Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 16 Oct 2009
Directorate:
Housing and Social Justice Directorate
Part of:
Housing
ISBN:
9780755991112

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.

237 page PDF

3.0 MB

237 page PDF

3.0 MB

Contents
Common Housing Register (CHR) - building a register: a practitioner's guide
SECTION SIX: CHR MODELS AND OPTIONS FOR INVOLVEMENT

237 page PDF

3.0 MB

SECTION SIX: CHR MODELS AND OPTIONS FOR INVOLVEMENT

Introduction

No two CHRs are the same. And although it would be simpler, in reality there is no one model that works best. There are different ways that a partnership can effectively deliver housing information and advice, a common application form, and a common applicant database.

There is no evidence that one CHR model is better than all the others. Different features can bring advantages or disadvantages. One model will work better than another in a particular local context and CHR partnerships need to decide which CHR model will work best in their local area.

In reality, it is the way in which the CHR model is developed, and not the model used,that is a major deciding factor in any CHRs success. However, there are underlying principles common to successful CHR development.

It is also worth remembering that CHR development is often incremental and may involve putting elements of your CHR in place on your way to establishing a full CHR model.

Developing your CHR Model - Underlying Principles

  • Think of the applicant - the aim of a CHR is to simplify access to social housing for applicants. This approach means that you must firstly consider the common application form and housing information and advice, i.e. the parts of a CHR that the applicant sees. Then, you should consider how you can support this. A full CHR does involve a common database. But there are plenty of examples of CHRs that have launched initially without a common database, simply with a common form and joined up information and advice. This does create more administrative challenges, as you need to work out how to share information without a common system. But it can be a useful short term measure, if managed well.
  • Build a shared vision to take forward - the partnership needs to establish a vision for the CHR that sits well with the visions of the individual landlords. The vision will be the basis for discussions on what to include in your CHR model and what not to include.
  • Think what your organisation wants to get from the CHR - a CHR is only successful if partners are committed, motivated, prepared to invest time and effort, and are prepared to compromise. CHR development should start with a clear idea of what everyone wants from the process. This can only be achieved if you as an organisation are clear about what you want to get from the process, and what issues are less important. This will give you an idea of priorities and limitations.
  • Develop as much commonality as you can - there is very clear evidence that commonality makes CHR development faster, easier, more cost effective and has a better outcome for partners and applicants. If you are committed to making the application process easier, you must think about how you can harmonise partners' policies and procedures. Greater commonality can be achieved without individual organisations feeling that they are losing identity (or being dominated by another partner). Clearly, establishing a shared vision that suits the aspirations of all partners will help the partnership more towards greater commonality.

Detailed guidance on commonality is set out in Section Seven: Developing Commonality.

  • Keep it as simple as possible - it is tempting to want to do everything through your CHR. But try to start with something relatively easy to achieve. CHR development is difficult, and takes time. Being clear and realistic about your aims, and focusing on achieving these can help you to keep your CHR simple. Really think about what is most appropriate in the local housing context, and what you can achieve early on. This helps you to demonstrate and celebrate your success, and the CHR can then be enhanced later on if it works well.
  • Drive the process with committed partners - CHR development is primarily an exercise in joint working. CHR partners who are positive about their experiences are those who have worked closely with a shared vision. Their experience shows that the successful establishment of a CHR revolves around relationship building, compromise, trust and commitment - all essential components of working in partnership.

If some partners do not believe that they can achieve anything worthwhile from the CHR, progress can be severely hindered. If there are a smaller number of committed partners, it might be wise to start the process with them and focus on expanding membership when the CHR has become more established. Partnerships should look for ways to engage more peripheral partners in the process without hindering CHR development such as associate membership or buddying as outlined below.

Building your CHR model

The CHR Practitioner's Guide gives very clear guidance about the practical elements to consider when building your CHR model. These eight core areas remain relevant today:

  • provision of advice on range of housing options within the CHR;
  • application form;
  • home visits;
  • administration (processing, assessing and updating applicant information);
  • allocations policies;
  • health assessments;
  • handling applicants' post-application enquiries; and
  • ICT implications: access to the CHR information.

The building blocks exercise within the initial CHR guide is a useful tool for considering your options, or reviewing your CHR model. It remains relevant for considering the basic model for your CHR. The exercise is available here . ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2004/03/19134/34961)

Examples of CHR models

  • In both Highland and Argyll, a relatively simple CHR model has been adopted. The partners all use the same allocation policy, simplifying the process of setting up and running the CHR.
  • In Edinburgh, a relatively complex model was introduced initially, with an ICT system accommodating a wide range of different policies. This approach has since been simplified.
  • In Inverclyde partners introduced a common application form without a common database, as an initial measure.

