Housing staff in West Lothian are to publish a monthly update of available houses, in a bid to provide more clarity over the allocation of council houses.
Concerns have been raised that public perceptions of the ‘waiting list’ are wrong – after a surge in complaints from people who believed it would speed up their application.
And a survey by housing staff found that an unofficial policy of answering requests for an applicant’s position on the waiting list was creating false hopes at a time when demand for council housing is huge.
Council officials said public perception of the waiting list was wrong – and that’s what has caused confusion and frustration among applicants, and tied up hard-pressed housing staff in fruitless tasks.
Now, in a bid to provide more clarity, it has been agreed housing staff will publish a monthly update of how many houses are actually available – and the criteria people need to meet in order to be considered for them.
At a time when, as Armadale and Blackridge councillor Stuart Borrowman noted recently, the gap between the availability of social housing and the demand is wider than it has been for generations, the new plans aim to manage expectations in a more realistic way.
In a report to the Services for the Community PDSP, Sarah Kelly, from the housing department, said the new update, the Customer Application and Stock Summary (Cass), would be published on the council’s website.
The Cass will outline how many homes are available or will soon be available in each of the council’s nine wards. It will also advise applicants of the points needed and the types of housing available each month.
Frustration from applicants came partly from misconceptions of a housing list and partly from the way staff responded to questions about housing applications.
Crucially the new update aims to dispel the notion of a “fixed” housing list which people move up to qualify for a home.
The report said: “Previous practice has been that housing has tried to meet requests to provide ‘list positions’ to customers in the interest of good customer service.
“In order to meet these requests, officers must use the letting system to perform an artificial scenario where a ‘live’ offer is started but not completed. They can only do this for one, or a limited number of areas and property types.
“However, customers can choose up to 47 areas and 14 property types alone and this ignores bedroom ranges, heating types and attributes.
“Due to the small number of allocations officers and the demand for housing this time is affecting their ability to work on genuine offers of housing for customers in need.”
West Lothian Council operates a needs-based allocation policy, with no points awarded for waiting time, which is aligned to current national homeless legislation.
Ms Kelly told the committee: “When provided a position this creates the perception of a fixed place on ‘the list’. However, as all applicants are awarded on their need at the point of application or when circumstances change, there is no fixed list.
“The points of individuals can change on a daily basis, with new applicants in greater need presenting at any time, resulting in continual movement.
“If applicants believe they are in a certain position and they subsequently ‘move down’ as applications with higher need are registered or their circumstances change over time this can lead to frustration.”
The report concluded that the new update “enables transparency for applicants, a realistic expectation in terms of their chances of achieving an offer of housing, and potentially, prompts a discussion regarding possible housing options, making changes to application choices to increase their chances, or to receive advice on other housing provision”.
The new update will be published at the start of each month from November on the council’s website.
By local democracy reporter Stuart Sommerville