Simon Leighton looks at the issues for registered providers when it comes to allocations and choice-based lettings, and analyses two cases where RPs have department from CBL.
Allocations management and the traditional Choice Based Lettings (CBL) approach present a number of key challenges for RPs and their prospective tenants.
For the consumer, CBL involves completing an unwieldy application form, the websites are often difficult to navigate, there is a lack of clarity as to progress with the waiting list, and there is little choice and decision time.
RPs clearly must balance their commercial interests with their requirement to fulfil their charitable objects and social purpose, in housing those vulnerable and in need, but also wanting to create sustainable and healthy communities.
With my RP board member hat on, I have wrestled with these areas and found some useful pointers at the CIH Housing conference masterclass on allocations.
Moving away from CBL
South Liverpool Homes are an example of a housing provider which has moved away from CBL. Their experience of CBL was that they had no control of the system, void days were high, and it was not meeting the needs of the communities they serve.
A move away from CBL to their own straightforward, transparent application policy (date order with provision for escalation based upon need), increased demand and therefore significantly increased their waiting list, but has also led to average void days being reduced from 49 to less than 15, and a reduction of failed tenancies (costing them £3000 each time) through to 90% of their tenants staying for longer than two years.
They have enhanced their alternative allocations approach with a pre-tenancy course, welfare benefits support, and a policy to inspect previous homes for those transferring. Their improvements in financial metrics has far from caused them to take their eyes off their social purpose. Their CEO, Julie Fadden says they proactively go out onto the streets to find homeless people to house.
A blended approach
Incommunities in Bradford have also departed from CBL, but did so in conjunction with their local authority. Adrienne Reid, Incommunities’ Assistant Chief Executive – Neighbourhood Services, advocates for a blended approach, and suggested that allocations should not be the same across all of an RP’s stock. She also provided some helpful tips on what “good” looks like for an allocations policy:
- It should help applicants find a home that they want and when they need it
- It balances the purpose of all stakeholders
- It elevates housing need
- Information is clean and up to date and the system can report
- It adopts a mixed approach and enables supply to meet demand and vice versa
- It identifies supply issues
- It’s representative of the base population
What does the research say?
No allocations system can deal with imbalances of supply and demand, but they can make things worse and create long-term problems.
Senior research associate in housing and local government of De Montfort University, Dr Tim Brown also shared his findings from having carried out a large number of reviews of allocations’ policies. His key points were as follows:
- It is important to prioritise aims. Often housing providers can set out with far too many aims that compete.
- People value face to face contact when accessing services, rather than digital by default.
- Most people look for properties and end up living less than three miles from where they currently live.
- A strong use of reliable and well managed data is central to decision making.
For my part, it is important that RPs regularly review their approach to allocations, and that they do so being mindful of other provision (or lack of) in the communities it serves. Where possible, they should work in collaboration with the local authority and other RPs.
It is undoubtedly important that RPs make good use of public funds and seek to create sustainable tenancies, but retain their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the most vulnerable in its communities.