A new publication, Building Bridges, takes a fresh look at how housing associations and local authorities can work together. I believe it provides a blueprint for avoiding fragmentation and chaos in the system for lettings and nominations.
Most local authorities and housing associations believe the current system for lettings and nominations is under strain.
Many authorities have cut back their statutory housing register – focusing only on those in severe housing need who have a local connection – to the extent that it is no longer an accurate measure of local housing need.
System could break down completely
Some associations are now rejecting local authority nominations following ‘affordability tests’, where these indicate the applicant will struggle to pay the higher Affordable Rents now on offer.
A few associations are now letting property on Rightmove to ‘working households only’, a move designed to attract applicants who can afford higher rents or low-cost home ownership.
If these trends continue, the current system of nominations will break down completely. This is in no-one’s interest, least of all people in housing need.
Building Bridges explores issues, proposes solutions
Building Bridges – A guide to better partnership working between local authorities and housing associations focuses on this issue.
Building Bridges identifies several problems with the current approach.
Household data can change
During long waiting periods household data can change, and this may reduce the speed of letting. This means housing registers need to be kept up-to-date by councils.
Reduced supply of applicants
Curbs on housing registers reduce the overall supply of applicants for authorities and associations.
Focus on social rent lettings
Most significant, registers tend to focus on applicants for social rent lettings and often fail to reflect the new range of products on offer (and collect information relevant to them).
As such, they do not generate the steady stream of appropriate applicants for housing association Affordable Rent, intermediate and market rent, and homeownership products.
Building Bridges proposes an innovative and constructive solution.
Authorities and associations should work together at a local or sub-regional level to develop a new and more dynamic system for managing allocations and lettings. A new system, using recent IT developments, could provide separate but interlinked registers for social rent and Affordable Rent, and for low-cost homeownership, and market sale or rent.
For the new system to be effective:
- Multi-agency letting schemes should be refocused to tackle job mobility, downsizing and overcrowding. This includes identifying and facilitating chains of moves.
- Authorities and associations should work together to act as a gateway to other tenures, such as the private rented sector.
- The new, reshaped housing allocation system should:
- Interface with the local authority statutory register or subsume it.
- Secure a steady stream of suitable applicants for different products.
- Match allocation schemes and local letting plans more closely to available property.
- Make more efficient use of existing stock.
- Reduce the risk of tenancy failure or arrears.
- Help to meet demand for products such as market sales/rent and shared ownership.
- Housing associations should share the cost of this new system with partner authorities and could offer to manage the new system where authorities lack the capacity to do so.
Councils could retain a separate statutory list and ensure it interfaces with non-statutory registers for other products, such as shared ownership. Alternatively, the statutory register could be subsumed into the new integrated system. The new system could operate at the level of a local authority or a geographical sub-region.
Ideally, information on income and benefit entitlement would be collected from applicants for each of these interlinked registers, and used by providers to guide applicants towards the products most affordable to them.
As part of the research for Building Bridges we tested this proposal with over forty councils and housing associations and with the LGA, ARCH, London Councils and the National Housing Federation. Everyone – without exception – thinks that the proposal has merit.
We now need some authorities and associations to come together to develop and pilot this proposal. Fixing the current system is preferable to the current fragmentation and chaos.
Building Bridges – A guide to better partnership working between local authorities and housing associations’ is written by Ross Fraser, John Perry and Gemma Duggan. It is published by the Chartered Institute of Housing on 25 September.