Social Housing Allocations: A practice guide

Listen

6 Allocations in practice

6.1 Outline

172. Given that demand for social housing outstrips supply, you are only going to be able to offer housing to a minority of people who approach you. Once an applicant is on your housing list you then need to assess each applicant's housing need according to their individual circumstances and then prioritise them in line with your own allocation policy.

173. In assessing need there are a variety of factors you need to and can take into account. Some of these factors the law requires you to include and others you can add at your own discretion to respond to the particular needs and demands in your local area. There are also a number of factors the law does not allow you to take into account in how you allocate your housing. The legislation is set out in Chapter 2 and Annex A.

174. This chapter examines current allocations practice and includes secondary factors that you may wish to consider including as part of how you assess needs and decide priority for your housing. The extra factors discussed here are not an exhaustive list and you have discretion to build in other factors, which reflect your local circumstances.

175. The performance standard, set out in paragraph 59, means that you have to make sure that you let houses in a way that gives reasonable preference to those in greatest housing need, which makes best use of the available stock, and helps to sustain communities.

176. This means that you have to also consider the needs of the individual and the needs of the community when you make a housing allocation decision. A mechanistic approach which involves making allocations only on the highest points, or a rigid adherence to quotas is less likely to achieve sustainable tenancies and successful communities.

6.2 The allocations system

177. The allocation system is the way in which you form applicants into queues which reflect your organisation's aims and stated priorities. This may include you awarding applicants points that reflect their housing need or grouping them into bands that reflect different levels of housing need. Some social landlords, who operate choice-based letting schemes, allow applicants to bid for properties they wish to live in. In such cases the successful bidder is the one with the greatest housing need.

6.3 Allocating houses: Giving reasonable preference in practice

178. When allocating your houses you need to give reasonable preference to applicants who fall within the five housing need categories given in law (paragraphs 22-31). These are people who:

  • are homeless people or threatened with homelessness; or
  • living in houses which do not meet the tolerable standard; or
  • are living in overcrowded houses; or
  • have large families ;or
  • are living under unsatisfactory housing conditions.

179. As set out in paragraphs 32-33 the law does not weight the reasonable preference groups. It is up to landlords to decide on the relative priority they give to each of the needs groups.

180. There is no simple definition of reasonable preference which would suit all landlords and it is for you and the courts to decide. But, in determining your approach there are a number of factors you may wish to consider. This includes your stock profile and who is applying to you for housing. To make a decision on what is a reasonable apportioning across the categories of need; social landlords need up-to-date information on demand for their housing and to decide what is reasonable for their context. It is important then to gather effective information as well as monitor and review outcomes. Reasonableness should not be set in stone, but reviewed on a regular basis as demand changes.

Learning point

You need to look at reasonable preference in terms of your total lets across your stock and throughout the year, not for each individual let. This means that you can appropriately match the property to the applicant and create sustainable tenancies, at the same time as meeting the requirement to give reasonable priority to the key groups.

181. You can interpret the five legal need categories widely. They allow you great flexibility to balance the needs of your communities as well as meeting the needs of those applying to you for housing.

6.3.1 Homeless people or those threatened with homelessness

182. All social landlords have a duty to give reasonable preference to all people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. Local authorities also have specific duties to give settled housing to certain categories of homeless people, and RSLs have a duty to help local authorities to carry out this duty.

183. The 1987 Act (as amended) defines 'threatened with homelessness' as within two months. However social landlords should, where possible, broaden this definition and begin to work with people at an early stage to find a housing solution and prevent homelessness.

Local authorities and homelessness

184. The legislation requires local authorities to secure settled accommodation for unintentionally homeless applicants in priority need. The Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 amended existing legislation by allowing for the abolition of the priority need test, for which the Scottish Government has set a target date of 31 December 2012.

185. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness and Prevention of homelessness guidance provide guidance on legislation and practice to prevent and resolve homelessness. Councils should give such applicants settled accommodation as soon as possible, and any unavoidable period in temporary accommodation should be minimised.

186. Local authorities are free to decide how they allocate permanent housing to homeless people to whom they owe this duty. They can choose to do this through their general housing list and allocations policy, or they can opt to have a separate list and policy for homeless people. However, whichever approach is used, councils should make sure that:

  • such applicants are given enough priority to make sure that they secure permanent housing quickly;
  • their allocation policies do not apply suspensions to such applicants; and
  • they publish the rules that apply to the allocation of houses to such homeless people.

187. Local authorities should make sure that they are making an appropriate level of lets available to allocate to homeless people to whom they have a duty to secure settled housing. You need to decide what the appropriate level of lets will be for your area, based on information you have on the level of demand in your communities. The level of lets the authority makes available to give homeless people settled housing should reflect this level of demand / need and your strategy for meeting those needs. Decisions on the amount of settled accommodation you can make available will impact on the demand for temporary accommodation. Councils can increase the supply of settled housing through nomination and/or section 5 referral arrangements with RSLs. Under the Homeless Persons (Provision of Non-permanent Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 2010 private sector tenancies can also be used. These Regulations came into force in February 2010.

188. Local authorities must always consider people's personal circumstances and wishes. This should include making sure that you don't split a family up. In considering what a reasonable offer is, local authorities should take into account the particular circumstances of the applicant. This may include, for example, the need to avoid sources of domestic abuse or external violence, or the applicant's physical/learning disabilities or mental health problems. Local authorities should consider the need for homeless applicants to be near friends or relatives and other formal or informal support networks. Local authorities should also consider the location of applicants' employment, education or training establishments, or health services.

189. Scottish Government guidance on 'Meeting the Best Interests of Children Facing Homelessness' ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/1033/0100905.doc) will help local authorities co-ordinate and carry out their duties under Part II of the 1987 Act in relation to children facing homelessness or threatened with homeless. This will make sure that landlords meet the best interests of such children fully and equitably across the country.

190. The Code of Guidance recommends that on the number of offers of housing homeless people receive landlords should treat them on the same basis as other housing applicants. You should not concentrate offers to homeless people in particular areas and property. In general, the profile of offers/lets to homeless people should mirror those of offers/lets to other types of applicants. The Code of Guidance identifies the placement of homeless people in hard to let housing as poor practice. Offers of housing and actual lettings are one of the key, and most obvious, outcomes for users of homeless services.

s and homelessnessRSL

191. RSLs are obliged to meet local authority requests to house homeless people under section 5 of the 2001 Act (see also paragraphs 141-144). But, this is not the only 'route to housing' available to homeless people. Councils can nominate homeless people or they may apply to the RSL directly.

192. When a person who appears to be homeless or threatened with homelessness applies directly to an RSL, staff should normally tell them to contact the council so that they can make a homeless assessment. But at the same time the RSL should go ahead with the direct application in the normal way. In some cases the RSL may be able to house the applicant through the direct list in time to prevent a worsening of the homelessness situation.

193. RSLs can make broad interpretations of homelessness to address the needs of people in insecure tenancies or who may be threatened by homelessness. This could include, for instance, where housing benefit fails to meet rent payments in private housing and the rent is unaffordable. It is up to RSLs to decide how it will point and prioritise different types of homelessness. Under most points systems homeless applicants will attract points not just for homelessness, but also factors such as sharing or lacking amenities, or overcrowding.

