Town Hall slammed over ‘secret’ housing allocations
Judge orders council to change its rules as court is told that homes were given outside of the bidding process
28 July, 2017 — By Koos Couvée
Rebekah Carrier: ‘It’s really shocking that despite repeated questions and challenges Islington have kept secret for years what’s really going on in the allocation of social housing’
A HIGH Court judge has ordered the Town Hall to change its social housing allocation rules after it was revealed more than 120 homes were given directly to homeless households last year – outside of the regular bidding process.
The practice, in use since 2005, was stopped in May after a High Court judge ruled it was unlawful. Mr Justice Baker told Islington Council to change the scheme in a judicial review case brought by a single mother-of-three fleeing domestic violence who challenged the decision to deny her a council home.
Families on Islington’s housing register, which totals 19,000 households, can bid for social rented homes through Home Connections, a “choice-based lettings scheme” run by the Town Hall. Those with the greatest housing need, which is measured in points, get allocated homes first.
The threshold above which a household can bid for housing is 120 points. But homeless families, such as the claimant in this case, generally only get awarded 110 points, meaning most homeless people do not stand a chance of ever getting a council home.
However, during the two-day hearing in February, Karen Lucas, Islington’s head of housing needs, admitted in a witness statement that in 2015/16 around a third of the 1,172 total allocations were given directly to families who had bid but were unsuccessful, outside of the scheme. Only 32 allocations to homeless applicants were the result of the usual bidding process.
The claimant’s solicitor, Rebekah Carrier, from Finsbury Park-based law firm Hopkin Murray Beskine, accused the Town Hall of operating a “secret” scheme.
“We see desperate people who’ve been through often really traumatic events leading to homelessness and families housed in Islington in grossly unsuitable accommodation,” Ms Carrier said.
“It’s really shocking that despite repeated questions and challenges Islington have kept secret for years what’s really going on in the allocation of social housing.
“This is now explained. It has meant that nobody really has any idea of what their rehousing prospects are and that Islington seem to have been deciding who gets a home without reference to any rules. We need to know what they’re going to do now.”
In his judgment, Mr Justice Baker said: “There is nothing in the scheme which sets out the criteria which the defendant uses to make direct offers, so as to enable an applicant […] both to make a realistic application to be dealt with under this system, and to know whether they are likely to succeed.”
The Town Hall has been forced into a rethink, and will most likely need to start awarding homeless families more points, or change the threshold.
Diarmaid Ward, Islington’s housing chief, said: “You need to have discretion to give out a direct offer. Our allocation scheme works reasonably well in the circumstances – it’s a difficult time in social housing. I don’t think there’s any secrecy about it.
“In this case the High Court did not say we can’t give out direct offers, it just says we need to have a much clearer policy about that. There are lessons to be learned from that.
“We need to look at this very carefully and one of the things we need to look at is the points threshold.”
Cllr Ward added: “We are in a very difficult situation in this borough because demand [for social housing] greatly exceeds supply.”