10. Approaches to Allocating Properties
This section looks at the routes into housing and the approaches landlords use when allocating.
By working through this section readers will:
- be aware of the various routes through which people can access social housing.
- have an overview of the two allocations approaches, needs-based and Choice-Based Letting.
- know about Common Housing Registers.
- know about giving reasonable preference to statutorily homeless applicants, quotas and targets and the use of housing protocols.
- understand how to make best use of stock and when to exercise discretion.
- understand how and when local connection can be taken into account, including through the use of Local Lettings Initiatives.
- have ideas about how to tackle low demand.
10.1 Routes into housing
There are many ways in which people can access social housing or make a move to a different social tenancy. These may include any or all of the routes listed below.
Direct applicants: direct applicants are those who are on the housing list of a landlord and not already a tenant of that landlord. Landlords will often refer to this group of applicants as being waiting list applicants.
Transfer: a transfer occurs when a landlord makes another of its properties available to one of their own tenants who wishes to move and has joined the housing list.
Nominations: a nomination takes place when one landlord (usually a local authority) nominates an applicant for housing to another (usually an RSL) under formal agreements. This can include, but is not restricted to, homeless households. It may also happen, for example, with a proportion of RSL new build vacancies or where an RSL has given a local authority nomination rights for a percentage of any of its vacancies.
Section 5 referrals: a Section 5 referral occurs when the local authority refers a statutorily homeless household to an RSL for housing. Section 5 of the 2001 Act sets out the rules on Section 5 referrals.
Mutual exchange: this is where two social housing tenants, whether or not from the same landlord, exchange homes and tenancies. There are a number of privately-run national mobility scheme providers who offer a mutual exchange service to tenants looking to exchange their property with another tenant. These include House Exchange https://www.houseexchange.org.uk/ HomeSwapper https://www.homeswapper.co.uk and Ukhomeswap http://www.ukhomeswap.co.uk/. Some landlords or groups or landlords also run their own home swap schemes.
Referral schemes: schemes where voluntary organisations or other agencies refer applicants for housing so that the agency can give support.
Exceptional circumstances: many landlords also provide housing in exceptional cases when the standard approach set out within their allocation policy will not result in a critical housing need being met.
Management transfer: There may be occasions when a landlord needs to move one or some of its current tenants. This might, for example, be if a property or properties are being demolished or where repairs will take a long time to complete. Where landlords need to move a tenant because of a serious housing management problem, this might also be done as a management transfer.
10.2 Allocations approaches
There are two primary approaches landlords use to allocate their properties, needs-based or Choice-Based Lettings (CBL). There are many variations on both and landlords will always want to consider what will suit their local context and work best for applicants.
Whatever approach is used, it is important that a landlord considers the reasonable preference groups set out in law when awarding priority and decides what provision to make for different types and levels of need within each category. It should also ensure that it considers how they will meet their legal duties on homelessness.
The needs-based approach remains the most frequently used in Scotland, with applicants for housing having their housing needs assessed based on the priority given under the allocation policy.
Priority is usually based on varying numbers of points being awarded for each housing need. The level of points will also depend on the severity of the housing need. So, for example, a landlord might award five points for being overcrowded by one bedroom but 10 points for being overcrowded by two bedrooms.
The overall number of points an applicant will receive will be the total of all their housing needs points added together. For example, an applicant might receive both overcrowding and medical priority. The points awarded would be added together to produce a total level of priority under the policy.
Banding is less frequently used but when it is, a landlord will have a number of bands of priority. Applicants will be placed into a band based on the most serious housing need they have. For example, a landlord operates bands A to D, with band A representing the most serious housing needs. If an applicant has Band B medical award and Band C overcrowding award, they would be placed into Band B.
When a property becomes available, each landlord will have a system in place for deciding whether the allocation is made to the general housing list (sometimes called the waiting list), the transfer list or to statutorily homeless applicants. This will usually be based on lettings targets or quotas the landlord has set out. Further information on targets and quotas, along with making lets to homeless households, is set out below.
If a landlord has decided to offer the property to a general list or transfer list applicant, it will generally offer the property to the applicant on that list who has the highest number of points, or the highest banding, and who needs a property of that size or type.
If there is more than one applicant with equivalent priority, landlords will usually take waiting time into account. This means that waiting time is not being used as a primary factor to decide who is to be made an offer but is being used to distinguish between applicants with an equivalent level of priority under the allocation policy.