194. RSLs should monitor the number of applicants who have been homeless or threatened with homeless they house following section 5 referrals, nominations and direct applications. This will allow you to measure and evidence your contribution to preventing and alleviating homelessness in your area.

Example: Homelessness in North Ayrshire

The four RSL partners operate the North Ayrshire Housing Register (NAHR) via a web-based database. It has a common allocation policy and they allocate all their void properties by extracting a shortlist and matching an applicant to a property directly from this database.

The common allocation policy is a 'group + points' policy with 7 different needs groups. The allocation policy places all homeless applicants in Group 1. When the housing officer has a void property they first decide which group to go to. The letting plan determines this. It details what the target percentage is for lets to each of the 7 needs groups. Each landlord has its own letting plan.

The four NAHR partners have jointly agreed to always let the same percentage of their voids to Group 1 (homeless applicants). This is currently set at 25% of lets. Each of the partners regularly monitors their letting performance against their letting plan by extracting reports from the system. The CHR Working Group monitors the performance of the council and RSLs making sure that they all achieve 25% of their lets to homeless applicants. The process is simple and it runs very well.

The system extracts a shortlist of Group 1 applicants who qualify for the house size available and who are listed for that letting area. The allocation system orders the shortlist by date of presentation with the applicant with the oldest date coming first on the shortlist. There are strict guidelines in place for the bypassing of applicants and housing managers and the CHR Manager regularly check bypassing codes. All the partners carry out allocation audits in the same way on 10% of lets.

195. The relative priority between people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and others will depend on your allocation policy. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness ( Code of Guidance on Homelessness) makes it clear that ' at the very least, homeless people should not, as a rule, be given lesser preference than the other specified groups'. Whether you allocate any particular property to someone who is homeless or to someone from one of the other reasonable preference groups, or someone who meets your local priorities criteria will depend on a range of factors (see paragraph 270).

6.3.2 People who are occupying houses which do not meet the tolerable standard

196. This standard is set out in paragraph 23. Housing conditions in Scotland have moved on considerably in the last two decades, and there are considerably fewer homes which do not fully meet this standard. Most landlords give priority to applicants whose homes fail to meet some part of the standard, for example houses that have serious dampness, poor ventilation or no hot water. Landlords often give points for each of the elements of the standard the applicant's current property fails.

6.3.3 People who are overcrowded

197. The legal definition for overcrowding is set out in paragraphs 24-26. This overcrowding standard includes living rooms and bedrooms as being suitable rooms for sleeping. You must give reasonable preference to those who meet this legal definition. Legislation does not prevent you from also giving priority to other households if that is what you want to do after a review of demand and need in your area. Other households could, for example, include those who don't meet an occupancy standard for your stock which goes beyond the legal definition or applicants who need to share facilities with another household.

6.3.4 People who have large families

198. As set out in paragraph 27 the law does not define people who have large families and you can decide what forms a large family taking into account your local context. You can choose to include large households in recognition of extended family relationships that make up many households. What forms 'reasonable preference' for you will take into account your housing stock. The re-housing of large families will not be a practical proposition for an RSL which has a stock comprising mostly one bedroom flats.

6.3.5 People living under unsatisfactory housing conditions

199. Again, the law does not define this (see paragraph 28) and it is therefore an exceptionally broad category that allows you to give priority to people living in a range of difficult situations and as a result have a significant level of housing need. Section 6.4 discusses this in greater detail.

6.4 Allocating houses: Assessing housing need factors

200. You need to give a degree of priority in allocations to all of the groups above, but you can decide what factors you take into account in defining unsatisfactory housing conditions. You have great flexibility to interpret what forms 'living under unsatisfactory housing conditions' which allows you to respond to your own context. You need to make clear, within your allocation policy, how you define 'living under satisfactory housing conditions' and you need to have clear grounds for choosing your definitions. Factors that are usually taken into account generally fall into three main categories:

  • Health and disability;
  • Harassment and abuse issues; and
  • Social, community or family support.

6.4.1 Health and disability

Definition of health and disability

201. Many applicants want social landlords to re-house them because they have a health condition or a disability which makes their current home unsuitable. You need to consider what processes you will put in place to assess their need and decide what priority you give them. This should be in the context of the outcomes you wish to achieve through your allocation policy more generally..

202. Applicants who would benefit from priority on health or disability grounds are those with a health need or disability for whom, assuming landlords also provide suitable support, re-housing would improve or stabilise their condition or would allow them to function independently. By independent living we mean all disabled people having the same choice, control and freedom as any citizen - at home, at work and as members of the community. This does not necessarily mean disabled people 'doing everything for themselves' but it does mean that any practical assistance people need should be based on their own choices and aspirations. Health need here includes applicants with mental health problems.

203. There are key issues to note in this definition:

  • it stresses that the applicants current home is making their health or disability worse and re-housing would make a difference;
  • it recognises that it would be unrealistic to expect other housing to remove the health or disability problem;
  • it covers both those with functional difficulties, such as respiratory problems, physical disabilities and those with mental health problems; and
  • it covers those who would be able to function more independently if they were re-housed. This could include people who would benefit from being nearer to, and being able to access more easily, shopping facilities or transport links.

Learning point

A severe health or disability issue should not, on its own, bring priority for re-housing. You should base decisions on priority on both the severity of the health need or disability and the extent to which re-housing will benefit the person concerned, in terms of both their quality of life and ability to live independently.

204. You may wish to consider not giving priority in certain circumstances. This may be the case most commonly where you expect the health need or disability to be short term, for example after a car accident, or where you can adapt the property itself and make it suitable for the applicant's continued occupation.

Applying for priority on health or disability grounds

205. You need to think about how you are going to collect the information you need from the applicant about their condition. Many landlords ask applicants to fill in a self-assessment questionnaire. You need to design such a questionnaire to elicit the necessary information about the applicant's health or disability without it being unnecessarily detailed.

206. You need to write questionnaires or application forms in plain English and well presented, leaving ample space for applicants to respond to questions. You should consider providing help to those who experience problems with form filling. The form should be as concise as possible while gathering all the necessary information to help the applicant.

207. Information to collect could include:

  • characteristics of the house (for example the number of steps and how it has been adapted);
  • medicines taken;
  • social problems which impact on health;
  • disability benefits (such applicants have already been assessed by others);
  • earlier applications; and
  • other information the applicant considers relevant (for example other family circumstances).

208. You should offer applicants a positive and supportive options discussion to make sure they are fully aware of all the options available to them and the implications of different choices. You should give thought to where you hold the discussion and who does it, giving consideration to the applicant's race, sex, age, religion, and access needs including any communication support needs. This discussion could be used to:

  • give help with form filling or to check that all the necessary information has been provided;
  • make sure that applicants are aware that other options more appropriate than priority on health or disability grounds may exist to resolve their housing problem (for example the provision of equipment or adaptations, resolving physical problems with the existing house such as condensation, resolving housing management problems such as neighbour disputes or support being provided by a home help or a homemaker);
  • talk about the house types that might be needed, their location, and their availability so that applicants can tell you their preferences; and
  • verify the level and nature of applicants' problems.

209. One choice is making the existing house work better by providing equipment or making physical changes to properties that will allow the tenant to stay in their own home. The Scottish Government issued guidance on the provision of Equipment and Adaptations on 1 December 2009 ( http://www.sehd.scot.nhs.uk/publications/CC2009_05.pdf). The guidance aims to help local authorities, and their NHS partners, to modernise and integrate their equipment and adaptations services within the wider community care context.

