Housing Allocation Policy: What do you make of it?

Housing allocation policies can be long and confusing documents to get our heads around and seeing as the coalition keeps getting contacted by concerned residents claiming they are being forced to move into unsuitable homes due to a three-month rule, We decided to look at the policy, rules and your rights.

Housing Allocation Three month Rule: An Introduction

This article looks to shed light on an applicants rights concerning Brighton and Hove City Councils Housing Allocation Policy and the three-month final offer of accommodation rule which many of those living in emergency and temporary accommodation are receiving.  We will look at the issues via two actual cases which are live cases happening now, as well as looking at the relevant laws and guidance. In this case, the Housing Act 1996, localism Act 2011 and Brighton and Hove City Council Housing Allocation Plan 2017. All of these laws/policies are equally important when coming to a fair assessment of the three-month rule and the final offer of accommodation made by Brighton and Hove City Council.

Housing Allocation Policy: What Is The Three Month Rule?

Stunning View of Brighton Town Hall

The Three-month time limit WHEN bidding for properties Rule:

There is a three-month time limit for bidding for the following categories of applicants:
    1. Social Services nominations under quota arrangements
    2. Witness Protection nominations under a quota arrangement and agreed through the National Witness Mobility Service
    3. Reciprocal letting arrangements with another landlord or local authority
    4. Accepted homeless households owed the main duty by Brighton & Hove City Council Band A
    5. Accepted homeless household in Band C who are not bidding under the scheme.
    6. Households who are statutorily overcrowded
    7. Transfer applicants needing a permanent or temporary decant where the property is imminently required for major repair
    8. Where the property is deemed to be ‘statutorily overcrowded’ by the Private Sector Housing Team under section X of the 1985 Housing Act and there are no practicable means to make the property suitable for the number of occupants within a reasonable time period.
    9. Priority transfer, agreed in exceptional circumstances due to significant and insurmountable problems associated with the tenant’s occupation and there is imminent personal risk to the household if they remain.
    10. Retiring council and HA employees, eg Sheltered Scheme Managers, Residential Estate Wardens where the council or HA has a contractual obligation to house.
    11. Non-statutory successors – where agreement has been provided by Tenancy Services and Housing Options that the council will try to re-house in accommodation suitable for the applicant’s housing need.
    12. Under-occupiers who have succeeded to the tenancy where the council has grounds for seeking possession by offering suitable alternative accommodation.
    13. Care leavers – where the applicant has been placed by Brighton & Hove City Council and there is agreement from the Homemove Manager and professional colleagues within the council. This priority is not valid for care leavers from other authorities.
    14. Management Transfers – agreed by Housing Management for transfers on management grounds.
    15. Ex-council and HA tenants released or discharged from an institution that the council has given an undertaking to house who have not successfully bid within the timescale will be made one offer before duty is discharged or priority lost. After the bidding time allowed above has passed and the applicant has not been successful, the council will then place bids on behalf of the applicant that are more likely to receive an offer of accommodation this is known as direct bidding.
 
When you receive a “Final offer of Accommodation” letter and you think the property you have bid on is not suitable and want to reject, firstly do not panic, secondly, it’s important to check whether you are within the Three-Month Rule. 
Some Example Cases

You are accepted as homeless and in priority need. You are provided with a priority band and date of acceptance on the housing waiting list. You live in emergency accommodation but are bidding every two weeks when new properties are advertised.

Firstly

If you are band A irrespective of whether you are bidding or not you should be offered a suitable offer of accommodation based on what the council knows about your household. This is called a final offer of accommodation with the right to review (section 4). If you feel this offer is not suitable under the guidelines you should likely seek legal advice as the council will enforce the policy and /or say you are making yourselves intentionally homeless for rejecting. You can always review later via legal help. TIP: Be mindful of your bidding though that you are bidding on places you would live if you are accepted. 

If you are Band C and have been bidding then you do not come into section 5 rules because you are actively bidding. You are exempt from this rule. 

What Laws Apply and Why?

Final Offer of Accommodation in Discharge of main housing duty owed under s193(2) Part 7 Housing Act (as amended)  

Section 193 basically outlines the duty you were accepted under which in this case is the Duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally. 

Later in the letter, the council will normally mention Part 6 and duty to discharge, the act mentions the following “The local housing authority shall also cease to be subject to the duty under this section if the applicant, having been informed of the possible consequence of refusal and of his right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation, refuses a final offer of accommodation under Part 6.”

You will notice at the top of the letter it states as amended, this is because our legal system is not set its fluid, people like yourselves take injustices to courts and tribunals in order to challenge case law and this has happened time and time again. The council are then legally obliged to make relevant changes or face legal action and a challenge by an appellant. 

The Localism Act 2011

gained royal assent and became law in 2011, this legislation set our new powers for local authorities which did have an impact locally, we have seen a recent Housing Allocation Policy Enacted in 2017.

166 A Allocation in accordance with allocation scheme: England of the localism act states: 

(1) Every local housing authority in England must have a scheme (their “allocation scheme”) for determining priorities, and as to the procedure to be followed, in allocating housing accommodation.

For this purpose “procedure” includes all aspects of the allocation process, including the persons or descriptions of persons by whom decisions are taken.

