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.


You have launched - now what?

Setting up your CHR, training staff, publicising the new system and managing the transition period requires a lot of hard work and effort. Successfully launching a CHR is a huge achievement.

But the achievement of a successful CHR does not end with implementation. In order to ensure that your CHR is meeting its objectives and delivering the intended outcomes for applicants and partner organisations, you will need to thoroughly monitor and evaluate the new system on an ongoing basis. In addition, the CHR will not be the finished article when it is launched but should continue to develop and improve after it has been launched.

This means that you will have to think carefully about the governance structure for the CHR post-implementation. It is recommended that you retain some of your working/steering groups and have a group with a dedicated remit for monitoring functions after the CHR has been launched.

The following key issues should be considered by CHR partners for the post-implementation phase:

  • ensure that the appropriate management structures and working groups are in place - recognising the new working relationships and need for robust monitoring;
  • ensure that partners have the resources in place to continue their commitment to the CHR partnership. This will include arrangement for continual training of new staff and refresher training for existing staff;
  • establish a robust ongoing monitoring framework for the CHR with clearly defined responsibilities and timescales; and
  • deal with teething difficulties that are hindering service delivery but for an agreed period do not make major changes to the CHR - allow the new system to bed in.

Partners should also agree on the future direction for the CHR when it has been established. For example, you may wish to consider:

  • Is the long-term objective simply to establish an operational CHR within the existing boundary?
  • Would you like its coverage to expand?
  • Do you want it to evolve into other areas of joint working and function as more than a CHR?
  • It is worth considering the long-term plan for your CHR?

Recognising success

It is almost inevitable that such a significant change in the way people apply for housing will create some difficulties. Understandably, asking large numbers of staff from a range of different organisations to change their way of working can be a challenge for everyone involved.

It is important to keep sight of the headline objectives for the CHR and the benefits being delivered for applicants and tenants. Frustrations will be kept to a minimum with good training and making sure that there is clear understanding of what the CHR is aiming to achieve.

Example: Recognising the benefits

Partners in West Lothian have seen clear benefits from their Housing Register. The information contained within the common applicant database allows partners to easily see levels of demand for different areas and stock types. Applicants have also taken advantage of the opportunity to apply to a wider range of landlords using one form, resulting in some partners' lists increasing in size. This is increasing applicant choice and ensuring that partners are more effectively matching those in the greatest housing need with the properties that become available. But there have been some glitches and difficulties along the way, mainly because partners are used to working in different ways and people can be naturally resistant to change.

In late 2008, the West Lothian Housing Register partners began to formally review how the Housing Register had operated in its first year. In particular the partners are considering whether there are options for other RSLs to join the Housing Register, not necessarily as full partners. The review is also considering whether the process could be made more efficient and understandable for applicants, for example through increased commonality in policies.

West Lothian Council would advise any other partners involved in a CHR to:

  • remember the customer - CHRs are first and foremost about improving services for applicants;
  • take a realistic approach - focus on what is possible and achievable, be pragmatic and be prepared to compromise; and
  • think long term - the value of a CHR will become more evident as systems bed in and partners develop their working relationships.

Revisiting previous decisions

It is essential that the CHR is able to develop and change over time. The decisions you have taken are not set in stone, even though they may have taken significant effort to agree upon at the time. The context you are working in may change over time, or the development of the CHR in terms of more (or fewer) partner landlords and geographical coverage may mean that previous decisions need to be revisited.

Where elements of the CHR are not delivering what had been hoped partners may have to review the CHR model or specific functions. Any changes should be founded on evidence in terms of current performance and potential impact of a new approach. And, again, decisions need to be taken with the CHR objectives and the interests of customers at the forefront.

This process will be helped by strong partnership management structures and good monitoring information.

Wider joint working and policy development

The CHR does not sit in isolation from wider policy in relation to housing and other areas. The CHR is more than just an administrative solution to housing allocations and can provide valuable information to feed into wider housing and other strategies.