210. To accompany the main guidance mentioned above the Scottish Government has also developed a number of practical guides. These include:

  • A Good Practice Guide for the Provision of Community Equipment. We developed this guide to support local equipment services effectively develop, deliver, manage and monitor the provision of equipment and minor adaptations from the point of assessment through to delivery. Organisations can use it as a quick 'checklist' against which they can benchmark and evaluate their equipment service, irrespective of the type of model they have adopted. It will identify common and key components that should apply to all equipment services and assist in a systematic approach to service development and delivery across all areas of Scotland.
  • Self Evaluation Toolkit. We developed this toolkit in line with the evaluation model the Social Work Inspection Agency ( SWIA) uses in their Performance Improvement Model. You can apply the tool to the Key Themes developed in each section of the Good Practice Guide, and used universally by any agencies or services involved in the provision of equipment.
  • Funding Guide for Major Adaptations. We aim this guide at practitioners. It details the different funding streams and housing tenures that adaptations providers encounter. We will also soon publish separate, tenure specific, leaflets for service users.
  • Adaptations Good Practice Guide. Following an initial scoping exercise work is now ongoing to develop good practice guidelines for major adaptations. This guide aims to simplify the processes for accessing and providing major adaptations. Once published this guide will be available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Health/care/EandA/UsefulPublications.

211. Keeping good records of properties that have been adapted will allow you to match applicants with needs to suitable and available housing more quickly in the future. There are also cost benefits of using adapted housing efficiently and avoiding the need to remove adaptations unnecessarily.

Example: Assessing potential for adaptations

If an EdIndex (Edinburgh's common housing register) applicant states on their registration form that they or a member of their household are having difficulty accessing or managing in their current home the Council's Assessment & Advice Service will carry out a Housing and Support Needs Assessment. Part of this assessment is to determine whether they can adapt the household's existing home to meet their needs or whether they need to move to more suitable accommodation. If they need to move to alternative accommodation then the landlord would award a Gold priority status to the application for the choice based letting system.

Example: Joint working to match tenant needs to the right house

Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living ( GCIL) provides a range of housing information, advice and advocacy services to disabled people.

Landlords recognise that there is no one single register of adapted / accessible housing in Glasgow. GCIL's Register records information on location, size, type and accessible features of housing stock.

Due to unavailability of adapted or accessible housing, housing providers may have limited capacity to assist disabled tenants requiring a transfer to appropriate housing to meet changing housing needs. In these instances, the register may help tenants find suitable housing with another housing provider.

The register is a simple to use, on-line system specifically designed to help housing providers, disabled people and other agencies by 'matching' adapted or accessible housing to people who really need them.

The register gathers information from disabled people in housing need and records preferences by area, size and type of house, floor level, adaptation requirements and accessibility needs. Service users sign a mandate giving permission to share information with housing providers. Landlords can keep service users up to date: by email, text or textphone.

GCIL have designed their Accessible Housing Register to add value and complement letting systems and can bring a number of benefits for both service users and housing providers.

Example: Simple access to small alterations

After a review of their disabled adaptations service Glasgow Housing Association, in partnership with Glasgow City Council's Social Work Department, has introduced a new, improved service that means tenants who need small alterations, such as a handrail or a lever tap, can organise it with a phone call to their Local Housing Organisation or the Customer Service Centre. The aim is for the landlord to carry out minor adaptations within 10 working days. Occupation therapists will continue to carry out assessments where tenants feel they need much bigger adaptations such as ramps or level access showers.

Assessing health or disability needs

212. There is a range of ways by which you can assess and prioritise applicants' health or disability needs. An effective assessment procedure should have the following features:

  • good communications between housing staff and any independent advisers;
  • close links with social workers, occupational therapists and other relevant professionals;
  • medical advice sought only when necessary;
  • recommendations which are based on a comprehensive view of the applicant, which are fair and consistent and arrived at without undue delay;
  • accountability for decision making; and
  • involvement of the applicant.

213. The National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 allows Health Boards give local authorities the services of their staff. SHHD Circular NHS 1982 ( GEN) 2 provides guidance on the use of this power. On the housing function of local authorities, the 1982 Circular says that Health Boards should advise on policy issues and "provide a service of medical assessment for applicants referred to them by housing authorities" although this should only rarely involve clinical examinations.

214. Many landlords use housing management staff to make assessments. Housing staff are not medically qualified but the information contained in the self-assessment form and a home visit where possible should be enough for them to decide the severity of the case and whether re-housing would help. It would be good practice, as a minimum, for housing officers making such decisions to have had disability awareness training. You can pass the more complex cases to an independent adviser - an occupational therapist or a medical practitioner as appropriate. In order to achieve consistency of assessments it makes sense to use just one such adviser.

215. The key principle is that the process of awarding priority on health or disability grounds is transparent and consistent and avoids the applicant having to go through repeated assessment processes wherever possible.

Example: Working together to assess medical priority

Melville Housing Association uses an in-house occupational therapist to assess medical priority for housing applicants. Midlothian Council employs the occupational therapist, but Melville pays for her time for two mornings a week when she is an integral part of the property services team and has strong links with development and allocations staff. As well as assessing medical priority, the occupational therapist:

  • visits and assesses tenants for medical adaptations;
  • works with the development team to design properties to meet specific applicants' needs in new build schemes; and
  • works with technical staff to adapt houses for tenants.

Melville Housing Association reports that this service has been of tremendous benefit both to the organisation and to its tenants and applicants by minimising delays, ensuring consistency and helping to provide homes that meet people's needs.

How do you award priority?

216. Those who would benefit most from re-housing should receive the greatest priority. In identifying them you should consider two factors:

  • the severity of the person's condition or the degree of incapacity; and
  • the extent to which rehousing will benefit the person concerned.

217. Most landlords adopt a banding system to rank applications, usually high, medium, and low. You should keep the grading system simple with the highest category a 'fast track' to re-housing that allows you to respond speedily where circumstances demand it. Independent advisers should categorise their recommendations about types or location of house as 'essential' or 'advised' so that allocations staff are able to maximise the number of options open to them.

218. Once you have awarded an applicant some level of priority on health or disability grounds, they come into direct competition with other applicants. Their chances of the landlord re-housing them depend both on the availability of suitable houses and the number of people waiting re-housing and their levels of priority. The chances of health or disability priority applicants also depend on the structure of the allocation system and how it determines relative priorities.

Monitoring trends

219. The core information that needs to be monitored around health needs and disabilities includes the:

  • number and characteristics of applicants seeking priority;
  • the outcomes of their assessment by levels of priority;
  • the number of applicants with priority by levels of priority; and
  • the number of applicants housed by levels of priority.

220. There is no legal requirement to monitor the sex, ethnicity and disability of applicants, but it might be helpful to do this.

Information and advice

221. Priority on health or disability grounds is an area where it is extremely important that you manage applicants' expectations. You need to make sure that you convey the message, to applicants as well as health professionals, that it is not having a particular health condition or disability that will give them priority for a house but whether a new house will improve the condition or make it easier to live with. So one of your main tasks is to make sure that applicants understand what priority on health and disability grounds is and how you will assess it. You could choose to give this information on your standard guide for applicants on your allocation policy or in a separate leaflet.