In a needs-based system the landlord will contact the applicant and offer them the property. Landlords will generally only make an offer of housing of the type and in the areas the applicant has said they are interested in.
Once the offer has been made, the applicant will decide whether to accept the offer or not. Some landlords limit the number of offers that are given and refusing a number of reasonable offers could result in suspension from the housing list.
Landlords who use a Choice-Based Letting (CBL) approach tend to do so because they believe it offers greater choice for applicants and can help support tenancy sustainability.
Meeting housing need and allocating properties in a fair and equal way should be remain the underpinning principles of a CBL system just as for a needs-based approach.
The fundamental premise behind CBLs is that it is the applicant themselves who takes the initiative in securing a property. No CBL system is exactly alike but key features of those operating in Scotland are:
- applicants fill in a registration form to join the housing list or register;
- the landlord will assess the applicant's housing need. If the applicant has a housing need according to the landlord's allocation policy, they will be given a priority pass to use when bidding for a property. Priority awards or passes are often gold, silver or bronze, with a gold pass being given to those in the most serious housing need;
- landlords advertise vacant properties and applicants make a bid for those that they consider meet their preferences and needs;
- a list of all bids received for each advertised property is drawn up;
- an offer is made to the applicant with the highest level of priority pass. If more than one applicant has the same priority, the applicant with the earliest date of registration on the housing list would be offered the property; and
- landlords give feedback on the outcome of allocations to help unsuccessful applicants understand their likelihood of success when bidding for other properties.
Support for applicants
CBL schemes require applicants to be proactive and place bids for housing themselves. Some applicants will find this difficult and landlords will need to have arrangements in place to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged because they find it difficult to place bids.
This will include providing support to applicants to make bids. This might include supporting people with learning difficulties, people with mental health problems, older people, people with chaotic lifestyles and those with no access to the internet.
Landlords could provide direct help to applicants by providing specialised customer support staff to guide them through the process. They may also need a system for bidding on behalf of some applicants.
Practice example - Supporting vulnerable applicants, Wheatley Group
The Wheatley Group has introduced an 'Assisted Bidding Service' for all homeless applicants that are not actively bidding within the first 12 weeks of receiving priority to support homeless households secure a positive housing outcome.
For all vulnerable applicants who have asked for the service, staff check available properties on a weekly basis to identify any that match to the customer and then place a note of interest for them.
If the property is not exactly in the applicant's area of choice but is close by, staff try to contact the applicant to see if they would be interested in the property.
If they can't contact the applicant, they still place the note of interest to ensure that they do not miss out on a potential offer.
Applicants still have the option to refuse any offer that is made to them.
When Wheatley customers are due to be re-registered on the housing list, staff are notified of all customers who have requested support to apply for housing.
Staff then contact them directly to find out the details of where they would like to live, including which streets, type of property, size, and maximum floor level.
The University of Stirling has produced a Policy Briefing on CBL which landlords may find useful. The Briefing is available from the University of Stirling's website at: https://dspace.stir.ac.uk/bitstream/1893/25970/1/Choice%20Based%20Letting%20%28CBL%29.pdf
Waiting time and time limits
In many CBL systems, 'date of registration' (how long applicants have been on the list) is a key factor in determining which applicant is successful when bidding for a property.
As with a needs-based system, landlords can take waiting time into account when allocating but it must not be at the expense of giving reasonable preference to applicants within the priority groups.
Many landlords impose time limits on priority awards which mean that applicants only have priority over other applicants on the housing list for a restricted time.
Where these are applied, they should be reasonable and appropriate. Time limits are generally most appropriate for applicants with an urgent need to move. They are less appropriate for applicants who have specific, long term housing needs and who may have to wait a long time before housing to meet their needs becomes available, for example applicants who need specially adapted housing.
If time limits are used, care must be taken not to put applicants in a position where they have no choice. For example, trying to minimise the time people spend in temporary accommodation should not put homeless applicants in a position where they have no real choice but to bid for properties that are in low demand that may be unsuitable for their needs.
Time limits should reflect the time that it is likely to take for housing to become available that actually meets the applicant's needs. Landlords should not use time-limited priority as a means of pressuring applicants into moving to properties which do not meet their needs.
Where an applicant with a priority award does not make a bid within the set timescale, this should not result in an automatic withdrawal of priority. Rather, a landlord should use it as a trigger for a housing options discussion with the applicant, followed by extending the time limit where necessary.
Categories of applicant
When advertising properties, landlords often suggest what type of applicant can bid or who will be given preference for a property. This is done to match applicants most appropriately to the properties that are available, for example to match applicants with mobility issues to accessible housing.
