11. Providing Information and Advice
This section covers the provision of information and advice for applicants
By working through this section readers will:
- understand the basic information that applicants will require to complete their application.
- know about the housing options approach and the role it can play.
- be aware of the need to provide accessible information in a range of formats.
- know about keeping applicants informed.
11.1 Key information requirements
Allocations systems are complex and detailed and can be difficult for people to understand. It is therefore important that landlords provide easily understandable high-quality information and advice to applicants or those considering applying.
Scottish Social Housing Charter Outcome 2: Equalities. Tenants and other customers find it easy to communicate with their landlord and get the information they need about their landlord, how and why it makes decisions and the services it provides.
Involving tenants/applicants in developing and 'road testing' information will give a service user's point of view on whether it is clear and easy to understand. Landlords should provide:
- the full allocation policy;
- a summarised version of their allocation policy;
- the application form and a guide on how to fill in the form;
- details of their stock and turnover to help applicants make realistic choices about their options; and
- details of where to get help, including from the landlord themselves and from independent information and advice providers.
11.2 Housing options and prospects advice
Effective housing options advice gives people a full picture of what housing options are available to them and helps them identify the best solution to meet their housing needs. The Scottish Government's Housing Options Guidance is available from their website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/housing-options-guidance/
Information Point - Housing Options Hubs
There are five regional Housing Options Hubs: Ayrshire & South; Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders; North & Islands; Tayside, Fife & Central; and West.
The Housing Options Hubs bring together neighbouring councils in Scotland to promote, develop and share information and best practice on the prevention of homelessness.
They are council-led but membership includes other organisations (for example housing associations and third sector agencies) who work in partnership to deliver services.
In 2018, the regional Housing Options Hubs were developing a range of support materials in the form of a 'Housing Options Training Toolkit'. This toolkit will provide a range of bespoke materials to support internal training delivery by Hub partners, e-learning materials or facilitated training courses as part of a tailored approach to staff development.
Scottish Social Housing Charter Outcomes 7, 8 and 9: Housing Options.
Social landlords work together to ensure that people looking for housing get information that helps them make informed choices and decisions about the range of housing options available to them.
Tenants and people on housing lists can review their housing options.
Social landlords enure that people at risk of losing their homes get advice on preventing homelessness.
All landlords should be able to offer basic housing options advice. Smaller RSLs, or RSLs with stock across many local authority areas, may need to refer on to other services, such as the local authority housing options team, for information on the likelihood of being housed by other social landlords in the area.
Many landlords are now giving person centred advice on the full range of housing options available in their area. When providing advice on someone's housing options, it should reflect their individual circumstances and the options that are realistic for them to pursue at that time. Housing in the social rented sector is only one option and other housing options such as private or mid-market renting or home ownership may be more appropriate for some people, depending on their individual circumstances. Housing options staff should have training to give advice on the range of options such as:
- private sector letting;
- mid-market rent;
- shared equity;
- home ownership and help to buy schemes; and
- adaptations - where this would make the current home more suitable for the household.
When providing housing options advice, it is important that the potential short-, medium- and long-term financial implications of the different options are covered.
A key part of providing housing options advice is to explain how the choices an applicant for social housing makes about the type of property and/or areas they are interested, can affect their likelihood of being made an offer. Applicants should be able to review and amend those choices at any time.
11.3 Housing health checks
Many landlords, as part of their routine housing management and allocations processes, now offer housing health checks or housing reviews at certain stages of a housing application or tenancy. These support applicants and tenants to consider all the housing options available to them and help them to make decisions on what type of housing best suits their needs.
Offering housing health checks can help landlords make best use of the available stock, for example by encouraging tenants to move to accommodation that will meet their long-term housing needs and freeing up larger houses for families who need them.
There are a number of naturally occurring situations during a tenancy which could prompt some type of housing health check on an informal basis and many landlords do this as part of their routine housing management activities
A common example of this is where a tenant requests an adaptation such as handrails to their home which may trigger a discussion on the suitability of their current home as they grow older or frailer. Another example is where a landlord is advised that grown up children have moved out of the home, which could trigger a discussion about whether a move to a smaller home would be beneficial.