222. A typical leaflet, written in plain English and available in other languages and formats, should describe:

  • the role of priority on health and disability grounds;
  • other ways of meeting housing and health or disability needs;
  • the assessment procedure;
  • general information about housing in the local area and its availability;
  • decision making procedures;
  • appeals procedures; and
  • how to fill in the application form, section by section.

223. Once you have awarded priority you need to let the applicant know the outcome. You need to explain clearly what this means in terms of likely timescales for re-housing and what type of housing you will consider them for. Given the fact that you are giving priority so that you can re-house the applicant in a house that will improve their condition, or make it more manageable, it makes sense to restrict the applicant's priority to houses with the right attributes or amenities.

6.4.2 Harassment and Abuse Issues

224. Harassment and abuse can take many forms, it can be verbal or physical and at its most acute - life threatening. Landlords need to develop an approach to deal sensitively with victims of abuse and to award them with priority to make sure that they can be re-housed quickly to remove themselves from the abuse.

225. Landlords need to have a policy which applies to all types of abuse and harassment which recognises that people have a right to live a life free from such treatment. Landlords may also want to develop policies and procedures on particular forms and procedures to address different types of harassment which recognises different causes and remedies. Types of abuse and harassment you may want to consider are:

  • domestic abuse;
  • racial harassment;
  • religious or sectarian harassment;
  • homophobic harassment;
  • transphobic harassment; and
  • harassment of disabled people, including those with a learning disability.

226. Your allocation policy should clearly set out how you will deal with applicants who are victims of abuse and harassment and say what degree of priority you will give to different levels.

227. You need to make sure that staff are well trained in understanding abuse cases, and where possible you might want to consider designating a specific member of staff to take the lead in dealing with applicants who are suffering from abuse or harassment.

228. There are key things you need to remember when dealing with applicants who are suffering from harassment or abuse:

  • Safety: the safety of the applicant should be paramount. The applicant should be signposted to agencies that can assist in providing them with a place of safety where necessary; and
  • Confidentiality: this is crucial to make sure the safety of the applicant. You should never contact the alleged perpetrator nor ask them to corroborate the applicant's version of events.

229. You might find it useful to look at the following sources:

Challenge Racism- a toolkit for Scottish Housing providers

Scottish Women's Aid for resources on domestic abuse:

www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk

'Recognising and Addressing Homophobic and Transphobic Harassment: A Guide for Social Housing Providers and Homelessness Services' ( http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/stonewall_housing_report_2__harassment__final.pdf).

6.4.3 Social/community/family support

230. It is up to individual landlords to adopt their own definition of social, community or family support, if you choose to reflect it as a need factor in your allocations policy. At its most acute level it can be regarded a reasonable preference factor under 'living in unsatisfactory housing conditions'. People can have a variety of reasons for wanting to be near family or friends: to give or receive support; or to live in a particular community for cultural/religious needs (such as being close to a Mosque). For some applicants, for instance a young person in their first tenancy or an older person with health problems, being close to support will make a positive contribution to helping them sustain a tenancy.

231. If you decide to make giving/receiving support a housing need factor in your allocation policy, you should clearly set out the factors that you will take into consideration in awarding priority in this category. Equally it is up to you to decide what sort of evidence or validation you will seek on someone's need to give and/or receive support.

Learning point: Cumulative need

If an applicant and/or the people who he or she is wanting to be re-housed with fall into more than one of the legal needs factors, for example if they are overcrowded and the house is also below the tolerable standard, you will need to consider how you should take this into account 2. And if more than one member of the household has a disability or a health condition which makes the current house unsuitable, you need to consider how you should reflect this in the priority you give that application. In cases such as these, you need to consider whether to carry out a cumulative needs assessment so that there is an appropriate basis for any differentiation between applicants in need.

6.5 Allocating houses: Local factors

232. Although legislation says that you have to give reasonable preference in allocating your houses, this does not mean that you cannot take other factors into account. You can choose to give priority or award extra points for criteria which are not related to the reasonable preference groups. However you have to make sure that the priority or level of points is not so high that it dominates your lettings outcomes. In basic terms weighting given to any of the local factors should not outweigh the legal need factors.

6.5.1 Waiting time/time in need

233. You can choose to give points for the time applicants spend on the housing list before being housed if:

  • they are allocated in the same way to all applicants at the same level. So it is not lawful to only give these points to transfer applicants or only to people who live in the landlord's area, or to give a different level of points to different groups of applicants; and
  • the level of points awarded for time on the list does not outweigh points given for housing need factors and therefore has a disproportionate impact on lettings outcomes. For example, it would not be acceptable for a landlord to have a points system which awarded 10 points for being homeless or having a serious health problem, and 10 points for each year on the list. This could result in you placing applicants with little or no housing need at the top of housing lists.

234. But, where two applicants have the same level of need, you can use time on the list as a 'decider' between the two.

6.5.2 Local connection

235. You can choose to give priority on the basis of local connection in order to achieve greater community cohesion, for example if the applicant wants to be near family to give/receive support or is working in the area. But you may not give extra priority for the length of time someone has lived in the area.

6.5.3 Local lettings Initiatives

236. Some social landlords successfully use local lettings initiatives in certain geographically defined areas, making changes to their main policy to meet specific local aims. Local lettings initiatives have been used in Scotland to address many issues, for example where there is:

  • low demand - in order to stimulate demand;
  • high demand - to prioritise access for particular types of applicant, for example in rural communities where local people have problems accessing housing;
  • increasing incidence of anti-social behaviour - in order to try to reverse the trend; or
  • a lack of essential workers or where skills that are in short supply.

237. Legislation does allow social landlords to use local lettings initiatives, essentially separate allocations policies for different parts of their stock, but with some qualifications:

  • the local letting initiative must run within all the relevant legislation governing the allocation of houses. So for instance local lettings initiatives cannot take into account length of residence, nor an applicant's age or income; and
  • the landlord must allow for local lettings initiatives in its allocation policy and make public the rules they are using to allocate their houses in these areas so that applicants can understand the process.

238. Each local lettings initiative is unique but there are some key components:

  • the landlord is clear about why it is necessary to set up a local lettings initiative and can show that any decision is based on evidence and data analysis;
  • the initiative has clear aims;
  • landlords have talked to tenants about, and they have agreed to, the initiative;
  • the landlord has talked with its strategic partners, it makes sense for all social landlords operating within the same housing area to understand each other's initiatives and they are developed in a planned and coordinated way;
  • there is an effective monitoring framework in place to make sure the aims of the local lettings initiative are being met and there are no unforeseen consequences; and
  • the landlord regularly reviews initiatives, both on an operational and strategic basis and makes a decision on whether to continue. Local lettings initiatives which go on too long are unlikely to be meeting their original aims.

Example: Moray Council - Local Lettings Initiative

At present, Moray Council uses a Local Lettings Initiative whereby additional points are available to applicants who have a local connection with a specific village or township, and they reflect their wish to retain their local connection with that village or township in their areas of choice.

The council awards a points level of 50 points to their application for the area in which the local connection exists. An application may merit an accumulative total of 350 points, but if the applicant has children who attend school in a particular village and if shortlisted for that particular area their total points will be 400.

Other reasons may include the town in which the applicant grew up, where they currently reside or where they are currently employed.