Some landlords specify in the advert that only certain categories of applicant can bid for that property. For example, it might be that only statutory homeless applicants can place a bid. Landlords who choose to do this need to have clear rationale about why they have made the decision to impose any restrictions and make sure that such properties are a cross section of those available to let.
Practice example - Helping to give choice to nominated applicants, Orkney Housing Association
When Orkney Housing Association moved to a CBL system, Orkney Islands Council wanted to retain control of Section 5 referrals and nominations.
Previously, when the Association had a vacancy that was to be made available to the Council, the Council would make either a nomination or a Section 5 referral. The Association felt applicants who were being nominated did not have the same choice as those placing bids.
Under their new approach, the Association asks the Council if it has any suitable homeless applicants and if it does that applicant receives an offer.
If there is no suitable homeless applicant, the property is advertised. The list of people who have expressed an interest is forwarded to Orkney Islands Council which then nominates the person with the highest priority according to its allocation policy.
This has allowed Orkney Islands Council nominees the same type of choice as afforded to the Association's own applicants. It has also reduced the number of refusals on properties.
Feedback for applicants on allocations made
One of the key features of CBL schemes is that landlords publish the outcomes of the bidding process. This helps applicants to understand how likely they are to be successful when they bid in future. The type of information landlords provide includes:
- the number of bids made for individual properties;
- which groups were successful; and
- the frequency of properties becoming available by area and type.
When publishing information on successful bids, landlords need to make sure that they do not reveal any personal details about the successful applicant. This information will also be useful for staff providing housing options information and advice.
Monitoring Choice Based Lettings
Landlords will need to monitor how their CBL system is working and ensure that they are giving priority to applicants in the reasonable preference categories. Landlords should consider monitoring patterns of bidding including:
- the proportion of applicants bidding at any one time compared with the whole list.
- the proportion of applicants in various categories (for example homeless, other needs groups, 'assisted' applicants and applicants in the diversity groups) who are not bidding and reasons for not bidding.
They should also monitor:
- equality - whether those with protected characteristics are joining the list, are placing bids, and are having success in finding a home;
- support - the effectiveness of the support that is available for those who need it;
- overall outcomes - the proportion of properties going to applicants who are homeless and in the other reasonable legal preference;
- tenancy sustainment - whether tenancies are lasting longer through CBL than they did under a previous system; and
- applicant satisfaction - satisfaction levels of those who are successful through a CBL system and those who been unsuccessful so far.
10.3 Common Housing Registers
The 2001 Act enabled landlords to consider the options for setting up a Common Housing Register (CHR) in their area and there are now many CHRs operating in Scotland.
CHRs make it easier for people to apply for social housing as they only need to fill in one application form and join one common housing list that a number of social landlords use to allocate their housing.
The size and scope of CHRs varies throughout Scotland but typically they share three main components:
- a single application form for all applicants;
- a single database for all applicants seeking housing; and
- a joined-up approach to providing housing information and advice.
Some social landlords also have a single shared allocation policy while in some areas, landlords have a single allocation policy but do not operate a CHR.
A CHR Guide: Building a Common Housing Register: A Practitioner's Guide is available from the Scottish Government's website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/chr-guide-building-common-housing-register-practitioners-guide/. The Guide contains information on the benefits of CHRs for both landlords and applicants and provides a toolkit for developing CHRs.
10.4 Approach to giving reasonable preference to statutorily homeless applicants
Irrespective of whether a needs-based or CBL approach is being used, a landlord's allocation policy should be structured around giving reasonable preference to those considered to be in greatest housing need.
Councils should secure settled accommodation for statutorily homeless applicants as soon as possible and should minimise any unavoidable period in temporary accommodation. Local authorities should make sure that:
- homeless applicants are given enough priority to make sure that they secure settled housing quickly;
- they do not apply suspensions of offers of housing to homeless applicants; and
- they publish their policy on allocating to homeless people.
Local authority landlords should make sure that they are making an appropriate level of allocations to homeless people. All local authorities can increase the supply of settled housing through nomination and/or section 5 arrangements with RSLs.
Local authorities must always consider people's personal circumstances and wishes. In considering what is a reasonable offer, they should take into account the particular circumstances of the applicant. This may include, for example, the need to consider:
- any physical/learning disabilities or mental health problems;
- the family, making sure that they are not split up;
- the need to be near friends or relatives and other formal or informal support networks; and
- the location of applicants' employment, education or training establishments, or health services.
