COMMON HOUSING REGISTERS NEWSLETTER - ISSUE 03 SPRING 2003
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Round-up of progress - what's new since the last issue
Introducing the new West of Scotland CHR Implementation Group
News from South Ayrshire
National RSLs and CHRs - guidance from the Scottish Executive
A regional register for Grampian?
Housing information and advice - paving the way towards a CHR
Considering choice-based lettings within a CHR
What's supporting people got to do with CHRs?
Citizen-centred government - issues for CHRs
New CHR publications available from the Scottish Executive
what to expect in the next issue- Autumn 2003
ROUND-UP OF PROGRESS - WHAT'S NEW SINCE THE LAST ISSUE?
Hilary Third, CHR National Co-ordinator Reports
WELCOME TO THE THIRD ISSUE OF THE CHR NEWSLETTER. When the second issue went out last summer, we were pleased to report that no less than 10 local authority areas were represented at our CHR Implementation Group meetings. That showed real commitment to CHRs across the country and was extremely encouraging. Now, only a few months on, a further six councils have formed a new implementation group for authorities in the West who are at the early stages of CHR discussions (see p.8). This means that half of all local authorities are now attending one or other group. Many others are also engaging with us on an individual basis. In fact, at the time of writing, we are now in contact with 26 local authorities - and in most cases their partner RSLs - to help them define and then build the most suitable CHR for their area.
So far, we have concentrated on those who have come to us for help. However, during the summer of 2003 we will be taking a more proactive approach and making our way around the few remaining areas we haven't yet had any contact with - you know who you are! Once we have visited all local authorities, we will be in a much better position to advise Ministers on the need to use the reserve power contained within section 8 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. It's worth remembering that we do still believe that the voluntary, partnership approach to CHRs is preferable to use of statute and hope that continued success of local co-operation will make the use of the Act unnecessary.
Aside from the direct contact with landlords, an increasing part of my job over the past few months has been to work with colleagues in other areas of policy and practice to explore the links between CHRs and a range of other issues. For example, as p.11 explains, the close relationship between the delivery of good housing options advice according to Homepoint's national standards is an integral part of developing a good CHR. Another important link identified by the Implementation Group is between CHRs and Supporting People. See p.14 to find out more! Keith Skeaping, ICT Facilitator for CHRs explores the links between 'citizen centred government' and CHRs on p.15, and, last but not least, as landlords around the country begin to experiment with choice-based lettings, Hal Pawson's article on p12 addresses how new ways of allocating houses can be accommodated within a CHR.
Another big issue we have all been struggling with for some time is how regional and national RSLs with stock in multiple local authority areas can cope with being involved in several locally-based CHRs. After much debate, specially commissioned research and a consultation event, we have concluded that there is no one single answer but rather a number of options to be considered. Details of the Executive's guidance can be found on p.17, and p.4 summarises some of the main points. You can also read about ongoing work in the North East to explore the possibility of developing a CHR covering the Grampian region, which incorporates Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray (see p.6).
We all now look forward to seeing how some of these possible options work in practice so that all RSLs - including those with regional and national coverage - can engage with CHRs to ensure simpler, fairer access to housing for applicants across the country.
With the rapid growth of interest and activity around CHRs, it is becoming more difficult to respond to requests for help, and in recognition of this, the Scottish Executive has funded a second post alongside my job as National Co-ordinator. I am pleased to announce (drum roll please!) that our new CHR National Development Officer will be Yvonne Wemyss, currently CHR Project Officer at City of Edinburgh Council. Yvonne will be seconded into the Executive for a year from
May 2003 (once she has got the Edinburgh register - to be known as EdIndex - up and running!) and I am very much looking forward to working with her. I have no doubt that her expertise and practical experience in this specialised area will make a real difference to landlords working through the detailed issues to set up their own CHRs.
With all of this going on, you won't be surprised to hear that the Executive has extended its original two-year commitment to the National Framework for CHRs for a further year. That means that myself and Yvonne will be on hand to help you until March 2004, so make use of us while you can! Meanwhile, why not email us with your news and views on CHRS@scotland.gsi.gov.uk . We look forward to hearing from you!
REGIONAL AND NATIONAL RSLs AND CHRs - WHAT IS THE EXECUTIVE SAYING, AND WHY?