Options for involvement

Within any CHR model, there are many different options for landlord participation. Partners can participate in a CHR in very different ways. However, partners are advised that in the interest of simplicity you should aim to compromise and consider the full range of options for involvement.

Landlords need to be clear about how their involvement can best serve applicants and make access to their vacant properties simpler and more effective. RSLs working across local authority areas will need to be particularly careful that the arrangements adopted don't overcomplicate the allocations process either for applicants or staff.

Options: Participation in the common applicant database

A key area where partners choose different levels of involvement is in relation to options for accessing and sharing applicant information and making allocations. There are many examples of different approaches in both England and Scotland. The range of options available depends on:

  • whether partners wish to have their own allocation policy loaded onto the CHR system;
  • whether partners wish to have ICT access to the central database; and
  • whether partners play an administrative role in processing applications.

The examples below illustrate the different options for partners choosing to be a full partner, or those choosing to be an associate partner through mechanisms such as direct nominations, buddying or topslicing and repointing.

Nominations

CHR partners can choose to allocate their properties through taking nominations from another partner with a similar method of prioritising applicants. This means that the partner does not need full access to the database, and can simply contact the other partner for suggested suitable applicants when a property becomes available.

Example: Using 100% nominations and moving towards commonality

The West Lothian Housing Register involves three partners - West Lothian Council, Almond Housing Association and Weslo Housing Management.

When establishing the Housing Register, the three partners considered the ways in which they could best participate. They agreed that the common applicant database would be best hosted through the Council's existing housing management system. At the time, Weslo didn't have a computer based application and allocation system. Weslo also felt that there were strong similarities between the Council's allocation policy and its own. The Council was due to review its allocation policy, and Weslo felt that this was an opportunity to create even more commonality.

"We may eventually go for commonality. But we needed to be realistic. Partners have different systems and don't always want to change. Now partners do seem to see the value of commonality - even a common assessment of need."

As a result, Weslo agreed to accept 100 per cent nominations from West Lothian Council as an interim measure. This meant that Weslo did not need to have access to the ICT system. Instead it simply let the Council know when a property was available, and received nominations from the Council's waiting list.

Weslo and the Council now hope that as a result of the Council allocation policy review they will both be able to use the same allocations policy. This means that the arrangement is likely to continue for Weslo.

Example: A national RSL using 100% nominations

Cairn Housing Association participates in HOME Argyll as a non-core member of the CHR. Having had problems filling some of their sheltered housing in Campbeltown, Cairn approached HOME Argyll to explore working as partners.

Through discussion, arrangements were established whereby Cairn is considered an "associate partner". This means that they:

  • receive 100% nominations from HOME Argyll;
  • do not have access to the database of applicants; and
  • are included on the CHR application form.
  • Involvement in the CHR benefits Cairn in two ways:
  • raised their profile in an area; and
  • reduced void level.

Buddying

In a buddying arrangement a landlord will nominate another landlord (usually with a larger stock presence in the CHR area) to take on their letting function for vacancies in the CHR. The smaller landlord (typically with low stock levels/turnover) will choose the partner that has an allocations policy most similar to its own and will approach them when they have a vacancy in the area. The larger landlord will provide either a single nomination or a shortlist of applicants to the smaller landlord. The smaller landlord will then complete the allocation according to its own procedures, typically conducting a home visit to assess the applicant in line with its own policies.

Example: Buddy arrangement

York Housing Association is a full partner in York where it has most of its stock. But in Leeds it only has 80 properties. It therefore decided that it did not make sense for it to develop a full ICT link with the CHR in Leeds. Instead, the Council acts as its managing agent and provides it with nominees drawn from the CHR on the basis of York's allocations policy. They may then visit and re-assess two or three applicants to make their final selection.

Example: Buddy arrangement

In Bristol, only the larger partners are full partners, with their allocations policies on the system, remote access to that system and with an administrative role. Smaller organisations with little stock in the area do not have their allocation policies on the system, do not have remote access to that system, and do not have an administrative role. Instead, they select one of the full partners to become their "buddy". This organisation then acts as an agent for them.

When a smaller RSL has a vacancy, it approaches its buddy and seeks a shortlist of applicants prioritised according to their buddy's allocations policy, which is loaded onto the system. One of the attractions of this approach is that small organisations can decide which of the full partners' allocations policies is closest to its own, and then choose to have a buddy arrangement with them.

