‘Propaganda’: Campaigners rip into Town Hall consultation on housing waiting list changes

Hackney Town Hall.

Campaigners have let fly at a Town Hall consultation on changes to the borough’s oversubscribed waiting list, dismissing it as “propaganda”.

The plans could see over half of the 13,000 households cut from the list, with the council arguing that freeing up resources would lead to more targeted housing support.

The administration says it wants to be more upfront with residents in lower priority bands who are unlikely to ever secure a place under the current system.

However, the Morning Lane People’s Space (MOPS) campaign, which has conducted its own survey on the contentious Tesco redevelopment in Hackney Central, has accused the council’s survey of containing “leading questions” in order to “artificially inflate support” for the proposals.

A spokesperson for the campaign, which opposes the plans, said: “We are deeply concerned about the format of the consultation itself which seems designed to produce the desired response.

“We call on the council to repeat the consultation, making it more open and accessible so that they can find out what Hackney residents really think of the proposed changes.

“The consultation document takes the form of propaganda for the proposed changes. For example, we are told that the new system will be more ‘empathic’ because it will prioritise people with the greatest need.

“But again, it omits to say that it will do this by allowing only people with the most severe needs to join the housing waiting list, transforming access to council housing from a right to a benefit for those in desperate situations. 

“The council should reframe the consultation document in neutral terms, encouraging people to make up their own minds about what is being proposed.”

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.

The proposals would see potentially 7,000 people lose their eligibility, a move which Hackney Community Law Centre has said in effect is a “loss of legal recognition” in a redefinition of whether someone needs a priority home on medical or other grounds.

The penultimate question in the first stage of the council’s online survey accepts that “many people would no longer be eligible to join the housing register”, and that instead the Town Hall would work with them to help them into other accommodation through a number of services, before asking: “Do you agree or disagree that access to these services would benefit those who do not qualify to join the register?”

Households can currently refuse up to three offers of a suitable home. The consultation makes clear that this number would reduce to two under the plans.

A single offer is to be made to homeless households if a direct offer is made, which provoked warnings that this increases the chance of people being declared intentionally homeless.

Campaigners added: “People responding to the consultation are required to answer, ‘Do you agree or disagree that social housing should be allocated to those most in need?’ It is very hard to disagree with this – it seems common sense to target those with the greatest need.

“But if you agree then that is taken as support for the proposals that will exclude anyone with less severe housing needs from the waiting list.

“The survey could but does not ask, ‘Do you agree or disagree that 7,000 families who are currently waiting for council housing, many for years, should be removed from the housing waiting list?’

“If they did, they would likely find that most people are against the proposals. The leading nature of their questions suggests that the council is trying to artificially inflate support for these proposals.”

MOPS has also pointed to the fact of the consultation taking place during lockdown likely to exclude many of those impacted by the proposals, saying that while the consultation is not online-only, that homeless people or those in insecure or inadequate housing are less likely to have access to the internet to respond to it.

In an initial response to the points, the Town Hall pointed to the fact that residents are able to feed back on the internet, the phone and online, with info posted to every household on the housing register, four online sessions held that people were able to dial into by phone, and promotions advertised in council freesheets Hackney Today and Hackney Life.

Those impacted have also been offered the chance to speak to an officer to discuss the impact on their individual circumstances in detail.

The council says it is not legally required to consult at all, with the feedback survey being held in order to listen to and incorporate the views of those affected.

In response to campaigners’ arguments on leading questions, the Town Hall said it is clear from the consultation summary what changes are taking place, how they will affect those on the waiting list, and why the council prefers the option to make the changes.

Cllr Sade Etti, cabinet member for homelessness, housing needs and rough sleeping, said: “Our proposals aim to create a simpler, more transparent register, and we maintain that it is empathic to invest in meaningful advice and support for those unlikely to ever be successful in their bid for a social rent home – rather than keep thousands of families on a waiting list that they sadly stand no chance to benefit from.

“But we want to know what people think before making these changes, and we are undertaking a robust, fair and extensive twelve-week consultation on the proposals to change our allocations policy. This includes directly contacting every single household affected so that they can have their say by post, online or discuss with us over the phone.

“We will of course ensure all the feedback received informs our decision on how to proceed, including from the Morning Lane People’s Space group. But we would also encourage those concerned about these changes to join us in fighting the underlying issues that mean they are being proposed at all – starting with the government’s lack of investment in social housing over more than a decade and the arbitrary restrictions that limit our capacity to build more council homes.”

You can have your say on the policy here.

You can find the campaign’s response to the consultation at this link.