Regional and National RSLs have expressed concerns over the Executive's push towards locally-based CHRs. How can a landlord with stock across the country participate in multiple CHRs? Hilary Third outlines the options.
It seems that everyone now recognises the benefits of a common housing register, as a way of providing simpler and fairer access to housing lists. So far, so good. Although the mechanics of how a CHR will operate may take some time to work out, increasing numbers of local authorities together with their partner RSLs are now committed to this process. But what about regional and national landlords with stock in 10 or 20 local authority areas? Faced with the prospect of being part of dozens of different CHRs, their concerns are understandable. On the other hand, it is important that these landlords are part of local CHRs. After all, the Scottish Executive's policy objective is to ensure full participation of all social landlords operating in a given area so that an applicant can gain access to the full range of social housing stock by completing a single form.
The logistics of how this could possibly work has been exercising the minds of many for the past couple of years. For a while, it seemed that there was no answer. In an attempt to identify workable solutions which minimise or overcome the particular difficulties of landlords operating in multiple local authority areas, the Executive commissioned Craigforth to undertake a further exploration of the issues, and to identify potential solutions from practice south of the border. Drawing on this research, guidance has now been published which sets out the Executive's proposals for the way forward for regional and national RSLs participating in CHRs (see p.17 for details of the research report and the guidance).
The guidance acknowledges that there are no magic solutions, neither is there one single answer. However, there is a range of measures which make it easier for RSLs to be involved in CHRs, and in a variety of ways. The main message of the guidance is to encourage RSLs to adopt a flexible approach to CHRs. This means that they are likely to have a different working relationship with a CHR in an area where they have perhaps only a dozen units, to that in an area where they may have several hundred homes. Above all, it is important to recognise that a CHR is a rich resource to tap into. As a single source of all those seeking housing in a given area, the CHR is more likely than an individual landlord's housing list to be able to supply suitable applicants for a particular vacancy. Given the importance of cutting void periods, there are clear management advantages to this. Perhaps even more importantly, where landlords are taking applicants from a single pool, they can be more certain that they are reaching the applicant in greatest need of their housing. The same cannot necessarily be true where landlords are relying on their own lists, particularly in areas where they have a limited presence.
The guidance provides examples of how RSLs can work with CHRs without necessarily being fully involved in the development process. There are also a number of ways that the RSL can take applicants from the CHR, for example without going to the expense of having their own allocations policy on the CHR system, or having a direct electronic link. It is important to remember that these different options do work - they have been tried and tested by English RSLs and have proved highly successful. They deliver the objectives of a CHR - for applicants and landlords - at minimum cost and hassle.
The Executive is taking steps to help the process along. One of the key tasks our new CHR National Development Officer will be exploring is ways of sharing CHR preparatory work between areas. This will help cut the development times, while also leading to greater consistency between basic CHR structures. While CHRs will still be responsive to local circumstances, it is hoped that sharing work between areas will contribute to a greater degree of similarity between neighbouring CHRs, and that this will make it easier for cross-boundary landlords to participate.
We are also supporting landlords who are looking at the possibility of a regional CHR, in areas where applicants frequently live and work across administrative boundaries, and where there is support for a cross-boundary or regional CHR amongst locally-based landlords who manage the majority of stock in that area. Indeed, the guidance encourages key players to consider 'the desirability and feasibility of establishing a CHR which incorporates all social landlords covering two or more local authority areas'. We watch developments in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray with great interest in this respect
Of course getting involved in a CHR will mean adopting a different way of working to a certain extent, and this presents challenges to RSLs. However, it is worth noting that regional and national RSLs already have different working relationships with different local authorities. Furthermore, the relationship which RSLs have with local authorities is becoming increasingly important with the introduction of a range of new initiatives. And don't forget, there are real benefits for RSLs participating in CHRs. Not only can they actually reduce the cost of maintaining a waiting list, they can also alleviate work in other areas - for example, in some cases the CHR will make nominations redundant, which I'm sure will be welcome news for some RSLs!
The onus is not all on RSLs. The guidance clearly sets out responsibilities for local authorities and CHR structures to make participation of all parties easier. However, the key principle of the guidance is that RSLs must consider practical and cost-effective options for engaging with local CHRs, in order to deliver the best possible service to applicants in the future. Using the guidance, we will of course continue to work with our RSL colleagues to help them engage effectively with CHRs as they develop across the country.