Scottish Government Guidance on Meeting the Best Interests of Children Facing Homelessness covers co-ordinating and carry out their duties under Part II of the 1987 Act in relation to children facing homelessness or threatened with homeless. The aim is to make sure that landlords meet the best interests of such children fully and equitably across the country. The Guidance is available from the Scottish Government's website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/best-interests-of-children-facing-homelessness/
Landlords should not concentrate offers to homeless people in particular areas or types of properties. In general, the profile of offers/allocations to homeless people should mirror those of offers/allocations to other types of applicants. The Code of Guidance identifies the placement of homeless people in low demand housing as poor practice.
Local authorities who are considering not making an offer of housing to an applicant because of significant unpaid rent arrears or service charges should consider their responsibilities to statutory homeless households. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness includes approaches to households who have become homeless due to financial problems.
Registered Social Landlords
When a person who appears to be homeless or threatened with homelessness applies directly to an RSL, staff should, as part of discussions on their housing options, advise them to contact their local authority to apply for homeless assistance.
RSLs should also get the person to make a direct housing application to them. In some cases, the RSL may be able to house the applicant directly from its housing list in time to prevent a worsening of their housing situation. For example, an applicant who also has a statutory homeless decision from the local authority because of domestic abuse may also receive a very high level of priority through the unsatisfactory housing conditions reason preference group in the allocation policy.
Under section 5 of the 2001 Act RSLs have a duty to house statutory homeless people. As set out in Section 4, RSLs have to meet section 5 requests from local authorities unless there are good reasons not to. However, if after contacting the applicant an RSL discovers changes of circumstances which could affect the statutory homeless decision, it should inform the local authority.
RSLs and local authorities should work in partnership to make sure there is a common understanding of each party's duties and responsibilities. They should also put in place effective agreements/protocols for their operation.
10.5 Quotas and targets
Many social landlords set quotas or targets to achieve a spread of allocations over the various needs factors. These tend to be structured around the proportion of lets being made to homeless households, those on the general needs list or waiting list and those on the transfer list.
As noted above, in setting any quotas or targets landlords must ensure that they do not give homeless people lesser preference than other groups of applicants. This means that any weighting landlords give to different types of housing need, must reflect their obligations to make a reasonable proportion of their lets available to homeless households.
Landlords may also set other targets based on housing needs. For example, a landlord could set a target for the under-occupation reasonable preference group. However, as some types of housing need will be very demand driven, and if there are not applicants with that type of housing need, it may not always be possible to meet any target that has been set.
Landlords should base any targets or quotas on the information they have gathered on housing need and demand in their area based on the profile of applicants on the housing list. They will need to consider:
- the size and composition of their housing list, including the housing needs applicants have; and
- the profile of their stock and the vacancies which are likely to become available.
Landlords should avoid setting rigid quotas which cannot be amended quickly to reflect changing circumstances and they should ensure they have flexibility to continue meeting significant housing need when a quota or target has been reached.
Landlords should monitor who is being allocated properties and publish information on performance against the targets they have set. Given the potential need for change, targets may be better set out in a published annual letting plan rather than within the allocation policy itself. An annual letting plan sets out the profile of properties which a landlord might expect to become available over the following year and how the landlord intends to distribute those properties between different groups of applicants. This is usually expressed as a 'percentage of all allocations' target.
10.6 Nomination agreements
Historically local authorities and RSLs have a nomination agreement in place where local authorities nominate applicants from their own lists for an agreed percentage of an RSL's annual vacancies. Nomination agreements acknowledge that more people are likely to join the local authority's housing list than that of an RSL.
Nomination agreements should have clear aims and be based on a robust analysis of need and demand. There should also be clear guidelines for accepting or rejecting nominees and for resolving disputes.
RSLs should make sure that their allocation policy reflects arrangements for section 5 referrals. Councils and RSLs can agree to offset section 5 referrals against nomination quotas, but they do not have to. The achievement of a quota is not a 'good reason' for refusing a section 5 referral.
Nomination agreements should be regularly reviewed to ensure they reflect changing needs and demand.
Many landlords have protocols or formal working arrangements with partners, such as Social Work services or Women's Aid, setting out how they will work together in a co-ordinated way to make sure that groups of applicants with particular needs or vulnerabilities have their needs assessed and addressed.
