To review and input into the Council's revised
Housing Allocations Scheme policy
Councillor Pinwell relinquished the Chair to Councillor Parker (Vice Chairman) for this agenda item and did not participate in the subsequent discussion.
The report provided to the Scrutiny Board presented proposed changes to the Housing Allocation Scheme, which included changes to banding and preference which affected the priority order, adjusting qualification criteria, compliance with updated legislation and extending the Annual Lettings Plan to facilitate priorities and demands to be better reflected in the allocation of social housing.
The report was presented by the Safeguarding & Community Safety Project Manager, SCH, who informed the Scrutiny that:
· The last significant Housing Allocations review took place in 2014.
· Since 2014, the housing landscape had changed considerably, notably with increased pressures to reduce homelessness and addressing temporary accommodation in Bed and Breakfast accommodation.
· There were currently 3,000 on the Housing Register. Only 25% of the total can be assisted. The current average waiting time to receive a housing offer was 193 weeks.
· Priority was therefore given to those in the greatest housing need.
· Much of the original Housing Allocations policy had been retained, but the new policy would reflect reasonable preferences.
The main changes in the proposed Housing Allocations Scheme were presented as:
· Who Can Qualify to Be Included on the Housing Register: A local connection to the borough is now required, such as family association or employment within the borough. If this qualification is not met, those with exceptional housing need will be considered for housing.
· Two-Year Residency Rule: Will not apply to those escaping domestic violence from other local authority areas in temporary accommodation.
· Income and Asset Threshold: Will be introduced and set at an appropriate level based on gross household income, which will determine if the resident/s have the means to access private rented/purchase.
· Exemptions: Will apply for those with insufficient funds for adaptations; subject to domestic violence and/or financial control; armed forces applicants.
· Banding System: Introduces 4 Bands based on a preferential scheme:-
Band A – Additional Preference (very urgent housing need)
Band B – Reasonable Preference (urgent housing need)
Band C – Reasonable Preference (housing need)
Band D – Reduced Preference
· Reduced priority criteria would be applied in the cases of some applicants with instances of unreasonable behaviours (ASB) and rent arrears.
· High Priority needs were recognised in the Housing Allocation Scheme proposals for those children in need and at potential risk and any households potentially impacted by housing regeneration schemes in the borough.
· Band T – It is proposed to remove Band T altogether from the new allocations policy i.e. tenants currently on the housing register with no need (currently 286).
· Annual Lettings Plan: It is the intention to provide and agree targets and identify needs on the Housing Register fairly and to identify any unintended consequences once the new Housing Allocations Scheme is introduced. SCH are proposing to submit the Annual Lettings Plan for annual scrutiny and once established to delegate its on-going management to Officers.
· It was the intention to take the new Housing Allocations proposals to public consultation post May 2023 and seek to implement the new arrangements from January 2024.
Having received the presentation from the Safeguarding & Community Safety Project Manager SCH, Members of the Scrutiny Board raised several further questions relevant to the report, which in summary included the following matters:
Councillor McLoughlin referenced page 79 of the report, which referred to “intentionally homeless” and cautioned careful consideration before using such terms, as many people suffering homelessness could not afford increased rents on their former homes, which led to them applying for inclusion on the Housing Register without any corresponding Court Summons. This in turn led to the classification of “intentionally homeless”, which did not reflect reality of the situation. Councillor McLoughlin question whether extreme anti-social behaviour (ASB) would form one of the banding categories. The Safeguarding & Community Safety Project Manager SCH clarified that SCH had a dedicated tram to investigate instances or allegations of ASB. All such reports would be investigated, and a decision taken if it were beneficial to move a person/s suffering from ASB.