Top-slicing

Another option for partners to consider is top-slicing. There are two ways that this can work. First, partners with similar policies could come to an arrangement. One partner would have access to the system, and pull off a list of a shortlist of applicants eligible for a certain size and type of property, in a particular area as the other partner requires. These applicants could then be re-ordered according to the partners own allocation policy.

Secondly, a variation is for this approach to simply be built into the CHR. A single allocation policy is used to prioritise applicants within the ICT system, and some or all partners can then re-assess the top five or 10 applicants according to their own policy. This approach has the advantage that the ICT system doesn't need to deal with so many different allocation policies, but partners can still have some variation in their policies if required.

Example: Top-slicing

Within the South Somerset CHR, the common database holds a single pool of applicants prioritised according to one allocations policy, which was jointly agreed by all the partners. Landlords seeking to allocate a property then draw a shortlist of highly-pointed applicants from the list according to this policy, and then apply their own allocations policy to re-order the shortlist and make their final selection.

Example: Common list administered by one partner

In Taunton Deane the CHR is run by the Council. The Council holds a central database of all applicants. Twenty-four social landlords are involved in the CHR and there are both full and associate members.

Full partners contact the Council CHR team when a vacancy arises. The Council then faxes back details of around six suitable applicants. The RSL will then take over from here in terms of the assessment, home visits and allocations. Full members do not hold their own list and receive all their applications from the CHR.

Associate partners maintain their own lists but can come to the CHR when they require to do so. This can occur when they have a vacancy which they are having difficulty letting.

Associates are mainly those RSLs catering for those with particular needs and include some regionals and nationals as well as a number of small charitable organisations.

Example: Top-slicing for smaller partners

In Leeds, organisations with less than 120 properties in the area are CHR partners but do not have an ICT link. For these RSLs, the Council acts as a managing agent. If the RSL receives any forms it will forward them to the Council for inputting. When they have a vacancy in their stock, they request a shortlist of suitable applicants which will be selected from the CHR database according to the Council's allocations policy.

Options: Participating in the common application form

CHR partners can participate in different ways in the common application form. In one example, an RSL operates across two local authorities where one area has an operational CHR but the other does not. The RSL has adapted the CHR application form to allow applicants to apply for their stock in both areas. This means that they do not have to fill in two forms.

Other non-core partners - who are not involved in common procedures or policies - may use the common application form as a simple route for clients to access their stock in the area. In practice, this may be as basic as including a tick a box for applicants who want to be sent an application form from a regional or national association which is not a full partner.

Example: Broadening choice through the application form

Dunbritton Housing Association operates in both Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire. Originally there were concerns that this could prove a considerable barrier to their participation in the separate CHRs being developed in both areas. However, both staff and committee members at Dunbritton Housing Association stated their commitment to involvement in the CHR in Argyll and Bute ( HOME Argyll), and were hopeful that through joint working between West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute both CHRs could be developed in a way which took account of Dunbritton's situation.

Dunbritton considered the options of:

  • being full partners in both CHRs; or
  • being a buddy in one or both - asking for information from CHR database from another partner.

They reviewed their stock numbers and progress in both areas, and decided to participate as a full partner in HOME Argyll, as their stock level in this area was growing and CHR development was at a more advanced stage.

Dunbritton includes its West Dunbartonshire stock on the HOME Argyll form. This means that applicants can apply for stock in Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire using the one form, and all information is held in the HOME Argyll common database. In the longer term Dunbritton will consider how to link with the West Dunbartonshire CHR once it is operational. In the meantime, Dunbritton is participating as a full partner in CHR development in West Dunbartonshire.

Example: Ensuring all options are promoted through the form

In Perth and Kinross there are nine housing providers with stock in the area who are not yet directly involved in allocations through the CHR. The guidance which accompanies the common application form gives a full list of the other landlords in the area and lets applicants know that they will have to contact them individually in order to request an application form. As well as contact details the form gives details of where the landlord holds stock, the number and type of homes available and whether there are any criteria for applicants or special features in relation to the properties or allocations process.

Options: Providing housing information and advice

Options for the provision of housing information and advice range from providing basic advice and signposting, to providing more comprehensive housing options advice and undertaking personal housing planning.

