Social housing allocations in Scotland: practice guide
Guidance on allocating homes in the social rented sector.
3. Allocation Policies
This section covers the development of an allocation policy and includes information on the duty to consult brought in by the 2014 Act.
By working through this section readers will:
- understand when to review an allocation policy and who to involve in the review.
- be aware of the issues to consider when reviewing an allocation policy.
- be familiar with the content of an allocation policy.
- understand the equality and human rights requirements on the policy.
- be aware of monitoring requirements.
3.1 Reviewing or developing a policy
An allocation policy is a core document that sets out all aspects of a social landlord's approach to allocating properties. All existing social landlords will already have a published allocation policy and have a system in place for reviewing it to ensure it is meeting the needs of applicants, tenants and local authority and third sector partners such as Women's Aid.
A standard review cycle is normally between three and five years. Legislative changes (such as the 2014 Act) may also trigger the need for a review as landlords will need to ensure the reasonable preference groups in their policy comply with those in the 2014 Act.
Where landlords feel that the policy is working well, they may decide to check for compliance and not make any further changes to their existing policy. However, if a review triggers the need for any significant changes to their allocation policy, they should consider a full review.
Landlords will need to develop a clear plan for the review which sets out how key stakeholders will be involved, key tasks and timescales. A full review will require adequate resources and landlords should set realistic timescales, including sufficient time for consultation and revision.
Other material, including the application form, housing options information and the tenants' handbook, may also need to be updated. Landlords will also wish to consider any Information and Communication Technology (ICT) implications of changing the policy and ensure the necessary resources are in place (both in staff time and the financial resources required) to make any changes to their housing management software package.
A review may also trigger the need for a full review of the housing list. For example, if any of the housing needs categories in the allocation policy change, landlords will need to carry out a full review if they do not already hold the necessary information to allow for an accurate assessment of an existing applicant's need and priority.
3.2 Who to involve in a review
Involving tenants, applicants and Registered Tenant Organisations
Section 4 of the 2014 Act, through its insertion of section 20A into the 1987 Act, requires landlord to consult the groups listed. These are:
- applicants on the housing list;
- their tenants;
- registered tenant organisations; and
- such other persons as landlords see fit.
The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 requires all social landlords to have a Tenant Participation Strategy in place. The Strategy should be developed in consultation with tenants and tenant organisations and should set out how to involve them in decisions about their homes and communities. The Strategy should also include how tenants and other customers of social landlords will be involved and consulted in policy reviews. The approach must be inclusive and ensure those who face communication or physical barriers to taking part are able to share the views.
Effective participation gives tenants an opportunity to influence decisions about the housing services they receive. It also gives landlords a better understanding of the needs of their tenants.
A tenant scrutiny exercise could also be used to review the allocation policy. Tenant scrutiny is an important part of meeting the expectation to continuously improve landlord performance. It involves adopting a tenant-centred approach to reviewing landlord activities and delivers benefits to tenants and landlords alike.
There is a variety of useful resources landlords can refer to when developing their approach to reviewing and consulting on their allocation policy.
The Scottish Government's Guide to Successful Tenant Participation sets out outcomes and standards for landlords on communicating with tenants and other customers. The Guide is available from the Scottish Government's website at: /publications/successful-tenant-participation/
Landlords may also wish to consider how a policy and practice review on allocations could be built into tenant scrutiny activities. Further information on tenant scrutiny is available from the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland's website at: http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/scotscrutiny/Scrutiny%20Guide%20Complete%20FINAL.pdf.
The Guide notes that 'Tenant scrutiny involves adopting a tenant-centred approach to landlord activities, which delivers benefits to tenants, landlords and communities alike. It's an approach where a housing provider's frameworks for directing, accounting for, monitoring, assessing and reviewing its own direction and performance are based on the views and priorities of tenants'. A full Trainer Toolkit from the Stepping up to Scrutiny programme is also available at: http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/scotscrutiny/Final%20Toolkit%20with%20front%20cover.pdf
Others to involve in a review
In addition to tenants, applicants and RTOs, landlords may want to involve others in the review. This could involve being closely involved in the whole review or contributing on specific issues. The range of stakeholders will vary depending on local circumstances.
The type of organisations or individuals who might be involved could include:
- representatives from local authority services, including the homelessness service. Depending on the profile of stock and the patterns of local housing needs, it could also include representatives from:
- the Health and Social Care Partnership (with particular reference to the housing needs of older people and people who need accessible or adapted accommodation).
- Children's Services, particularly those with responsibility for looked after children, fostering, adoption and supporting kinship carers.
- Community Justice Services.
- representatives from third sector services, including Women's Aid, local advice and information providers and services which are focused on supporting people with particular needs and local ethnic minority community organisations.
- elected members and/or the members of an RSL's Board.
- representatives of other social landlords in the area.
The consultation process
Effective consultation involves having a range of methods and opportunities for tenants and others to get involved.
The approach taken will depend on each landlord's circumstances and the nature and extent of the changes that need to be made. For example, a landlord might involve members of an RTO and/or a small sounding board group of tenants and applicants in initial discussions about whether significant changes are required to a policy.
