21 March 2002 NON-EXEMPT HOUSING (SCOTLAND) ACT 2001; ALLOCATION POLICY AMENDMENTS & IMPLEMENTATION UPDATE

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1 STIRLING COUNCIL THIS REPORT RELATES TO ITEM ON THE AGENDA CARE COMMITTEE ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES HOUSING SERVICES 21 March 2002 NON-EXEMPT HOUSING (SCOTLAND) ACT 2001; ALLOCATION POLICY AMENDMENTS & IMPLEMENTATION UPDATE 1 PURPOSE 1.1 The report provides an update to Members on the implementation of the Allocations Policy, and the impact and feedback from applicants. 1.2 The report identifies issues which have been considered and agreed by the Housing Panel in respect of the Allocations Policy, as a result of requirements of the new Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, and associated guidance. 2 SUMMARY 2.1 The report provides information to Care Committee on action taken to implement Stirling s new Allocations Policy since July, The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 requires all applicants to be accepted on to housing lists. Subsequently, the priorities set and the applicants actively considered for housing will be determined by the landlord. A number of changes to the Council s current policy have been considered by the Housing Panel to meet the new requirements. These are detailed in this report. 2.3 The Act restricts the extent to which debt owed by the applicant can be taken into account when allocating housing. The report details amendments to the current policy to take account of this. 2.4 The report highlights issues which have been considered and agreed by Housing Panel resulting from the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 which becomes law on 1 April These include changes to eligibility criteria and how applicant s debt is treated. 3 RECOMMENDATION(S) The committee is asked to: 3.1 Agree proposed amendments to the current Allocations Policy to comply with the Housing (Scotland) Act, 2001 as recommended by the Housing Panel. N:\DEMSUPP\NEWDECISIONS\CARE\REPORTS\CA HSGSCOTACTALLOC(32CC).DOC

2 3.2 Note the information provided in the report on the implementation of the Allocations Policy since July, CONSIDERATIONS 4.1 Stirling s Revised Allocations Policy Following approval of a revised Allocations Policy for Stirling Council s stock in May 2001, an implementation plan was formulated A new housing application form was developed and introduced to take account of the new policy requirements and to collect strategic information. An applicant s guide was designed which gives a summary of the Allocations Policy as well as useful housing information to assist applicants in making an informed choice. New medical application forms were also designed in conjunction with Forth Valley Health Board. These forms now enable applicants to detail their medical history in a confidential manner Leading up to implementation of the new Allocations Policy, 5059 applicants were on the waiting list housing applications were issued, following the return of review cards completed applications were returned and thereafter processed. There are now 3109 applicants on the waiting list as at 18 TH February have active housing applications and 918 have nonactive housing applications for reasons such as current or former tenant arrears Extensive and detailed work was carried out with Saffron Computer Systems to take an incremental approach to implementation so as to minimise risk and to ensure systems were fully operational prior to implementation. 4.2 Training Prior to implementation, all staff were fully trained on all aspects of the allocations system. Each local office has at least one lead officer who has a mentoring role within the area team and who enables consistency of approach. 4.3 Members Information Prior to implementation, a briefing note was issued to Members detailing a timescale of events leading up to the system going live. Briefing sessions were arranged for Members in order that they could see the new computer software in operation and could take the opportunity to raise concerns and/or ask questions regarding the new policy. Housing staff were made available to attend Members surgeries if further clarification and/or support was required. 4.4 Publicity and Applicant Support All applicants on the housing list were made aware of the new system prior to implementation. Letters detailing applicants points and positions for each of their chosen areas were issued. In addition, applicants were advised of the total number of properties remaining in Council ownership in each of the applicants areas of choice. The applicants guide was also issued at this stage.

