fairer and accords to the public’s understanding of the fairness of queuing. 20. Transfer applicants, the homeless and new applicants are all assessed under the same scheme.

21. With a greater emphasis on time on the list, applicants will have a better idea of the likelihood of re-housing as outcomes of lettings under CBL (band and date of application of successful applicant) are published.

22. The scheme is more comprehensive than Waverley’s current scheme.

23. It is worth noting that there have been some recent legal challenges to CBL banding schemes. These have been in respect of whether the scheme accurately reflects cumulative needs. The proposed Waverley scheme takes into account cumulative need and also has more bands to reflect increased needs, compared with those that have been challenged.

24. The implementation of the scheme will inevitably mean that some applicants may have reduced priority. Where this is the case and applicants are at a significant disadvantage compared to their current priority, on a case by case basis some applicants may be placed temporarily in a higher band to give them the opportunity to be considered for vacancies so that they are not disadvantaged by the new scheme. Consultation

25. The Council is required to formally consult with its partners about changes to the Allocations Policy. Partners e.g. Social Services, Registered Social Landlords have been consulted on the proposed changes and the draft Allocation Policy. No changes to the draft Allocation Policy have been proposed.

26. In the coming weeks applicants will be issued with leaflets explaining the proposed changes.

27. The draft Allocation Policy was considered by the Member/Tenant Special Interest Group in June and also the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee. No changes or revisions to the draft Allocations Policy was made by these groups.

Implementation timescales

28. It is planned that the new policy will be implemented in December 2006 to allow time to update each housing application and implement the necessary IT changes. The target date for the Choice Based Lettings system to commence is March 2007.

Sub-regional Lettings

29. As has previously been agreed a small proportion of lettings from each of the four local authorities will be available on a sub-regional basis in order to allow for greater flexibility and freedom of movement. This will better enable some households who need to move into different borough/districts that where they currently live.

30. Discussions are taking place with the sub-regional partners in Guildford, Rushmoor and Hart about a policy that will apply to the sub-regional element of the lettings scheme. As two of the four partners will still be operating a points based system and comparison between the different allocation schemes will be difficult, it is likely that the sub-regional policy will need to be simple and reflect time on the list to a greater degree.

31. Details of the proposed sub-regional allocation scheme will be reported to members when drafted, as will other developments in progressing the implementation of Choice based lettings in Waverley.

Resource Implications

32. Capital and revenue provision has already been made within the Council’s budget for 2006/07 to accommodate the introduction of Choice Based Lettings. The Council, with its partners, secured 100,000 Government funding through its sub-regional CBL bid. Also, by working with other Councils, commissioning costs for introducing CBL to Waverley are being reduced.

Conclusion

33. The introduction of a CBL scheme gives rise to the opportunity to change its Allocations Policy (scheme) and provide a more transparent approach, which is more customer friendly. Of course, a change to the Allocations Policy does not, of itself, give rise to any more properties available to let. However, experience from other local authorities where CBL has been introduced suggests that customers better understand the allocations system and can clearly see what properties are (or are not) available to rent, and they also can see the types of households being housed and why.

Consideration by the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee

34. A presentation was held before the last Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on Choice Based Lettings (CBL). This was by Jane Vincent from Guildford Borough Council. All Members of the Council and Tenants' Panel Representatives were invited to attend. As Guildford's Choice Based lettings scheme was in operation this presentation was an opportunity to hear about their experience. 35. At the meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members received Waverley's draft Allocation Policy (Scheme). The Committee considered matters arising from the report, as part of the discussions the Committee stated that the CBL scheme was website based and that this could possibly limit tenants unable to use or without access to a computer. It was confirmed by Officers that there would be measures that would be taken to prevent this. This included relatives and friends acting as proxy voters and there were the locality offices and council staff there to assist.

36. The Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed the draft Allocation Policy (Scheme) and that it be passed to the Executive and Council for adoption

Consideration by the Member Tenants’ Special Interest Group


37. The Member Tenants’ SIG received a presentation on Choice Based Lettings at its last meeting. Several issues were raised including questions about the implications of the new banding system, and the proportions of people likely to fall into each band. Officers underlined the point that it was important to strike the balance between applicants’ choice and assessment of need. The issue of under-occupation was also raised and it was confirmed that this was being reduced wherever possible. It was agreed that the current figures on under-occupancy would be checked before the Executive. There were other questions on the process, including the definition of ‘bids’ for housing. It was confirmed that leaflets had been sent to the Tenants’ Panel explaining the process in more detail. 38. The SIG noted the draft allocation policy.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the draft Allocation Policy (Scheme) be adopted.

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Background Papers (DoH)

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

Name: Mike Rivers Telephone: 01483 523013
E-mail: mrivers@waverley.gov.uk

Name: Clare Jones Telephone: 01483 523173
E-mail: cjones@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/executive/2006-07/068