A landlord could also ask their tenant scrutiny panel to consider reviewing the overall approach to allocations to highlight areas of both policy and practice which need to be reviewed. If no significant changes are required, any further consultation around minor changes might be restricted to those who have already been involved in considering the need for review.
The scale of the consultation exercise should be appropriate and proportionate to the scope and nature of the changes being made. For example, if landlords have had feedback that a policy is not easy to understand, they could involve a small group of tenants and applicants in helping re-write it so that it is clear from a tenant and applicant perspective.
If there are issues with the application process, including the application form, a group of tenants and applicants could be asked to scrutinise the process, pilot a revised form and give their views on any other procedural changes that could improve the process.
If an initial scoping exercise concludes that more significant changes to the policy are required, a more extensive consultation process will be required. This might be appropriate, for example, if changes are being made to the types of housing need being given priority. Landlords will want to involve tenants, and applicants, in the development of the revised policy. This approach will allow tenants' views to feed in at an early stage and help shape the policy that would then go out to full consultation.
Practice Example - Involving tenants in developing policy and practice, East Lothian Council
Since the 1990's, tenant involvement and participation has flourished in East Lothian. Members of East Lothian Tenants & Residents Panel (ELTRP) are routinely involved as equal partners in the co-production and review of housing policy within East Lothian from the allocation of its council houses through to the voids process. From the initial stages, shaping policy direction to final policy position, the Council relies on the skills and experience of ELTRP members in order to deliver continuous improvement of its housing services.
More recently ELTRP has taken the next step in the policy development journey by taking on a scrutiny role, with a Scrutiny Framework forming an integral part of the Council's Tenant Participation Strategy (2016-19).
Service areas that have been subject to several different types of scrutiny approach so far have included a desktop audit of the allocations policy; mystery shopping pilot of customer services; antisocial behaviour survey and an independent grassroots scrutiny of the estate inspection process.
Whichever approach a landlord uses, it is very important to ensure that there are a range of ways for tenants and applicants who wish to participate to give their views.
Landlords should also ensure their approach is as inclusive and supportive as possible. For example, where meetings are being held, any venues should be fully accessible and where a tenant or applicant needs support to take part in the process this should be provided. This could include making translations of any survey and associated paperwork being used available.
Reporting on the review
The 2014 Act requires landlords to prepare and publish a report on the consultation and review of the policy. How landlords report on the review and what format that will take should be agreed with their tenants. Landlords will already be reporting to their RSL Board or council committee on the outcome of the review and any changes being made to their allocation policy. This could form the basis of the report or they could include a section on the consultation and review within the allocation policy itself.
The 2014 Act allows social landlords to publish a joint report along with other social landlords, for example if the operate a Common Housing Register.
3.3 What a review will cover
In reviewing their allocation policy, landlords will want to consider:
- does the policy comply with all relevant legislation and statutory guidance including Human Rights and equality obligations?
- is the current aim of the policy, and any associated outcomes, fit-for-purpose, or do they need to be reviewed?
- given the profile of properties available, is the policy meeting the needs of applicants, tenants, the landlord and other key stakeholders?
- if not, what are the key issues to be addressed in a revised policy? For example:
- does the policy give sufficient priority to each of the reasonable preference groups?
- are the right range of housing needs reflected in the policy? In particular, does the policy recognise the right range of unsatisfactory housing circumstances?
- is best use being made of the properties available to allocate? If not, why not and what needs to be done to ensure best use is made?
- does the policy consider under-represented groups and consider actions to deal with any accessibility issues?
- is the overall approach currently being used (needs-based or Choice-Based Letting (CBL)) the right way to deliver the overall objectives of the allocation policy?
In considering these issues, and in addition to the legislation and statutory guidance covered at Section 2, landlords will want to refer to a range of published information. This will include:
- the Local Housing Strategy(ies) of the area(s) in which they have stock.
- any local housing needs assessments. These should give information on any likely changes to demand for social housing in the future including the volume and profile of that demand.
- performance information published by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Housing Regulator. This information could be useful if a landlord wishes to compare the outcomes and outputs of its own allocations approach with that of other landlords. Landlords may also have access to benchmarking information through other routes.
- if an RSL, their Business Plan.
Landlords will also wish to consider the profile of their own stock and the properties becoming available for let. An analysis of the housing list may also generate useful information about who is looking to be housed and what type of properties they are looking for.
RSLs whose stock is spread across a number of local authority areas may find it more difficult to take need and demand across their whole stock into account. They may wish to consider joining any area-based common housing register, particularly if the approach used means they do not have to hold a list in that area.
3.4 Allocation policy content
Landlords will need to decide what their allocation policy will include. Most include:
- the aim of the policy and the outcomes it seeks to achieve. The policy should also explain how the landlord will deliver the aim and outcomes set out.
- what will and what will not be considered when allocating properties. This should reflect the legislation governing housing allocations.
- the priority for housing that will be given to applicants depending on their housing needs, including setting out:
- how the landlord will make sure it gives reasonable preference to the groups set out in legislation.