Example: Information and advice from a holding landlord

In Manchester, information and advice is provided by the organisation or office which received the original application and holds the case papers. This particular office informs applicants of their housing prospects on behalf of all CHR partners. Staff are trained in providing advice on other partners' stock with extensive information on stock type, availability and turnover which is held on the CHR system. 10

Options: Participation in decisions about the CHR model

Finally, there are options for how organisations actually participate in decisions about the CHR model. Landlords can either fully participate in CHR development, or can use other arrangements to be involved in the development process. For example, some landlords opt to simply receive information about CHR development to help inform their decisions. Others opt to nominate one representative for two or three partners, to limit the staff time dedicated to CHR development.

Landlords with stock in an area where a CHR is being developed will, as a minimum, want to be clear about the vision for the CHR and the emerging model that is being developed. Decisions on the level of involvement will be influenced by the CHR model that is being developed - whether landlords feel they can integrate easily with what is being proposed or whether they need to influence how the CHR will operate. The level of involvement in CHR development, and ongoing involvement will be influenced by the level of stock held in the area and the level of turnover.

Example: Taking only a watching brief

Hanover is a national special needs RSL with housing stock in 10 local authority areas where CHRs are operational or being considered. Hanover have found it feasible to have different levels of involvement in different CHRs. It participates in the national CHRSHOP, - run by Bield, Hanover and Trust Housing Associations. It was also a full partner in Homechoice. It represented Bield and Margaret Blackwood in CHR development in the Scottish Borders. And it maintains a watching brief over Fife, Renfrewshire and North Lanarkshire CHRs. 11

Landlords operating across more than one local authority area

Decisions about how to participate in CHRs are vital for all landlords. But they are particularly important for regional and national landlords operating across more than one local authority area. Guidance for national and regional RSLs 12 identified that in Scotland, nearly a third of RSLs work in more than one local authority area. Of these, 28 operate in three or more areas and nine operate in ten or more areas. Several have stock in more than 20 areas. While some RSLs have a relatively even distribution of stock across all their areas of operation, others have most of their stock in one area, with much smaller holdings in other local authorities. The Scottish Government guidance for national and regional landlords states that it may not be practical for regional and national RSLs to be fully involved and electronically integrated with CHRs in every area in which they have stock.

Regional and national landlords should think about the type of involvement they want to have in a CHR - and consider the options for involvement outlined above. There is no single answer to the difficulties faced by regional and national RSLs in Scotland. The decision depends on the local housing context, and what is acceptable to CHR partners.

Example: A national landlord working across a range of CHRs

Cairn Housing Association is a national housing association with over 3000 homes under management across Scotland. Cairn HA is involved in a number of operational CHRs and in discussions with CHR partnerships developing their CHR. They have varying levels of stock in different CHR areas. They have chosen different levels of involvement varying from full partner status to involvement as an associate partner accepting 100% nominations.

Involvement as a full partner in Highland and Edinburgh

Cairn HA wanted to be fully involved in the Highland Housing Register ( HHR) because they felt it was important to have a partnership which covered the whole of the Highlands.

"This is about making sure the right people get the right homes. The partners wanted a consistent service across the Highlands."

Cairn HA participates in the same way as the other full partners, having adopted shared policies and procedures. Cairn HA makes a financial contribution based on an agreed formula (used to assess all partner contributions).

Cairn HA is also a full partner in EdIndex where policies and procedures were harmonised between the landlords operating traditional lettings (non- CBL). For Cairn HA, shared policies and procedures have not been a problem, as each organisation can still decide and agree its own priorities, and let properties accordingly. The harmonisation has made the system easier to understand for applicants.

As a national housing association, Cairn HA has recognised that there will be different approaches in areas across Scotland: "You can't be rigid and say we are a national so we do it this way."

Involvement as an associate partner in Argyll & Bute and East Dunbartonshire

In East Dunbartonshire where the CHR is in development Cairn HA have only a small number of properties and very low turnover - typically only one vacancy each year. As such they are not a main player in housing provision in area. However, they are supportive of the CHR and wanted to find the most straightforward way of becoming involved.

Cairn HA previously had a 50% nomination arrangement with the Council in East Dunbartonshire and they recognised that a shift to 100% nominations would have minimal impact due to their low turnover in the area. Accepting 100% nomination was considered to be the most practical of participating. It would mean an additional landlord for CHR applicants to choose from, and would reduce their work on allocations for such a small amount of stock.

Cairn HA have a similar 100% nominations arrangement with the HOME Argyll CHR where they have a small amount of sheltered housing in Campbeltown. When the CHR was developed Cairn HA decided to re-establish the nominations arrangement they had previously held with the local Council. For Cairn HA, this would help overcome the problems of trying to let stock in Campbeltown from an office in Glasgow as well as being the most practical way of participating in the CHR in relation to their relatively small amount of stock.

