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Ministry issues non-statutory guidance for social landlords on allocations and transfers during COVID-19, urges pause to non-essential activity

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has published non-statutory guidance designed to support social landlords in England with allocations and transfers during the coronavirus outbreak.

The MHCLG guidance, which can be viewed here, says: “The government recognises that these are difficult and exceptional times when services will be under extreme pressure and resources limited.

“We therefore recognise that social landlords will need to consider how to manage their operations, including their allocation and lettings processes, to ensure public safety and protection of the vulnerable.”

The Ministry states that allocation by local housing authorities continues to be governed by Part 6 of the Housing Act 1996 and authorities must have regard to statutory guidance.

“All private registered providers of social housing should still, in so far as possible, co-operate with local authorities, including assistance with their homelessness duties as required by the relevant regulatory standards set out by the Regulator of Social Housing,” it says.

To help reduce the spread of the infection, the government has recommended that as far as possible, people should delay moving to a new home while emergency measures are in place to fight the coronavirus.

“All social landlords are therefore advised to pause non-essential allocation and transfer activity,” the guidance says.

It adds that essential activity deemed to be in the public interest would include:

  • supporting victims of domestic abuse and people fleeing other forms of violence;
  • preventing severe overcrowding;
  • facilitating move-on from temporary accommodation;
  • facilitating discharge from hospital to free-up bed space for others requiring care;
  • supporting those living in unsafe accommodation, or without settled accommodation, which poses a risk to their health.

The guidance goes on to say that landlords should:

  • consider how to carry out these functions for the most essential moves in line with the government’s advice on staying at home and away from others – “for example moving from a ‘choice based lettings’ system to a system of direct lets, where resources allow”;
  • strongly discourage tenants from exercising their right to mutual exchange for all but the most essential moves during this time;
  • make every effort to communicate this clearly to applicants and prospective applicants for social housing, for example on their websites and via email;
  • avoid moving, “unless it is essential and it cannot be delayed (e.g. for reasons of safety)”, tenants who are self-isolating, either because they are symptomatic or someone in their household is symptomatic, for the duration of the isolation. "Government guidance helps explain the expected duration of isolation";
  • pay particular regard to guidance on shielding extremely vulnerable people and safeguarding the elderly. “Those residents that have been determined clinically extremely vulnerable should avoid moves where possible. If a home move is required, measures should be taken to protect these residents from potential exposure to coronavirus wherever possible.”

The government has also published guidance for supported living provision, and guidance on how local authorities can use the new Care Act easements created under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

The guidance calls on local authorities to continue to ensure that they allocate only to eligible applicants.

It reminds local authorities, when determining whether an applicant is a ‘qualifying person’, of paragraph 3.25 in the statutory guidance which states that:

“Whatever general criteria housing authorities use to define the classes of persons who do not qualify for social housing, there may be exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to disapply these criteria in the case of individual applicants. […] Authorities are encouraged to make explicit provision for dealing with exceptional cases within their qualification rules.”

The guidance states that it is a matter for local authorities to determine whether to make any exceptions to normal qualification criteria to help safeguard those most at risk during this time and offer tenancies they feel are most appropriate.

Landlords are also told to pause non-essential maintenance work where this would require households to move temporarily into other accommodation. “Non-essential work that could be paused would include routine, planned maintenance activity such as replacement of kitchens and bathrooms, window replacement or non-urgent major works to the structure and exterior of dwellings.” The MHCLG points to relevant guidance for landlords.

When undertaking work on void properties to prepare them for being let, landlords should refer to guidance on going to work, the Ministry ays. The government has also published guidance for employers on social distancing in the workplace.

Government guidance of 26 March on home moving during the coronavirus outbreak advised that home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while stay-at-home measures are in place.

However, the MHCLG adds that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 are clear that moving home “where reasonably necessary” continues to be allowed. “The guidance clarifies that moves may proceed when unavoidable, for example due to contractual commitments.”

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