Groups for which landlords may want to consider having protocols with partners include:
- young people leaving care;
- people leaving long term hospital care;
- people leaving the Armed Forces;
- people leaving prison;
- people who have experienced domestic abuse;
- people with disabilities; and
Information Point - Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone (SHORE)
The Scottish Quality Standards - Housing advice, information and support for people in and leaving prison (SHORE) covers practice on imprisonment, during sentence and prior to release.
The standards are aimed at ensuring the housing needs of individuals in prison are addressed at an early stage and in a consistent way across Scotland. This should be regardless of where a prisoner lives, their housing status and how long they have been in prison or young offenders' institution.
They are designed to ensure that people leaving prison can access services and accommodation in the same way as people living in the community. They are aimed at maximising opportunities to provide stable settled housing from the start (tenure neutral) - specifically aiming to avoid emergency accommodation on the day of liberation.
They recommend that housing, community justice partners and the third sector should develop multi-agency protocols with local housing providers and third sector organisations. These protocols will describe the local processes between community justice partners and prisons and will complement the national standards.
The SHORE Standards can be found on the Scottish Prison Service website at: http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Publications/Publication-5363.aspx
The focus of protocols should be on planning ahead and preventing a housing crisis. Key elements should include:
- developing a shared understanding of the needs of the particular group;
- developing good information and support for applicants;
- ensuring that staff have a good understanding of the particular needs of these applicants; and
- planning ahead to obtain a housing solution and prevent a housing crisis occurring. As with any other housing allocation, if a landlord makes an allocation based on anything other than the rules set out within its allocation policy it should keep a record of the reasons behind that allocation.
Practice example - Glasgow's Leaving Care Services Protocol
Glasgow's Leaving Care Services Protocol was developed in 2007. Since then, 257 care leavers have moved into their own tenancies.
For the vast majority of the young people involved, this has been life changing and instrumental in securing permanency and stability in adult life.
The Protocol is managed by Continuing Care Services (Social Work) who look to ensure that the Protocol is only used when young care leavers are tenancy ready. The Protocol is now established fully as the agreed and successful route of obtaining tenancies for care leavers who are ready for their own tenancy.
Twenty-two Glasgow RSLs are now working to the Protocol and the signs are positive that young people are getting social rented homes which meet their needs and are receiving greater support in their transition to permanent accommodation in Glasgow than ever before.
Further information on working together and protocols within an early intervention approach to preventing homelessness are included in the Code of Guidance on Homelessness. The Guidance is available from the Scottish Government's website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/prevention-homelessness-guidance/
Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
The National Accommodation Strategy for Sex Offenders (NASSO), forms part of the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and explains how housing contributes to those arrangements. The Strategy sets out the arrangements for housing offenders subject to the sex offender notification requirements, also known as registered sex offenders. The Strategy focuses on assessing and managing the risks that sex offenders under MAPPA may pose by living in a particular community, location and property.
MAPPA minimises the potential risk each sex offender may pose by requiring the police, the Scottish Prison Service and local authorities to work together to assess and manage such risks. Social housing providers have a duty to co-operate with them. MAPPA arrangements in each local authority will cover the arrangements for accessing housing.
MAPPA guidance is available on the Scottish Government's website: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/multi-agency-public-protection-arrangements-mappa-national-guidance-2016/
The NASSO is available on the Scottish Government's website: https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-accommodation-strategy-sex-offenders-scotland/
10.8 Making the best use of housing stock
Scotland's social housing stock is a vital public resource and landlord's will want to make sure they make best use of their stock when allocating properties.
When making allocations decisions landlords need to consider the match between the needs of the applicant and the features of the property. This should include considering whether the potential tenant would make best use of the property available.
Which applicant will be offered an available property will depend on:
- the reasonable preference groups and the priority categories set out in the allocation policy;
- any quotas or letting targets in place;
- the applicant's individual circumstances requirements and preferences; and
- the property, its size and location and suitability.
Most landlords using a needs-based approach will have a housing management ICT system which generates a general or transfer list for any allocation based on property size, the choices of area an applicant has made, and priority under the policy.
The list which will include anyone needing a property of that size and will then show applicants in descending order of priority.
There will sometimes be good reasons why the applicant at the top of the list is not offered the property and is by-passed on that occasion. Common reasons for this include:
the property is ground floor and accessible and the applicant does not need those features and there is another applicant who does.
the applicant has already refused a very similar property and has said they are not interested in receiving a similar offer.
Where an applicant is by-passed to make best use of available housing stock, landlords should keep a record of the reasons behind their decision. This information will help in monitoring the operation of the allocation policy and ensuring that there is no systematically disadvantaging of particular individuals or groups.
