Homefinder Northumberland County Council by alicejenny

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									                                  JOINT TRANSITION FORUM

                                        08 JANUARY 2009

                                            EXECUTIVE

                                        12 JANUARY 2009

              REPORT OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD SERVICES MANAGER,
                             CASTLE MORPETH BC

            NORTHUMBERLAND HOMEFINDER CONSULTATION RESULTS

     1.      SYNOPSIS

             The purpose of this report is to provide an update on the outcome of the
             consultation which took place on the Northumberland Homefinder Common
             Allocation Policy. The outcome of the consultation was generally very positive,
             although the report does outline a number of areas where changes have been
             made.

     2.      IMPLICATIONS

             Policy:                           Government require all Local Authorities and
                                               Housing Associations to participate within a
                                               Choice Based Lettings Scheme by April 2010.

             Financial and Value
             for Money:                        None directly arising from this report. On the 8
                                               October 2008 Programme Management Board
                                               considered a report detailing the financial
                                               implications to the new authority of implementing
                                               Choice Based Letting. This included details of a
                                               bid for additional funding from Communities and
                                               Local Government for £100,000 additional
                                               funding, which we have recently heard was
                                               successful.

             Personnel:                        None

             Property:                         None

             Crime and Disorder:               This report has considered Section 17 (Crime and
                                               Disorder Act) and the duty it imposes and there
                                               are no implications arising from it.

             Equalities:                       The Northumberland Homefinder Scheme is
                                               subject to an Equality Impact Assessment.



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             Customer Considerations:            One of the aims of Choice Based Letting is to
                                                 increase housing choice for customers.

     3.      RISK ASSESSMENT

             Northumberland Homefinder has been the subject of a risk assessment which is
             contained within the Risk Management Plan.

     4.      CONSULTATIONS

             Consultation on the Draft Common Allocation Policy took place during the period 6
             September 2008 to 30 November 2008. A Summary of the Policy and Consultation
             Questionnaire was sent out existing tenants of social landlords, and those on
             waiting lists, and cconsultation events were held across the county for Members,
             Housing Association Boards, residents groups, supported housing providers,
             stakeholders etc. In total 1194 individual responses were received, together with a
             number of responses from partners and stakeholders. A more detailed analysis of
             the responses is set out below.

     5.      RECOMMENDATION

             Joint Transition Forum and the Executive are asked to approve:

             1. The proposed Interim Allocation Policy arrangements set out in the report
             and

             2. The proposed Northumberland Homefinder Common Allocation Policy.

     6.      BACKGROUND

             6.1 Development of Policy

             Government requires all Local Authorities and Housing Associations to participate
             within a Choice Based Lettings (CBL) Scheme by April 2010. CBL is different from
             the traditional way of allocating housing via the waiting list as it allows applicants for
             social housing (and tenants who want to transfer) to apply for vacancies which are
             advertised widely in the neighbourhood. Applicants can see the full range of
             available properties and can apply for any home to which they are matched. Priority
             is given to those with urgent needs, but where possible properties are allocated on
             the basis of who has been waiting the longest. Authorities provide feedback that
             helps applicants to assess their chances of success in subsequent applications.

             The County’s six housing authorities have teamed up with Milecastle Housing,
             Castle Morpeth Housing and Wansbeck Homes to develop a choice based lettings
             scheme to operate throughout Northumberland. This will be known as
             Northumberland Homefinder, and will offer new and existing social housing tenants
             greater flexibility over their housing choices.

             The sub-regional approach to advertising vacant homes will provide a one stop
             access point for vacancies, information and housing options and advice on seeking
             a home no matter where a resident lives in Northumberland.



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             Vacant properties from local authority stock, housing associations, private rented
             homes and low cost homeownership, such as part-rent, part-buy schemes, will also
             be advertised under the new scheme.

             It is intended that the scheme will be particularly helpful to vulnerable people as
             there will only be one application form to fill in no matter where you live in
             Northumberland, who will be assisted through the process. It will give greater
             mobility for those individuals who need to move across the county to be nearer to
             families and support networks, employment or healthcare.

             In order for Northumberland Homefinder to be introduced a Common Allocation
             Policy for the whole county needed to be developed, to replace the existing
             allocation policies in the six districts. Consequently a draft Common Allocation
             Policy was developed and approved for consultation by Programme Management
             Board in August.

             In brief, the Draft Policy covers the following areas:

                It is proposed that there will be four bands that indicate the relative level of
                 housing need and priority, rather than the points system currently adopted in
                 most areas of the county. Applicants will be assessed and placed in the
                 appropriate band,
                The successful applicant for each property will be the one who qualifies for the
                 property, in the highest band and with the earliest registration date,
                All aspects of medical circumstances will be considered when assessing priority,
                 together with other matters such as local connection to Northumberland or a
                 particular parish (a Rural Lettings Policy is included), condition of existing
                 property, whether over-crowded or under-occupying, homeless etc
                Properties will be advertised through a variety of means on a weekly cycle, such
                 as web site, libraries and community centres, and
                The provision of additional help to support those people who may have difficulty
                 accessing the new system, such as the elderly, or those for whom English is not
                 their first language.