Housing health checks can also be offered at the time applicants apply for social housing to ensure that they are aware of all options open to them including access to other tenures and home ownership. For example, where landlords carry out application checks at the time an application is submitted information may become available which would indicate that an applicant would like to purchase a home. By providing such applicants with advice on shared equity and low-cost homeownership schemes this could support them to do so
11.4 An inclusive approach to providing information and advice
Involving tenants and applicants in developing and testing information provided for applicants is a good way of ensuring the application form and other allocations information is easy to understand.
Landlords will also need to ensure their information and support services are inclusive. They could consider:
- the information, advice and support requirements at different stages of the application and allocation process;
- whether there are specific locations where landlords could provide housing-related information; and
- whether particular groups of people might require information in alternative formats or might need support at particular stages of the process.
There may also be occasions when a referral to a specialist service is appropriate. and landlords will want to have processes in place to access the range of referral options available.
Information Point - Difficulties accessing housing advice and guidance
The Scottish Council for Learning Disability (SCLD) commissioned a report, 'Improving outcomes for people with learning disabilities: Opportunities and challenges for housing'.
The report found that navigating the housing system can be a particular challenge for people with learning disabilities. Specifically, it highlighted the findings from a People First and Capability Scotland's involvement event with people with learning disabilities.
This found that social housing bidding systems and allocations policies were often difficult for people with learning disabilities to understand, and that they wanted a right to advice and guidance on housing issues.
Among professional stakeholders interviewed for the study, there was a perception that although excellent advice and guidance is available, people with learning disabilities are not always referred to appropriate independent housing advice. There was also a concern that people with learning disabilities, particularly those with complex needs, are missing out on independent advice and the opportunity to apply for housing in their own right. Interviews with people with learning disabilities confirmed that access to advice is inconsistent. The full report can be found on the SCLD's website at: https://www.scld.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Improving-Outcomes-84pp.pdf
The information point above highlights the types of challenges people with learning disabilities may experience. Some examples of groups whose needs landlords should consider are set out below.
People for whom English is not a first language: Not all applicants will have English as a first language and landlords will need to have arrangements in place to have written information translated and translators available when required. Where there are a significant number of speakers of a particular language, landlords might want to routinely publish all their information in that language.
People who need information in other formats: People with learning disabilities, people with literacy issues and people with a visual or hearing impairment will need tailored information in a format which is accessible to them. This might include in large print, British Sign Language (BSL), Braille or audio.
The Scottish Accessible Information Forum provides tips on its website: http://www.saifscotland.org.uk/#sthash.Ud827dLP.dpbs
Landlords should also think about how they will make interpreting services available and advertise this service widely (in community languages).
As part of ensuring that particular groups of people have their information needs met, landlords should consider whether there are particular settings, such as prisons, in which information should be made available. Landlords should refer to the Scottish Quality Standards - Housing advice, information and support for people in and leaving prison. The SHORE Standards can be found on the Scottish Prison Service website at: http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Publications/Publication-5363.aspx
11.5 Keeping applicants informed
After an application is submitted it is important to keep people informed about what happens next. This might include:
- sending confirmation that the application has been received, when it will be assessed and what checks will be made;
- asking for any information that has not been supplied by the applicant;
- advising applicants that they must inform the landlord about any changes in circumstances that could affect their application and level of priority;
- explaining when the landlord will next be in contact with them and the contact they can expect throughout the allocation process; and
- advising of their right to appeal against any decision.
Once the application has been assessed, landlords should inform applicants about the outcome. This would include either the level of priority or number of points an applicant has been awarded. It might also include information about other housing options, particularly if the applicant has a relatively low chance of being made an offer in the near future.
Where a choice-based system is being used, landlords will also need to make sure that applicants know how the system works, how they bid for properties, how to register on the online system and where they can get support if they need help to do this.
Whichever system is being used, landlords will also need to make applicants aware that they should notify the landlord(s) they have applied to about any changes in circumstances which could affect their application and their level of priority in particular.
When an applicant is being made an offer, the offer letter and any supporting information should be clear and concise and should highlight how long an applicant has to make a decision on whether to accept the offer.
If the applicant accepts the offer they will need to be provided with all the appropriate tenancy start information. This should include information about signing their tenancy agreement and when and how rent should be paid.
Information, advice and support needs will vary depending on the profile of people on a landlord's general and transfer list.
Effective housing options advice gives people a full picture of what is available to them and helps them to make informed choices on their housing options.
Some applicants will require information in a particular format, such as an easy read version or a version translated into another language.
It is important to inform applicants about what will happen after they have made their application.
Email: Claire McHarrie