Management information from the CHR including information on housing supply and demand will potentially inform:

  • the local housing strategy;
  • the housing information and advice strategy;
  • local lettings plans;
  • rehousing reviews;
  • the antisocial behaviour strategy; and
  • the ongoing work of the housing strategy steering group.

It is important that the appropriate structures are in place for collaborative working with the groups or departments responsible for developing these policies and strategies.

In the development phase of the CHR, partners should undertake forward planning and consider the best opportunities for further development of the CHR post-implementation. In addition to the likely areas for expansion in terms of geographical coverage and CHR functions partners should consider the opportunities for joint working and greater links with other initiatives.

Measuring impact

Clearly, CHR partnerships need to monitor and evaluate the impact that their CHR is making in terms of achieving its objectives for applicants and partner organisations. The previous CHR Practitioner's Guide stated that CHRs should result in:

  • simpler and fairer access to housing;
  • increased mobility and choice for applicants and tenants;
  • more robust understanding of housing needs;
  • improved use of housing stock; and
  • operational efficiencies.

Effective evaluation of your CHR will enable you to:

  • identify real delivery issues; and
  • review progress towards outcomes.

In reviewing whether you are achieving the outcomes for your CHR you will need both:

  • quantitative data in relation to service performance (numbers/ statistics); and
  • qualitative information from applicants, partners and other stakeholders (reflecting views and experiences).

There are a wide range of evaluation techniques to consider, but a CHR evaluation should involve:

  • measuring progress against agreed targets and indicators;
  • establishing applicant views - through customer satisfaction surveys, focus groups, consultation events etc.;
  • consultation with partners - at a range of organisational levels; and
  • consultation with other stakeholders.

CHR partnerships should involve tenants and RTOs in the monitoring and evaluation process. Planned approaches should be set out in Tenant Participation strategies.

The Scottish Government has produced a national monitoring framework for CHRs. 25 This was designed to help CHRs to think about how they measure their performance. It sets out a number of potential indicators, but emphasises that these can be adapted to the local context. It suggests that whatever approach is taken to performance monitoring, CHRs should consider:

  • how to make information available both for the CHR as a whole, and individual landlords;
  • the geographical level at which information needs to be reported;
  • how information will be collected and how often; and
  • how action will be taken based on the findings.

It is important to note that the monitoring framework is designed to measure the added value and impact of the CHR itself - not the whole housing application and allocation process.

" CHRs are part of the allocation process within a wider housing management function for social landlords."

Find out more...

You can find out more about developing a monitoring framework, and the range of performance indicators that may be used, from the SHBVN report Developing a Monitoring Framework for Common Housing Registers ( .

A concise Performance Indicators factsheet ( is also available, giving suggested indicators and a guide to using these as part of an overall performance management framework.

Example: A process of ongoing review

HOME Argyll had a launch day in 2006 to celebrate their achievements and to mark the launch of HOME Argyll. Applicants, tenants, committee members, local councillors and the local press were invited to attend.

Review Day

One year later in 2007, a review day was held for staff and committee members. The aim of this session was to discuss progress so far, and consider which aspects worked well and what could be improved. The session also acted as a planning session for the coming year.

Governance Review

HOME Argyll commissioned an independent consultant to do work on improving governance arrangements. The aim was to strengthen HOME Argyll as an entity. As part of this review, the consultants examined the impact of HOME Argyll, in order to demonstrate the importance of continuing to invest in it. The report explored impact including:

  • how many applications received;
  • who processed them; and
  • the use of joint information and advice website etc.

Policy Review

HOME Argyll is conducting a policy review in 2009. An Action Plan is already in place to do this. HOME Argyll held a series of workshops and events where staff from each partner organisation considered different aspects of the Common Allocation Policy. As everyday users of the policy, staff were able to make recommendations and suggestions for aspects they believe could work better and more efficiently. HOME Argyll are working through these suggestions to re-draft the policy before sending copies to applicants and tenants who have indicated their willingness to be consulted.

Tenant satisfaction surveys

Fyne Homes and Dunbritton HA have gathered views of tenants through satisfaction surveys and there are currently discussions about extending this to applicants in the future. All the partners agree that the next steps after the policy review will be to look at generating feedback from applicants and tenants on their services.

