Agenda item

Breckland Housing Allocation Policy (Agenda Item 8)

Report of the Executive Member for Growth, Charles Carter.

Minutes:

The Deputy Leader and Executive Member for People & Information introduced the report (in place of the Executive Member for Growth).

 

The report had originally been on the Council Agenda for 28 June 2016 but had been withdrawn to allow an opportunity for scrutiny.  It set out the Council’s priorities in allocating housing.

 

The Council received about 150 housing applications a month.  The proposed changes would free up officer time to deal with those in greater need.

 

Councillor Stasiak noted that in the report it said there was no interaction with the private sector.  It was confirmed that although that was a future aspiration, at present the Council did not engage with the private rented sector.

 

The Chairman was aware that there used to be regular interactions and she asked why that had stopped.  The Housing Support Manager explained that it had not been a formal decision but currently the Team did not have the capacity.  It was hoped that the proposed changes would free up officer time giving the opportunity to engage in future.


Currently, applications to the Housing Register could be made on-line.  Those applications received an automated banding which was then verified by an officer.  It was proposed to move that verification process until after the applicant had made a successful bid on a property.  A lot of applicants on the housing register were unlikely to be housed and yet they currently had to go through the two hour verification process.  That was an unnecessary use of officer time.

 

The Chairman was worried that people might have filled their application form in incorrectly but they would not be assessed until after they had bid on a property.

 

The Deputy Leader explained that people with specific needs would receive help in filling in their forms.

 

Councillor Jermy had significant concerns about the proposals for fundamental change without a clear evidence base.  He felt that there needed to be clearer understanding of why the Council was receiving 150 applications a month and how those figures compared to other Councils.  Low wages could be one reason, together with high rents, especially in the private sector, leading to debt.

 

The Deputy Leader agreed that there were a variety of reasons for the volume of applications which was one of the highest in Norfolk.  The aim would be to engage with the Housing Associations as early as possible to prevent people getting into debt and losing their homes.  Discretionary Housing Benefit was available in some cases.  Administering the large number of people on the Housing Register used up officer time and that needed to be sorted.


The Housing Support Manager explained that people didn’t want to be on the Housing Register, they wanted a home and the job of the Team was to give them advice on their options.

 

Councillor Jermy suggested that the people on the Housing Register were people on a low income who could not afford private rented accommodation.  He thought the solution was to employ more officers.


The Chairman was very disappointed about the lack of engagement with the private rented sector.  However, the Deputy Leader pointed out that people on benefits sometimes had problems being accepted for private rental.  He agreed to make the concerns of Members known to the Executive Member for Growth.

 

Councillor Brame was worried about people who might lose a house if they had filled in their form incorrectly.  If the process was all done on line it would be difficult for those that were not computer literate. 

 

The Deputy Leader explained that the current process was not fit for purpose and sometimes people were put in the wrong banding.  That needed to be addressed first.

 

The Housing Support Manager advised that it was proposed to hold pre-qualifying interviews with applicants to obtain a snap-shot of information.  Officers would be able to give them the best advice and, where necessary, inform them if they could not be helped.  It was important to provide realistic advice, rather than just add people to the waiting list.

 

The Chairman was concerned that public perception would be that the Council was trying to deter people from applying to be put on the housing register.

 

Councillor Hollis understood the need to downsize the list but said that a lot of people could not afford private sector rent.  Benefits top-up was small and there was also no security in private rented accommodation.

 

The Deputy Leader said the proposals were in line with Central Government aspirations which sought to encourage shared ownership, etc.  The Council had to provide for people in need, but also wanted to be able to help those that could use the private rental or shared ownership route.

 

Councillor Newton thought that if more people were pushed to the private sector it would increase rents. 

 

The Housing Support Manager explained that they were not suggesting pushing people into the private sector they just wanted to be able to signpost opportunities for those that could afford it.

 

Councillor Wilkinson suggested that Flagship Housing should be encouraged to enter into the Right to Buy scheme.  He said that the Government’s criteria was that if people had £70 a week left to live on after paying their rent they were not eligible for social housing. 

 

The Housing Support Manager explained that many of the people the Council was trying to house only had £70 a week in total.  The applicant’s full income and outgoings were taken into account.

 

Members were not minded to support the proposals and the Chairman asked them to put forward their suggestions for improving the report.


Councillor Jermy said that more evidence was needed.  He was also concerned about the lack of churn in social housing and thought it was unacceptable that Registered Social Landlords left properties empty for long periods.  He asked for that to be raised with the Executive Member for Growth.

 

Councillor Stasiak asked if there was any interaction with neighbouring authorities.  He wondered if people might be on more than one waiting list.

 

The Deputy Leader said that every local authority had its own policies but it was unusual for someone to be housed if they did not have a local connection.

 

Members were encouraged to e-mail any further questions or suggestions to the Chairman.  Responses would be circulated to all.

 

The report was deferred until the next meeting in September.

 

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