Social housing review

This consultation ended on 10 February 2020.

The council would like to thank all those who took part. We were delighted to see such high levels of engagement from residents and partner organisations. In total, respondents completed 1,970  surveys and 380  people attended events in person.

Council officers have been focusing their efforts on responding to the unprecedented challenge that the coronavirus pandemic presents, but we will also be working through the consultation responses as we shape our housing policy moving forward. It remains our priority to make the fairest and most effective use of our limited housing supply as we work with partners to address the impact of the housing crisis. We will be publishing details of the responses as soon as this is practical and thank you again for your support and patience.

Please keep an eye on the news pages of this website, follow us on twitter, or sign up to our e-newsletter to stay informed. 

Consultation overview

We are a partnership of 19 housing associations and the council operating one Common Housing Register (CHR). All housing applications made in Tower Hamlets are assessed using a single Allocations Scheme approved by the partnership.

There is an acute shortage of social housing in our borough with 20,000 applicants currently on the housing register. This significantly outstrips the limited number of homes that become available to let each year - just 1,329 lets in 2018/19. There has also been a 40 per cent drop in total lets compared to 2015/16 when 2,207 lets were achieved.

Housing review 01

The council and its CHR partners must make best use of homes that become available to let and ensure applicants in greatest need of housing are helped. Need can be assessed against a number of factors including disability, homelessness, medical needs and situations where tenants have been decanted to allow for the demolition of their homes.

All these competing demands have to be considered in a case by case basis. Difficult decisions need to be made about who should be offered the limited number of homes that become available each year.

The Common Housing Register Allocations Scheme is currently being reviewed and we are seeking your views on a number of policy change proposals.

The changes will ensure the policy complies with current legislation, is fit for purpose and meets the needs and aspirations of the council, its partners and the borough’s residents.

What changes are we proposing?

Proposal 1 - Homelessness

People who are homeless, or who are at risk of becoming homeless, are sometimes able to secure private housing outside Tower Hamlets to resolve their homelessness. This is necessary to make best use of all suitable available housing across London.

Currently, a person rehoused outside the borough would be removed from the housing register because they would no longer meet the need to have lived in Tower Hamlets for three years before being eligible for a property.

This proposal would change the rules so that if someone was able to secure suitable and affordable housing outside the borough because they had either become homeless or were at risk of becoming homeless, and that homelessness was prevented with assistance from the council, they would not be penalised by being taken off the register.

Instead, they would be allowed to remain on or join the register for three years only. Then, if they were not rehoused during that time, they would be taken off.

This would provide the time for them either to be offered a suitable property back in Tower Hamlets, or to have lived in their new borough for long enough to be eligible to join the housing register and bid for a property there.

Also under consideration is whether applicants rehoused into suitable size private sector accommodation because homelessness was prevented should be given some priority during the three year period even if they are adequately housed.

Proposal 2 – Freeing up larger homes

Under the current rules, if a council or housing association tenant is living in a home on the first floor or above, they are not given priority for a move to a ground floor home unless there are health reasons for doing so.

This proposal will give priority to social tenants living in homes, on the first floor or above, with more bedrooms than they need. Changing this policy will make larger sized homes available to families that need the additional space, while helping those tenants currently affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ who want to downsize.

Proposal 3 – Ground floor flats offered to applicants who cannot manage internal stairs

A limited number of ground floor flats become available each year. Under the current rules, lettings officers must make their allocation decision based only on whether an applicant has higher or lower priority in their band when they match on the shortlist. This proposal would allow officers to also consider medical factors like whether an applicant can manage internal stairs and give preference accordingly.

Changing this policy could mean faster rehousing times for those applicants who can’t manage internal stairs.

Proposal 4 – Victims of domestic abuse

Under the current rules, victims of domestic abuse who have not lived in Tower Hamlets for the previous three years are placed on the housing register in band 2B. Many of them have needed to move to a new area for their own safety, so this proposal will waive the residential criteria meaning they could be placed in band 2A instead. This proposal could lead to faster rehousing times for victims of domestic abuse.

This proposal would also reduce the amount of time that domestic abuse victims who have found safety in refuges need to have been in the borough before being eligible for housing. Under the current rules, they need to be in the refuge for six months. This proposal would cut that to three. This would free up much-needed places in refuges to help other victims of domestic abuse.

Proposal 5 – The future of band 3

Band 3 contains 40 per cent of all households on the housing register. We estimate that 35 per cent of housing officers’ time is spent administering the band 3 list. The vast majority of applicants in this band have little or no prospect of ever receiving an offer of accommodation unless they qualify for sheltered or older persons’ housing.

This proposal would make the housing register more realistic and remove the risk of many of those in band 3 being given false hope. It would achieve this by removing existing band 3 applicants who are already adequately accommodated.

In future, only the following applicants would be accepted onto band 3:

  • Single applicants or couples over 50 years of age would be accepted and only considered for older person homes that become available – a type of property traditionally in low demand.
  • Any applicant requiring sheltered accommodation – another type of property traditionally in low demand.

Applicants removed from band 3 of the housing register as a result of this proposal would have to explore other housing options including:

  • Securing suitable private sector accommodation – whether through renting, shared ownership, intermediate housing or buying a home.
  • Council and housing association tenants could consider a mutual exchange (a direct like for like swap with another tenant).
  • Housing Moves* – a pan London scheme for council and housing association tenants allowing for cross-borough moves.
  • Homefinder** – a similar scheme that is nationwide, not just London based. This scheme is also available for people in temporary accommodation.

*This information was correct at the time of consultation. The Housing Moves scheme has since been reviewed and as of 25 March 2022 it is no longer a housing option for tenants.

** Homefinder are likely to consider applications on a similar basis to those considered here in Tower Hamlets. If an applicant’s priority was assessed as low here, it is likely that would also be the case elsewhere.

The consultation has now closed.