Example: Evaluating impact

Renfrewshire was one of the few CHRs to evaluate its impact in terms of the difference that the CHR made to applicants and partner organisations. The CHR was launched in two phases, and both of these were evaluated. To do this, the partners firstly drew up an evaluation brief.

The partners then commissioned consultants to evaluate the CHR. The evaluation process considered: basic benefits for partners and applicants; the impact on customer services; managing the workload and resource implications; the effectiveness of partnership working; and applicant views.

The evaluation found that:

  • The Renfrewshire CHR achieved the first of its objectives - "to make it easier for applicants to apply for housing through completion of a common form". It did this through:
    - Simplifying the application process through applicants filling in one single form
    - Increasing awareness of social landlords operating across Renfrewshire
  • The CHR did not realise its objective of achieving efficiencies in the allocations process.
  • Some partners felt that the CHR did not achieve its objective of providing better understanding of patterns of need and demand. This was due to the time taken to develop a common database and the absence of a housing information and advice strategy. But Renfrewshire Council found that the CHR did provide improved strategic information about demand, by removing duplication from individual waiting lists.
  • Although there were positive impacts for applicants, the impact on partner organisations in terms of the time and resources dedicated to dealing with applications and allocations was not seen to represent value for money.

Overall, while there were some advantages of the CHR for applicants, the lack of harmonisation, co-ordination and joined up housing information and advice meant that the process was still confusing. While making the initial housing application was easier, it was not coupled with common procedures - such as a common medical assessment - or coordinated information and advice about housing options and prospects. Some applicants were making uninformed choices which did not reflect their aspirations and distorted the stated demand for housing. This reflects the importance of joined up housing information and advice provision, an area which the Renfrewshire partners are now focusing on.

Innovation and options for the future

As stated, CHRs do not sit in isolation from wider policy in relation to housing, but rather have a central role to play in the wider housing system. As such, CHR partnerships should include considering whether there are options for the CHR beyond the allocation of social housing.

There is growing policy emphasis, reasserted in the Scottish Government housing discussion document Firm Foundations, 26 that the private rented sector has an increasing role to play in meeting local housing need. There is evidence of greater engagement with the private rented sector in tackling homelessness. Many local authorities in Scotland are actively working with the private sector including supporting social lets in the private rented sector and large scale rent deposit schemes.

As a CHR partnership, it is worth reflecting on wider housing needs in your area, the capacity of the social rented sector to meet those needs, and the role that your CHR can play in helping local people into the full range of housing options available.

Find out more...

The Scottish Government has published a review of good practice in local authority engagement with the private rented sector. This draws on case study examples from across the UK and covers relevant issues such as options for working with private landlords to house homeless households. The report is available here . (

Example: Developing the CHR beyond social housing allocations

In Perth and Kinross the Council is developing a new approach to allocations which will take the CHR beyond social housing into wider housing options. The new system will see a move away from the current approach whereby the Central Allocation Team ( CAT) assesses 100% of applications with a view to making a social housing allocation. The service will become an integrated "Housing Options Service" which will incorporate housing advice, homelessness prevention, private sector link work, signposting to other specialist agencies and access to social rented housing.

For those in most need there will be a new "top band" that will receive more robust assessment through the Social Housing Allocations Team. Those in less acute need, and with limited prospects for a social housing allocation, will be offered the housing options service giving advice on alternative options. Due to the shortage of social housing in the area there is a significant role for the private rented sector. For those most likely to be housed in private rented accommodation it is intended that they will be referred to a Perth and Kinross Council Letting Agency which is being set up. This will match assessed housing applicants with accredited private landlords.

The overall approach will take the CHR to a more advanced level and will mean that it is a route into other tenure options. It is a response to homelessness and serious housing pressure in the area. Housing staff at the Council state that there is a need to widen-up the housing marketplace and assure quality for people by managing the letting process. The proposed new approach is supported by the other CHR partners. It will mean that those in the most acute need will be prioritised. There is no financial implication for the other partners.

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