If you would like a copy of the guidance, please visit our website atwww.scotland.gov.uk/housing/chror phone 0131 244 2105.
A REGIONAL REGISTER - AS SCARY AS IT SOUNDS?
The recently circulated guidance from the Executive - outlined on the previous pages - may have sent shivers down the spines of CHR project staff throughout the country. How can we develop sensible CHRs that deal predominantly with local areas and involve the regional and national RSLs as partners? Good question!
Aberdeenshire & Moray Council have made some progress into considering the possibilities of Common Housing Registers -
Lyn Jardin reports details on what has happened so far.
Aberdeenshire Council took the decision to investigate the possibilities of establishing a CHR in November 1999, with a commitment (March 2001) to carry out a feasibility study. Since then, through the strategic partnership of North East Housing Planning Alliance (NEHPA) - comprising Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray councils as well as the RSLs, a decision was taken to pool the resources of both Aberdeenshire & Moray councils to fund the feasibility study which started in July 2002.
The study was defined by two clear phases:
- Phase One - a quick review of options available, with particular reference to Homechoice (operational CHR in Aberdeen)
- Phase Two - examine the potential scope and extent of the project.
- Phase One looked at three main options:
- No current requirement to develop a CHR
- Expansion of Homechoice
- Establishing a new CHR.
Phase One has been completed and both councils approved the further investigation of an expansion of Homechoice. If Homechoice were to be expanded, this would effectively create a regional register.
The options were considered in terms of good practice, efficiency, effectiveness, economy and the effects on potential partners. In addition to these considerations, the Executive's legislative direction contained within the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, Equal Opportunities, strategic considerations, Supporting People initiative and the general benefits of partnership working effectively ruled out the 'no current requirement' option. However, if cost far outweighs benefits in the next stage, this may be re-considered.
In terms of cost effectiveness both local authorities should (in theory) benefit from adapting an operational register to suit their needs. This should be quicker to implement. The recommendation was also heavily influenced by the fact that the majority of potential partner RSLs operate across the three local authority areas in the North East. In particular, the big regional and one national RSLs are already partners of Homechoice and it would be extremely difficult for them to fund and resource the development of separate registers for the other two areas. This point was reinforced by Craigforth Consultants' investigations carried out on behalf of the Scottish Executive.
Phase One was the easy bit! The second part of the study will look closer at how a regional register can actually operate, negotiating with more landlords and an existing partnership.
The second phase was kicked off, early in January 2003, with an event for the chief officers from all the potential partners. This was an opportunity to discuss their concerns with current Homechoice arrangements and their preferences for the strategic aspects of a regional register. The event was well attended and it was extremely encouraging that discussions were positive, although no definite direction was given on some of the aspects. The key response was to ensure effective local service delivery, whether the applications are administered centrally or not. Information and advice was the most crucial aspect to a region-wide operation, especially given the rural nature of both Aberdeenshire and Moray. There were a number of political considerations too. Not just the usual culturally-based local authority v. RSL ones but also between the different local authorities. Although there are very effective partnership arrangements, elected members may be concerned with the perceived loss of control over a register that affects their constituents.
Crucial to Phase Two will be addressing all the issues in a positive manner. The sheer physical area to be covered can appear quite daunting - even more reason to consider as many flexible solutions, both administrative and IT. The trick will be to ensure that all potential partners (especially those already involved in Homechoice) have the same flexible frame of mind and that interest and commitment are maintained. There will have to be compromise and solutions will have to be kept simple. This can only be achieved if every partner adopts a flexible and sensible approach to discussions. Central to these discussions has to be increased choice and access to affordable housing for people in housing need that a CHR can provide.
If you would like some more information on the development of potentially the first regional CHR in Scotland, or would like a copy of the First Stage Report, please contact Lyn Jardine, Planning Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org
WEST OF SCOTLAND CHR GROUP
Following the success of the CHR implementation group involving the six MGF-funded CHR pilots and a few other interested local authorities, a new CHR group has now been set up in the West of Scotland. The original group has grown to capacity, but continuing interest from local groups in participating in this type of forum, made clear the need for additional mechanisms for making this possible. Lisa Meahan, South Ayrshire Council, explains what the new group is all about.
