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Highland Council to change housing points system to help people most in need

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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A new points system for allocating social housing will help people who are homeless or in the care system, according to a Highland Council report.

It will also prioritise people who need to live close to medical facilities, and those living in unsuitable housing.

However, there are tougher measures planned for Caithness, where a high number of people are “refusing” an offer of social housing.

Councillors will discuss the proposed changes at a meeting of the housing and property committee tomorrow.

In the Highlands, people looking for social housing fill out a single application form to apply for a new home provided by the council or a housing association.

At the end of March 2022, 9416 households had applied for social housing through this system – called the Highland Housing Register (HHR).

But only 2033 homes were re-let. Highland Council says this demonstrates the level of demand on the social rented housing sector.

Now, changes in local and national policy have sparked a rethink. The council and its HHR partners want to change the allocations system to help the people who are most in need, and reduce homelessness.

An online consultation held in late 2020 showed that council tenants are mostly in favour of the changes.

Currently, social landlords award ‘points’ to prioritise applicants. In the new allocations policy, there will be more points for those most in need.

One of the biggest changes is in the process for supporting applicants who could become homeless.

Currently, someone at risk of homelessness is awarded 50 points, whereas a person who is already homeless gets 70. The plan is to award 70 points to each, emphasising the importance of prevention.

Private sector tenants will no longer automatically get 20 points, because of new legal measures to protect tenancies. But private tenants who have received a ‘notice to quit’ will get 30 points instead of the current five.

There’s also more help for people who need accessible housing. Following an assessment from an occupational therapist, they can be awarded 20, 40 or 70 points depending on their level of medical need.

People currently living in care assisted homes who are moving to independent tenancies will get 70 points instead of 30.

And there’s big changes for carers themselves. They will qualify for 70 points instead of the current 50. For kinship carers (people looking after family) their points will go from 20 to 70.

Finally, there’s a new points system for people looking to foster or adopt. If they can’t take a child in because their house isn’t suitable, they will get 70 points.

Other key changes include:

  • More points for people with part-time access to their children, if that causes overcrowding
  • Incentivising people to move to smaller homes by awarding more points
  • Priority will be given to people living in houses of multiple occupancy, over people who are sharing with family
  • More points for people living in houses that are of poor condition
  • People can no longer apply for long term social housing if they own a home (except in areas of low demand)

There are changes specific to Caithness, too. The HHR is a choice-based letting system, meaning applicants can ‘bid’ on houses they like. However, if they turn down two properties for no good reason, their application is suspended for six months.

Caithness has the highest number of people “unreasonably” refusing an offer of social housing. The council report does not offer any explanation why the figures are higher in Caithness.

However, they want to tackle it by suspending an applicant after just one refusal. The council hope this will reduce speculative bids and help get properties rented.

The plan will not go ahead unless Caithness councillors agree to it at their area committee meeting.

Wick councillor Jan McEwan is a member of the housing committee. She slammed the plan.

“Why is Caithness housing allocation being singled out for this new proposal?” she asked. “It is unfair and just not acceptable. Caithness housing allocation should be in line with the rules and conditions of the rest of the Highland Council. I do hope my fellow local councillors will all agree on this.”

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