             6.2 Results of consultation

             At the time of writing 1194 completed consultation questionnaires have been
             received, which equates to a 9% response rate. The response has been generally
             very positive, with the analysis of consultation questions being:

             Section 1: Lettings

             Q. Do you agree with the objectives of the lettings Policy?

              Strongly       Agree     No View     Disagree      Strongly      No      Total
               Agree                                            Disagree    Response
             13%           66%         11%         6%           3%          1%       100%

             Section 2: Assessment of Need

             Q. Are there any housing needs that you feel have not been addressed?



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                     Yes                    No              No Response              Total
             18%                    78%                   4%                 100%

             Q. Are any of the housing needs placed in too high a band?

                     Yes                    No              No Response              Total
             6%                     88%                   6%                 100%

             Q. Are any of the housing needs placed in too low a band?

                     Yes                    No              No Response              Total
             11%                    81%                   8%                 100%

             Q. How many bands do you think there should be?

                     3                  4                5        No view         No response
             16%                 34%               10%          37%              3%

             Section 3: The Scheme

             Q. Where should properties be advertised (more than one choice allowed)?

             Council      Website      Advertising Supermarkets Library        Other      No
              Offices                    Flyers                                         answer
             84%         57%           46%         34%          50%            23%      1%

             Q. How often would you want to see the properties advertised?

              Weekly       Every 2 weeks      More than 2 weeks     No view       No response
             67%           21%                6%                   5%            1%

             Q. What method of bidding for properties should be available more than one choice
             allowed)?

             In person       At the      Digital     Website    Postal       Other        No
                            Council        TV                  coupons                 response
             85%           81%          12%         50%        42%        3%           1%

             Overall

             Overall 70% of respondents agreed (with 9% disagreeing) with the statement that
             ‘The new CBL scheme is easy to understand’, and 70% agreed (with 11%
             disagreeing) with the statement ‘The new system gives priority to people who are in
             most need of housing’. While 83% felt that it is very or quite clear how
             Northumberland Homefinder will work, with 15% feeling that it is not very clear or
             not clear at all, suggesting that this is an area for further work.

             In addition to the responses to the questions above, respondants made a number of
             further comments, while a number of partners and stakeholders also made more
             detailed comments.


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             Officers from the districts and Housing Association partners spent three days
             looking at consultation responses in detail and as a result a number of changes
             have been made to the Draft Policy. These have generally been designed to tweak
             and clarify the wording of the Policy, although a number of more significant changes
             have been made:

                renaming the bands from 1, 2, 3 & 4 to P, 1, 2 & 3 in line with the current Blyth
                 policy. This reinforces the nature of the P (Priority) band and the fact that, unlike
                 the other bands, applicants will be placed in it for a time limited period,
                clarifying the Property Letting Criteria to aid understanding and take away
                 ambiguity, and
                a number of changes in favour of tackling the high demand/low supply
                 challenge.

             In some Policy areas decisions have been made on the basis that their impact will
             be considered as part of the planned 12 month review.

             In the short-term the focus of Northumberland Homefinder will be on the allocation
             of social rented housing, but the role of Homefinder in the future with regard to low
             cost homeownership and private rented properties will also be considered as part of
             the 12 month review. The initial configuration of the system will build in flexibility,
             without materially increasing cost, to enable any necessary changes identified in the
             12 month review to be made in the future.

             6.3 Interim Allocation Policy arrangements

             Northumberland County Council as the "Local Housing Authority" will be required
             under Section 167 of the Housing Act 1996 to have a scheme (their “allocation
             scheme”) for determining priorities, and as to the procedure to be followed, in
             allocating housing accommodation from 1 April 2009. Once Northumberland
             Homefinder is operating across the county, then the Common Allocation Policy and
             associated procedure guidance will form this scheme. However, as the
             implementation of the technology required to support Northumberland Homefinder
             will not be ready for 1st April 2009, then interim arrangements will be required.

             It is proposed that for these interim arrangements the existing district allocation
             policies will continue without variation from 1 April 2009, until such time as they are
             superceded by the introduction of Northumberland Homefinder and the Common
             Allocation Policy.

     7.      BACKGROUND PAPERS

             28 August 2008 – Programme Management Board
             8 October 2008 – Programme Management Board

     8.      CONTACT OFFICER(S)

             This report has been prepared by Martin Laidler, Neighbourhood Services Manager,
             Castle Morpeth BC, who can be contacted on (01670) 794868.




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