The idea for an additional group for a second implementation group came from the fact that a number of new local authorities interested in joining the main CHR implementation group were all at a similar early stage of looking at a local CHR. Furthermore, all were based mainly in the West of Scotland area. It was felt that these areas would benefit most from sharing their experience directly with each other. The West of Scotland group will however also have a direct link into the
main group too, in the form of South Ayrshire who are members of both groups.
The initial meeting of this group was hosted by East Ayrshire Council just before Christmas. The group discussed progress in developing their individual local CHRs, debated and agreed that the form the group should take was that of an information-sharing forum, and agreed that there may be scope for joint-initiatives in the future.
Representatives from six local areas considering a CHR attended this meeting, including South, East and North Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and South Lanarkshire, as well as a number of local RSLs. Each of the participants shared with the group what progress had been made. Here's the story so far.....
North Ayrshire reported that they were only beginning to consider the idea of a CHR, and were hoping to use the group to gather more information.
East Ayrshire has started to map out the information required for a common
application form with their main partners - Shire, Atrium and Cunningham Housing Associations, and have also put in a successful bid to the Scottish Executive for IT prototyping moneys, which will be reported in the next issue of the CHR Newsletter.
South Ayrshire is already part of the original implementation group, and will provide the link between the two groups. Their local working group currently consists of the council and four RSL partners, though they are looking for different ways to involve the other four non-partner RSLs in the area. Work being undertaken at present is focusing on the development of a common application form and development of the information available to applicants in the area (for more information on the CHR under discussion in South Ayrshire Council, see the article on p.10).
East Renfrewshire is looking to identify the most simple, low-cost and high impact solution for their area, given that the only potential full partner in their local CHR may be Barrhead Housing Association.
South Lanarkshire is also in the early stages of considering a CHR. They have already held a seminar involving the 18 RSLs operating in their area, and have found that the local partners are the most keen to get involved. They are also looking to work with Glasgow and North Lanarkshire given the movement they have in applicants across these boundaries.
Inverclyde is currently considering different issues, of which one is establishing a CHR. They are currently meeting with four local and three national RSLs regarding joint issues of low demand for social housing in the area. They are also investigating the possibilities of issues such as direct application input via the internet, and the funding that may be required for such initiatives in terms of IT and admin support.
All participants felt that the first meeting had been useful, and agreed they would like to meet on a regular basis. Consequently, a second meeting will take place in March, this time in Ayr. If you are interested in joining one of the implementation groups, please email The Scottish Executive's CHR mailbox on CHRS@scotland.gsi.gov.uk and we'll look forward to welcoming you along!
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SOUTH AYRSHIRE
The South Ayrshire CHR Working Group was set up in June 2001 following the results of a feasibility study carried out by South Ayrshire Council. This group currently consists of South Ayrshire Council, local landlords Carrick Housing Association and South Ayrshire Homes, West of Scotland Housing Association and Kirkcare Housing Association. Throughout this period, a representative has been attending and reporting back from the Scottish Executive's National Pilot Implementation Group, following an invitation from the National CHR
Co-ordinator to become a 'second-phase' pilot. South Ayrshire is also involved in the new West of Scotland CHR group, established at the end of last year.
So far, the group has established key aims and objectives, and has conducted lengthy discussions on the pros and cons of setting up a CHR for the area, from each landlord's perspective. The National Co-ordinator visited the group in the early stages to promote the setting up of a CHR in the area. A joint-training session was also held where RSL partners trained staff from the other organisations, in the essential knowledge about their organisation.
Short-term interim improvements have been agreed as part of the working group's action plan, and work is underway at present to establish these developments. These include Joint-training; improvement of advice and information for applicants and staff; improving nominations; and the possible development of a common application form. The long-term goal is that on completion of these improvements, the necessary work will have been carried out to make a decision on whether to go ahead with implementing a full CHR.
At present work has begun on developing a common application form for the partners directly involved in the group, using forms from established CHRs as guidance. A directory of essential information on local housing options and providers will accompany this form, and will be included in every application pack issued.
