Durham County Council’s Cabinet has approved an updated letting policy for social housing.
The new policy will see the number of bandings reduced, to make the process simpler for prospective tenants and those looking to move. It will also allow earlier intervention so help and support can be offered instantly to people who may be facing homelessness or financial difficulties. The policy applies to the seven main housing providers in County Durham, along with the council, that form the Durham Key Options group for choice based letting.
The decision on the changes comes after a consultation exercise with tenants showed overwhelming support for the new measures, with at least 72 per cent of the 800 respondents supporting each proposal.
Cllr Eddie Tomlinson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for housing, said: “By making these positive changes to the letting policy we hope to make it easier for people looking for social housing. The new measures will also allow the council and housing providers to take a more joined up approach to help and support, getting involved at an earlier stage to prevent potential problems with tenancies before they arise.”
The policy was last updated in 2013 and is being reviewed to take into account the Government’s welfare reform changes as well as how the policy has worked over the last three years. The changes see the current bands reduced from five to four with the existing quota system removed so allocation is based solely on housing need.
Among other changes, the currently low level banding of ‘threatened with homelessness’ has been removed and instead those meeting the relevant criteria continue to be given their housing options but are also referred to the council for full homelessness advice. This change was proposed after experience showed tenants potentially threatened with homelessness were relying on the banding to guarantee accommodation – which was not always the case – and not engaging with the range of support on offer from the council.
The updated policy will also see all rent or mortgage arrears assessed on a case by case basis when applications are made. Previously, potential tenants could have up to eight weeks of arrears when applying for housing which meant that the council was unable to look into any potential financial difficulty the person was experiencing and offer advice and support. By removing this barrier it is hoped that the council will be able to intervene at an earlier stage, preventing more, or more serious, financial problems from occurring that could threaten the applicant’s tenancy in the long term.