Best use of properties which have been designed or adapted for people with particular needs should be made by allocating them to someone who needs a property of that type.
Practice example - Making best use of stock, Horizon Housing Association
Horizon Housing Association has a new development of 12 cottage flats in a small West Lothian village. It was built in response to a strong need, and desire, from older people in the village to remain in their home community and not to have to move elsewhere to find suitable housing for their older age.
Horizon wanted to make sure that allocations reflected this local need but as there had previously been no suitable properties available for older people in the village, there was no existing housing list. It undertook an awareness raising campaign with posters in local shops, community centre, and the health centre.
The Housing Officer visited the lunch club and dementia cafe and worked with the local community council to raise awareness that the new homes would be coming available. Horizon then developed a local lettings plan in conjunction with the Council and the community council, to prioritise allocation to older people from the area who needed to move to a more suitable home as a result of a long-term health condition, including dementia, or who wanted to downsize in order to maintain their independence and remain in and continue contributing to their village community.
All properties were pre-allocated six months prior to the completion date to allow tenants to have input on design features and to ensure that the properties met individuals' needs.
Before moving in, all new tenants were given opportunities to meet Horizon staff and their new neighbours. A good sense of community has developed, and the new homes have also strengthened links with young people in the village. There are plans for tenants and pupils of the adjacent primary school to work together in developing plans to enhance the surrounding landscaping.
10.9 Limiting the number of offers made
Landlords want to relet properties as quickly as possible to minimise void rent loss and ensure that empty properties become a new home for someone in housing need as soon as possible.
One approach used by landlords is to limit the number of reasonable offers they make to any applicant. This approach is designed to minimise the time lost in making offers that are not accepted.
If landlords are going to limit the number of offers made, their approach must be set out clearly in their allocation policy and should be covered as part of any housing options interview. Applicants should also be reminded of the policy when an offer of housing is made to them.
Practice varies in terms of number of reasonable offers made but generally tends to be in the range of one to three offers. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness contains more detail on offers to homeless applicants. It recommends that homeless people should be treated in the same way as other housing applicants in terms of number of offers received.
Landlords should make sure that they have detailed, accurate and up-to-date information about applicants' needs and preferences so that, as far as possible, any offers made match their needs and preferences. Where an applicant refuses one or more reasonable offers of housing, a first step would be to encourage the applicant to review and discuss the choices they have made in terms of area and type of property. Where they decline to do this or does so but then continues to turn down offers, suspension may be a reasonable response.
Landlords may choose to make initial contact with an applicant to see if they are interested in a particular property. If they are not, for example because they are currently unwell, or the property is too far from their children's school, a landlord might choose to bypass that applicant. This approach will not only help avoid suspending applicants unnecessarily because of reasonable offers refused but should also help with re-letting as quickly as possible.
10.10 Exceptional circumstances and using discretion
Irrespective of how well an allocation policy reflects local housing need, there will always be occasions when a landlord will need to use its discretion and make an allocation outwith the core policy.
An example of this would be if Police Scotland recommends someone moves home because they are being harassed and asks a landlord to help rehouse the person immediately.
Landlords may also have a general list applicant or a tenant who urgently needs temporary rehousing, but their circumstances are not covered by their allocation policy. For example, if someone has lost their home to fire or their home has developed a serious structural defect and it is not safe to stay there.
When using discretion, applicants should have exceptional level of need, greater than others on the list or the circumstances are so extreme or unusual that the allocation policy cannot adequately assess and prioritise them.
If an allocation policy is working effectively landlords should not need to exercise discretion on a regular basis. If the same extreme or unusual housing needs arise frequently, landlords should consider reviewing the needs groups set out in their policy.
Landlords should keep clear audit trails when discretion has been used and record the reasons for the allocation. They should have a clear authorisation process in place, for example with authorisation by a team leader or housing manager.
10.11 Sensitive allocations
Sensitive allocations, sometimes known as sensitive lettings, are aimed at ensuring that individual allocations do not lead to housing management problems and results in a sustainable tenancy. Instead of automatically allocating a property to the applicant at the top of the list, careful consideration is given to the suitability of the applicant for the vacancy, based on the information they have about the applicant and the knowledge they have about the property, its location or neighbours.
A suitable and sustainable allocation is one where there is a good probability of it providing a long term and stable solution for the applicant and surrounding neighbours.