The group is also currently undertaking work with non-partner RSLs operating in South Ayrshire to establish suitable mechanisms for their involvement in the local CHR, given the Executive's recent guidance for National and Regional RSLs on this issue. For more information on South Ayrshire's plans for a CHR, contact email@example.com .
WHAT'S ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH CHRs ANYWAY?
Common Housing Registers cannot be developed or even discussed in isolation from other policy and practice issues. In fact, the more you look into it, the more you come to realise that seem to be relevant to practically every other housing-related activity being undertaken by landlords! As the following articles show, common housing registers are inextricably intertwined with a wide range of other policy initiatives. Read on to find out more about links between CHRs and housing information and advice, choice-based lettings, Supporting People, and Citizen-Centred Government. And that's only the start! The next issue of the CHR newsletter will consider even more issues!
HOW MUCH CAN YOU TELL HOUSING APPLICANTS ABOUT OTHER LOCAL HOUSING OPTIONS?
Eleanor Clark of HomePoint highlights the importance of housing information and advice to the development and operation of common housing registers.
Improving access to social housing is a key policy aim and the development of a Common Housing Register approach is an important contribution to the achievement of that aim. But improving access to any service first of all needs providers to make sure that people know about the services they provide.
The partners in a common housing register programme each need to be able to give informed advice and assistance to applicants who want to know details about any of the housing providers in the register.
This is not as daunting as it may appear because there is a resource that has been developed by HomePoint to encourage local authorities to make information and advice about housing options accessible. We developed The Guide to Housing Options in Scotland as a model for the assembly of information about providers and types of housing stock available in a local area. Exactly the sort of information you want on hand to assist applicants to make informed housing choices.
Your input to the compiling of the information is essential to ensure the local guide is a comprehensive information resource. It is also your opportunity to promote your organisation and the services it can offer to tenants and prospective tenants.
You can access the national model through the HomePoint website at www.homepoint.communitiesscotland.gov.uk . We also host or link to the local guides as they are developed. Each local authority is working on this currently, and you can access some of them already. If your authority's guide is not there yet give HomePoint a ring (0131 313 0044) we might be able to put you in touch with the appropriate contact.
COMMON HOUSING REGISTERS AND CHOICE-BASED LETTINGS: NATURAL PARTNERS?
BY HAL PAWSON, HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY
One of the main arguments in favour of common housing registers is their creation of a simpler means of accessing social housing. Particularly where social landlords' territories are substantially overlapping, establishing a 'single gateway' makes obvious practical sense from the consumer's point of view. The same 'consumerist' thinking provides much of the impetus for the growing interest in choice-based lettings (CBL) approaches now being seen here in Scotland as well as south of the border.
Essentially, CBL approaches involve the open advertising of housing vacancies, usually on a periodic - e.g. fortnightly - basis. Homeseekers (a.k.a. housing applicants) are then encouraged to view and bid for available homes. Ideally, the prioritisation of competing applicants is simplified so that, in contrast to the systems currently used by most councils and RSLs, ranking methods are both understood and accepted as 'fair' by applicants themselves. In order to satisfy legal and regulatory requirements such systems would, however, have to retain an element of needs-based priority. As well as improving customer satisfaction, it is argued that such systems can also have the practical benefits of reducing refusal rates and promoting tenancy sustainability 1.
New regulatory requirements
One way or another, all social landlords need to find ways of meeting the new requirement in Communities Scotland's Performance Standards that maximising applicant choice should be a guiding principle of any allocations policy - albeit alongside the other key principles of meeting need, making best use of stock and facilitating community sustainability. Whilst a CHR can be argued as helping to address this regulatory obligation, it can be argued that landlords need to think more radically about opening up the way that housing is allocated.
Compatibility of CHRs and CBL
Common housing registers were originally, of course, seen as a limited reform of the familiar bureaucratic method of allocating housing where the matching of homeseekers and vacancies is an entirely administrative process, hidden from public view. In principle, however, common housing registers are perfectly compatible with CBL approaches. Indeed, a choice-based system can achieve its true potential only if it encompasses all the landlords operating in a particular area. Building such a system alongside a CHR is an obvious way of achieving this. However, the CBL emphasis on developing simple and transparent systems might have implications for the volume of information needing to be collected from applicants - and, hence, the vexed question of the size of common application forms.