How can we change our approach during development?

It is unlikely that the ideas generated at your first CHR meeting will become the final model for your CHR. Issues may come up which represent an obstacle to progress and mean that a change of approach is necessary. Typically, a change of approach is required to overcome a practical issue or make the CHR model more effective, or to reach agreement on a model which is acceptable to partners.

Example: Rethinking the CHR model during development

In West Dunbartonshire partners have found new impetus having reached an impasse in the development of a CHR in the area. New life was breathed into the development process following some external support from the Scottish Housing Best Value Network ( SHBVN). Although there had been initial progress in mapping areas of commonality, investigating options and holding discussions with national/regional RSLs, CHR meetings in West Dunbartonshire had not lead to an agreement on procedures or policies. At this time of initial development, many people involved in the CHR felt that progress was slow. Some partners felt that certain partners were more motivated than others and that interest dwindled following the end of the CHR Coordinator's contract.

Partners felt that the CHR had not made sufficient progress and so came to a decision to formally take stock of developments to date. This process was put out to tender for an independent view on what the CHR had achieved and what the next steps should be. In December 2007, the SHBVN facilitated a discussion with WDC and the partners about the future of the CHR. All the core partners attended. This meeting was felt to be of value and the first step in getting the partners together again around the table. Following the SHBVN discussion, the partner organisations in West Dunbartonshire agreed, with renewed optimism, to work towards a CHR.

"The partners were quite motivated; they agreed there needed to be a change - a compromise to get something up and running, even if it wasn't all singing all dancing." ( CHR partner)

CHR development is now well underway with partners having agreed a draft common application form, and are discussing the details of a common allocations policy.

How can we change our model once we are up and running?

When you have agreed your CHR model, worked through the detail and got the new processes up and running you should still be receptive to making changes. It is likely that the CHR may have to be amended as local contexts change. Often CHRs are established with a view to further development later on in terms of expanding the number of partners and/or developing the scope/sophistication of the CHR model.

Partnerships may also identify operational problems with their CHR or feel that a change to the model will make the CHR more effective. Clearly, there needs to be strong monitoring and evaluation processes in place to ensure that any problems or inefficiencies can be identified.

The Scottish Government has produced a national monitoring framework for CHRs. 13 This was designed to help CHRs 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 emphasises 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." SHBVN 14

Across Scotland there are several examples of CHR models being further developed after implementation. The examples below demonstrate how a CHR can be changed to make it simpler and easier for applicants to understand, and how a CHR can be developed to make it more automated.

Example: Rethinking the CHR model once operational

EdIndex, the CHR for Edinburgh, has developed substantially since its launch in 2003. At that time the CHR consisted of a common application form, central administration and a shared ICT database and system, but each partner still retained their own allocation and assessment policies.

Since then there has been recognition that having 25 separate allocations policies has made the development of the CHR particularly the common application form and the supporting ICT system complex. Partners also felt it was potentially confusing for applicants. Following a partner event in 2006, work began on developing greater commonality. Partners have gone down two routes to do this. Some landlords have adopted a harmonised assessment of need and others have adopted a Choice Based Lettings approach. This has resulted in essentially two systems running where there were 25 before.

Partners in Edinburgh stressed the need to continually review your CHR when it is up and running. They also feel it is important to work with other RSLs to explore what their plans are, and work together where possible. It is important to build on common areas, and not to develop your approach in isolation from the CHR.

"You can't rest on your laurels. You need to keep an eye on it. You need to keep developing and shaping the system."

Example: Rethinking the CHR model once operational

The Perth and Kinross CHR has continued to develop since it was established in 1996. The CHR involves three core partners - although a comparatively small number of landlords, these three own the vast majority of stock in the area (over 95%). The original CHR model involved a common application form, a central processing unit, and an ICT system that would repoint the waiting list according to the separate allocations policies. Management of the database has been the responsibility of the local authority. Since setting up the CHR partners have continued with their own allocations policies and have sought to make the ICT more integrated.

The partnership introduced new software for the CHR in order to link in each of the core partners to the database. This allows partners to download shortlists directly, pointed according to their allocations policy. The system also has built-in additional features such as automated overcrowding calculation.

Moving to a more sophisticated ICT system clearly has implications in terms of costs and staff time. Transferring information from one system to the next was a more lengthy process than partners had predicted. ICT can make the process more complex and one partner had to overcome initial difficulties in terms of establishing a secure interface. But initial problems are being overcome: "The ICT is getting easier and people are understanding it better."