Common Housing Register (CHR) - building a register: a practitioner's guide

A practical guide to the development of common housing registers between local authorities and registered social landlords in Scotland. The guide draws on the experience of those areas in Scotland who have successfully implemented a CHR.


This section considers the issues involved in launching your CHR. Going live with your CHR will involve a number of tasks to be delivered within a short timeframe. The main activities involve managing the publicity and information strategy, establishing your single database of applicants, and managing lettings during the transition period. The key activities you will have had to complete before you can launch your CHR:

  • formal sign-off of agreed policies and procedures which will make up your CHR;
  • implementation of ICT solutions, including testing;
  • testing or piloting of CHR procedures to ensure smooth operations;
  • legal agreements and service level agreements signed by all partners;
  • approval of branding, PR and publicity strategy; and
  • CHR application forms printed.

The CHR partnership should establish a clear Implementation Plan for the launch of the CHR giving a fixed timetable for all the tasks that need to be undertaken and which partner(s) are responsible for completing the task. This should include detailed tasks that need to be undertaken both pre- and post-implementation.

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HOME Argyll was officially launched in October 2006. Partners established an Implementation Timetable setting out all tasks which had to be completed in the period August to October. The timetable also included key tasks that would be ongoing post-implementation and is included as Appendix Four.

Training for staff

Staff from all partner organisations should be given comprehensive training on the CHR. This will involve delivering a series of training sessions in the lead-up to the CHR launch, as well as ongoing training post-implementation. Training provides a good opportunity to strengthen the CHR partnership. Running joint training courses will bring partner organisations together and can help encourage a real sense of partnership working.

The content of training will vary with the CHR model adopted and the level of involvement of individual partners. However, all training should help staff understand how the CHR works, how they can make best use of it and how they will advise applicants. The training should give staff a sound understanding of all stages of the CHR application process including the application form, provision of housing information and advice, arrangements for processing forms, updating applications, and advising applicants on progress of their application. If staff have access to the system, and/or an inputting role, it is probable that specialist ICT training will need to be provide on using the system.

In addition, launching a CHR marks a new way of working for staff and will often see a significant change of culture for partners. Staff will be expected to have knowledge beyond their own organisation and work with partners operating in different areas and potentially with different client groups. These issues should be considered in training and staff should have a clear understanding of the implications of the CHR in terms of working practices.

Example: Supporting staff before and after launching

In Highland, the challenge of embedding new systems and process for a large number of staff was addressed through extensive training.

The partners invested in training on both the IT system and the new shared policies and procedures. Before implementation the training brought to the surface frustrations about the changes and concerns about increased workloads:

"It was a bit fraught. But people accepted this and carried on - we hoped people would be brought along with us."

A second round of refresher training was completed late in 2008 after the system went live. This proved particularly useful as, having used the system, staff were able to pinpoint areas where support was required. Before running the training the partners looked at the quality tests run on the system to identify problems with how people were using the system, so that this could be tackled through the training. Staff feedback on the training has been very positive.

Example: Training for new health and housing need assessments

Partners in the Argyll CHR, agreed that staff would be in the best position to assess health in relation to housing need. In the past, many partners had used a medical professional to assess health and housing needs applications. This was a new, and very different, way of working. The frontline staff group met fortnightly to consider applications that they were unsure of how to deal with individually. The group also cross checked a small number of applications to ensure consistency in how applications were being dealt with.

In addition, an e-bulletin with common issues arising from processing applications was circulated on a weekly basis. This was used to complement and update the procedural guide, again to ensure consistency. It didn't always go smoothly. Sometimes it became clear that partners were assessing applications in different ways. But these procedures meant that discrepancies were identified relatively quickly, and a common approach agreed.

Publicising the CHR

As well as ensuring that staff are clear about the new system, you will need to provide positive information on the CHR to people in the area - existing applicants, stakeholders such as advice agencies and the wider public.

CHR partnerships should develop a clear publicity strategy setting out actions, timescales and allocating responsibilities. When developing your publicity strategy, partners should think carefully about:

  • what you need to say;
  • who you need to say it to; and
  • how and when to get the message across.

Publicity material should explain the reasons for the new approach and the benefits of establishing a CHR. It should provide clear information on how the CHR will operate and what the implications are for existing applicants, including any action they will need to take to ensure they are registered with the CHR.

Timing is important in effective publicity. You should raise awareness of the CHR early - but not so early that you are not able to respond to detailed questions about how the CHR will work.

In order to reinforce the message, you should repeat the information about the CHR several times in the lead-in to launching the CHR. This is particularly important where applicants are required to re-register for the CHR. In this case there should be several opportunities to reregister and reminders provided about registration.

Establishing your single database

A key task in establishing your CHR is moving from the multiple housing lists held by partners to a single list of applicants. This can be a time consuming task and will have to be conducted while applications continue to be received and allocations made. Partners will have to agree how they will carry out the process.

Given that landlords will probably have been collecting different information, it is likely that you will need to collect further information from applicants to ensure that all applications can be considered by all the participating landlords. The data collection process for the re-registration of applicants is likely to involve one of two options:

  • collecting partial additional information from existing applicants - this depends on how much information is missing from the existing lists and would require applicants completing an application review form; and
  • requiring existing applicants to complete the new common application form - this would ensure consistent, complete and up-to-date information on the database ensuring more efficient CHR. But this would be more time-consuming for applicants.

Whichever option is adopted you will need to collate the existing lists into a single list, removing duplicate applications. This will ensure that each applicant is written to only once to re-register. Where landlords hold electronic lists these can be brought together in an electronic master list. The duplicate entries can then be deleted. Where one or more landlord only holds a manual list they should compare their list with the master list adding only applicants who do not already appear. They would then pass on the master list to the next landlord holding only a manual list who would then carry out the same exercise.

The re-registration exercise will involve several forms and a significant amount of inputting. If your CHR model involves a central administration unit you would probably expect the unit to undertake the inputting. However, if you plan to share administration across partners, staff at all organisations will have been trained to input onto the system, and so you all staff can share the task of inputting the forms. Whichever approach you take, this will be a large task and partners need to ensure that there are sufficient resources in place to complete it successfully.

Dealing with lettings during the transition phase

Partnerships need to have a clear strategy in place for dealing with new applications and lettings while they are setting up the single database. Options for accepting applications during the transition include:

  • Applicants continue to use existing forms until the system is fully operational. New applicants would complete the landlord's existing form and after the launch complete the new common form within a short period of time.
  • Applicants complete existing forms and complete the new common form - applicants would fill out two (or more) forms. They would be considered for vacancies under the individual landlord system(s) and would also be entered onto the CHR system ready for launch.

Whichever option you choose you should focus on ensuring that the process is as straightforward as possible for the applicant. If an applicant submits an individual application form for a landlord you should accept the application, explain the changes taking place, and ask them whether they would like their application considered by other CHR landlords.

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