The practical compatibility of CHR and CBL systems is evident from the fact that councils with established CHRs (e.g. Bolton, Kennet, New Forest, Sandwell) found themselves best placed to qualify as official CBL pilots under the DETR programme established in England in 2001. A number of bidders (e.g. Herefordshire, Portsmouth) also proposed to establish a CHR as an integral element of their CBL system.
In Scotland, of course, the rise to prominence of CBLs comes at a time when many local authorities and their RSL partners are already some way down the track towards setting up a CHR for their area. Understandably, the Scottish Executive is concerned that what may be seen as the attractions of the CBL concept do not derail this process.
Ideally, CHR partners will discuss their respective views about the possibility of incorporating a choice-based approach within their existing plans. This could involve the CHR being used as the basis for a choice-based system where the register contains data facilitating the ranking of applicants' priority. The agency responsible for running the common register would also take on the role of advertising available homes on behalf of all participating landlords. Common agreement on allocations priorities would allow for the simplest, most efficient and - from the customer viewpoint - the most transparent system. The CHR agency would, in this scenario, rank homeseekers' bids for each advertised vacancy on behalf of all partners. An individual landlord could, of course, retain the ability to make a final decision on whether to offer a vacancy to the selected applicant - this might depend, for example, on a home visit or the taking up of references.
Alternatively, a CHR incorporating choice-based lettings could allow for each participating landlord to use their own, individual allocations policy in prioritising applicants bidding for a specific vacancy. This retains the advantage of 'opening up' the lettings system so that applicants can potentially 'trade off' their competing priorities (e.g. area versus house type) whilst sacrificing some of the potential for simplicity and transparency from the applicant perspective.
Another scenario is where one CHR partner (e.g. the local authority) advertises its vacancies and ranks bidders using CHR data, whilst RSLs retain traditional allocations approaches, drawing shortlists from the register and seeking nominees in the conventional way. A system of this kind is envisaged in Edinburgh, where ambitious CHR plans were already advanced before the council began to experiment with advertising vacancies in its own stock in 2000. Such a 'mixed system' would be in keeping with the experience of some of the English CBL schemes - notably that run by Manchester City Council.
More information on choice-based lettings in practice can be found through www.choosechoice.org.uk , a site which provides contact/website details of many local authorities developing CBL systems in England.
1 For more information on CBL in the Scottish context, see the CIH discussion paper on Allocations and Choice in Scotland available through CIH publications at www.cih.org .
SUPPORTING PEOPLE AND COMMON HOUSING REGISTERS -
what's the link?
Robert Spratt, Scottish Executive, Supporting People Team explains.
Supporting People will be introduced throughout Great Britain on the 1 April 2003 with the aim of providing good quality housing support services in different types of accommodation and tenures. This new programme will ensure that housing support services are focused on the needs of vulnerable people, and in ways responsive to their needs. From April, local authorities will have responsibility for the planning and funding of housing support services.
Much of the work for Supporting People, until now, has been to ensure continuity of service for housing support users. This work has concentrated on bringing together the current main funding streams, Transitional Housing Benefit, Special Needs Allowance Package and Resettlement Grant. However, exploring the links between Supporting People and CHRs provides the opportunity for us all to see just how Supporting People and CHRs can work at a practical level to the benefit of vulnerable people.
So, what are the links with CHR? The CHR application process could be an important tool used to flag-up the need for a housing support assessment. The reverse can be just as true - a service user undergoing a housing support assessment may benefit from going through CHR process, helping them to find appropriate accommodation. Both Supporting People and CHRs aim to ensure individuals can access suitable housing with the appropriate housing support. In some cases appropriate housing support may avoid the need for a move to alternative accommodation.
These were the main links identified at a meeting organised by the Executive, with representatives from local authorities Supporting People and CHR teams, along with the SFHA to discuss the links and challenges ahead for both these policies. The challenges facing everyone involved in these areas is to think now about the links in their local area and how best these can be put in to practice for the benefit of vulnerable people in our communities.
Further details on Supporting People are available from our website: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/housing/supportingpeople or by contacting the Supporting People team on 0131 244 5525 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CITIZEN-CENTRED GOVERNMENT - issues for CHRs?
