A radical revolution in the way that social housing is allocated and tenancies granted in Hammersmith & Fulham is aimed at rewarding hard working residents with a local connection to the borough, who make a positive contribution to the community.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council has unveiled a range of measures to drive housing growth, tackle the social and economic divide in the borough and improve council housing services.
The council has a strong track record of protecting local vulnerable adults, such as people with dependency issues and victims of domestic violence. The proposed new strategy will ensure that the council continues to meet their housing needs.
Hammersmith & Fulham has one of the highest proportions of social housing in London, with around 33 per cent social rented. That compares to a London average of 25 per cent and a West London average of 21.5 per cent. Just over two per cent of the borough’s housing is intermediate.
H&F is also one of the first councils in the country to get back into building homes, after a 30 year absence. These properties will be sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough and might struggle otherwise to get onto the property ladder.
- A new allocation scheme which seeks to prioritise local, working residents.
- Fixed-term tenancies for new social housing lettings. Secure tenancies will still be available for the most vulnerable residents.
- Breaking the link between a homelessness application and a social housing tenancy due to the perverse incentives the current system can create.
Cllr Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for housing, said:
“These proposals are about rewarding hard working families who are local to the borough. At the same time we will continue to house elderly people and others who are vulnerable.
We want to give people a hand up and not a hand out. We fundamentally believe that social housing should be a platform of aspiration which enables progression into other forms of housing, such as low cost home ownership, rather than a destination in its own right.
“While the current system of deciding who lives in social housing has successfully provided for the most vulnerable, it has also created disadvantaged communities by producing concentrations of people on benefits with disproportionately high levels of unemployment.
“If we are serious about building strong, mixed and sustainable communities that help drive economic growth and community cohesion, we need to prioritise people who contribute something to society when considering applications for council housing.”
Allocation of council housing
The proposed new scheme of allocation will give a greater priority to those who are working, those in training leading to employment and those making a significant contribution to the community, eg ex-service personnel and foster carers.
The council believes that the current housing allocation system is inefficient and creates false hopes and expectations for applicants.
That is because anyone from any part of the country can apply to go onto the register, which currently stands at 10,300 people. These people are graded according to priority but with resources so scarce and 94 per cent of people on the list on the lowest priority bands, the chance of ever getting social housing is very small. In fact, one person has been on the waiting list in Hammersmith & Fulham for 36 years.
Resources are so stretched that last year only 470 new lettings were made. The year before, a total of 131,000 bids were received for council homes and on average each three bedroom property attracted 157 bids.
The proposed new system would mean that access to the housing register will be restricted to those that have a local connection to the borough together with a clear housing need. Those who do not qualify will still be given a package of advice and assistance about their housing options. In many instances, people who will no longer be on the housing list will be in a better position because the council will help them into the private rental sector, as opposed to them waiting many years for a move that will never materialise.
The council also intends to end the current method of bidding for properties which sees those on the register bid for whatever homes are available. It will be replaced by a system of ‘assisted choice’ where applicants will be offered a number of housing options. This may include a social housing tenancy, but could also feature accommodation in the private sector or the opportunity to buy a HomeBuy property. If an offer was declined, this would be reflected in an applicant’s status on the Housing Register.
The council is proposing fixed-term tenancies of five years for new social housing lettings. This would be reduced to two years in certain cases.
Existing tenants will be unaffected by the new proposals except in some cases where they request a transfer. New tenancies in sheltered accommodation and for those with special housing or health needs would still be on a secure basis.
Currently most social housing tenants have the right to stay for life unless the tenancy is brought to an end because of a breach. Once the tenant passes away, the right of succession passes onto a family member even if the housing need of the individual is less than other potential applicants.
The council believes that this does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home ownership and fails to take into account the fact that a household’s need for social housing may be temporary.
The current system is also inefficient as it does not recognise that some people may move out of their family home once they grow up. This can mean, for example, that one resident could be under-occupying their home by two or more bedrooms while another family is grossly overcrowded.
The new system will give the council the opportunity to review whether the rationale for granting the tenancy in the first place is still there and will also encourage good behaviour and greater contributions to community life and the local economy. All this will be taken into account in deciding whether to grant a new tenancy.
The council will continue to provide accommodation for vulnerable homeless people but there will no longer be an automatic link between a homelessness application and a social housing tenancy. Instead, the council will assist homeless people into the private housing sector.
The council believes that the current system can create a number of perverse incentives because people know that if they are accepted as homeless that are guaranteed a council home. For example, around one third of homelessness applications are from people who have been asked to leave by their family or friends. Evidence has shown that some people choose to make themselves homeless as they know that they will be awarded with a council home.
Cllr Johnson added:
“This council has been hugely successful in preventing homelessness by intervening early and working proactively with local agencies to ensure that those in danger of becoming homeless do not spend more than one night on the street. We will continue to provide a service for our most vulnerable residents who have no other option than to declare themselves homeless. However, we propose to clamp down on those who think that making themselves homeless is a quick and easy way to secure a council home at the expense of someone who is more deserving.”
The council will soon begin consulting on these changes. You can have your say by visiting www.citizenspace.com/lbhf . The consultation commences on Tuesday, May 22.