The Local Government Association commissioned Neil Morland & Co to work with Watford Borough Council, to alter their housing allocation scheme, known in Watford as the Housing Nominations Policy. This project took place from March – June 2019.
Watford Borough Council’s current housing allocation scheme - The Housing Nominations Policy - specifically for people who make an application for social rented housing to the local authority, was implemented in August 2015. The policy brought Watford Borough Council in line with the Localism Act 2012, including changing local connection to ensure that only current residents of Watford that had been resident in the borough for a period of five out of the last six years prior to the application were eligible to apply for social housing, with some limited exceptions.
Interim changes were made to the 2015 policy in March 2018 to ensure that the new duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 could be met. One immediate consequence of these changes was that some homeless cases owed an interim duty to accommodate, but with no local connection, are now housed before those on the register with a local connection, particularly in one-bedroom accommodation where the turnover is relatively high. Watford Borough Council are clear that the Housing Nominations Policy should be a more effective tool for making best use of social and affordable homes.
The council does not provide any landlord services, having previously transferred its housing stock to Watford Community Housing Association. Nomination arrangements were previously agreed between the council and social landlords with housing stock in the Watford local authority area, ensuring a percentage of available social homes are allocated to applicants from Watford Borough Council’s housing register. There is no common housing allocation scheme with other local housing authorities, or social landlords, however Watford Borough Council does partner in Herts Choice Homes, a choice based lettings (CBL) system with Hertsmere, St Albans, Three Rivers, and Welwyn Hatfield Councils.
In order to frame a housing allocation scheme for Watford Borough Council, we considered statutory guidance, regulations and orders, plus the local homelessness strategy and tenancy strategy, both of which are currently being updated.
The contents of the housing allocation policy were reviewed, as was housing applicant data held by the council and social landlords. We found the current five priority Band system to be complicated to navigate and reportedly led to high levels of dissatisfaction among applicants as the lower bands, C and D were more likely to be housed than the higher A and B, and that many households applying for an allocation of social housing would not be successful due to the shortage of housing available.
Time was spent observing the administration of the housing allocation functions, including assessing the use of the IT software in handling housing applications and managing the register. This information helped us to evaluate the current arrangements for allocating social rented housing. This evidence was used to inform the extent and specifics of the recommended alterations to the Council's housing allocation scheme.
The primary recommended alternations to the Council's housing allocation scheme are:
- To disqualify from the housing allocations scheme applicants who are found to have no reasonable preference for an allocation of social rented housing.
- To give the highest priority for an allocation of social rented housing to applicants who were afforded an additional preference.
Further recommendations were made including:
- Investigate the potential of adopting a common housing allocation scheme with CBL partners.
- Review nomination arrangements between the Council and social landlords to ensure that local social homes are being allocated to those in most need.
Consultation on the alterations to the housing allocation scheme, are taking place with social landlords and professionals representing those most likely to be affected by alterations to the scheme (e.g. adult social care, children services). The proposed alterations to the Council's housing allocation scheme is being presented to elected members for scrutiny, prior to consultation with members of the public.