Concerns about allocation of social housing

Northumberland Gazette latest
Northumberland Gazette latest

A number of concerns have been raised about how social housing is allocated to those who need it, particularly in Alnwick.

A town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to the Gazette to highlight a series of issues, saying: “You don’t understand unless you have been in a council house yourself, if you have been through it.”

The woman referred to the example of her daughter’s family – an adult couple and two boys, aged 10 and 13 – who have been fighting for a number of years to try to be able to bid for a larger two-bedroom home or a three-bedroom house.

But she added: “These are not isolated cases, it’s the council’s policies. When you ask them, they say it’s the Government and that’s it. It’s always government guidelines.

“They need to look at these policies, they need to do it fairly across the board, not if your face fits.”

However, she did concede that the system of bidding for homes is a good one.

“The bidding system, which was put in place a few years ago, is a good thing, because you put your case to the council and either you get it or you don’t,” she said. “Before, you put areas down and if you refused one, you were suspended from applying.

“The bidding system was put into place so you can look and decide if it’s somewhere you want to live and bid on it. That’s the best of it, but the people deciding who gets it or who doesn’t, that’s the problem and it needs to be looked at.”

She believes that things have deteriorated since the old district council, with the service being more centralised now.

“When it was in Alnwick, you could be face-to-face with councillors and officers. You knew who you needed to see.

“You shouldn’t have to fight like this because of council policies. I’m not saying we should go back to the old system, the bidding system is brilliant, but they need to look at how houses are allocated.”

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “Northumberland Homefinder uses an agreed common allocation policy when allocating homes. The Homefinder policy for children sharing a room is that same-sex children share a room up to age 16, different sexes up to 10.

“We have a dedicated Homefinder officer who looks after the Alnwick area. They spend two days working in the area and work closely with the Alnwick-based housing inspector and housing officer, and are therefore kept fully up to date on applications in the area.

“Anyone can bid for a property, however, preference will be given to applicants who are most appropriate according to a range of criteria.

“For example, a couple could bid for a two-bedroomed bungalow, however, if a family of three also applied they would be given preference on the property.”

Would the suspension of Right to Buy help?

One of the main issues which puts pressure on the allocation of social housing is the fact that there isn’t enough of it.

And one of the controversial measures which has caused a depletion in the social-housing stock, according to many experts, is the Right to Buy, which the Government plans to extend to housing-association tenants as well.

At the Labour Party conference, Shadow Housing Minister, Teresa Pearce, announced that Labour would suspend the policy in England, as part of a series of proposals to rectify what the party sees as the errors in the Government’s plans and policies with the country ‘facing the biggest housing crisis in a generation’.

“The right to buy can only make sense in a time of surplus, in a time of shortage it makes no sense at all,” she said.

But would the suspension of Right to Buy solve the problem of a shortage of social housing?

Fran Mulhall, regional operations manager at North East property specialists GFW Letting, said: “Right to Buy has caused a huge depletion in the social-housing stock available since it was introduced.

“I think the impact on the housing market, should this be scrapped, would be a positive but not hugely impactful one, at least in the short term.

“The biggest crisis remains, and will still remain, the sheer lack of house-building to accommodate our growing population – however this is dressed up by any political party, the actual figures that have been built are not enough.

“The fact that most properties bought through the scheme are now in the private rented sector (PRS) is no surprise – lettings continue to thrive, despite the current Government being focused on home ownership being a priority for people, and the flexibility of renting coupled with the amount of money needing to be saved to put down a deposit means the PRS will continue to thrive.

“Indeed, the PRS is likely to thrive even more so under a Labour government if they introduce a more European style of living here – for example, the party’s pledge to make long-term leases (three years minimum) law, which moves the population even further away from home ownership.”