The UK Government's modernising government (MG) initiative is proceeding apace. In Scotland, councils, executive agencies and NDPB's recently submitted bids for the second round of MG Funding from the Scottish Executive's 21st Century Government Unit. Keith Skeaping, ICT Facilitator for CHRs explains how this all fits in with Common Housing Registers.
A key aspect of many initiatives - which is also a key principle of CHRs - is the desire to 'join up' the delivery of services to the citizen, not just from the various departments in a council but also from the voluntary sector and other government sector partners, e.g. health boards, LECs.
Many communities are now seeing their council taking serious steps towards uniting services provided to the citizen, through a collected 'portal', sometimes with the help of a citizen's card. There are real advantages that this can offer communities thinking about a common housing register, for example:
- a council-wide citizen portal is frequently built from a variety of council databases eg planning, council tax, rents, etc. and may contain a wealth of information about local citizens - which CHRs can take years to build up;
- the thorny issues of unique household identification and data protection are solved by frequently giving the citizen their own key to release of sensitive data (e.g. citizen's card);
- many of the complementary services which may be supported by a CHR, e.g. Planning applications, Supporting People, Medical Needs Assessment, Homelessness, Housing Information & Advice are integrated through the same Customer Relationship Management (CRM) focus;
- the council may have the front-office potential to concentrate a customer services team on a variety of queries from applicants, whether from the council area or outwith; using a property portfolio at the outset, and armed with the ability to call up personal details or pictures easily can help applicants appreciate the professionalism of the overall service; the council may furthermore be better equipped to take initial 'registration details' for external applicants, and to follow up in bulk mail or SMS messaging shots to keep all applications current.
RSLs who wish to persuade their council to put the CHR - or choice-based lettings - high on the list of CRM priorities may wish to suggest a phased approach:
- assemble a portfolio of the different types of social rented housing in each council area (much of this information is already collected by Communities Scotland);
- encourage updating of the central property database to include other RSL's stock, age, condition and ideally sample photos;
- co-operate in identifying where council assistance may be most valuable, e.g. in promoting stock in low demand estates, in filtering out time-wasters or neighbours from hell etc;
- backload household detail from existing waiting lists, carefully eliminating duplicate applications and resolving anomalies, e.g. a tenanted household member who applies in their own right outwith the transfer process.
There may be additional spatial modelling techniques which the council are able to apply before finalizing the exact forms and procedures used for a CHR. If, for instance, a significant proportion of new households move from one estate to another within a few months of being first housed, then either the estate or housing preferences need to be better qualified.
Once there is clarity in both the demand for, and supply of, social rented housing, then real progress can be made in addressing the needs of the most deserving cases. The advantage of communities piggy-backing any CHR development on to the council's CRM approach is that they are frequently pushing against an open door.
New publications available (free of charge) from the Scottish Executive
Scottish Executive: Common Housing Registers -
The Scottish Executive's Guidance for Regional and National Registered Social Landlords. November 2002
Scottish Executive: - Common Housing Registers/Implications for National and Regional Registered Social Landlords in Scotland.
A report by Craigforth November 2002
These and other CHR publications are available online at www.scotland.gov.uk/housing/chr .
If you would like further copies, please contact our mailbox CHRS@scotland.gsi.gov.uk .
What do you think?
If you are reading someone else's newsletter and would like to receive your own copy and other information about CHRs,
please email our mailbox CHRS@scotland.gsi.gov.uk .
The National Framework for CHRs is designed to be flexible and responsive to needs as they arise, so that it is as useful as possible in providing practical support to landlords. We therefore rely on you to tell us what you think! Please write in with news and views for future issues of the newsletter. Our address is CHRS@scotland.gsi.gov.uk .
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NEXT ISSUE - AUTUMN 2003
Round-up of progress - what's new since the last issue
Introducing Yvonne Wemyss - CHR National Development Officer
CHRs - what's the potential?
Research on the costs and benefits for CHRs
Testing out new ICT solutions for CHRs - three new initiatives report
EdIndex goes live!
What's the regulator saying about CHRs?
News from around the country
Newsletter Editor: Hilary Third, CHR National Co-ordinator, Scottish Executive, Housing Division 2/3, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ.
Tel: 0131 244 5578 Fax: 0131 244 0948 Email: CHRS@scotland.gov.uk