Councillor Ryan welcomed the report, noting that it far exceeded previous iterations in its scope, clarity and context for the issues the Council is facing. However, Councillor Ryan noted that it should be remembered the Council was at the forefront of regeneration and renovation of the boroughs existing housing stock, leading to substantial upgrading. The major challenge, however, was demand for social housing in Solihull, which far exceeded available supply. Councillor Ryan questioned whether it was the case that only those included in Band A of the new Housing Allocations Scheme criteria had a chance to be re-housed. The Scrutiny Board was advised that the Council and SCG were looking at every possible solution to assist people and families with their housing needs in the borough.
SCH followed the Housing Reduction Act, much of which was focussed o preventing homelessness in the first instance. The Council and SCH had in fact 50% of the potential cases of homelessness via the application of housing guidance and assistance to those concerned. There was also the option of accessing the private rented sector.
It was reported that 180 people were currently in temporary accommodation. The impact on children and young people in those households was fully recognised and therefore every effort was made to secure settled accommodation as soon as possible. Regarding receiving housing through the housing allocations scheme, it was presently the case that an individual or family need to be classified in Bands A or B to be assisted. The Annual Lettings Plan would, however, allow for further analysis leading to the production of further housing options.
The Head of Housing & Neighbourhoods, SCH further advised that 200 people were currently in hotel / temporary accommodation. Every person received a personal housing plan to address their individual housing needs.
Regarding the categories of banding, those individuals seeking to move to a studio apartment would not be classified within Band A. Similarly, those seeking accommodation in a high-rise block or bungalow would be placed in a lower banding. In terms of borough wide housing support, targeted financial advice was provided to some people to prevent potential homelessness from occurring.
Councillor Qais questioned how the current proposals would affect those already on the Housing Register and secondly, how would applicants expectations be managed. The Head of Housing & Neighbourhoods, SCH clarified that all people on the Housing Register would be formally consulted on the allocation scheme proposals. The proposals had yet to be stress tested, although a clear timeline for their implementation from January 2024 had been established. Those on the Housing Register would be written to by SCH regarding the proposals and advised on which priority banding would be applicable to them if the new housing allocations scheme were to be adopted.
Councillor Thomas reference the inclusion in Band A of those individuals suffering from domestic violence and proposed that those people subject to local community violence and no longer safe to remain in their own home should be afforded the same priority as domestic abuse victims. Regarding the fiscal thresholds and limits, Councillor Thomas questioned how many people would be excluded from the Housing Register if the income threshold were to be established at £70,000. The Safeguarding & Community Safety Project Manager, SCH advised the Scrutiny Board that this information was not currently collected and would be collected via the consultation exercise. The Safeguarding & Community Safety Project Manager, SCH advised that Coventry City Council had introduced an income threshold and that contact would be made to clarify what impact it may have had on managing resources and customers. It was further clarified that the Solihull income threshold proposal was based on a set formula used by most councils.
Councillor Feeney questioned whether there was requirement in percentage terms for the Council to provide social housing as part of new housing development constructed in the borough and what was currently being achieved in terms of new social housing provision. Councillor Mackiewicz (Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning & Housing) clarified that there was a requirement of 40% of affordable housing to be social rented, with the Council currently achieving 38%. Annually 300 new affordable houses were brought forward, for example the Kingshurst Village development. However, demand continued to outstrip supply. The Councils Local Plan stipulated provision of 6,000 new, affordable homes to be constructed.
Councillor Parker summarised the discussion and the pertinent points arising through the consideration and subsequent discussion of the report. The following issues were noted:
· There were 1.1 million people on the national Housing Register.
· The Council recognised its obligations under the armed forces covenant and to domestic violence victims.
· Equality and fairness had to be applied through the Housing Allocations Scheme.
· If the Housing Allocations Scheme were not reviewed and revised, it would have the potential to be challenged in Court and would be out of sync compared with other local authorities.
· Members had raised several valid points and comments on the draft proposals, including Councillor Thomas’ reference to applying Band A priority to victims of local community violence and to be placed on the same priority as victims of domestic violence and Councillor McLoughlins regarding use of language and terminology within the Housing Allocations Scheme policy.
Having considered the report, the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board:
i) To note the Housing Allocation Scheme draft proposals.