In allocating housing, landlords will need to balance a range of factors including:
- the individual's housing need;
- the suitability of the house for that applicant; and
- the needs of their prospective neighbours.
The Code of Guidance on Homelessness states that "Examples of poor practice might include placing people in hard to let housing which may exacerbate the problems which led to homelessness in the first place; or placing families with social or other problems in the same area, which can cause problems for both those from the area itself and for housing management." Landlords should keep these principles in mind when letting to all applicants, not just to those who are homeless.
Landlords should only use a sensitive allocations approach where there are good reasons for doing so and have clear processes for staff to follow, including keeping a record of why decisions were made.
Landlords should monitor their use of sensitive lets. Landlords can use discretion in lettings but in doing so they should develop a framework which makes sure these decisions are accountable, transparent and their use carefully monitored.
10.12 Taking local need into account
Although legislation requires landlords to give reasonable preference to certain groups when allocating their houses, they can also take other factors into account.
Landlords can choose to give some priority on the basis of local connection. However, they must be clear about their reasons for using local connection as a needs factor. They must not give extra priority for the length of time someone has lived in the area.
Local Lettings Initiatives
A Local Letting Initiative (LLI) can be a useful way of taking specific local factors into account. Allocation policies should set out why and when they may be used. The circumstances under which an LLI might be appropriate could include:
- high demand - to prioritise access for types of applicant, for example in rural communities where local people have problems accessing housing to stay in their community;
- low demand - to stimulate demand;
- increasing incidence of antisocial behaviour - to try to reverse the trend; and
- a local initiative or new build programme.
- must comply with all relevant legislation;
- should be operated alongside the main policy, and act as an additional set of circumstances which will be considered or rules which will be applied;
- should apply to a specific geographical area and be supported by evidence on why it is required;
- should have clear outcomes and be time limited; and
- must be published.
Landlords should consult with tenants, applicants and other key stakeholders when developing an LLI and have an effective monitoring framework in place to make sure the aims of the LLI are being met.
Practice example - Local Letting Initiative, Govanhill Housing Association
Govanhill Housing Association is undertaking a Property Acquisition and Repair Programme in tenement blocks in the South West of Govanhill. They are using funds provided by Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government to purchase properties from the private rented sector.
An LLI is in place to cover lettings in the area and is focused on an area which has previously experienced high turnover and low demand. The objectives of the LLI include:
- increasing demand for social housing in the area and for one and two-bedroom properties;
- actively encouraging interest from people who want to make Govanhill their home for the longer-term and providing them with housing in Govanhill; and
- working towards creating a mix of households within each of the tenement blocks and a stable community in the area overall.
As part of their work, security and flexibility offered by a social rented tenancy is being highlighted along with the quality of the housing management and repairs service they provide. The Association is encouraging people who are interested in living in Govanhill to make a housing application and are offering an enhanced housing options interview to those living in or who wish to live in the South West Govanhill area.
The approach to allocating properties in the Programme area is based on the main allocation policy but:
- allows greater flexibility in terms of to which of the general, transfer or homelessness groups they make allocations;
- enables offers to be made to applicants who already have ties to the South West Govanhill area. In particular, additional priority based on moving to the area for work or to give or receive support may be given; and
- enables them to make offers to applicants who are clear they want to make South West Govanhill their home. This includes working closely with Glasgow City Council to ensure that any homeless households being referred for housing in the area genuinely wish to live in South West Govanhill.
The Association monitors the operation of the LLI, including from an equality perspective. It has recently been reviewed and will remain in place for another year.
10.13 Letting low demand properties
Low demand stock is characterised by high levels of empty houses, small or non-existent housing lists, high refusal rates and low levels of tenancy sustainment.
Landlords use a variety of initiatives to stimulate demand for and improve lettings outcomes in low demand properties and increase the number of allocations in the area. These generally involve a change in approach - from rationing a scarce resource to marketing a product.
Before deciding to adopt a different approach to allocating houses, landlords should consider the issues that need to be addressed and be able to show that there is no demand for the stock from the applicants on their housing lists.
Where this is the case landlords might consider:
- marketing the properties by advertising them in the press, in newsletters, on the internet and at a landlord's offices;
- adopting an estate agency approach - promoting the advantages of the area (transport, amenities) and the property (low rent, no deposit, security of tenure);
- setting up show flats and holding open days for prospective tenants;
- setting up initiatives to expand the customer base, such as briefing employers seeking to bring staff into the area and contacting universities and colleges during freshers' week; and
- offering incentives, such as decoration allowances rent free periods and/or white goods.