- the housing needs they will include within the 'unsatisfactory housing conditions' reasonable preference group.
- the relative priority they will give to the reasonable preference groups and any lettings quotas or targets they will put in place to assist in achieving the intended outcome.
- any additional categories to be given a preference by the landlord beyond those set out in the 2014 Act.
- information about assessing and verifying applicants' needs.
- any house size eligibility criteria which set out expectations around matches between household and property sizes, including whether applicants can apply for larger properties.
- exceptional circumstances flexibility to allow the landlord to allocate homes other than in accordance with the standard approach set out in the policy. This might include local lettings initiatives and sensitive lettings and the arrangements for doing so.
- arrangements for suspending applicants from receiving offers.
- the appeals and complaints processes.
- arrangements for monitoring and reviewing the policy.
Landlords should also include any other relevant information, although it is important to keep the focus on policy rather than practice.
3.5 Equality Impact Assessment
Landlords should carry out an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) to consider how their policy will impact, either positively or negatively, on different people in different ways. An assessment will help make sure that any policy reflects the needs of the communities a landlord serves, and it will help to identify gaps and ways to promote equality.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination (direct or indirect), harassment or victimisation of anyone who shares one or more of the protected characteristics listed in the Act (that is: on the grounds of age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or, sexual orientation).
Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 places a legal duty (known as the 'General Equality Duty') on public authorities to: eliminate discrimination; advance equality of opportunity; and, foster good community relations in relation to the protected characteristics (with the exception of marriage and civil partnership) set out in the Act.
Landlords should consider their obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty when they develop or review their allocation policy. It is best to begin the EIA at the early stages of developing a policy so that any findings can shape it.
They should assess the impact of applying a proposed policy against the needs of the general equality duty. The assessment should consider the following three duties:
- that the policy does not discriminate unlawfully;
- how the policy might better advance equality of opportunity; and
- whether the policy will affect good relations between different groups.
The impact of the policy on equality groups should be assessed under each need of these three duties.
Landlords should have staff who are trained in equality issues to make sure these are addressed when developing or reviewing its allocation policy. Discussing draft impact assessments with people from equalities groups and the organisations that represent them will also be beneficial.
EHRC (Scotland) has produced a guide on Assessing impact and the Public Sector Equality Duty: a guide for public authorities (Scotland). The guide can be found on the Commission's website at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/assessing-impact-and-public-sector-equality-duty-guide-public-authorities
Landlords need to have a system in place to monitor the operation of their policy, including involving tenants in the process. Developing a monitoring framework at the same time as the policy will help ensure that the right mechanisms are in place from the start. Taking this approach will allow a landlord to:
- tailor the indicators and measures to its policy aim and intended outcomes;
- identify disparities or unintended discrimination in the operation of the policy; and
- measure the impact of any policy changes.
Landlords will already be recording allocation-related data as part of performance management arrangements and for their annual report to their tenants and the Annual Return on the Charter (ARC) for the SHR. The same information should also be used internally to monitor how the allocation system is working. Further information on the allocation-related data to be reported to the SHR is available from their website at: https://www.scottishhousingregulator.gov.uk/
Landlords can also draw on information about other landlords' performance on allocations from the SHR's annual reports and landlord comparison tool. They may also have access to benchmarking information from other sources.
Landlords should also consider what other housing list and allocations data they will collect. Regular reporting on key outputs from an allocation policy will help with early identification of any issues. In particular, regular review of the proportion of lets going to each reasonable preference group can help identify any issues, such as ensuring a sufficient proportion of available lets are going to statutorily homeless households.
Landlords should also consider whether the policy is working as intended and in particular:
- is priority being given to applicants in housing need?
- is the allocation policy and accompanying practice contributing positively to the prevention and resolution of homelessness?
- does the policy give priority to appropriate housing needs under the Unsatisfactory Housing Conditions reasonable preference group?
- does the policy make best use of the properties that become available, and in particular does it make best use of wheelchair accessible and adapted stock?
- does the policy enable people with changing needs to find accommodation which better suits their current needs?
- does the policy promote choice?
Effective monitoring and use of equality data is also essential and can help a landlord guard against indirect discrimination by reviewing how the policy works in practice and what impact it has on people with different protected characteristics.
A three to five-yearly cycle for reviewing an allocation policy is widely recognised as being appropriate unless legislative changes prompt the need for an earlier review or the policy is clearly not working as intended.
A full review or redevelopment of an allocation policy will require adequate resources. Landlords should set realistic timescales which include sufficient time for consultation and revision.
When reviewing their policy, landlords must consult with tenants, applicants and RTOs. How landlords will consult on policy reviews should be set out in their tenant participation strategy. Landlords should ensure that any approach taken is inclusive.
In reviewing their policy, landlords should consider what they are trying to achieve through their allocation policy and how they will ensure that they meet housing need.
Carrying out an EIA will help a landlord consider how its policy will impact, either positively or negatively, on different groups of people.
Landlords should monitor the operation of their policy. Developing a monitoring framework along with the policy will help ensure that the right mechanisms are in place from the start.
Email: Claire McHarrie
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