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The Bristol Cable

Residents refusing social housing offers could be removed from council waiting list

A consultation has been launched over a potential major shake-up of how the council allocates housing.

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People who refuse certain offers for social housing could soon be completely removed from Bristol’s ever-growing waiting list.

Almost 18,000 households are currently on the waiting list for social housing in Bristol, and the list is growing rapidly as rents in the city become increasingly unaffordable. Now Bristol City Council is consulting the public on a major shake-up of how it allocates social housing.

One option to cut the number of people on the housing waiting list, now under consultation, is by drastically restricting who is eligible to apply for social housing. Another option is penalising anybody who rejects an offer of a new home, by taking them off the list. The council has launched a survey, revealing its proposed steps for a social housing shake-up.

Rising demand for social housing

Councillor Tom Renhard, cabinet member for housing, said: “There are rising numbers of people becoming homeless, and the increasingly unaffordable cost of housing in Bristol is creating more demand for social housing and increasing pressure on Home Choice Bristol. 

“Our aim is to find the best way to create and support mixed and balanced communities, without disadvantaging those people with the greatest need.”

Social housing homes are advertised on the council’s Home Choice website, which people on the waiting list can bid on. The council then ranks each bid, giving priority to people who need to move urgently and who have waited the longest. 

Under the new model, instead of offering a choice of which homes to bid on, the council could choose for some people.

People in the top two bands, with the most urgent need, would be given perhaps six months or a year to bid on homes of their choosing, but if they are still on the waiting list after that time, the council would assign them a home. 

‘Many people highly unlikely to ever be housed’

The idea behind the new model is to speed things up, moving people into accommodation quicker – but the problem is removing choice.

Some people on the housing waiting list reject offers of homes for many reasons, including poor quality or unsuitable accommodation, or a new location far away from jobs, friends, school and family. Under the new model, people who reject direct offers of homes could see heavy “consequences imposed” upon them by the council.

According to the survey, these penalties could include preventing people from bidding for any new homes for up to a year, dropping a band and receiving less priority, or being completely removed from the housing register and becoming unable to bid for social housing. 

Another issue is that thousands on the waiting list “may be being given false hope”. 

More than half the 18,000 households on the waiting list fall in band four, the least urgent of the four bands for categorising people’s need to move into new accommodation. The survey frankly admits that most of the people in this band are “highly unlikely” to find a new home.

The survey said: “There is little to no chance of being successfully housed from band four, and being on the register may be giving people false hope. A high number of applications in band four are highly unlikely to ever be housed.”

Under the new model, people in band four would be barred from bidding for social housing. Instead, older people would be able to bid on sheltered or age-restricted housing, while everyone else would be directed to private rented accommodation, shared ownership or community-led housing schemes. This would free up time for council staff to focus on more urgent cases.

A third issue is the council having a lack of larger homes to house families on the waiting list, while some tenants live in homes that are larger than they need. After the shake-up, the council could encourage these “under-occupiers” to move home, freeing up their houses. This encouragement could include financial assistance, arranging removals or installing new flooring.

Elsewhere, changes to the housing system could see locals prioritised for homes in Fishponds, Hengrove, Horfield, Knowle, Lawrence Hill, Southmead and St Pauls. More priority could be given to young people leaving care as well. The technology and bidding process on the “outdated” Home Choice site would also be upgraded, making it easier to use.

‘Poorly designed, outdated system’

Ally Rush, strategic lead for Shelter Bristol, said: “We have strongly recommended that Bristol City Council reviews the technology and processes behind the Home Choice system. This doesn’t directly address the shortage of social housing in the city, but many of the most common issues reported with the system are due to it being poorly designed and outdated.

“Addressing this would allow decision-making in the council to become more transparent and support officers in sharing messaging about the process and where people are. We feel that the council has taken our recommendations seriously and hope to see positive change implemented going forward.”

Councillor Renhard added: “It is vitally important that we get the views of people who are on the waiting list, or have recently been housed, to make sure they agree with what is being proposed following our extensive research phase. One of our greatest challenges is balancing the high need for homes in Bristol against a limited pool of available properties.

“We need to make the best use of these properties, and have to manage the expectations of people on the register. We want to make the housing letting process fair, easy to use and transparent for all who use it and give people choice wherever possible in meeting their housing needs.”

People interested in taking part in the consultation can find the survey, which runs until October 7, on the council’s website.

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