Where landlords are marketing properties they should still make the allocation to the applicant who has most priority and who will make the best use of the property.
More information on low demand properties is available in CIH Scotland's publication, Low Demand Housing in Scotland. It is available for the CIH Scotland website at: http://www.cih.org/publication-free/display/vpathDCR//templatedata/cih/publication-free/data/Scotland/Low_Demand_Housing_in_Scotland
10.14 Appeals and complaints
Landlords should have in place a clearly set out appeals process as part of their allocation policy. This might also be known as a review process.
Appeals might be made under the following types of circumstances:
- the applicant thinks the priority awarded is not a fair reflection of their housing needs.
- they think the landlord has applied an unfair suspension or unreasonably cancelled their application.
- the applicant thinks they have not been made a reasonable offer.
Landlords should ensure applicants are aware they can appeal against decisions and how they can do this. Information on this should be included in tenancy and allocation guides as well as the allocation policy.
The 2001 Act introduced a statutory right to review for all decisions made under the homelessness legislation including whether or not an offer is reasonable. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness also sets clear guidelines for appeals against homelessness decisions. Landlords may want to consider using this framework for appeals against allocations decisions.
All social landlords should have a formal complaints process in place which allows tenants and applicants to make a complaint easily. It should set clear service standards and timeframes for the process so that complainants know what to expect.
Information on this should be included in tenancy and allocation guides as well as the allocation policy itself.
The Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO) handles complaints as the 'last resort'. Their Guidance on a Model Complaints Handling Procedure is available from their website at: http://www.valuingcomplaints.org.uk/sites/valuingcomplaints/files/resources/Guidance-on-a-Model-Complaints-Handling-Procedure.pdf
It sets out the key level components of an effective complaints handling procedure, focuses on simplifying and streamlining those procedures and on 'getting it right first time'.
Complaints give a good indication of where landlords need to make improvements. Landlords should consider monitoring:
- the nature and number of complaints and whether this is changing;
- the outcome of complaints;
- customer satisfaction - not just about the outcome of the complaint but how it was handled; and
- how they have changed ways of doing things in response to feedback.
Landlords should consider publishing this information so that tenants and applicants know that they are taking their complaints seriously and that they are using them to improve the service they provide.
Complaints Handling by Social Landlords in Scotland - A thematic inquiry by SHR
The SHR's 2017 study recommended that social landlords should embed a culture, led by the top of the organisation, which welcomes and values complaints as a way of improving services. Tenants and other service users should find it easy to complain. As part of this, they recommended that landlords:
- ensure that information on making a complaint is visible, transparent and easy to understand;
- ensure that frontline staff are empowered and well trained to understand both the complaints procedure and their role in it;
- ensure systems for effective recording, management and performance monitoring of complaints are in place;
- have appropriate reporting methods in place to inform senior management team and/or governing body/elected members on complaints handling performance including reviewing trends in complaints to help identify service failures;
- report regularly to the senior management team and/or governing body/elected members on service improvements to ensure a strategic, joined up approach;
- publish good quality, up-to date information for tenants and other service users on complaints handling performance including how complaints have been used to improve services; and
- consider using the SPSO self-assessment indicators to monitor complaints handling performance.
There are many ways in which people can access social housing or make a move to a different social tenancy. They include direct application, transfer or Section 5 referral.
There are two main ways of allocating tenancies - a needs-based or choice-based approach. Under both approaches, landlords must ensure they give reasonable preference to the groups set out in legislation.
Many landlords set quotas or targets system to achieve a spread of lets over the various needs factors. They tend to be structured around the proportion of lets being made to homeless households, those on the general needs list and those on the transfer list.
Protocols or formal working arrangements with partners can help ensure services work together to make sure that groups of applicants with particular needs or vulnerabilities have their needs assessed and addressed.
There will always be occasions on which a landlord will need to make allocations in exceptional circumstances and exercise a degree of discretion. However, the number of lets made using discretion should be minimal.
A sensitive allocation or letting approach can help in suitable and sustainable lets.
Although legislation requires landlords to give reasonable preference to certain groups when allocating their houses, they can take other factors into account. A Local Letting Initiative can be a useful way of taking specific local factors into account.
Landlords need to consider the match between the needs of the applicant and the features of the property to make sure they make best use of that property. They should take particular care to make best use of adapted or accessible properties.
Landlords will need both an appeals and a complaints process. Landlords need to make sure their approach is straightforward and accessible.
Email: Claire McHarrie