These rural connection points are only applicable however to areas outwith the main towns in Moray, namely Elgin, Forres, Buckie, Keith and Lossiemouth.

Example: Orkney Housing Association - Local Lettings Initiative

Orkney Housing Association implemented a local lettings initiative to make sure that the allocation of two new houses on the island of North Ronaldsay helped to support the needs of the community.

North Ronaldsay is a very remote island community which had just lost the last two pupils from its local primary school. The school was in danger of being closed and without a school there would be little prospect of reversing the depopulation from which it was already suffering. They identified the community priorities as increasing the school roll, bringing suitable skills to the island and having a demonstrable commitment to living in the island.

The Association devised a points system which enabled them to quantify the extent to which households met these criteria and they allocated the houses to those applicants with the most points. In order to ensure compliance with legislative requirements they also awarded points to those for whom the statutory housing need criteria also applied.

Due to the remoteness of the island and the difficulty of providing support services some exclusions were included in the local lettings initiative so that households with a history of requiring support to manage their tenancies would not be eligible.

Families now occupy the houses, the school roll has increased from zero to 4 and both households are actively working in the community. Orkney Housing Association will be monitoring the local lettings initiative and believe there may be other vulnerable communities in Orkney for whom a similar process would be appropriate even though the actual criteria and priorities may be different depending on local needs.

6.5.4 Under-occupation

239. The performance standards set out the expectation that when letting houses you 'make best of housing stock'. Maximising the use of stock may mean prioritising some allocations that don't meet housing need to free up houses that will allow you to meet urgent needs. Giving a level of priority to existing tenants who are under-occupying their home is one example of this. Many landlords have far fewer large family houses than they need, and often older people whose families have moved out occupy these.

240. In general the mismatch between household sizes is an increasing issue and landlords need to consider ways of ensuring a better fit - about 4% of social housing in Scotland is overcrowded, yet 22% of homes in the sector have at least 2 more bedrooms than occupants 3.

241. Landlords throughout Scotland are seeking to tackle this issue by using a variety of incentives to encourage tenants to downsize. One choice, depending on the make-up of your stock and the balance between the availability of and the need for larger houses, is to give priority to tenants who are under-occupying and want to move to a smaller house. As well as providing information on the benefits of downsizing, such as lower fuel bills, you could incentivise tenants by:

  • giving extra points/priority for each room under-occupied;
  • paying financial incentives to the tenant; or
  • providing help with removal costs for things like white goods and carpeting.

Example: Incentivising downsizing

East Lothian Council has very low levels of council house turnover and a lack of available housing for those on housing lists. Through Right to Buy, a greater proportion of large, family homes were sold than any other house type and as a result reducing the availability of such properties for social housing tenants. This, together with the issue of older couples or single people staying in larger properties, has had a significant effect on the availability of such properties in the social rented sector.

Addressing under-occupancy has been one of the council's priorities and they award 20 extra points per unused bedroom if a tenant wishes to move to a smaller property. These extra points may result in a tenant moving more rapidly up the housing list and downsizing more quickly therefore freeing up the larger property.

East Lothian Council also awards under-occupancy grants and housing move assistance programmes. These programmes give direct grants to tenants of East Lothian Council who are moving to a smaller East Lothian Council tenancy, a RSL tenancy or a RSL shared ownership tenancy. The council introduced them to encourage tenants living in larger housing than they needed to downsize to more suitably sized housing. This releases larger properties the council can then allocate to those who need the space.

The under-occupancy programme provides a £2,000 direct payment for the move, and a further £1,000 for each bedroom downsized. Those downsizing through a mutual exchange also receive the £2,000 under-occupancy grant and an additional £1000 for each bedroom downsized. The tenant may also use the grant to offset rent arrears or other council debt. Transferring tenants who are downsizing can also benefit from a two-week overlap, to assist them in moving house, during which time they only pay rent on their outgoing property.

6.6 Allocating houses: Factors to ignore

242. As set out in paragraphs 37-49 the 1987 Act (as amended by the 2001 Act) sets out certain factors that you cannot take into account in the allocation of housing. We don't repeat these again here, but you should make sure that your allocations policy complies with the law.

243. There are some issues of practice on the factors to ignore that are worth considering in more detail.

6.6.1 Age

244. Some social landlords seek to take age into consideration when they are allocating particular general house types or blocks in an effort to prevent neighbour problems or antisocial behaviour or other housing management problems. For example, many social landlords set aside one or two bedroom ground / first floor flats and cottages as 'amenity' and let them only to people over a certain age (very often 50). While it is acceptable for social landlords to seek to allocate specific housing to applicants with mobility problems, this should not be age specific.

245. While it is important to match property to an applicant and take into account the potential impact on existing tenants, this can be achieved by sensitive lets rather than by a blanket approach based on age. Housing a young person amongst a predominately older people population may sometimes lead to housing management problems, but this is not always the case. Where there is a history of housing management problems you should take care to make sure the most suitable housing for the individual tenant and the community. But essentially, social landlords should allocate their houses on the basis of an applicant's needs and circumstances, not their age.

Example: Living in Harmony initiative

Melville Housing Association has teamed up with a local youth organisation Y2K to look into issues that affect residents and young people on its biggest estate. The Living in Harmony initiative aims to create a better understanding between tenants in flats with a common stair and young people who gather and socialise in common areas.

246. There are exceptions under legislation and these are set out in paragraphs 45-46.

247. The UK Equality Act 2010 will, when commenced, extend protection from discrimination on grounds of age (for those aged 18 and over) to cover the provision of goods and services and the exercise of public functions. We expect the implementation date for this change during 2012. The new public sector equality duty (see paragraph 60) will also place a proactive duty on public bodies to eliminate age discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.

248. Legislation does not prevent social landlords from taking into account the composition of the household in allocating a particular property. So, it may be acceptable for a landlord to decide that they would not house families with young children in multi-storey flats because of the lack of play space. But, you would have to balance this against the make-up of the landlord's stock and the demand from young families. For example if a high proportion of family sized homes were multi storeys it would not be right to impose this restriction.

6.6.2 Property ownership

249. Some social landlords have made it a condition of allocating a tenancy that an applicant sells their house before, or in a set period after, taking up the tenancy. Under the terms of the Scottish Secure Tenancy agreement, tenants must use the property as their only or main home, and the landlord can terminate a tenancy if the tenant does not comply with it. Section 20(2)(a)(viii) prevents a council taking into account in allocation whether the applicant or their family own a house. These conditions are then inappropriate and unnecessary.

6.7 Allocating houses: Setting quotas and targets

250. Many social landlords run a targets or quota system in an effort to achieve a spread of lets over the various needs factors.

Examples: Allocations quotas and targets

Almond Housing Association: Local authority notifications 50%; homeless/risk of homelessness 15%; independent living 10%; existing tenants 10%; general 8%; medical (urgent/high) 5% and social or harassment 2%.

Blairtummock Housing Association: Mainstream waiting list applicants 55%; transfer applicants 35% and homeless applicants 10%.

Fife Council: Homeless applicants 42%; transfer applicants 33% and first-time applicants 25%.

Loreburn Housing Association: Council referrals (nominations and section 5) 55%; housing list 30%, internal transfer applicants 15%.

