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Workers could get leg-up Birmingham housing waiting list

Workers could get leg-up Birmingham housing waiting list

🕔01.Apr 2013

queuePeople in work could be given priority over unemployed applicants on the housing waiting list under a controversial plan being considered by Birmingham City Council.

The scheme, which was promoted in the Localism Act, has been rejected as unfair or unworkable by several other prominent Labour controlled local authorities.

Under a proposal being considered in Birmingham, a ‘valuing community contribution’ would be built into the housing points system to determine who has priority in the 25,000-strong queue for homes.

The scheme would seek to “reward economic or community activity”, if approved by the cabinet.

Any applicant who could show they were in work or performing voluntary service would be placed on Band 2 of the waiting list, just below the highest priority Band 1.

The preferential treatment could also extend to carers, former members of the armed forces and someone who could demonstrate that they had a “positive social tenancy history” and always paid their rent in full.

The Government released guidance on the allocations policy last June, arguing that it was right to give priority to people who could demonstrate they had made an effort to find work.

Since then, a number of Labour-led councils including Leeds and Barnsley have refused to implement the scheme largely on the grounds that giving preferential treatment to people in work could be challenged in the courts. Concerns have also been raised about the difficulty of administering the changes.

The Birmingham proposal comes at a difficult time for low-income council house tenants who have been hit by the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefit, leaving some families up to £800 a year worse off.

Brmingham’s planned changes will be considered by the social cohesion and safety scrutiny committee, but councillors have already been warned that the proposal throws up a number of administrative and legal difficulties.

Mushaq Ally, the council’s assistant director of equalities and human resources, said a comprehensive equality needs analysis would have to be undertaken to demonstrate that the new allocations system was fair.

Dr Ally said: “It has to be recognised that some groups will be in a weaker position to demonstrate

community contribution. For example, the long term unemployed, those falling in ‘NEET’ groups, and the disabled, housebound, people with health issues including mental health.

“Others may be unable to demonstrate a three year positive housing tenancy because they are new applicants or do not have a track record of tenancy.”

Dr Ally added: “Assessing which applicants can demonstrate community contribution can be perceived to be subjective and therefore potentially discriminatory in outcome. Therefore it would be crucial to ensure that a clear criteria/process for application was in place.”

Concerns about the proposed switch have also been highlighted by the Birmingham-based housing charity Crisis, which warned the proposal could discriminate against people unable to work.

A spokesman said: “Whilst we agree that it is important to help, support and encourage people into work, it must be recognised that not everyone is in a position to move into work straight away, and that some people who face serious problems may never be able to work.

“For some vulnerable people, on-going disabilities or support needs may mean work is unlikely to ever be a realistic option. They in particular need stable housing and unconditional support regardless of their employment situation.”

Crisis added that it was concerned that a proposal to reward applicants with a ‘positive tenancy history’ could disadvantage people who fell into rent arrears through “issues beyond their control”.

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