Council’s housing waiting list plans will ‘make terrible situation worse’, warn campaigners

Morning Lane People’s Space campaigners, pictured last October. Photograph: MOPS / Twitter

Campaigners are speaking out against Hackney Council’s plans to make changes to its oversubscribed waiting list for a council home, which could see up to 7,000 households removed.

The Morning Lane People’s Space campaign (MOPS), which released the results of its survey into residents’ views on the future of the Morning Lane Tesco site last month, has now set out its opposition to the waiting list proposals in full.

It warns that the plans, currently under consultation and which aim to tighten up priority bands for housing and divert council resources to more targeted support, would “make a terrible situation worse”.

In a recent interview with the Citizen, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville pointed to the status quo in which 100 people can be bidding for each home that becomes available, arguing that running a system which holds out the promise of something that is not available is “not the right thing to do”.

A spokesperson for MOPS said: “Overall it is dishonest to frame these changes as in the interests of those Hackney residents who need secure and affordable housing. These changes will not create an ’empathic’ and ‘fairer’ housing allocation system as the consultation document claims.

“To pretend that they will is likely to increase distrust of the council which as we know from our own consultation is already high, particularly on building and allocating council housing.

“Hackney Council claims this policy ‘simplifies’ the system and addresses the housing crisis. It would be better to honestly admit that the council aims to reduce their administrative burden by cutting the size of the list.

“There needs to be a massive campaign for council housing. Council action on housing must include resources for campaigning for government policies to address the housing crisis.

“We know that Hackney Council’s hands are tied by national policy but that should be leading them to act in the strongest possible way to contest the government’s limits, not to concede to these limits.

“Hackney Council could be consulting on how to run a campaign that mobilises people in support of strategies that can address the problem of homelessness and insecure over-priced housing rather than consulting on a technocratic non-solution to the borough’s huge and growing demand for council housing.”

MOPS went on to warn that the proposals, which would split the current priority bands into three for people in emergency need, significant need, or need for a specific type of restricted housing, could have the effect of hiding the problem of a lack of genuinely affordable housing in the borough, “making it harder to campaign on the issue and expose national government failings”.

The spokesperson added: “If Hackney Council takes years to meet urgent needs, it does not mean these needs are not urgent. It means the system is failing these people. It is vital that a Labour council exposes rather than conceals that failure.”

Campaigners have also underlined their opposition to the description of shared ownership as an “affordable home ownership option”.

Mayor Glanville stressed that different terms around so-called ‘affordable’ housing “angered” him just as much as campaigners, with the borough leader insisting that his Labour administration still stands for council housing, in a borough where just over 40 per cent of households live in some form of it.

Quizzed by the Citizen on whether families still have the right to a council home even if the supply dries up, Glanville said: “You can have a right to something, but if it isn’t available that right is moot. There was a time when we advertised council housing in the Hackney Gazette because no-one wanted to live on our estates, the population of our borough was declining. That isn’t where we are now.

“Hackney is a popular place to live, a lot of people have community and connection here, the types of services that support some of the most vulnerable simply don’t exist outside the borough. If you look at the Localism Act, it gave us powers to discharge into the private rented sector.

“Hackney was one of the last local authorities in the country to discharge into the private rented sector for obvious reasons, but I don’t think that running a system that holds out the promise of something that isn’t available is the right thing to do.”

The new scheme to be consulted upon would see applicants split into three new bands:

  • Band A – Households with an emergency need for housing, who instead of being able to bid as currently, would receive one direct offer of housing.
  • Band B – Households with a significant need for housing, who would either bid for properties through the lettings system or receive a single direct offer of accommodation.
  • Band C – Households with a specific need for a restricted type of accommodation, such as sheltered or older persons accommodation.

The single direct offer route in Band A would be for people who lose their homes due to fire or flood, those being discharged from hospital, or in witness protection schemes, with the council saying this reflects the low numbers of properties that become available.

Under the current allocations scheme, households can refuse up to three offers of a suitable home. The Town Hall’s proposals would reduce this number from three times to two. A single offer is to be made to homeless households if a direct offer is made, provoking warnings that this increases the chances of people being declared intentionally homeless.

In the interview, Glanville criticised the current system as one that “puts people on a waiting list and in temporary accommodation, keeps them there for almost a decade and then maybe finds them a social home at the end of it”, and envisaged the proposed changes as preventing homelessness by finding stable and affordable housing in the private sector for families.

The borough leader also said that working with families looking to downsize, looking for other properties because of new health needs, or those that are overcrowded, is “incredibly important”.

He added: “The only way you get back to council housing for wider than the most vulnerable is by building more of it, and convince the government that it shouldn’t just be for the most vulnerable. Running a big list doesn’t change that political dynamic and it is really important that we focus on housing the most vulnerable and most in need and make sure as many people have access to that as possible.”

MOPS itself has characterised the proposals as officially changing council housing in Hackney to a benefit for the most vulnerable, arguing that Labour-run councils should see council housing instead as “the most practical and affordable way of housing people”.

A spokesperson added: “The proposal ignores the realities of the London housing market that mean that tens of thousands of renters who are not necessarily assessed as having significant needs are in very difficult, even desperate, housing situations.

“This is one aspect of the ‘housing crisis’ that Hackney Council offers as a reason for changing the system. We believe that the solution is to obtain investment for new social housing and to work with private landlords to meet this need, rather than reducing the entitlement to social housing.

“We believe that you can be honest with people about their chances of getting
social housing and offer them tailored support without removing them from
the housing waiting list. Ultimately, if people know the likelihood of securing
housing and choose to remain on the waiting list, that should be their decision and not one that is denied them.”

The consultation on the proposals can be found here