Shetland Islands Council's allocation policy includes 3 quota groups - homeless, waiting list and transfer applicants - the targets differ by property size and between Lerwick and the rest of the authority's area. So, for example the bedsit/1 bedroom property in Lerwick target for homeless applicants is 90% with the remaining 10% split evenly between waiting list and transfer applicants. Outwith Lerwick the target for the same size of property is homeless 50%; waiting list 30%, transfer applicants 20%.

251. You should base any targets or quotas on the information you have gathered in understanding your community (see Chapter 3), specifically the housing demand in your area. Essential information would include who is applying for your housing, and the level and type of housing needs they have, as well as their preferences. You will need to take into account:

  • the size and composition of your housing list; and
  • the profile of your stock and the vacancies which are likely to become available.

252. Targets and quotas set out the proportion of properties which you expect to allocate to the various groups within the allocation scheme. But, you should avoid setting rigid quotas which you cannot amend in the light of changing circumstances. You should review them regularly.

253. You should publish any quotas and targets, either as part of or alongside your allocations policy. You should monitor lettings outcomes and publish performance against the targets. Such an approach will help make the allocation process more transparent.

Example: Explaining lettings plans

Forth Housing Association develops lettings plans for its new build stock which clearly and straightforwardly explain how they will spread allocations between priority needs groups, nominations and any special categories (for instance people whose homes they are demolishing). The Association publishes these plans and they make them available to applicants and any other interested parties. The organisation reports that this works well because the community is aware how they are going to allocate houses, and why, and applicants understand the process and have a better understanding of their housing chances.

6.8 Special cases

254. You will always have applicants whose circumstances are exceptional and don't 'fit' into the normal points system and who you need to house urgently. You can deal with such applicants outwith the normal allocations system. But:

  • these applicants must have exceptional level of need, greater than others on the list;
  • their numbers must be minimal - representing only a tiny proportion of lets;
  • there are good audit trails for your organisation's decisions in making these lets, written procedures as well as a control and monitoring framework; and
  • they are not used simply to appease applicants who are dissatisfied with the level of priority they have been awarded - such applicants should be told about the appeals and complaints procedure.

255. You need to carefully monitor special cases. A growing number or a pattern of applicants with similar circumstances would suggest that your allocation policy and priorities does not adequately reflect applicants' needs and you should review it.

6.9 Suitable, sustainable and sensitive lettings

256. In allocating housing you need to balance a range of factors:

  • the individual's housing need;
  • the suitability of the house for that applicant; and
  • the needs of the community.

257. While you should let in line with your allocation policy, you should always seek to make sure that the let is suitable and is likely to be sustainable. A suitable and sustainable let is one where there is a good probability of it providing a long term and stable solution for that applicant. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness states that "Examples of poor practice might include placing people in hard to let housing which may exacerbate the problems which led to homelessness in the first place; or placing families with social or other problems in the same area, which can cause problems for both those from the area itself and for housing management." It would be good practice for you to keep in mind these principles when letting to all applicants, not just to those who are homeless.

258. One useful tool to help match a property and applicant that you can use to try and make sure that it is a sustainable tenancy for the applicant and at the same time prevents some of the housing management issues that may result from an unsuitable match, is sensitive lettings. A sensitive let essentially means the landlord departing from their routine allocation practice. So instead of allocating a property to the applicant at the top of the list (the person with the most housing need, as defined by their allocation policy) the landlord considers the suitability of the applicant for the vacancy, on the basis of the information they have about the applicant and the knowledge they have about the property, its location or the neighbours. Landlords use sensitive lets in a variety of ways. Sometimes these are done on an ad hoc basis to make sure a let is sustainable and mitigate against management problems.

Example: Sensitive lettings and housing management problems

Albyn Housing Association let a one bedroom flat in the last year 'sensitively'. The housing officer identified that the tenant next door was abusive and threatening, and was a particular threat to women. He had been abusive and threatening toward her and Albyn's contractors on more than one occasion. He also had a known chronic alcohol abuse problem.

The layout of the flats was that there was a main front door for 2 flats and each shared a common stair. The front doors faced each other. The Association agreed with the housing officer that they would bypass any women or particularly vulnerable applicants on the housing list for this allocation.

The Association identified several men with high priority for the allocation and interviewed them face to face to decide any potential vulnerabilities. They offered a man the tenancy and he accepted it. This man had family members who lived locally and he was aware of his neighbour's potential behaviour before he accepted the tenancy. The tenant has had no problems to date.

259. So, the law allows you to make sensitive lets and in many cases they are essential. But you should keep in mind that you must make all lets, including sensitive lets in line with legislation. In particular you must take into account the factors set out in section 20 of the 1987 Act (as amended) and described in section 2 and Annex A of this guidance.

260. There has been some concern amongst landlords about criticism by the Scottish Housing Regulator about how they use sensitive lets and this has made some landlords wary of using the flexibility they have. It is therefore useful to explore the basis for these concerns. Areas where landlords may potentially be criticised are essentially two fold.

261. Firstly, that social landlords hold little documented evidence about how and why they use sensitive lets. It is essential then that you should include in your allocations policy a statement on how and when you will use sensitive lets. You should also have clear procedures for staff to follow, including a documented assessment of a potentially sensitive let.

Example: Sensitive lettings and allocations policy

South Ayrshire Council has, as part of its allocation policy, a sensitive lets policy which defines a sensitive let; describes the sensitive lettings process, the criteria for identifying a sensitive let and describes how they will monitor and check their use.

262. The second criticism about sensitive lets centres on the fact that landlords often do not monitor the impact of their use. You need to know what the impact of sensitive lettings is on those individual applicants who you are bypassing - in terms of any significant extra waiting time for an offer, and in terms of the quality of any later offer. At the same time you need to closely monitor your use of sensitive lets to make sure that there is no pattern of bypassing particular groups, and that in practice sensitive letting does not amount to a policy of letting on the basis of the prohibited factors (age being the most obvious one).

263. The message then is that you can use discretion in lettings but in doing so you should develop a framework, which makes sure these decisions are accountable, transparent and their use carefully monitored.

6.10 Letting low demand properties

264. Low demand stock is characterised by high levels of empty houses, small or non-existent housing lists, high refusal rates and low levels of tenancy sustainment. Low demand has significant resource implications for landlords as well as a harmful impact on communities. Tackling low demand areas require landlords to develop multiple approaches which tackle the root causes of low demand and seek to reverse the trend. For some areas a drastic solution such as demolition may be required but in many cases landlords will seek to use a combination of approaches, often with other agencies, to turn the area around. These could include more intensive housing management, investment in refurbishment or remodelling of the stock. Changing how you allocate low demand housing can only be one part of the strategy.

265. Landlords use a variety of initiatives to stimulate demand and improve lettings outcomes in areas that low demand has blighted. These generally involve a change in approach - from rationing a scarce resource to marketing a product. A choice based lettings approach is one such example.

266. Before making a decision to adopt a new approach to allocating houses in a different way you have to carefully analyse the issue and be able to show that there is, in reality, no demand for that stock from the applicants on your housing lists. And once you have carried out your strategy you need to monitor and review the approach as necessary.

267. Approaches you might consider are:

Marketing

  • Advertising of properties- in the press, in newsletters, on the internet and at your offices;
  • Adopting an estate agency approach - promoting the advantages of the area (transport, amenities) and the property (low rent, no deposit, security of tenure);
  • Show flats and open days for prospective tenants; and
  • Initiatives to expand the customer base - such as briefing employers seeking to bring staff into the area and contacting universities and colleges during freshers' week.