(2) The scheme must include a statement of the authority’s policy on offering people who are to be allocated housing accommodation—

(a) a choice of housing accommodation; or

(b) the opportunity to express preferences about the housing accommodation to be allocated to them.

(3) As regards priorities, the scheme shall, subject to subsection (4), be framed so as to secure that reasonable preference is given to—

(a) people who are homeless (within the meaning of Part 7);

(b) people who are owed a duty by any local housing authority under section 190(2), 193(2) or 195(2) (or under section 65(2) or 68(2) of the Housing Act 1985) or who are occupying accommodation secured by any such authority under section 192(3);

(c) people occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions;

(d ) people who need to move on medical or welfare grounds (including any grounds relating to a disability); and

(9) The scheme must be framed so as to secure that an applicant for an allocation of housing accommodation—

(b) has the right to request the authority to inform him of any decision about the facts of his case which is likely to be, or has been, taken into account in considering whether to allocate housing accommodation to him; and

(c) has the right to request a review of a decision mentioned in paragraph (b), or in section 160ZA(9), and to be informed of the decision on the review and the grounds for it.

(10) As regards the procedure to be followed, the scheme must be framed in accordance with such principles as the Secretary of State may prescribe by regulations.

(11) Subject to the above provisions, and to any regulations made under them, the authority may decide on what principles the scheme is to be framed.

(12) A local housing authority in England must, in preparing or modifying their allocation scheme, have regard to

(a) their current homelessness strategy under section 1 of the Homelessness Act 2002,

(b) their current tenancy strategy under section 150 of the Localism Act 2011, and

(14) A local housing authority in England shall not allocate housing accommodation except in accordance with their allocation scheme.”

So when the housing allocation policy went up for review because of the significant changes it was required to have had wide public consultation. One example was the LGBTQ+ Community who were livid for not being included or consulted are reported in Gscene. We had exec members in the meeting and nothing was consulted on. This did not happen for them and other homeless households in fact more homeowners responded to the consultation than homeless households.

As a result of the policy change, which was enabled by the Localism Act 2011, We have seen around 21k households removed from the list, this could equate to up to 50,000 people affected by the change. there there are also some positives to take from the final housing allocation policy and that can be the direct bid rule when it is applied correctly and households are placed in suitable accommodation, but also that homeless households do have a priority overall on the housing allocation policy which is why 1in4 placements go to a homeless household. 

None the less the housing allocation policy was heavily amended from its original report when elected councillors put in safeguards to protect local households on the list, these were scrutinised and passed by relevant committees and then the policy was enacted. 

The council are obliged to advertise the policy widely, including on homemove page, which hasn’t been the case even after the council were reprimanded by the Local Government Ombudsman for the contradictory nature of the policy and departments often miss interpretation of it. If you watch back the amendments and tone of the debates and meetings it is very clear what councillors wanted, the tone and spirit should be also taken into account when applying these rules. 

 

Misleading Aspects to Brighton and Hove City Councils Housing Allocation Policy 

So once you have ascertained whether your case applies to the three-month rule then it goes into its general application if you do apply. I wonder if elected councillors read this far into the housing allocation report…

Direct Bidding

“Accepted Homeless households in Band A or C who have failed to exercise choice through the bidding process within the three month timescale or who have bid within the timescale but have not been successful. The council may make one reasonable offer of accommodation before duty is discharged.” – (This contradicts the rule in Section 5 band C which states those actively bidding are exempt from the Direct Bidding Rule).

“It should also be noted that this does not include Accepted Homeless cases where if households in this group are successful in obtaining an offer of accommodation within three months, this will be considered a final offer. Any refusal of offers for the accepted homeless case will be dealt with under the reviews procedure under Part VII Housing Act 1996 and not under the allocation policy.” (Again contradictory as many should not need a review and they are simply struck off as having used one of the two bids allowed, the property then should be offered to the second and third-placed bidders.)

“Applicants approved on a reciprocal basis will be placed in and be able to bid for the agreed housing appropriate to meet their needs for three months and if unsuccessful during this period will be given one direct offer of suitable accommodation.” (It is important you notice the words suitable if you prove the property was not suitable, as mentioned above its worth getting your requirements prior put on file and to read the adverts. but generically people can make mistakes, ads can not accurately reflect the actual property. Because we are humans we need to ensure there is a choice in the choice based lettings scheme and that powers aren’t taken to disadvantage those with protected characters and the general population on the list.)

“If this is unreasonably refused the application will be closed. The council’s one offer policy applies.” – (Again this is contradictory however there is always the right to review and the original duty to house you as homeless and in priority has no bearing on you being evicted and send to the streets to live. This is not the case. The council still hold that duty. )

We then get

Offers of accommodation

“Applicants who are not subject to direct bidding above, who have refused two reasonable first offers

of accommodation within two years of the date of the original offer made or arranged by the council

and there has been no material change in their circumstances so as to make the earlier offer(s)

clearly unsuitable in the light of the applicant’s changed circumstances will have their case closed.”

Brighton and Hove City Council Housing Allocations Policy 2017 - Present

See if you can make heads or tails of it?

Let us know your experiences of Homemove in Brighton and Hove in the comments box below. 

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