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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Choice-based lettings: let’s get back to basics


A new CIH guide to choice-based lettings (CBL) is timely, according to CIH policy and public affairs manager Justin Cartwright.

CIH has produced a new guide to CBL in association with the Housing Agency in Ireland, which was launched at an event yesterday in Dublin. It has been a while since good practice guidance on CBL has been produced, in Britain at least. But new guidance is needed, not just for housing professionals in Ireland – where local authorities are now required to provide for a CBL scheme under the government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan – but for professionals in GB as well.

The guide provides a brief overview of good practice in CBL, illustrated with examples from Ireland and the UK. It is aimed at practitioners in Ireland, but its universal principles can be applied by practitioners working in other countries.

Interestingly, delegates at yesterday’s launch heard from Dr Tim Brown from De Montfort University that there is current and recent interest in CBL in Australia, France and the States of Jersey. And it is currently proposed to be used for difficult-to-let social homes in Northern Ireland.

CBL differs from the traditional way of allocating homes. Applicants bid for properties they want, instead of waiting to be offered one. At the end of the bidding process, the highest priority bidder is offered the home. CBL offers many benefits, including reducing the number of applicants refusing offers of accommodation; under CBL applicants generally apply for properties and areas in which they want to live.

However there are pitfalls. When we took stock of CBL in GB to help inform the guide, it was clear that there are housing providers who continue to embrace CBL as a powerful tool to improve customer experiences and increase transparency around their housing supply.

But there were also providers who were moving away from CBL. In some cases there were business reasons for this. In others, there were reasons cited that fundamentally had little to do with CBL. In these cases, there were problems that could be solved by addressing supporting policies and procedures, or by observing the common principles of CBL.

Evaluation and review of CBL schemes is a fundamental element of success. A great presentation was given at yesterday’s event by Anthony Hearn and Elizabeth Willington from Valleys to Coast (V2C) Housing in Wales. V2C had carried out a review of their scheme, found evidence of ineffective bids and addressed this through an innovative ICT solution.

One of the strengths of CBL is its ability to be localised to meet customers’ needs in local housing markets and contexts, and to meet the business aims of individual providers. A one-size-fits-all approach, or one that is over-prescriptive is therefore unlikely to produce the best outcomes. Delegates at yesterday’s event heard that providers should avoid a ‘copy and paste’ approach to CBL, and instead establish or develop a scheme that reflects their individual aims.

There is strength therefore in the Irish government’s approach. There is a subtle but important difference between requiring local authorities to ‘provide for a choice-based or equivalent system tailored to their specific circumstances’, and mandating them to implement a particular approach.

As housing professionals in Ireland and the UK continue to develop their approaches to CBL, we hope that they will find the new CIH guide helpful.

Download a guide to choice-based lettings.

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