Offering incentives

  • decoration allowances;
  • rent free periods; and
  • white goods.

268. Even though you are marketing properties, if there is more than one interested applicant, you should still make the allocation to the applicant who has most priority and who makes the best use of stock.

269. You might find it useful to look at the CIH report 'Low Demand Housing in Scotland' which explores the reasons for and solutions to low demand housing issues. The report can be found here: CIH: Low Demand Housing in Scotland and the report 'Managing Housing Voids: the impact of low demand properties' jointly published by Communities Scotland and Audit Scotland can be found on the Scottish Housing Regulator's website here SHR: Managing Housing Voids.

Example: 'Properties available now' list

Dundee City Council's lettings system identifies properties which have either:

  • received 3 or more property based refusals;
  • been fit to view for over 3 weeks or;
  • have no queue.

It places the properties on the available now list which the council advertises on their website and in the reception of council offices. They update the list on a daily basis.

The property stays on the list until the council have 10 notes of interest or after 1 week whichever is sooner and then the system automatically remove it. The council places interest in point order and they allocate the property to the applicant with the highest points. The system holds all interest until the council successfully lets the property.

6.11 Who do you allocate the property to?

270. Your allocation policy will tell you who gets priority for your housing. But, when it comes to individual allocation decisions there is no single answer to who you should allocate each property to. It will depend on:

  • Your allocation policy and who it gives priority to;
  • The reasonable preference you have given across your stock over the year;
  • The applicant and their circumstances;
  • The property, its size and location and suitability; and
  • The needs of the neighbouring community.

271. It is clear, however, that you need to record and retain the reasons for your decision. This information will mean that you are able to monitor the operation of your allocation policy and make sure that you are not systematically disadvantaging particular individuals or groups.

6.12 Suspending applications

272. Although landlords cannot suspend applicants from their housing lists, legislation does allow them to suspend them from receiving an offer of housing under certain circumstances. Landlords suspend applications for a wide range of reasons and comprehensive and detailed information on using suspensions is available from the Chartered Institute of Housing in their publication 'Suspending Housing Applicants: a practical guide'. There are, however, some key issues you may want bear in mind.

273. Applications cannot be suspended on the basis of any of the factors to ignore, set out in the 1987 Act and referred to in section 6.6 above, and landlords cannot suspend homelessness applicants who they have a duty to house. This means that a RSL cannot refuse to house a section 5 referral.

6.12.1 Reasons for suspensions

274. So, why and when would you suspend an application? The CIH guide gives detailed guidance on a range of reasons that landlords give for suspending applications. However the most commonly used are:

Applicants with debt

275. The 1987 Act (as amended by the 2001 Act) is clear that you cannot suspend an applicant who has arrears or a tenancy debt which is equal to more than a month's rent as long as they have made a repayment agreement and they have kept to this for three months.

276. There has been some uncertainty amongst landlords about whether they should apply the same rules about tenancy debt to applicants and existing tenants who are seeking a transfer. Some landlords expect existing tenants to pay their arrears and other tenancy debts in full before they will consider them for re-housing. The legislation does not spell out the difference. Section 20 of the 1987 Act requires a landlord to adhere to its rules ' when selecting tenants for all houses held by them'. It is the expectation of the Scottish Housing Regulator that landlords apply section 20 rules to all applicants equally.

277. For applicants with tenancy debt it is important that any repayment agreement is realistic. Although some landlords have struggled with how to define 'reasonable' or 'realistic', the emphasis should be on the applicant's willingness to address the debt and come to an agreement to do so. You should base any agreement on its affordability to the applicant rather than the level of debt.

278. You should be wary of adopting too rigid an approach to suspending applicants with arrears. You should make efforts to take into consideration why the arrear has arisen. The urgency of the applicant's housing need should be of paramount importance. When you house an applicant with a history of arrears this should be a trigger for more intensive housing management to prevent the problem recurring. You may want to consider:

  • early and sustained personal contact;
  • debt counselling/money advice; and
  • signposting to advice agencies.

Example: Rent arrears and early face to face intervention

Stirling Council has set up an approach based on a culture of early and direct face to face engagement with tenants and has shifted the focus of rent arrears recovery to a more proactive method of prevention and support. This includes:

  • A Resettlement Officer making early contact with every applicant likely to be offered a house to talk about their tenancy obligations including the importance of payment of rent in advance (as required by the tenancy agreement) and to fill in benefit application forms as early as possible;
  • The obligations to pay rent and other costs associated with a tenancy are also discussed at sign up by the Housing Officer;
  • A tenant who is unable to pay rent in advance or give all the necessary information to fill in a benefit claim is contacted regularly;
  • Within two weeks of the tenancy start date, a new tenancy visit is arranged and face to face contact must be made within 28 days to make sure that the payment is made or a benefit application is fully filled in;
  • Housing Officers continue with follow up settling in visits for as long as help is needed;
  • Support plans are in place for all new tenants based on pre tenancy and sign up contact;
  • Housing Officers refer cases to an Income Maximisation Officer who visits tenants assessed as "at risk" within a month of taking up their tenancy;
  • Income Maximisation Officers focus their work on new tenants and those most at risk of falling behind with their rent to make sure that the tenant is receiving all benefits to which they are entitled;
  • The visit from the Income Maximisation Officer gives the new tenant a contact should issues arise during the tenancy.

Applicants with a history of anti social behaviour

279. Landlords often use a history of anti-social behaviour as a reason for suspending applicants, and this can be a warranted course of action. But, anti-social behaviour, unlike tenancy debt, is difficult to define and corroborate. There is no clear definition of what makes anti-social behaviour and most importantly what some people would tolerate others may not. So, landlords need to define what behaviour they would tolerate and when considering suspension decide whether it is a proportionate response.

280. Landlords should avoid adopting a blanket approach of suspending applications of everyone who has had a Notice of Proceedings for Recovery of Possession or had proceedings raised against them as this could be seen as judging an applicant before a court has done so. The Chartered Institute of Housing suggests that when considering suspensions landlords should apply the same criteria as the 2001 Act for eviction, namely:

  • the extent to which the conduct is because of acts of omission of people other than the tenant;
  • the nature, frequency and length of the conduct;
  • the effect the conduct is having on other people; and
  • any other action taken by the landlord to address the conduct.

281. You also need to consider the purpose of the suspension. Will preventing an applicant who has a history of anti-social behaviour from accessing housing address the issue? Would it be more suitable to give housing with support or to give a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy in order to help the applicant modify their behaviour? The power to downgrade a tenancy from a Scottish Secure Tenancy ( SST) to a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy ( SSST) is a clear signal to tenants that with rights come responsibilities.

Learning point: Short Scottish Secure Tenancy

Section 34 of the 2001 Act gave social landlords, under grounds set out in Schedule 6, the power to give a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy ( SSST). This includes to persons who landlords have evicted for antisocial behaviour in any part of the UK and from any tenure. Landlords can also offer it to tenants who are under an antisocial behaviour order ( ASBO). In both cases the landlord must give support to tenants to help them sustain the tenancy and convert it to a full Scottish Secure Tenancy ( SST). These tenancies convert automatically to a full Scottish Secure Tenancy ( SST) after 12 months, if there has been no repetition of antisocial conduct. The landlord can raise proceedings for recovery of possession of the house under a SSST after serving a notice on the tenant and if the tenant refuses to leave, the courts must give an order for recovery of possession if the landlord has observed the correct procedures.

