Rethinking allocations: four things we’ve learned so far
Who is – and isn’t – getting access to social housing in England, and why? CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves shares an update from our Rethinking allocations project
In October we launched Rethinking allocations with a sector survey to help us explore how general needs social rented homes are being allocated across England and what factors might be influencing local approaches to allocations. The survey - developed in consultation with our expert sounding board – asked councils and housing associations to answer questions on a range of topic areas including policies, systems, the factors influencing their approaches, eligibility and access, lettings and nomination agreements.
We had responses from 106 organisations – 48 per cent were housing associations and 52 per cent were local authorities (including those that have transferred their stock) or ALMOs (arm’s length management organisations). Here are the top four themes to emerge so far.
Providing homes to people who need them the most remains a priority
Echoing the findings from our Rethinking social housing research, providing homes to people who need them the most is considered the most important objective by 50 per cent of all respondents. The other half were split between six other objectives including (among other factors) making best use of stock (19 per cent) and supporting people into sustainable tenancies (12 per cent).
And when we asked about the significance of a range of factors in respondents’ approaches to allocations, a lack of affordable rented housing in an area was the most likely factor to be considered as very significant (44 per cent), followed by homelessness levels (37 per cent).
It’s not surprising then, that comments made via the survey point to a ‘choice’ conundrum in choice-based lettings (CBL) systems, especially in areas where demand far outstrips supply.
CBL remains a popular model for allocating homes but many are dissatisfied with it
Despite mixed feedback, CBL remains the most commonly used system for advertising and letting general needs social rented homes, with 70 per cent involved in running one and 76 per cent advertising homes via one. Not everyone is happy with the model though.
Many concerns about CBL were broadly linked to IT and administrative issues – for example one respondent felt that the technology to deliver CBL had not progressed at the same rate as other digital platforms on the market. In fact, one third of respondents told us they use other online advertising methods to help with letting their homes.
However, some respondents suggested that known challenges could largely be addressed by managing expectations and investing in the technology to deliver systems that work for everyone – local authorities, housing associations and people waiting to secure a home. There were some other challenges raised about CBL as a model, including how one system can achieve a balance between varying needs of all partners.
Use of pre-tenancy assessments is now common practice
There is no better example of competing priorities than the fact that people who need homes the most are often considered most likely to find it difficult to sustain a tenancy, whether due to affordability problems, support needs or both. It’s difficult to argue with the notion that setting people up to fail makes no sense. But something feels fundamentally wrong - especially in the current context of limited supply and widespread housing affordability issues - when social rented housing cannot, in many instances, be allocated to people who need it the most.
Use of pre-tenancy assessments is unsurprisingly very common - 82 per cent of respondents that own or manage homes conduct them. And when we asked what the most important element of these assessments is, almost half (47 per cent) said it is assessing someone’s ability to afford a tenancy. This was followed by assessing someone’s ability to sustain a tenancy in other ways.
Use of tenancy-ready training is more common than I thought
An interesting development is the increasing use of tenancy-ready training as part of allocation and lettings processes. More than a quarter of respondents told us there are circumstances where an applicant would have to complete some form of pre-tenancy course before they can sign for a tenancy. Most of these ‘requirements’ are mandatory for all potential tenants or specific groups considered as ‘higher risk’ (e.g. young people and people moving on from supported accommodation etc.). In other examples, tenancy-ready courses can help someone increase their priority or they are offered on an entirely optional basis. It will be interesting to monitor how widespread this practice becomes and what evidence emerges about its impact.
So what happens next?
Allocation systems are complex, involving many different, sometimes challenging and often overlapping factors. These findings cannot give us the entire picture, but they’re helping us develop the next stage of the project where we’ll be running a series of workshops to help us explore the topic in more detail.
There will be seven workshops in total across the country, taking place in the North East/Yorkshire and the Humber, North West (being hosted by project sponsor South Liverpool Homes), East Midlands, East of England, West Midlands, London/South East and South West. We haven’t confirmed the detail of these workshops, but we’re keen to start getting a sense of which organisations and individuals are interested in taking part in and/ or hosting one.
Workshop spaces will be limited but if your organisation is interested in getting involved or you would like to contribute as an individual, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, role, organisation name (if relevant), contact details and whether you are interested in hosting or attending a workshop or both.We’re eager to draw on a range of perspectives at each workshop, so if you’re a current tenant or you are on a waiting list for social rented housing, we’d love to hear from you.