3 4.4.2 Home visits and interviews were offered where requested in order that applicants could receive more detailed information also so that the new policy could be explained in more detail Press releases were issued through the local newspaper and local radio station A centralised team was set up with 3 dedicated officers who dealt with all enquiries, processing of applications, and testing of software. This team was operational until September 2001 when it was gradually phased out and the work passed back to the local offices. A freephone telephone number to the centralised team was made available until October Complaints/Enquiries The Council s corporate Talkback Scheme is being used to monitor comments and complaints. 20 talkbacks have been received since implementation and the issues have varied. The majority being applicants who are non-active on the list because of rent arrears enquiries have been received from Members, 4 to St.Ninians Office, 3 to Eastern Villages, 15 to Wallace and 13 to Highland. Issues raised included: Suspensions for rent debt General counselling requests Applicants current position Reasons for allocations Updates on applicants details 4.6. Housing (Scotland) Act In light of the new Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, landlords need to consider various policy issues in relation to their Allocations Policies. The section of the Act dealing with Housing lists and Allocations becomes law on 1 st April Extensive guidance on the interpretation of the Act has been issued by the Scottish Executive. 4.7 Eligibility Generally, the new legislation dictates that local authorities must accept all applicants aged 16 years or over, regardless of their apparent eligibility or need, onto the waiting list. This is to accurately gauge housing need within the local authority area. However, local authorities can still suspend applicants based on their own priorities and policy decisions The eligibility criteria for applicants who live outwith the Stirling Council area therefore requires change. Currently an applicant who is applying on the grounds of support has to be over 60yrs and wishing to move into the area to receive care/support from a younger relative. Legislation now states that there is no restriction on the basis of age. Appendix 1a sets out the current policy on eligibility, exclusions and suspension criteria while Appendix 1b sets out a recommended new policy.

4 4.7.3 Currently, applicants who have previously been evicted on the grounds of rent arrears or anti social behaviour cannot apply for housing until 2 years have elapsed since the date of eviction and the same penalty applies to applicants who provide false information. However, new legislation states that such applicants must be accepted onto the waiting list regardless of elapsed time since eviction Although applicants who have debt or anti social behaviour issues must now be accepted onto the waiting list, the proposal is that such applicants would be immediately suspended until the acceptable criteria are met which are detailed in Appendices 1b and 2b Suspension of an applicant will mean that the applicant cannot be housed from the list until the suspension is lifted, they will however be eligible for any points accumulated due to waiting or tenancy points. 4.8 Rent Arrears and Other Debts The Act and guidance make several provisions in relation to debt owed by applicants for both former and current tenancies. Landlords can still suspend an application for housing where there is outstanding rent arrears or other debt (eg rechargeable repairs) relating to a tenancy. However, the Act imposes restrictions on landlords where some debt cannot be taken into account. In addition it places restrictions on the action that can be taken where tenants have debt. Appendix 2a details the current policy, while 2b provides details of the recommended change to the policy to reflect the requirements of the Act An application for housing will no longer be suspended if the debt is over five years old and no action has been taken to pursue this during the five year period preceding the application Any debt accrued by an applicant when in temporary homeless accommodation will not be taken into account when assessing applicants for suspension on the housing list The guidance on debt will also affect the current policy on mutual exchanges. The recommended change to the mutual exchange policy is provided in Appendix 1b. 4.9 Homelessness Initial changes to the Homeless legislation take effect from 1 st April These are that an applicant who has a house in the United Kingdom or elsewhere is not considered to be homeless. Previously this had been restricted to Scotland, England and Wales. Applicants should also be accepted as Homeless, or threatened with Homelessness, 2 Months before termination of any current accommodation, rather than 28 Days as previously. These 2 changes do not require any policy change but should be noted as they will be reflected in future homeless assessment.

5 4.10 Minimum tenancy time The minimum time for which an applicant has held a tenancy with the Authority will no longer be grounds for a restriction on their eligibility for rehousing or a ground for suspension from the waiting list. Tenants may apply for a transfer regardless of the length of time they have held their current tenancy This change affects the policy relating to both transfer applicants and mutual exchange applicants. The changes in the policy are included in Appendix 1b Information to Applicants The applicants guide will be updated to reflect the changes proposed in this report, the guide will be supplied to all new applicants with their application form to ensure that applicants are aware of changed policy. An article will also be issued with Open Door as there is a statutory obligation to inform tenants of any changes to the Allocation Policy. 5 POLICY IMPLICATIONS 5.1 This Report responds to new legislative obligations arising from the Housing (Scotland) Act The report is consistent with the Councils aims on Quality and Best Value, and Social Inclusion. 6 CONSULTATIONS 6.1 The changes required to the policy are statutory. The development of the allocation policy was previously the subject of extensive consultation with Members and tenants. 6.2 Any agreed changes will be communicated to tenants and applicants. 6.3 Consultation has been carried out with Legal Services. 7 RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS 7.1 No direct resource implications. The level of rent arrears may be affected by the legislative changes relating to applicants debt. 8 BACKGROUND PAPERS 8.1 None

6 Author(s) Name Designation Tel No/Extension Rosanne Fuller Service Co-ordinator Ext John MacIver Service Manager, Tenants Services Ext Approved by Name Designation Signature Brian Devlin Director of Environmental Services Date Reference

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