SSSTs benefit tenants by giving them a second chance to sustain a tenancy and help landlords who want to give antisocial tenants a chance to rehabilitate but who are wary of offering a permanent tenancy for fear that the offending behaviour may recur. They are also reassured that if the antisocial behaviour does recur, the tenancy can be ended speedily.

You can find guidance on the use of SSSTs here

282. Using suspensions as a tool to encourage people to pay their arrears or change their behaviour is an understandable response. Managing tenants with challenging behaviour or who repeatedly fall into rent arrears costs the organisation money and there is a lot of pressure on landlords to keep a tight financial control over their operations. But, landlords have to weigh such an approach against the fact that social landlords should be contributing to the public policy aim of minimising or preventing homelessness and be providing services that are inclusive and accessible to people who are poor or vulnerable.

283. It is good practice to minimise the use of suspensions. Remember that when you are imposing suspensions you are excluding people in housing need from being re-housed. You therefore need to consider:

  • Do you have robust evidence for making this decision?
  • Is it a proportionate decision?
  • Have you considered the consequences for the applicant?
  • Have you considered other options to suspension, such as taking a proactive approach to managing the problem rather than excluding?

6.12.2 Managing suspensions

Information for applicants:

284. You need to make sure that all applicants are aware of your approach to suspensions and what this means. You should include this in the explanatory information you give applicants.

285. Once you have decided to suspend an application you need to tell the applicant, in clear terms:

  • why you are suspending their application;
  • what this means, for example that they will not be considered for housing;
  • how long the suspension will last;
  • what they have to do to have the suspension lifted; and
  • about their right to appeal.

286. You need to tell applicants about your decision to suspend them as soon as you make it. You shouldn't wait until you reach them for an offer and bypass them to give them a chance to take action and have you lift the suspension. And you should continue to remind them, when you carry out your annual review, that you continue to suspend their application. You could also consider letting applicants know every time you bypass their application. Housing officers could remind transfer applicants, in letters about their rent arrears, the consequences for their re-housing application if they do not maintain their repayments.

Monitoring suspensions

287. It is important that you have a monitoring system in place to help you manage your suspended applications, to make sure that you lift time-limited suspensions when the time period has elapsed and that you regularly review other suspensions. You also need to run your suspension in an accountable and transparent way and to monitor your approach to make sure that suspensions are operating satisfactorily. You may therefore want to monitor:

  • the number of applications suspended, and for what reason;
  • the number of appeals against suspensions and outcomes; and
  • the number of reviews of suspensions and outcomes.

288. There is no legal requirement to monitor the sex, ethnicity and disability of suspended applicants but it might be helpful to do this.

6.13 Openness and accountability

289. When allocating your houses the underpinning principle should be that you do this in an open and fair way. You need to be able to show that decisions are made in a fair and consistent way, in line with your policy, and where discretion is exercised, it is done in an accountable way. So what are the key elements of an open and accountable system?

6.13.1 Internal management systems

  • Do you have clear and comprehensive procedures to guide staff in making allocations decisions?
  • Have you fully trained staff on what you want to achieve from the allocations policy, and do you keep this training up to date?
  • Do you have a quality assurance system to check individual decisions? For example,
    • does another member of staff countercheck decisions about pointing, cancelling and suspending applications?
    • does a manager check and approve decisions about allocations?
    • do you carry out a management audit of some decisions?
  • Do you keep audit trails which clearly show how and why you let a house to a particular applicant and explain why you bypassed other applicants?

Learning point: Role of elected members and governing body members

Only staff should run the day to day operation of the allocation process. The role of councillors and governing body members is to set and review the policy and monitor progress against policy aims. Councillors and governing body members can be involved in considering appeals or special cases, but in these circumstances you must anonymise the details of the case and you must not reveal personal information about the applicants.

6.13.2 An appeals system

290. An appeals process is essential for those who disagree with the decision reached, for example where:

  • the priority awarded does not reflect their need;
  • an unfair suspension has been applied or their application unreasonably cancelled; or
  • they have been offered a house which they regard as unsuitable.

291. You should make it clear to applicants that they can appeal against any decision you make about their application or about any offer of housing you make. You should tell applicants about your appeals process in your allocation policy and mention it in any communication you send them about their application. How your appeals process works is a matter for you to decide depending on your context. However you should make sure that staff involved in the original decision are not involved in the appeal process.

292. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness sets clear guidelines for appeals against homelessness decisions. You may want to consider using this framework for appeals against allocations decisions.

6.13.3 A complaints procedure

293. A complaints procedure allows for those who are dissatisfied with the way the organisation has treated them. The Scottish Public Service Ombudsman ( SPSO) handles complaints in the 'last resort' - after the complainant has already been through a service provider's formal complaints procedure. The SPSO reports that a high proportion of complaints it receives are from tenants and applicants of social landlords, and that the social housing sector produces the highest proportion of complaints that have not finished the service provider's complaint process. These two facts suggest that tenants and applicants may not know how to complain to their landlords, and if they do, they may not be satisfied with how the landlord handles or resolves it.

294. To improve things landlords need to:

  • train and let their staff to handle complaints;
  • record complaints properly; and
  • use the information to drive service improvement.

295. The SPSO and CIH have jointly published a briefing note for landlords 'Seeing Beyond the Negative'. This gives useful information and good practice points in handling complaints.

296. In developing a complaints process you need to make sure that it is simple and accessible to tenants and applicants. You should consider:

  • a range of ways to make a complaint;
  • details of what to do if complainants are unhappy with the outcome; and
  • clear service standards and time frames so that complainants know what to expect.

297. Complaints give a good indicator of where you need to make improvements and where you can used them to improve service delivery. You should consider monitoring:

  • the nature and number of complaints- is this changing?
  • the outcome of complaints;
  • customer satisfaction - not just about the outcome of the complaint but how it was handled;
  • performance against service standards; and
  • how you have changed ways of doing things in response to feedback.

298. You should consider publishing this information so that tenants and applicants know that you are taking their complaints seriously and that you are using them to improve service delivery.

299. You can find good practice examples in the Communities Scotland openness and accountability thematic report - open and accessible?

6.13.4 A feedback process

300. You should consider asking tenants and applicants their views on your allocations service. Getting a service user's point of view is a good way of making sure that your service meets their needs and expectations. Many landlords ask new tenants for feedback on their satisfaction on the allocations process - either by asking them to fill in a survey at the sign up process or during the settling in visit. Although this is useful, it is important to remember that these are the applicants who you have successfully housed. You may want to consider seeking feedback from applicants who you have not yet housed. There is a range of ways that you may want to consider - asking them to fill in a survey when you review their application, a face to face survey when they call at the office or holding a focus group for applicants.

6.13.5 Outcome reports

301. You need to make sure that you report on the outcome of your allocations policy - who you are housing and where - in a way that is understandable and relevant to those to whom you should be accountable: elected members/ governing body members, tenants and applicants. Elected members and governing body members need to know if you are meeting the policy goals they set. And providing accurate and up to date information on allocations to applicants and tenants can help them understand their housing prospects. This is particularly important in helping you manage applicants' expectations at a time when demand for housing is particularly high.