About half of the 19,000 households on Bristol City Council’s overwhelmed social housing waiting list are effectively being kicked off it, after bosses admitted it gave false hope of ever finding a home in the city.
Less than 1% of the 9,500 households considered the least urgent by the local authority are allocated accommodation, so there is “little to no chance of being successfully housed”, according to a report to council leaders.
The city’s social housing is advertised on the council’s HomeChoice website, where people on the waiting list can bid on properties. Those in the greatest need are awarded properties deemed suitable for them each week, but many thousands are left waiting.
Cabinet members approved a radical shake-up of the scheme, removing the right of those in Band 4 – the lowest of four priority bands categorising people’s need for accommodation – to put in bids for most homes, with the exception of older people looking for sheltered housing.
The changes also mean more applicants will have homes chosen for them, while young people leaving care, tenants looking to downsize and people at risk of homelessness, such as young people being told to leave their parents’ homes, will be moved up the list.
Parts of Bristol, including Fishponds, Hengrove, Horfield, Knowle, Lawrence Hill, Southmead and St Pauls, will also see local people given priority to stay in their communities rather than being relocated.
The move, justified by these neighbourhoods being areas where significant development is taking place follows the introduction of similar local lettings policies at Lockleaze and Lawrence Weston.
“Even with major drives to build more homes or acquire property by other means, the mismatch between demand and supply is unlikely to change significantly or fast,” the report to cabinet on Tuesday 4 April said.
There are currently over 9,500 households in Band 4, which is the lowest priority. Band 1 is the highest.
“Based on the last two years’ statistics less than 1% are likely to be allocated to housing, the majority being people who qualify for age-restricted or sheltered housing,” the report added. “This shows that there is currently little to no chance of being successfully housed from Band 4 and being on the register may be giving people false hope.”
It said that it would not be right to create a system in which people are expected to or encouraged to bid on properties when the chance of them being housed is so slim, and that people’s expectations should be managed “more effectively”.
Tom Renhard, Bristol’s cabinet member for housing, writing on the Mayor of Bristol’s blog, said: “Sadly, the number of residents that require support with council housing massively outweighs the number of properties available – even as we continue to build record numbers of new homes to tackle the housing crisis.
“With such high demand, many residents who have a low priority housing need are unlikely to find a new home,” Renhard said. “Our view is simple – everyone in Bristol should have access to a secure, safe, and warm home.
“Unaffordable rent prices in the private sector, soaring property values, stagnant wages, and an insufficient number of affordable homes are many reasons why we believe that what this city needs is more council housing, and also a better way of allocating that stock,” he added.
Renhard wrote that since 2016 nearly 240 new council homes had been added to the housing register.
“As we move further into our plans for delivering new homes, we expect to see a further 1,715 new council homes over the next five years,” he said.
Key policy changes
Renhard said the council had reviewed how its housing was allocated to focus on people in greatest need, following a 12-week public consultation last year.
“The main change to the policy is that we will move to being more proactive in helping households find a home and ensure that at least half of all offers are made direct,” Renhard said.
He said that extending local letting policies which will ensure that as far as possible people are supported into accommodation within a neighbourhood they have a connection with, to minimise disruption to school, work, or other local commitments.
The changes will be phased in over the next 12 to 18 months, with the drastic restrictions on bids from those in Band 4 coming in once a new set of IT systems is in place from October 2024.
People who meet age criteria within Band 4 will be able to bid on sheltered or age-restricted properties, or on properties advertised specifically as open to Band 4 bidding, according to the cabinet report. Other people falling into this group will be signposted to other housing options such as private rented, shared ownership and community-led homes.