Cherwell District Council is set to change the way it deals with applications for social housing following agreement from its Executive last night (5 November). This decision has been made following extensive consultation with partners and all applicants to the current Housing Register.
The Government has issued a new Code of Guidance to local authorities regarding who can qualify to be given priority for social housing.
The Localism Act 2011 allows local authorities a greater degree of freedom in the way they can choose to allocate social homes in their district.
Cherwell has followed the Code of Guidance and also included changes to its allocation scheme in anticipation of the coming welfare reforms.
People who receive benefits to pay their rent will become subject to a cap on the weekly amount they will be eligible to receive.
The government is also introducing a new 'bedroom tax', affecting social housing tenants who under-occupy their homes. This will mean there will be an increased need for some people to move to smaller homes.
The changes will mean the Housing Register will become much smaller and more realistic, giving only to those in real need a chance to access the Housing Register.
Councillor Debbie Pickford, Cherwell's lead member for housing, said: "In the past, people who have had no need for social housing have made applications.
"In many cases, this has been speculative, but many of those judged to have little or no need stood little chance of ever being housed.
"This new legislation allows us to take a much more rigorous approach, meaning we can focus staff time dealing only with those in real need."
Applicants are currently divided into five bands - one denotes the highest level of need and five the least.
There are currently around 2,800 households in bands four and five, most of whom have little or no prospect of securing social housing.
This group makes up the largest proportion of the council's Housing Register currently hovering around 4,000 households. In future there will be three priority bands for housing, all based on qualifying housing needs.
Previously, anyone could make an application for social housing, whether or not they had a realistic chance of it being granted.
The new system will operate in three stages. Households will be assessed on whether they are eligible for social housing, qualify under the new scheme and are considered to be in a "reasonable preference" category.
Applicants who are homeless, have unacceptable living conditions or need to move on medical grounds are included in the groups most likely to fit into this bracket.
Under the new rules, anyone who does not qualify and is not considered to have "reasonable preference" will no longer be allowed on the register.
Those who would be most unlikely to qualify include:
- Homeowners or those with assets or annual household income of £60,000
- People with criminal convictions relating to their home or a history of anti-social behaviour
- People with significant rent arrears
- Anyone without a local connection to Cherwell (except the armed forces in certain circumstances)
There will be new rules about accepting suitable offers - homeless applicants will receive one suitable offer.
Other applicants who refuse three suitable offers in six months will be excluded from the Housing Register for a period of up to six months.
The council is prioritising up to one third of vacancies annually to be for those who are employed or who are undertaking education or training to improve their chances of getting a job.
Not only will the new system give a much more accurate picture of the housing needs in the district, it will also drastically reduce the amount of time spent on processing unrealistic applications.
In turn, this will allow resources to be more focussed on those needing help and advice on urgent housing issues.
The new policy will not be implemented until at least April 2013, giving the council time to reassess and advise applicants on how their position has changed. All current applicants will be contacted at the point their individual application is reviewed.
Visit the council's housing allocations page for full details of the new policy.